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Wednesday, March 3, 2004

the blogging myth

it took a while to get to me, but eventually, i found the cnn piece titled Study: very few bloggers on net which refers to this report from the pew internet & american life project.

2% maintain Web diaries or Web blogs, according to respondents to this phone survey. In other phone surveys prior to this one, and one more recently fielded in early 2004, we have heard that between 2% and 7% of adult Internet users have created diaries or blogs. In this survey we found that 11% of Internet users have read the blogs or diaries of other Internet users. About a third of these blog visitors have posted material to the blog.

the pew study is fairly brief and worth reading, but i’m going to have to pick some nits with the associated press and cnn – not a great headline, guys.

first, the data is almost a year old (march 12 – may 30, 2003).

second, the study reports based on adult (over 18) internet users.

third, 2% of adult internet users works out to more than 2 million americans (this nit pre-picked by matt woodward over at ars technica). to back that up, both technorati and the nitle blog census figure about 1.8 million (those are both global counts) blogs. livejournal alone is carrying some 1.2 million “active” users. 1

so, if i may introduce some commentary at this point, there’s a youth bias and there’s an active versus passive situation.

i’m just guessing, but i think maybe the under-18 population might be busy in this medium. i also think it’s just silly to assume that everyone would (or should) assume an active role in any medium. in the case of blogs, based on this survey, there are 5.5 passive participants (that is, readers – 11%) for each active participant (2%). is it really surprising that more people read than write? given the demands on attention, i’m not terribly surprised. in any case, i think a 5.5 passive-to-active ratio for blogs is a lot more impressive than the passive-to-active ratio for most, if not all, other media2. don’t get me wrong – i think there are some serious problems that come with lots of people “going active” – not the least of which is that most of what’s out there is crap and it introduces a filtering problem.

the bigger numbers from the study (and ths stuff that pew leads with) is that 44% of people are contributing some content in some form. this is an old lesson that i’ve explored here with musicians, – people will find a form of expression with which they are comfortable, and they will use it.

do these people really expect everyone to use every medium just because it’s availble? i think that’s an odd expectation – no more reasonable than assuming that everyone on the planet would paint, draw, write, photograph, model, act, speak, edit, and direct, just because those verbs are available. personally, i’m glad that (for example) anthony hopkins focused on acting… and i think it’s safe to say that many of us wish some [nameless to protect the guilty] models would stick to… y’know… modeling.

i do think that blogs are still a small phenomenon, and there’s an echo chamber phenomenon going on (the echo chamber phrase seems to be pretty hot in the blogosphere lately). there’s always a danger when you assume everyone has your perspective on things. blogs haven’t taken over the attention market, but they are begining to make a showing…. and it’s enough of a showing that the problems (like that crapfiltering thing i mentioned earlier and blogspam) are becoming evident.

very few bloggers on the net? well, it’s enough to make trouble.

1 at this moment, technorati reports tracking 1,806,014 blogs, the nitle blog census reports 1,750,365 “likely weblogs.” livejournal reports 1,191,820 active users.

2 one source puts broadcast (both television and radio) employment at just over 250,000. assuming most people in the united states listen to a radio or watch a television at some point, there are at least 250,000,000 passive participants (i’m being generous). that’s a 1000-to-1 ratio, so 5.5-to-1 seems pretty impressive to me.

posted by roj at 5:46 am