Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Movin' On Up -- Or Are We?

I have a confession to make: I am a traffic junkie. Ever since I discovered the TTLB Blog ecosystem and the tools afforded my by Site Meter, I have become fascinated with my stats, and with tracking how many visitors I get, as well as where they originate, and how many page views they go to while here. While I still write what I want, when I want, and how I want, I do get excited when I get a response, and I'm not too proud to advertise with links on other blogs where I think the owners and/or readers will appreciate my offering, nor to trackback when one of my entries is inspired by another blog.

And I'm pleased to report that my readership has steadily risen over time. I currently have an average of 116 visits per day, with a one day record of around 250. Now, that's admittedly peanuts compared to the big boys, but still, considering how new I am and how limited my blogging time is, I think that's a pretty decent gain. All by being myself.

All of this is to provide background for my take on the following blog entry by Michelle Malkin:


In the LA Times, former blogger Billmon writes that bloggers have sold out. His thesis is that "[a]s blogs commercialize, they are tied ever closer to the mainstream media and its increasingly frivolous news agenda."

I was particularly interested in his argument that "a charmed circle of bloggers" is gaining "larger audiences and greater influence," while the rest of the blogosphere is being left behind. Media exposure to the top blogs, he argues, "is intensifying an existing trend toward a 'winner take all' concentration of audience share." He goes on:

Even before blogs hit the big time, Web stats showed the blogosphere to be a surprisingly unequal place, with a relative handful of blogs — say, the top several hundred — accounting for the lion's share of all page hits.

In Billmon's eyes, the blogosphere is an inegalitarian place, with little opportunity for new blogs to break into the "charmed circle" of high-traffic sites that have sold out in pursuit of advertising dollars. I am not familiar with Billmon's writings, but I get the sense that he (or she) probably feels the same way about economic opportunity in the U.S.

How well does this pessimistic view of the blogosphere align with reality? Is mobility really as limited as Billmon suggests?

A little more than a year ago, John Hawkins listed the most influential center-right bloggers. (He ignored left-of-center blogs and non-political blogs because he was not well acquainted with them.) His list was as follows:

1. Andrew Sullivan
2. Instapundit
3. The Corner
4. The Volokh Conspiracy
5. Little Green Footballs
6. Lileks (James) The Bleat
7. Steven Den Beste
8. Scrappleface
9. A Small Victory
10. Tim Blair

If Hawkins were to create such a list today, I have no doubt we'd see plenty of new names--sites like Powerline, Hewitt, Allah, and perhaps Wizbang and INDC Journal. Not coincidentally, these are among the most consistently interesting and informed sites in the blogosphere.

In essence, Billmon believes the game is rigged. But in blogging, as in life more generally, there is tremendous opportunity for those inclined to seize it.

It cannot be denied that early bloggers enjoy an advantage over latecomers. A blog that launches today, no matter how good or heavily promoted, will not soon overtake Instapundit or Daily Kos. Yet even the mightiest blog won't retain its position in the "charmed circle" for long if it is running on fumes.

More thoughts on Billmon's op-ed (from liberal bloggers) here: 1 2 3

Update: It turns out that Hawkins ranked the top 125 political blogs just this week. Compare to his October 2003 list here and his January 2003 list here.

Update II: For blog newbies, N.Z. Bear's weblog ecosystem is a fascinating barometer of blog mobility (though it seems to be down this morning for maintenance).

I am in agreement with Michelle on this. A while back I blogged about Memogate (who didn't?), and in particular about the level of fact checking and policing done by blogs, OF OTHER BLOGS. In it, I also touched on the issue of blog quality and how it affects blog popularity. To shamelessly quote myself:

The internet and blogs changed that. Now you have an outlet. Now everyone can have a voice. If that voice is used poorly, you will be ignored, mocked, and refuted. But while it may be small at first, if what your new internet voice has to say is right, and significant, and well said, it will get heard. And listened to. And repeated.

That, I think, is the point that Billmon has missed. The Blogosphere is truly a "Free Market of Ideas" in the sense for which that term was truly intended. Not only are you free to express your opinions on a blog, but your success, at least in terms of readership, is directly related to how well-expressed and well-received those opinions are BY YOUR AUDIENCE -- not by a publisher or producer. Unlike the MSM, where only those who please the ear of the bigwigs ever gets a chance to present their views to the public, anyone can post to a blog. From there, its success is up to you and your audience. Admittedly, there are bloggers who have received commercial support, and who continue to blog because of it. But as Michelle points out, these blogs don't necessarily get the readerhsip they once did.

Furthermore, she could have used as examples two of my favorite blogs, both of whome have been gaining in readership and influence (and upon whose coattails I have made some of my most spectacular gains): Ace of Spades and MyPetJawa. Both of these guys blog because they enjoy doing it, yes, both care about recognition, but no, neither one has bee coopted by the forces of conformity because of it.

While it may be arguable that blogs in general are not as upwardly mobile as Billmon wishes we were, one thing can be said in our defense:

At least we're self-propelled.

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