More blogs, less weight
November 10, 2006
One thing struck me as I read through the latest State of the Blogosphere report from Technorati boss David Sifry. It wasn’t that the total number of blogs in the known world had leapt once again, to something like 837.4 trillion. Rather, it was the rapidly shrinking presence of blogs among the top media sites as ranked by Technorati. To put it in popular terms, blogs are being squeezed out of the short head and pushed ever deeper into the long tail.
Just two years ago, in October 2004, blogs accounted for 16 of Technorati's 35 most influential and authoritative media sites. They represented, in other words, 45% of the short head, with mainstream media (MSM) sites holding the remaining 55%. By March 2005, the number of blogs in the top 35 had dropped to 13, or 37%. By August 2005, it was down to 11, or 31%. By February of 2006, blogs held only 4 of the top 35 slots – or 11%. Finally, in Sifry’s new October 2006 report, just 2 blogs - Engadget and Boing Boing - were in the top 35. Blogs’ share of the short head has fallen to a piddling 6%. (See the chart below for a look at the trend.)
At the very top of the long-tail curve, there’s been a similar erosion. Back in October 2004, there were three blogs in the Technorati top 10. Last year, there was one. Today, there are zero. Defining the short head more broadly, as the top 100 sites, provides an even starker picture of the rapid downtailing of blogs. Today, only 12 blogs show up in the top 100, down from 18 in February of this year - a drop of 33% in just a few months. There are now fewer blogs in the top 100 than there were in the top 35 in October 2004. It’s worth remembering that the last two years have been a time of remarkable growth and even more remarkable publicity for blogs – almost certainly the peak on both counts. Yet, still, blogs’ share of the top media sites – the sites that set the public agenda - has been shrinking rapidly. Even as the blogosphere has exploded in size, its prominence in online media has been waning.
What this seems to indicate is that the mainstream media is successfully making the leap from the print world to the online world. The old mainstream is the new mainstream. (Whether the MSM’s popular success translates into economic success remains to be seen.) As for blogs, they’re taking their place – and it’s an important place, if a more modest one then some might have hoped - as niche publications, as the new trade journals, newsletters, and zines. The idea of there being an A List of bloggers, then, is something of a misnomer now. The real A List of online media is made up almost entirely of the sites maintained by mainstream media companies. Bloggers seem fated to be, at best, B Listers.
Nick, this is bound to happen. Economics dictates this, if nothing else. Down the track, the big players with established brands, solid writers and serious monetary skin in the game should rise to the top. I think that the economic imperative has kick started this in a way that should have happened a while ago, but it's now happening in earnest.
I think that all we have proven with the b'sphere at this point is that monologue is decreasing, and dialogue / conversation is increasing. The rest is still wide open, with gravity pulling to The Big.
Posted by: Stuart MacDonald at November 10, 2006 04:52 PM
A few notes:
1) While this doesn't really affect your main point, there was a MAJOR change in the Technorati popularity algorithm on September 2005, from counting over all-time to counting just the last six months. So pre-9/2005 and post-9/2005 lists are not directly comparable.
2) Engadget and Boing Boing are professional media (whether or not they are "blogs" is an unproductive argument - but they ARE professional media).
3) You're right, that it's about "niche publications". Doc Searls said "being an alpha blogger was like being an alpha paramecium", and I thought that was accurate. The Z-lister problem is not that A-listers are the equal of the mainstream media. It's that Z-listers have no voice at all (except to beg A-listers or hope lightning strikes). That is, A-list is relative - the A-list bloggers are very minor players in mainstream media terms (you can see the imbalance in action when an A-lister gets unfavorable press in the mainstream media, and then whines to high heaven about it - usually not with the insight that the A-lister treats those below him/her even worse).
4) The blogger question I'd really like to know is whether the Big Headers have more audience/influence in absolute terms or not. That is, do they have a relatively smaller slice of a much bigger pie but much larger in absolute value (like 0.1% of a big public company rather than 10% of a small startup), or have they been pushed out entirely by big media (VisiCalc, WordStar)? Obviously, the answer can be different for different people.
Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at November 10, 2006 07:30 PM
Until bloggers buckle down and do some major investigative reporting, this trend won't change much as more and more newspapers and magazines transfer online.
I'm a newspaper reporter and a blogger. A lot of the articles I write for newspapers take several hours of research and interviews. A 2,000 word article I recently wrote about some new Virginia wine legislation took over 6 interviews with various lobbyists and winery owners and hours upon hours of legal research. The average blog post I write only takes about 20 minutes of research (not including my movie reviews, where I have to sit through a two-hour movie before writing the review).
Though my case is anecdotal, I've been reading blogs consistently since I was a freshman in college, and it's a trend that follows in most blogs. Bloggers just aren't creating news, they're merely commenting on it, so until they're willing to devote major resources to doing investigative reporting, they'll continually get pushed to the bottom.
Major news outlets have tons of financial power to pay journalists to pursue all kinds of stories. Imagine a blog that has over a hundred writers (Boingboing, one of the most popular, only has five), and perhaps you'll have a force to be reckoned with. The very fact that a blog with only a few writers can compete with a major news organization is a wonder in and of itself.
Posted by: Simon Owens at November 11, 2006 01:13 AM
Maybe the blogosphere is not made for having blockbusters. The amount of blogs is so too huge. But one has to regard the blogosphere as a whole.
I don't know if the blogosphere as a whole has less influence on the public opinion than the mainstream media as a whole.
I made a small cartoon.
Posted by: Oliver Widder at November 11, 2006 08:43 AM
I couldn't agree more, but a point that you missed is that technorati's algo weighs heavily on incoming links. The fresher the better. As the blogosphere increases in size, many of them are linking more and more to the real news instead of the blog sites. Also, consider that many of the MSM sites have integrated blogs that link almost exclusively to their own sites.
Posted by: thatedeguy at November 11, 2006 01:39 PM
For me the picture doesn't look THAT bleak - Technorati did not count Huffingtonpost or DailyKos as blogs - for whatever reasons.
Besides (as mentioned above) - show me the media site that does not have significant blog elements by now.
Kevin Kelly undugg this post.
Posted by: Harald Felgner at February 5, 2008 02:28 PM
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