Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communities

As a blogger, one of my specialties has become the regular production of "meta" posts on the blogosphere (browse MyDD's meta and blogosphere archives here). For a long time, this specialty included regular attempts to estimate the size of the cumulative, daily audience of the political blogosphere. Since late 2005, I have seen a mounting array of evidence to suggest that political blogosphere traffic has reached a plateau, and that the nature of the political blogosphere is shifting away from a top-down content generation model toward a bottom-up audience generated model. While it is possible that the traffic evidence could be countermanded by a rising tide of traffic in during the long, slow build up toward the 2008 Presidential election, the sheer amount of evidence is becoming hard to ignore. A new era in the world of online politics is dawning.
Take a look at some of the evidence. For example, since early September of 2005, when it first reached three million daily page views on weekdays during the height of the Katrina debacle, The Liberal Blog Advertising Network has only increased in traffic by adding new members or by temporary, election related traffic frenzies. Otherwise, the combined traffic of its members has remained flat. Also, the largest progressive "blog" in the world, The Huffington Post (which is not in the LBAN), has also experienced stagnant traffic for some time now. Late 2005 was also the last time any new progressive political blogs with exceptionally large audiences were founded, as Glenn Greenwald and Fire Dog Lake entered the scene around then. Even apart from looking at individual blogs or even at the progressive, political blogosphere as a separate entity, both Gallup and Pew released data last year that strongly suggested the daily audience of all blogs had become flat after a long period of uninterrupted growth. . Further, the expected surge around the Connecticut Senate primary and November elections not withstanding, blogs and the right and the left experienced traffic problems during much of 2006.

While this is not conclusive evidence of the political blogosphere reaching an audience plateau over the past year, it does strongly suggest a plateau has occurred. Current estimates of a daily audience of 4-5 million for progressive political blogs, and an occasional audience of up to 13-14 million for all political blogs, are now appearing in multiple sources. While this gives the progressive blogosphere a substantial, at least 2-1 edge in both daily and occasional traffic on the conservative blogosphere, since our traffic is now stagnant I am not ready to toot our horn when pointing that out. Just as I once proclaimed that the aristocratic right-wing blogosphere was stagnating, it now seems that the community oriented left-wing blogosphere is stagnating as well.

Despite these numbers, I believe it would be a mistake to argue that "the death of political blogging" is imminent (I put that phrase in scare quotes because I can't even begin to count the number of times I have been asked about what will result in the death of political blogging). Instead, I believe this means is that the world of online political content generation is moving away from the top-down model of an individual, independent blogger producing the majority of new content for a given website--a model which was dominant through most of 2002-2005. Now, the paradigm is shifting toward a more networked, community-oriented model where a much higher percentage of the audience participates in the generation of new content. Blogging, including political blogging, is still quite healthy, as long as it encourages user-generated content and relies on a group of main writers rather than a single individual. However, the days when an individual blogger can start a new, solo website and make a big national splash are probably over. The blogosphere and the netroots are transforming, not dying off.

Take, for example, Dailykos. According to resident statistician jotter, while overall site traffic on Dailykos slightly declined in 2006 compared to 2005, user participation in the generation of new content on the site actually increased by 20%. This shifted the overall reader to content generator ratio within the Dailykos audience from about 25-1 in 2005, to just 15-1 in 2006. That is a substantial shift for only one year, and demonstrative of larger trends. Looking at the websites ranked in the top fifteen in terms of page views the Liberal Blog Advertising Network, only two and a half, Political Animal, Eschaton and the Talking Points Memo side of the TPM netowrk, are still primarily single-blogger operations (those also happen to be some of the oldest political blogs around). Further, while political blogosphere traffic has remained generally flat over seventeen months now (apart from election-related spikes), social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook have continued to expand at the same exponential rates that the political blogosphere once expanded (although MySpace is starting to flatten out as well). It is entirely possible, if not likely, that the growth social networking sites continue to experience while even community oriented progressive blogs remain flat was mirrored in 2003-2005 when group and community-oriented progressive blogs rocketed past top-down, individual-based, no comments allowed, right-wing blogs in terms of traffic. Even though it is benefiting a small number of large websites, the ability websites such as YouTube or Facebook give their audience to produce their own content has allowed those websites to perpetuate their viral stage of growth and development much longer than websites which offer fewer avenues for community-generated content and networking.

