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Echo Chamber

The left-wing New Politics Institute publishes "Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere: A New Force in American Politics." It's echoed at The Huffington Post and then at Brian Leiter. Its message: the progressive blogosphere is now much larger, a much more potent political force, than the conservative one.

I never thought I'd see the left driven to jealous apoplexy over supposed conservative "dominance" of a medium. Some days the Gods of Irony shine their love upon me.

Given that almost anyone can start a blog, I doubt it matters much whose dog's bigger in this particular fight, but Leiter's commentary, as always, gives rise to a chuckle at the self-delusion of it. In putting forward his guess at why the left-wing blogosphere has grown more than the right recently:

My guess would be that the blogs "on the left" are actually fairly far to the left of the traditional media, so they provide an outlet and opportunity for points of view that are often invisible in the major media. The right-wing blogs (InstaIgnorance et al.) are, by contrast, largely echo chambers for the same conservative propaganda that is served up on Fox TV, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rush Limbaugh, and numerous other media outlets which already reach tens of millions of people. Since the right-wing blogs provide less new "perspective" and less new misinformation, they have not attracted as many new readers as the blogosphere has become better known. By contrast, many of the blogs "on the left" really do provide access to information and perspectives that are almost invisible in the mainstream media, from CNN to The New York Times to National Public Radio.

Except the report Leiter is citing is more political puff-piece than real internet research. If left-wing blogs are growing faster, it's mostly because they're catching up to a reasonable equilibrium. And indeed, reading the report with a critical eye, one sees that its data--what you can find of it--is jury-rigged. For the most part, the report is nothing more than bland generalizations and stereotypes:
Conservatives use the same tactics on blogs that they do in mainstream politics – attack the media and attack progressives. The right wing tends not to build independent online communities, using their existing offline communities to generate web sites that reinforce their politics and their ideology.

(emphasis in the original) Because the progressive blogosphere, after all, isn't known for attacking conservatives. There's also a pretty good paragraph in there about how right wing blogs are all whiny, but I'll let you read that yourself. Oh, and there's this joy:
The political successes of this community have been largely founded in manipulating media coverage. The two clearest examples are the John Thune bloggers in South Dakota, and the Dan Rather scandal.

(sigh) It will always amaze me the extent to which some people will shill for a forger and his abysmally ignorant victim. Anyway, the report then gives away the game as to why "the liberal blogosphere" is now so much bigger. It has nothing to do with Leiter's musings, and everything to do with the structure of the largest left-wing blogs:
Progressive blogs build communities of activists and generate new political activity online. Blogs and online organizations offer forums where people can actively engage in progressive politics. Below is an example of a digital community with comments – real involvement from people talking about politics, policy, organizing, their lives, etc.

(emphasis omitted) In other words, we're talking about DailyKos, and to a lesser extent things like TPMCafe.
According to research conducted by MyDD.com, as of July, 2005, the ninety-eight most trafficked progressive blogs totaled an amazing 15,181,649 page views per week, an average of over two million daily page views. That is over five times the size of the entire political blogosphere just two years ago.

By way of comparison, the top one-hundred and fifty conservative blogs had less than ten million page views per week during this period, and just over one million unique visits a day. In less than two years the progressive blogosphere had grown from less than as big as the conservative blogosphere, to nearly
double its size. Nowhere is this rise more apparent than in a direct comparison of the largest progressive and conservative sites.

The key thing to remember is that the New Politics Institute is comparing apples and oranges. As the report notes, DailyKos is a community site, not a single blog as such. Users can create accounts and diaries, and indeed are encouraged to do so. For instance, Terrance at Republic of T (on my blogroll) frequently cross-posts his writing to his Kos Diary.

(UPDATE: Another way to think about this is to quote from the DailyKos FAQ: "Diaries are coming in at nearly 200 a day these days, many of them widely judged to not be worth the effort." DailyKos thus isn't "one of the ninety-eight most trafficked progressive blogs," but is more than 98 blogs in and of itself.)

Measuring "visits" to such a site isn't a real sign of its influence, because many of the visits will simply be posts by users of that community, and many of these posts--due to its size, if nothing else--will be infrequently read. (In this sense, DailyKos is a lot like FreeRepublic, and that's not really a compliment.) So when the New Politics Institute compares traffic to Instapundit and DailyKos (see page seven of the report), they're underplaying the fact that Instapundit gets his traffic all on his lonesome. The New Politics Institute picked its criteria--presumably intentionally--in order to include traffic from what aren't really "top bloggers" (Terrance is much closer to my influence than Reynolds or Kos) in the left wing tally. If I read Ex Post, it's not really much different from an average Kos blogger reading another Kos blogger, but MyDD's report doesn't add us to Instapundit.

(UPDATE: As one of the commentors on MyDD mentioned, page views are a pretty bad metric when you're measuring apples and oranges in any event. FreeRepublic, for instance, is a bulletin board site, as is Democratic Underground. In reading a similar amount of content, you're likely to click through many times more pages on a bulletin-board site. Similarly, my RSS reader might hit Instapundit 12 times a day--once an hour. That gives him 12 separate visits, but doesn't mean I'm reading him as obsessively as the page views would suggest.)

A better, and much less biased, view of influence can be found in Technorati. Technorati measures influence in link behavior, or how many people are citing a given piece of writing. And here you find pretty much what you'd expect: Kos and Instapundit are pretty much dead level.

This isn't a slam on community sites: indeed, I'm a bit envious of TPMCafe and related ventures, and I wrote all throughout the last campaign as to how the left was using the internet to revolutionize its organization, to charge its grassroots, and to engage activists. These are all achievements, and I wouldn't mind seeing more right-wing community sites flourish. But the NPI report was obviously written to influence headlines and push the "rising lefty blogosphere" meme into the media. For those on the left more interested in reality than spin, just make sure you don't start believing your own press.


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There's also a pretty good paragraph in there about how right wing blogs are all whiny Now that even I can't agree with. Indeed, I strongly associate left wing blogs with whiny behaviour. To generalise: the Left get angry at the Right, but the Right mostly find the left funny.

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