Saturday, June 18, 2005

Liberal Blogs are Overtaking Conservative Blogs

From Jonathan Last on a recent revelation of the state of the blogosphere:

There was a time, not so long ago, that the Internet was a conservative playground. Conservative blogs and websites ruled the roost and you had to look hard to find a liberal site of any stature. All that has changed. Liberal blogger Chris Bowers performed an interesting and thoughtful
evaluation of the state of the blogosphere recently. He found that, of the top 200 blogs devoted to politics, 113 were conservative and 87 were liberal. Yet despite that numerical imbalance, the liberal blogs accumulated some 10 million page views per week, while the conservative blogs only attracted 6 million page views. Clearly, something is going on.

The trend Bowers identifies has been developing for about 20 months, by his estimate. What to make of it? Bowers has a theory:

Community moderated blogging platforms such as Scoop have provided us with an excellent means of finding new voices, and these are the voices that are generating the accelerated growth in the liberal and progressive blogosphere . . .

By comparison, right-wing blogs have pretty much only one means of finding a new voice in the blogosphere: when someone starts a new blog. The inability to operate within a community must be the primary reason behind the large number of conservative blogs. . . . There are swarms of new conservative voices looking to breakout in the right-wing blogosphere, but they are not even allowed to comment, much less post a diary and gain a following, on the high traffic conservative blogs. Instead, without any fanfare, they are forced to start their own blogs. However, because of the top-down nature of right-wing blogs, new conservative blogs remain almost entirely dependent upon the untouchable high traffic blogs for visitors. In short, the anti-community nature of right-wing blogs has resulted in a stagnant aristocracy within the conservative blogosphere that prevents the emergence of new voices and, as a result, new reasons for people to visit conservative blogs.

Unless right-wing blogs decide to open up and allow their readers to have a greater voice, I expect that the liberal and progressive blogosphere will continue its unbroken twenty-month rise in relative traffic. Conservative bloggers continue to act as though they are simply a supplement to the existing pundit class, without any need to converse with those operating outside of a small social bubble or any need to engage people within the new structure of the public sphere. In the formulation of Stirling Newberry, they view themselves existing on top of a pyramid rather than in the middle of a sphere.

It's fascinating stuff--and at least partly true. One of the interesting aspects of the conservative blog evolution has been watching the eagerness of most conservative bloggers to join the mainstream media they spend much of their time criticizing. In some ways, you might say that conservative bloggers have merely built a parallel version of the traditional liberal editorial page, while liberal bloggers are engaged in a different project with no obvious analogue.

Is this dichotomy important? Hard to say. It has long been noted that liberal blogs act like a swarm, while conservative blogs act as a heard. So on the one hand, the liberal blogosphere could be on the verge of evolving into something new and important.

On the other hand, it could well be that the liberal temperament is more predisposed to blog-reading than the conservative temperament is in the same way that, for instance, modern American liberalism is more predisposed to public protesting than modern American conservatism is.

The size and number of public protests, of course, means very little. In the 1990s, there were relatively few liberal protest movements, but Bill Clinton was winning elections. Since 2000, there have been an enormous, impressive protest movement by liberals--yet they've been shellacked at the polls.

So while it's too soon to tell for certain, it's certainly worth keeping an eye on the world of web politics.

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