In addition to the end of the era of the highly successful solo-blogger, I forecast that this development toward user-generated content will carry two other important ramifications for the political blogosphere. First, the already extreme gap between the political engagement of netroots activists and rank-and-file voters will grow even wider. With more people not just consuming political information online, but helping to generate it, netroots activists will continue to consolidate as a sort of "elite influential" subset within the American political system. Second, in order to remain successful, more than more political blogs will transform into full-blown professional operations that can be considered institutions unto themselves. In addition to community development, they will more frequently produce difficult, original work (beat reporting, investigative journalism, professional lobbying, national activist campaigns, original video, commissioned polls, mass email lists, etc.) that until now have been mainly the province of long-established news and political organizations. Competition from other high-end blogs will continue to raise the bar in this area, as the days of thriving on punditry alone are further confined to diaries and comments off the front-page.

Phew. This is not going to be easy, and it may all collapse if blogger can't find better revenue streams. After all, you can't run a professional organization and upgrade your user generated content options without money to pay programmers and full-time employees. Many wags compared the collapse of Howard Dean's Presidential campaign in 2004 to the dot.com bust of 2000, but the real bust could happen in a more traditional economic sense two or three down the road. I know hat I won't stop trying to find ways to keep the progressive political blogosphere moving forward, but I can't deny the difficulties that lay ahead.

Update: Really, really, good comments everyone. Thanks for the feedback.

Tags: Blogosphere, Media (all tags)



TPM is moving to multi-author model

Atrios and Kevin are only replaced by guest bloggers when they are off line for extended periods.  TPM is already starting along Markos' path of a weekend commentator largely replacing Josh. He's followed a very different path from Markos, but I think content generation will be largely the same--a few front page contributors on the TPM page, and a new model for user generate content that will not be like the diaries.

I also don't think you should underestimate the impact of comments.  GG and FDL owe much of their success to engagement with their commentariat. In Glenn's case, it reinforces trust and transparency. In FDL's case, it creates a sense of community and stability.

by jayackroyd 2007-02-05 09:59AM | 0 recs
Re: TPM is moving to multi-author model
I sometimes think that engaging in the comments too heavily can cause a website to stagnate, since you start writing to your commenters instead of your readers (or just for yourself as you change and grow). I could be wrong, but I don't think those websites grew because they engaged in their comments. That is a very low form of user interaction, and has been around for years. In those cases, I think the key to their success was elsewhere.

Whenever I hear other bloggers talking about how great it is to have a "family-like" atmosphere among their site users, I always end up smiling when I never have to go through anything like the One Pissed Off Liberal flame war now raging on Dailykos. Maybe I am wrong for doing so, but I try to avoid our heads getting too far up our own asses on MyDD when it comes to that sort of thing. Encourage good diarists? Sure. Engage commenters? Absolutely--at least when I have the time. However, I don't intend to build a "family" like atmosphere here. I consider what we do here work, not socializing.

That is actually part of MyDD's attraction and ethos--we are the ultra-"serious" blog, just like the family ethos is part of the attraction of other blogs. If we were to try and become a social clique, I think would would seriously diminish our image, and the amount of influential readers we receive.
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-05 10:11AM | 0 recs
Good to hear it...
...from the horse's mouth:
I don't intend to build a "family" like atmosphere here. I consider what we do here work, not socializing.

Whereas, on certain lefty sites, the 120 decibel message is, Pledge your soul to us, or the fluffy bunny gets it.
by skeptic06 2007-02-05 10:52AM | 0 recs
Another way to put this

would be to just say that the social dynamic of MyDD is distinct from the social dynamic of other sites.

Either way, I think MyDD has just as much of the dynamic of a "social clique" as any other progressive blog.

You may not see it as a family ethos, but there is definitely an in-group out-group dynamic on this site as much as any other.  

