On Blogs

PoliticsOnline summarizes some of the impact of blogs in 2004:

  • Howard Dean's blog becomes the model for online grassroots activism. Many of the ideas for the campaign were actually came from supporters through the campaigns blog.
  • Campaigns experimented and found that ads on blogs make money and influence people, such as the Kentucky Democratic congressional candidate Ben Chandler who turned a $2,000 investment into $80,000 in donations through liberal blogs.
  • Bloggers are invited to both the Democratic and Republican National conventions, as members of the press.
  • Mainstream media like the Associated Press tried reporting through blogs, and even international journalist such as Kevin Anderson of the BBC covered the presidential elections via blogging.
  • Rather-gate created an end to old media's power to set and change the national agenda at their liking. Conservative blogs also showed dominance in the area were liberal blogs typically roam.
  • Sadly, the year also went out with a bang as the online world reacted to the disastrous tsunami in Asia. Once again bloggers were on the scene with support and information that could not be matched.

And from The Rise of Open-Source Politics, November 22, 2004:

Blog-based political networking has had all kinds of concrete political effects. Best known is the way prominent bloggers like Joshua Micah Marshall, along with some conservatives like Glenn Reynolds, fired up the Trent Lott-Strom Thurmond story, which led to Lott's fall from grace. More recently, bloggers have spurred the resignation of a homophobic Congressman (Ed Schrock),... distributed Jon Stewart's blistering October 15 appearance on CNN's Crossfire, beat back Sinclair Broadcasting's plan to force its stations to air an anti-Kerry documentary, and formed a back channel for unhappy soldiers in Iraq and their families back home.


Blogs by Language
January 2005 [source]
English1286508
French87506
Portuguese81077
Farsi64049
Polish42754
German35149
Spanish26389
Italian10402
Dutch9826
Chinese-big58986
Japanese8058
Catalan7983
Icelandic6497
Indonesian5472
Chinese-gb23124771
Malay3913
Esperanto3390
Danish2937
Thai2445
Latin1717
Japanese-euc_jp1685
Czech1621
Swedish1447
Finnish1371
Breton1278

Large scale online collaborations have emerged in recent years that are not centrally or hierarchically organized. These exist outside of, and in some cases in opposition to, traditional membership structures coordinated by non-profit organizations.

These movements are enabled by access to free and easy to use publishing tools and fora on the Web.

Web logs, or blogs, started out as personal diaries, with short, journalistic entries published in reverse chronological order. There are no defined rules for blogging, though stylistic conventions have emerged.

Anthropologist Alireza Doostdar, provides a useful analysis of Iranian blogs as a kind of fluid “speech genre”, closer to oral than written modes of communication in their informal and personal tone. “Shorter, bolder, more provocative but perhaps less coherent writings are often preferred to longer, better thought-out but possibly less exciting ones,” she notes.

Blog entries do tend to be short, under 500 words or so, and often refer to other Web pages or blog entries on other sites.

Some blogs are open to comment by other users, either the general public, or limited to registered users. Often a blogger will respond in the comments section to comments others have made to a blog post, generating a kind of conversation.

Some blogs are built collaboratively with multiple authors submitting stories or links. Some feature the ability to rank stories and/or comments so that, while open to the public, various filters exist. (See more on moderation.)

The blogosphere thrives on commentary and discussion and interlinking. Bloggers linking to and responding to each other create other another kind of online dialog. A particularly persuasive analysis may be picked up by many other bloggers, spreading from blog to blog. This has prompted the creation of Web sites that monitor blogs for the day’s popular topics and news. Many blogs also link to blogs they read along a sidebar, or “blog roll.”

The interlinking, interactivity, structure, and tone is quite the opposite of most NGO Web sites which lack any mechanism for public feedback, save a general email address. Also contrary to traditional NGO campaigning, information flow between users is both visible and encouraged.

The barrier to access is extremely low, with several free and low-cost blogging tools and services available online. This has enabled enormous numbers of people to post to the Web in real time. This massively parallel, instantaneous feedback has led to huge spikes in traffic around certain issues. (See more on viral marketing.)

Within these loose conventions, it is the content and community that attracts users. Sites that frame their message in a digestible way attract communities of users who respond to it. As anyone with access can join the blogosphere, there is some jockeying for popularity — any social group will have its core group, its “in-crowd.”. Popular blogs receive huge amounts of traffic. Blogs that publish frequently are also more likely to attract repeat visitors looking for new content. Thus a collaborative blog maintained by a community has a better chance of building a following very quickly. Successful blogs also strike a balance between a focus and variety — finding a niche, a unique voice, or point-of-view, vs. posting an interesting mix of links and topics that provide different points of entry and relevance to a diverse audience.

Organizations and commercial entities have had mixed success in their attempts to promote an issue or product on community sites. Members of a community can be very protective against what they perceive as exploitation. On the other hand, a well crafted argument or interactive Flash piece may be very widely linked.

Usage

In January 2005, the Pew Internet and American Life Project published the results of survey on blogs in the United States. Among their key findings:

  • 7% of the 120 million U.S. adults who use the internet say they have created a blog or web-based diary. That represents more than 8 million people.
  • 27% of internet users say they read blogs, a 58% jump from the 17% who told us they were blog readers in February. This means that by the end of 2004, 32 million Americans were blog readers. Much of the attention to blogs focused on those that covered the recent political campaign and the media. And at least some of the overall growth in blog readership is attributable to political blogs. Some 9% of internet users said they read political blogs “frequently” or “sometimes” during the campaign.
  • 5% of internet users say they use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get the news and other information delivered from blogs and content-rich Web sites as it is posted online.
  • The interactive features of many blogs are also catching on: 12% of internet users have posted comments or other material on blogs.
  • Blogs have not yet become recognized by a majority of internet users. Only 38% of all internet users know what a blog is.

