When Blogospheres Collide
by Chris Bowers, Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 03:19:07 PM EST
This is a picture of the linking patterns among highly trafficked progressive and conservative blogs during the final months of the 2004 election. It was the first, and to date best, academic study on linking patterns within the political blogosphere. It also led a commenter at Political Animal to make a famous insight about the bifurcated nature of the left-wing blogosphere at the time:If you remove Atrios, the left blogosphere is neatly divided into two mutually-linking spheres: the moderate/intellectual(academicky) types - Drum, DeLong, Yglesias, TPM, Tapped, Crocoked Timber - and the left activist types - Kos, MyDD, Digby, Left Coaster, Pandagon (only this one surprised me a bit). Even at the modest 5-link level, none of these blogs link to anyone on other side. They'd be completely unlinked communities if not for Atrios who has links to TPM and Tapped, but also Kos and Digby. I suppose no surprise since Atrios is an academic leftist activist type. Now, the blogosphere has changed a lot since then, and I would love to see a new paper on more up to date linking patterns within the left-wing blogosphere. I am sure that we would find at least two new "hubs" on the scene, Crooks and Liars and The Huffington Post. In fact, Crooks and Liars, the Huffington Post, and Fire Dog Lake might form the core of a new, third left-wing blogosphere that is distinct because it is based largely in Los Angeles, heavily focused on multi-media, and features several prominent women leaders / founders. In terms of intellectual vs. activist divide, I guess it comes down much more on the activist side. I would also expect ample evidence of several other, though perhaps smaller, hubs around Raw Story, Glenn Greenwald / Digby, Americablog and Think Progress. Of course, this is just conjecture, and I imagine that rather than forming discrete constructs, these many different hubs would interact with one another in fascinating ways.
Anyway, the reason I bring up this old study is because of the extensive discussion Matt's TPM Café guest post on the netroots as a new left wing movement has caused over at the heart of the "academic" blogosphere, TPM Café. Looking over the responses to Matt's piece from Josh Marshall, Max Sawicky, Nathan Newman, Ed Kilgore, Jo Ann-Mort, Todd Gitlin, Mark Schmidt, and M. J. Rosenberg, I could hardly imagine a more perfect demonstration of the original activist vs. intellectual blogospheres thesis. This vast discussion spawned by Matt's original thesis has decidedly been a case of two different blogospheres colliding.
Look, for example, at Josh Marshall's response from earlier today:A movement is a vague and often ephemeral thing. What do we even mean when we use the word? I think the acid test, the real question is this: what are the institutions that this new political movement has spawned? Dailykos.com seems to clearly fit as one answer. So do the various sites and mechanisms that pool small contributions for various candidates. What else? What is particularly striking about Marshall's query is that he does not include the TPM universe of blogs in his list of netroots institutions. Personally, as someone who would probably be considered one of the "leaders" of the "activist" progressive blogosphere, I think the entire progressive, political blog universe, including the TPM centric, "intellectual" blogosphere, can accurately be considered a single, sprawling, new media institution that is the ultimate, successful spawn by the new movement Matt describes (although MoveOn.org would also vie for that title). Taken together, the varied subsets of the progressive, political blogosphere, which I briefly described above, have a combined audience of at least four million people a day, and eight million people a week. Further, it is quite a desirable audience: extremely political engaged, relatively wealthy, intensely devoted to news consumption and, yes, highly educated (no matter what Max Sawicky may imply otherwise--I've taught college courses on several of the thinkers he argues we don't but should read, and I know my education is pretty average among my readership). This institution has accomplished all of this while covering a wide variety of political topics with a highly varying degree of activism, depth, tone, and ideological focus. While I find that to be a remarkable institutional achievement surpassing any other institution founded by the left in decades, Marshall himself does not consider his blogosphere to be part of that institution. That statement is perhaps more indicative of the cultural gap between the varied progressive blogosphere than any academic study on the blogosphere could ever identify.
To be fair, Matt's post has also been received by some of the writers at TPM Café with agreement. Still, it is quite telling that when that one of the leading figures within the "activist,""movementarian" blogosphere, Matt Stoller, enters the leading realm for discussion within the "intellectual,""academic" blogosphere, TPM Café, and argues that there is a new progressive movement taking place online, a large debate erupts within the "intellectual,""academic" blogosphere over whether or not that movement exists, and whether or not they themselves are a part of that movement. Perhaps it means that the old differences described two years ago have become even greater, damaging the idea that the progressive, political blogosphere can be considered a single institution. Perhaps that there is even a debate over whether there is a progressive netroots movement within one of the major subsets of the progressive, political blogosphere demonstrates there is not, in fact, any such self-aware movement. Then again, maybe it is just a long-needed step where two needlessly separate blogospheres that could learn a lot from each other are finally exchanging ideas. We, "the activists," probably could use more regular intellectual depth and historical context in our writing, while I think the "intellectuals" could use a lot more focus on the sort of action and meta self-awareness that you regularly see at places like MyDD and Dailykos. It can only be a good thing that we are starting to talk with each other more. Considering his history in the ultimate netroots "connector," it was also probably inevitable that Stoller would be the person to start that discussion. I say, well done to Matt, and let's keep this going.
Update: Marshall has posted an interesting response. I'll have further commentary on this tomorrow.