I hope this doesn't come as a disappointment to have a diarist give you this kind of feedback.  From my perspective, the sociality of MyDD is just one among many of the reasons for spending time here (e.g., it's a positive).

by Jeffrey Feldman 2007-02-05 10:56AM | 0 recs
Re: TPM is moving to multi-author model

I could be wrong, but I don't think those websites grew because they engaged in their comments. That is a very low form of user interaction, and has been around for years. In those cases, I think the key to their success was elsewhere.

I don't think Glenn's site grew for that reason, but I do think that his engagement improves the quality of his front page posts. But I'd agree that it is largely the tone (and length) of his posts that tends to discourage flame wars. People don't feed trolls there, and the trolls don't last long.

FDL, on the other hand, I'll argue really does rely on a social interaction. Yes, commentary has been around for years. And, mostly, open commentary in anonymous spaces has destroyed site after site, because of flamewars and spam.  I don't know how heavy moderation is in place at FDL, but it is moderated effectively.

But I'd argue that there is change going on in this regard.  Now maybe this is because I've always been more interested in discussion than in what's now called blogging.  But it seems to me that there are more civil, more stable, less anonymous discussion groups in the left blogosphere than there ever have been.  And I say that as someone who has helped manage the establishment of discussion based sites, and seen diminish, killing the trolls is very difficult.

None of this is, of course, criticism of the myDD model, which works extremely well.

The Kos model will necessarily generate flame wars.  But it's also an extraordinarily vibrant site for the same reasons.

by jayackroyd 2007-02-05 12:14PM | 0 recs
Sorry Chris, It's ALWAYS about community

A lot of people are fundamentally alienated....from their jobs, or their personal life perhaps, but most of all from politics. People are disengaged from politics because the system doesn't involve them or meet their needs, and it is so much easier to just watch serials or sports on TV. "They're all the same." I don't make a difference".

I speak as someone who lives by creating community. I teach and organize events. I get people involved, build confidence, challenge and inspire. I create situations and social environments for them to combat that alienation, and feel successful, like maybe someone will hear them and they can make a difference.

It is fundamental to get people re-engaged.

You get engaged readers by having a dialogue them. You build an active community by an exchange of give and take. I'ts always about community.  

The biggest issue with the Democrat Party, is that anyone with gumption and skills who walks in the door is blown just blown off. That is a worse problem than machine politics where they actively prevent new blood from participating.

MyDD is the same in its own way, serving its own niche of people who are really interested in the political nuts and bolts. And, it does no good to just say "we're the ultra-serious blog" so we don't need to engage with our readers. That's BS.

Why? Because, we need a factor of 10 more readers, participation, and energy to make the big impact necessary to change the world, or the democratic beast, anyway.

You gotta get them off the couch, and out of the habit of just consuming. Dialogue with them, challenge them, respond to the questions, reward them and maybe we get people back in the street or making the Democratic Party more effective.

by MetaData 2007-02-05 07:14PM | 0 recs
One benefit

of the interactive model would seem to be that ideas will matter more than individuals.  Any person can contribute a suggestion, a meme, a potential policy to address his/her own pet issue, and as the community "peer reviews" the proposal, better ideas will ultimately emerge.  

For example, one idea that seems to be getting lots of traffic lately concerns a "Manhattan Project" or "Marshall Plan" for alternative energy, and what form that plan should take.  Personally, I'm a big fan of solar and wind, and of distributed/household generation, rather than large power plant generation.  And while the Kos community has a lot of different opinions, virtually every thread discussing renewable energy seems to have a significant number of supporters of a "Plan" that would have the federal government invest in these areas.  Ultimately, as the blogoshpere delivers not only notice and elevate individual candidates, the sphere may also be able to elevate policies that can receive substantial public support.  

That, it seems to me, is what may lead to Senator Schumer's goal of a 60% or 65% majority.  Policy proposals which can be taken to the wider public after having been vetted by those who are genuinely interested in the issues, and who are committed enough to work out the kinks through dialogue and discussion with others who are equally involved and committed.  

by Jbearlaw 2007-02-05 10:11AM | 0 recs
Re: One benefit
Yes and no. Communities can still have leader worship and methods of reasserting authority separate from the ideas themselves (witness user ID battles at Dailykos). I think what you say is more of what happens in the best cases, rather than the norm.