Blog creators are more likely to be: Men: 57% are male; Young: 48% are under age 30; Broadband users: 70% have broadband at home; Internet veterans: 82% have been online for six years or more; Relatively well off financially: 42% live in households earning over $50,000; Well educated: 39% have college or graduate degrees

In December 2004, it was estimated that Iranians maintained 300,000 blogs online with around 75,000 of them written in Persian from inside Iran.

China’s biggest blogging service provider blogcn.com reports that the number of subscribers increased from 10,000 in June last year, to more than 500,000 in December 2004. [source]

Other easy blogging tools are emerging as well: audio blogging or posting short audio clips recorded via a telephone call; photoblogs for sharing digital images online; and moblogging, posting photos or text to a Web log via a cellphone or mobile interface.

The increasingly popularity of cell phone cameras has had political consequences as well as a kind of grassroots surveillance. In one example, in November 2003, a photo taken with a cell phone camera outside a Portland nightclub shows a large toy monkey stuffed behind the bumper guard of a Portland police car parked in front of the club. The car was clearly visible inside the restaurant/bar, where a hip-hop party involving mostly black patrons was being held. The resulting press, which published the photo, pushed the police to conduct an internal investigation.

Syndication

XMLOne consequence of the rise of blogs is the increasing use of different methods of syndicating content. Using a standardrized content tagging system like RSS and Atom, users tag chunks of text to indicate title, date, and topic. Users can quickly check the latest headlines from a variety of Web sites without downloading the entire page, Web page designers can incorporate automatically updated headlines from favorite or related sites into their own. Popular news aggregators like Google News and Yahoo! Full Coverage may scan RSS feeds rather than full Web pages for new headlines to include on their sites. One well-placed link on these sites can generate huge amounts of traffic.

U.S. government agencies are syndicating weather alerts, disaster alerts, and press releases. The Supreme Court of West Virginia syndicates summaries of recent court decisions through RSS. GovTrack.us scans RSS feeds to track what bloggers are saying about bills as they work their way through Congress. For more on use of RSS in Government visit rssgov.com.

Syndication feeds can be transferred to other formats: phpList will forward updates to an email address. Recently announced feedbeep will forward syndicated content to SMS text messages you can receive on your cell phone.

Related to audio blogging is the phenomenon of podcasting, in which digital audio programs are released at regular intervals. This is a kind of independently produced “radio” broadcasting through a syndicated feed that the user subscribes to. Using a special RSS reader, the programs are downloaded as MP3’s to the users computer or MP3 player when new ones are available. Democracy Now! the largest community media collaboration in the United States posts digital audio of its programs at http://www.democracynow.org/streampage.pl. A podcast feed is available at http://www.walgran.com/democracynow.xml

Aggregation

Another consequence of blog publishing is the aggregation of information by theme. Bloggers may have a particular point of view or thematic interest. Many blogs sort their postings into into thematic categories, making it easy to find related content.

Treehugger.com, Metaefficient, and Worldchanging.org collect technology-related news, products, and strategies for sustainable development.

Though not strictly a blog, since 2002 Online Volunteers, a personal Web site, has posted links to news about the massacres in Gujarat, and its subsequent investigations. Over time, it has become a primary resource for information.

Last modified on July 8, 2006 04:49 AM

Additional Resources

Comments


Its probably worth noting that, although there are millions of blogs out there, half of them are started but never written to, or are abandoned after a few months; and in fact there is probably only a dozen or so bloggers who tend to influence the rest of the blogosphere in any meaningful way. The rest have a limited readership. This is not because they are less able, less knowledgeable, less of anything, it is simply a feature of where and when they got on board with blogging. Early adopters are also linked to in the greatest numbers. Linking is the key.

Posted by: kyte at February 16, 2005 05:40 PM

Upon initial scan, it's hard to think of what might have been left out, because so much you've got in here is amazing, even to one fairly familiar with online activism.

Let's see.... I know Nick Lewis designed an Emergency Action Blog he'd like to make available immediately for emergencies around the globe (which he began in response to the tsunami). And did you reference the SEA-EAT blog for that same crisis?

Others on my shortlist include:

CIVICUS
ourmedia
GLOBAL VOICES ONLINE
greater Democracy
RLG
Gift Hub

that might be of use in your presentation. You can also comment on federal regs
http://www.regulations.gov/

but then, you already indicated your intent wasn't to create an online reference list, which is what I tried to do here:
http://www.reachm.com/amstreet/states-writes.htm
especially in the Topics sections and reference sections.

But without changing a thing, your effort is an awesome resource. I'd like to know when you have it polished off.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden at February 16, 2005 07:16 PM

Excellent! Linking is the key for a Real Democracy into a Global Net.

Saludos

Posted by: Anomia at March 2, 2005 10:29 AM

This is really an excellent article. Only additional things I would mention would be the relationship of syndication to tagging, for example del.icio.us addition of rss feeds for tags, and also by media type. Also there's a recent explosion of vlogs and vlogging-made-easy such as participatory culture foundation's Broadcast Machine and DTV.

Posted by: Sasha Costanza-Chock at October 11, 2005 07:42 PM