Tuesday, 9 March 2010

How tiny is the blogosphere?

This question is prompted by a few things.

First, seeing the same commenters pop up on obscure and unrelated blogs as appear on famous and prominent ones (hello Min, dearieme, Don, to pick three at random).

Second, meeting the author of one of my regular blogs at a show written by another, and finding they collaborated on the show I was at.

Third, realising that although my readership is still relatively small (one day, Krugman, one day...), it includes a surprisingly high proportion of other bloggers whom I respect, and whose occasional links to me are flattering and pleasing.

My first thought, then, is to wonder whether the blogosphere (at least the economics blogs) is populated by a few hundred people who just spend all their time reading each other's postings, and a few hundred more who comment on them.

My second thought was, if it is, then that's not so bad. Mostly, the people with blogs are the ones you want to read your work - the thoughtful, intelligent ones who are willing to challenge and engage with your ideas. They are the ones who, in the long run, will influence everyone else. Of all the people in the audience of that show, the three that I'd much rather have reading my work are also the three that have their own blogs.

When someone does both link and comment on an article of mine, their (and their commenters') input inevitably improves and often corrects my thinking.

So even if we are in an echo chamber, listening to each other listening to ourselves, when something does leak out from that chamber it has been improved and amplified by the attention of just the people you'd want.

3 comments:

Richard H. Serlin said...

"My first thought, then, is to wonder whether the blogosphere (at least the economics blogs) is populated by a few hundred people who just spend all their time reading each other's postings, and a few hundred more who comment on them."

It's far more readers than this, if the site meters are correct.

Mark Thoma's site meter (on the home page, scrolling down a while) lists 55,000 visits this week. Baseline Scenarios lists 91,000. Paul Krugman's doesn't have a site meter, but it could be far more.

It is true, though, that people who read these blogs are, to a disproportionately high extent, people in power or powerful opinion leaders, like top economists, big newspaper columnists, and advisors to politicians – I've heard the President and Senators mention logs. I don't have a large blog, but I know that some big bloggers read my blog and comments, like Mark Thoma and Ezra Klein, because they have linked to, posted on, or responded to them, and I know that they are influential, so in that way, even with a small blog, I can have a substantial positive impact.

Another great thing about blogs I'd like to note is that they have tremendous power to de-bunk and teach. Before, if someone said something that was false, or a bad argument, it often was not debunked publicly. Paper newspapers have little space and journalists are not analysts and specific experts in areas. Columnists can only publish once or twice a week and have very small space limits, like 300-500 words. On TV news, they usually only give enough time for sound bites, often not nearly enough time to show the flaws in an argument.

But on a blog, you can respond to false or flawed arguments instantly, and take as much space as necessary to show the flaws. And there's not the severe limit to the number of bloggers that there is to columnists in a paper newspaper. Trusted experts and specialists in any field can have a blog, or post comments, or guest posts, or emails, and be extremely capable of debunking false arguments in their area. This clearly has not been kind to the Republicans.

Jim Fickett said...

I suspect the commenting population is rather small, as you posit. However the readership is much bigger. Barry Ritholtz mentioned in the summer of 2008 that he had 20,000 RSS subscribers; the New York Times mentioned at the end of 2008 that Calculated Risk was getting about 75,000 visitors a day; and in Jan 2009 Naked Capitalism was getting, according to SiteMeter, 32,000 page views per day.

Jim Fickett
ClearOnMoney.com

Richard H. Serlin said...

Yeah, that's right; Calculated Risk is the gigantic one. Their site meter reads 403,000 visits this week!