It can be done, as you have cited, but it will take A LOT of community building work to make it happen.
by Chris Bowers 2007-02-05 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: One benefit

Agreed.  Just pointing out one potential benefit.  I started reading blogs (TPM was the first) primarily for the news content, coverage of stories that just weren't getting done or weren't getting done in detail, kind of like a news feed.  And I still think that TPM and Kos have that as one of their primary benefits.  This site seems to be more involved in influencing, or at least attempting to influence, political results and policies than does TPM, and Kos seems more of a clearing house and hybrid (though, again, the reporting on this site is no small part of why I visit every day).  But with the last election cycle, the sphere seems to have picked up quite a bit of clout with "the establishment," and one result certainly could be a community that is able to "vet" some flawed policies before they become talking point fodder, and possibly raising awareness of some issues and/or real world solutions.  

But you are absolutely right that it's certainly not a guaranteed result, probably a best case scenario, and, I would add, probably only a side benefit.  But it could have a significant impact, and I think that would be a very valuable thing.  That's all I was trying to say.  

by Jbearlaw 2007-02-06 07:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers

The other problem is the party leadership is setting up Phoney well funded blogs that look like grassroots blogs but only their messages end up showing up on the main pages, i.e. they are trying to control the message.

by orin76 2007-02-05 10:22AM | 0 recs
Evidence for this?

by kos 2007-02-05 04:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Evidence for this?


That's the only one I can think of off the top of my head though.

by Dan Ancona 2007-02-06 10:45PM | 0 recs
Most politics is local

The other trend that I am seeing is that there will be a very increase in  community-based state and local blogs which focus on local environmental and political issues as well as partisan campaigns.

As blogs have evolved to provide a very powerful supplement, alternative, and critical function for the national press, they will also find growing utility in the local political arena, where local newspapers and radio have an even lower standard of coverage than the national media.

Local blogs also will grow as activists, united by the national blogs, seek each other out at a local level to go beyond their local and state party organizations.

This is where support of BlogPac, which understands the importance of the local communities for direct democracy, is pushing the envelope of progressive space, adding both financial and political leverage to activists' contributions.

It's at the local level where the political junkies who glue their eyeballs to the national blogs will meet another batch of less active participants in the political process, who are engaged in what's happening in their backyard.

A stalwart national audience, coupled with a growing set of local audiences, will continue to push a populist, progressive shift in society from the corporate media.

by Aeolus 2007-02-05 10:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Most politics is local

And local blogging fills a void.  Traditional media doesn't cover local elections well at all.  Local bloggers will find their audience by filling in those gaps.

by Melissa Ryan 2007-02-05 11:31AM | 0 recs
Source of uncertainty

Alexa numbers are dependent on the Alexa toolbar. Not sure if the distribution of the toolbar is keeping up with general internet growth. Alexa is probably still a good indicator of relative traffic but I'd be suspicious of absolute numbers, unless they match up well with internal measures of traffic.

by The Cunctator 2007-02-05 11:06AM | 0 recs
Regardless of problems with Alexa

and there are many, fact is traffic is stagnating.

by kos 2007-02-05 04:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

In the (not so) long run won't "blogs" and the "blogosphere" lose meaning?

The web/internets are really one giant hard drive we access as users or contribute to as content providers.

I do not think we are near the apex of those uses.

by demondeac 2007-02-05 11:07AM | 0 recs
interesting stuff

I think what you're describing is the transition from an open to a competitive market dynamic.  Price of entry is now high enough that solo bloggers are not quite making it in, and established bloggers are  innovating to retain their share.

Interesting stats about Kos...

by Jeffrey Feldman 2007-02-05 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: interesting stuff

However, in many States, the local market is still very open for new voices, especially in states that still do not have well known statewide scoop blogs.

In Maryland, we still organize using leftyblogs and Blognetnews, because most of use have our own personal blogs.  As long as new voices and bloggers in Maryland join leftyblogs, there is a good chance they will get regular traffic.

There has been some recent talk about trying to set up a scoop based blog for the Free State, but the only issue is that many of us Democrats in Maryland get along well with our right-wing counterparts and tend to be more moderate.  

I am surprised then, that the blogosphere may be reaching some sort of apex, because in Maryland there is a lot of room to grow.

by andy k 2007-02-05 11:24AM | 0 recs
Could heavier use of RSS feeds be responsible?

The data about declining traffic may be an artifact of the increasing use of RSS feeds.

Most blogs, including MyDD, have a "complete" feed -- i.e., the entire article including links is delivered to the client program (e.g., NetNewsWire) or website (e.g., FeedBurner). With the entire article including images being delivered this way, there's no incentive to click through and visit the web site to be counted as traffic.

Currently, RSS traffic is counted separately from direct website hits, or not at all (the format of the RSS pages makes it hard to add the standard hit counters, so most people don't).

As RSS gets more popular, it's possible that increasing numbers of readers just aren't getting counted.

I'd love to see the equivalent of SiteMeter or ExtremeTracking for RSS, but there are technical reasons why this would be hard for a lot of bloggers to implement (most of the solutions I know of involve having access to the raw traffic of the web server, and being able to run server-side scripts that record information in files on the server, and a lot of people lack the know-how to do this). It's possible (WordPress.com has as solution that sort of works, but it's hard to tell how well because they don't release the raw data), but doesn't yet exist in a widely applicable form.

Just my $0.02 on the subject -- before we fall all over ourselves trying to explain a phenomenon, it would be nice to know if the phenomenon exists or is just an artifact of our measurement techniques.

by marchingorders 2007-02-05 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

The sheer diversity also plays a role in limiting growth. A newcomer to the blogsphere is going to end up reading several dozen blogs, actually visit a half-dozen daily, and become part of the "community" on maybe one if at all. Ultimately people will start to segregate into blog silos, simply because each megablog provides so much content that going elsewhere is counter-productive. The big blogs link to each other which provides some lateral traffic but as a community ethos develops, readers tend to go vertical/deep into it rather than stray outside.

What's needed is a way to get content flowing horizontally. Ultimately a diary is just another single-autor blog, and communities like Dailykos are meta-blogs. If we can expand the meta to include the whole blogsphere, and scale upwards so that indivudual author blogs serve the same function as reader diaries do, then theres a potentially higher ceiling on the community size than any one single blog/metablog can support.

That means we need analogous mechanism like recomended lists and "promotion" for users' individual blogs across the whole liberal blogspace. In one sense bloggers like Atrios (or Glenn Reynolds) serve that function, by highlighting posts from various otherblogs and causing a traffic avalanche. And by inviting bloggers to their frontpages on a temp basis. However these are manual efforts and can't possibly scale.

One solution is a kind of real-time carnival approach hosted on everyone's sidebars. I've implemented one for the Islamic blogsphere and the details are here. A larger version of teh same would probably scale up quite well. This, coupled with OpenID type of universal auth would I think build horizontal links within the libsphere.

by azizhp 2007-02-05 11:19AM | 0 recs

I don't pay anything to view MyDD every day, although the content is so good, I would gladly pay for it.

by Illustrious 2007-02-05 11:25AM | 0 recs
How About More Minority Participation?

With a liberal Democratic woman, running in 2008, as well as a Black US Senator and a Latino Governor seeking the Democratic nomination for President, it stands to reason that all of these groups will be at least slightly more interested in political news over the next two years.  History is in the making, one way or another.

Considering that all of these groups are underrepresented here to one degree or another, this would seem to be a good opportunity to increase site traffic by reaching out to new demographic groups.

For example, with just 1.5% Black participation here at present, an uptick of just a couple of percentage points could mean a considerable number of additional people accessing the blog.  An increase in women users could similarly be significant. (I'm not a statistician, so I'm not going to calculate the exact number of additional people that an uptick of one or two percentage points would bring.  But in an election, it would certainly be considered to be a significant number of people.)

If Coca Cola only sold 1.5% of its soda to Blacks, you can bet that they would perceive that as a high-priority opportunity for growth.

Black voting patterns (90+ % vote for Democrats) mean that there MUST be some overlap between what is important to white progressives and what is important to Blacks.  The market is there.

Whenever a corporation attempts to increase diversity, it is confronted with issues of corporate culture that may be adverse to the new groups that the corporation seeks to attract.  

Blacks are unlikely to express diverse opinions in at atmosphere where whites immediately challenge not only their facts and their opinions but their right to post at all.  Every time you suggest that someone may be a "troll", you implicitly suggest that perhaps the (white) majority should take action to remove that person from the membership.  In an atmosphere wherein whites anonymously use majority rule to determine what may be said and what may not, there is always the risk that diverse opinions will be discouraged or eliminated.

To suggest that Blacks women and other sociological minorities can avoid discrimination by not acknowledging their group status is to suggest that we can pursue the goals of equality without acknowledging that any differences exist.    If I cannot express what electing the first Black President of the United States would mean to me, as a Black man, then that which is most important to me about the upcoming election will be off-limits and there is no purpose for my participation.  So, remaining "colorless" is not an option for me in terms of carving out a space for my political voice.

I suggest that MyDD and DailyKos increase their readership by increasing the proportion of minority and women readers to match the proportion of minorities and women participating within the Democratic electorate.  This is not something that you would do only in the interests of these underrepresented groups, but also to achieve your own political goals.  You will have a better idea of what will motivate higher minority voter turn-out there are minorities among you, expressing their opinions, offering their support, and directly accessing their own constituencies through channels to which you may not have access.

by francislholland 2007-02-05 11:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

The change in stats to fewer people online but talking amongst themselves more may point to the blogs becoming a bit more insular.  With established cliques of old users able to bounce newcomers whose presence they view as a challenge or threat, exacerbating the process.

The fact that the blogs seem to be an older, white middle class phenomenon that doesn't attract blacks,  Latinos and Asians may be another limiting factor. Attracting just one demographic probably has built in limits.

"First, the already extreme gap between the political engagement of netroots activists and rank-and-file voters will grow even wider."

The reverse may actually be true. Not spending time online may be a sign of greater political engagement...kind of a play on those who can do, those who can't blog.

Another factor is that mentioned in some recent articles about the blogs that their main political impact has been as a source of money.

One of the threads mentioned the "zeitgeist" and we've only really seen that in couple cases, Dean's original Meetup phenom, MoveOn's origin, Webb's campaign and most recently Ibama's Facebook rally organized by college kids.

There's probably some fracturing of the blogosphere, more sites making it hard to judge increases or decreases in traffic level.

by BrionLutz 2007-02-05 11:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

With established cliques of old users able to bounce newcomers whose presence they view as a challenge or threat, exacerbating the process.

I've seen this in the past. One of the most extreme versions of this was the first version of Slate's fray.  It essentially got hijacked by a thousand or so users who were very bad at encouraging participation by newbies.

I don't know that this is true anymore. The lurker commenter ratio is so high that I don't think it's relevant.

Oh, and there's an argument supporting the argument above that comments and communities are unimportant. Most people don't read comments. Of those who do, most lurk. what feels like a vibrant community of shared views is actually a fraction of a fraction of people who read a blog.

OTOH, IME the 80-20 rule is off by an order of magnitude. 2 percent of the people do 98 percent of the work, when we're talking about political organizing.

by jayackroyd 2007-02-05 12:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

"The lurker commenter ratio is so high that I don't think it's relevant."

I'd think the reverse is true.  By the existing user cliques bouncing those who threaten "their" world, the number of people commenting will naturally decline.

I think that is what the stats show with fewer people participating you get a smaller and smaller group talking to itself.

by BrionLutz 2007-02-05 01:41PM | 0 recs
The role of education

If American schools were better and civics lessons replaced teaching to the test-lessons we would see an increase in political activism and blog readership.

by Populism2008 2007-02-05 11:49AM | 0 recs
Re: The role of education

I learned last week that high schools in my area are sponsoring students to be election poll workers.

by joyful alternative 2007-02-05 04:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

Just as I once proclaimed that the aristocratic right-wing blogosphere was stagnating, it now seems that the community oriented left-wing blogosphere is stagnating as well.

Wha ... ?  The right blogsphere hit a wall because of their culture and blog design, even though we were in an election year.  

The "plateau" for the left, however, is exactly what you would expect in 2007.  Let's see what happens as the presidential races heat up.  

by Grand Moff Texan 2007-02-05 12:36PM | 0 recs
end of growth coincides with generic ballot lead

Right around the time it became apparent that Dems were doing well - specifically when the dems starting having a huge lead in the generic ballot - traffic stopped going up.  

11/2003 to 11/2004 USA today generic poll data - (question 4-1), essentially tied through this time period

9/2005-11/2006 generic data: dems have commanding lead of 5-20 points through this entire time period

It's hard to separate cause from effect, but my take is that there just isn't as much incentive to get involved in politics these days, as the world doesn't seem as screwed-up as it used to be.  As you point out, Dems are in charge of congress, and we the people will trust them (or at least, give them a chance) to be our representatives, and hope they don't screw it up.

To me, it's surprising the growth lasted as long as it did, as Bush was just so utterly wrong he pissed us off and allowed the lefty blogosphere to keep growing.  It's going to stagnate now that there isn't a daily outrage to keep motivating people, and instead of stepping up to the plate and putting life on hold (like emptywheel has done with the Libby scandal), a percentage of people will go on to do other fulfilling work that seems more pressing than politics.

However, once people are in and engaged, they won't just disappear: this community is here to stay, and I agree they'll continue to get more knowledgeable as well as autonomous as time goes on, starting more projects as they find their niche and dig in.

by aip 2007-02-06 12:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

It's becoming a regular occurrence that recommended diaries at MyDD are drawing more comments than the front page posts for the day.  This very rarely happened in the past, in my recollection, and is another sign that the members of this community get better ideas (or, more likely, are better at filtering them) the longer they are engaged in the netroots.  Should we start measuring our age in blog-years?

by aip 2007-02-06 12:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

I think diversity is the key here. The kinds of political blogging that predominate now have probably reached or are reaching a plateau. I think that goes for both single-author and user-generated sites. There are only so many people out there who are a) Progressive/Liberal, b) interested primarily in national, partisan politics c) interested in nuts-and-bolts policy stuff and/or horse-race and message stuff d) have the time and resources and background necessary to contribute to the netroots as currently constituted. And there are only so many blogs those people can read and write.

I personally don't see much value in user-generated content for informing myself about national politics. I'd much rather pick a spectrum of strong individual voices who are amenable to me or who challenge me in interesting ways, and use them as my filter. For most group blogs that I read, I only read one or two particular authors, and ignore most of the other posts. And I haven't found comment sections to be very fruitful at most larger blogs, though a few of the mid-tier ones(slacktivist, making light, and obsidian wings come to mind) have very good signal-to-noise ratios in the comments, and are worth the effort.

But, user-generated content is good for lots of other things, most of which we aren't taking advantage of in the political sphere yet. Fundraising, for one, which we've gotten a taste of already. Covering local issues and building local grassroots communities is the biggie, though what that really amounts to in national politics is kind of debatable. But in local politics, this is going to be the new huge thing, I hope, and the effects of that will eventually have huge ramifications for the national picture as well if it does happen.  

The current range of uses and users are a pretty narrowly-defined group, and just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible. First, you have digital divide issues, which probably exclude a big chunk of the Left's potential or actual economically-self-interested constituency. Not many working-poor-single-moms are going to have the time and the money and the access to really be able to contribute, or often even to find out there is something to contribute to. Add lots of rural folks, the elderly, and people for whom English isn't a first language, and so on and on, and that's a whole lot of room for growth in the long run.

There is also the restrictiveness of defining the netroots as just the traffic that goes to the blog format, when at this point, there are tons of other networked tools and mini-mediums out there to fill a huge number of niches and needs. Email, IM, Social Networking, Wikis, SMS, Video, Audio, etc. I think the totality of social software gets overshadowed a bit too much by just blogging. Blogging is one of the easier-to-master and engage of these technologies, so that's understandable, but it's probably not even going to be the dominant networked medium of the next 10 years.

But if there is a serious digital divide in even the fairly low-barrier-to-entry medium of blogging, then getting people to the point where they can take full advantage of all of these technologies to meet their own needs and build their own communities and movements(and without getting overly bogged down in learning and maintaining it all) is going to be a huge, huge task.

I think going local, and starting to use the web more as a holistic organizing tool to facilitate and lower barriers to entry for ongoing local movements and groups, which would bring on board both the organizers who are pounding pavement and the people they are trying to organize, is a big piece of the puzzle. But so is obtaining access and computer skills for the kinds of people who would most benefit from taking part in such communities. Maybe using whatever existing grassroots infrastructure there is to help teach/evangelize is a start, but more blogosphere support for mostly apolitical digital divide and computer education initiatives would probably be a good thing, and more dialogue between the (also often relatively apolitical) people building the tools and the people using them is a must. More of us getting down in the trenches and helping local groups get themselves online and learn to use the tools and participate in the conversation, or, better yet, start their own, different conversations would be a great thing as well.

But, that's easier said than done, and a lot of it is indeed going to come down to money. And if the equivalents of mass-media in our little corner can't sustain themselves, then it doesn't bode well for the bigger and more difficult projects to come. We need a steady source of funding both for grassroots community work and national/mass media message work, and ways to let people who have these in-demand tech and communications skills get out there and use them for political and social ends, on a professional basis. Volunteerism is great, but in my experience, without some sort of permanent professional presence to guide it, a lot of the effort goes to waste or is redundant, and even moreso with tech-related stuff. I've lost count of how many utterly wrongheaded and hideous small candidate and local group websites I've come across. And I'm sure lots of effort and maybe even money went into making those, for little or no tangible return. From the techie end of the equation, volunteerism is also frustrating because you often just can't put in a consistent enough effort to sustain and nurture what you are trying to build, when you also have a day job and lots of other things eating up your hours. I believe the web can be a great multiplier and engine of effort and connection, but we've got to figure out how, when, and where to best use it, and how to pay for it, before that hope can bear fruit.

by jddunn 2007-02-06 11:18AM | 0 recs
Re: An example of a vigorous local political blog
I took a look at CT Local Politics, a statewide blog that has been heavily promoted by the Hartford Courant and WTIC. Our local newspaper,  the Villager, doesn't acknowledge our local political blog, the Café ( www.woodstockctcafe.com ), even though they visit us a lot, and Woodstock citizens only whisper about us in Town meetings.
CT Local Politics is reputedly the most successful political blog in the state and maybe in New England, although there are intelligent blogs with very few visitors and porn sites that have millions of visitors in a day. I mentioned to one of our commentors, `disillusioned',  that CT Local Politics probably had "thousands of visitors" each day. In their most successful poll up for 2 weeks their maximum vote number as of a few minutes ago was 197 for the poll on age group visiting CT Local Politics. After I commented to `disillusioned' I started to question what I had said because I was certain that they had thousands of visitors and maybe 10's of thousands. I wanted to determine the percentage of visitors that actually voted in the polls at CTLP to compare with our polls.
CTLP has a poll that asks visitors to identify the county of the visitor. In this poll 182 responded and 73% of the respondents came from Hartford, New Haven, and Fairfield Counties. Only 6 respondents came from Windham County (our locale). Since the total population of Connecticut is about 3,500,000 and the population of Woodstock about 7800, CTLP has a 449-fold larger population to draw from. It's my guess that in Woodstock, there may only be about 1500 household have computers or routinely access the internet.
We, at the Café, have always prided ourselves in the uniquely local character of the Café. We have done little to expand our readership outside Woodstock and the surrounding areas unless the subject matter has a direct impact on Woodstock. And frankly, there is little interest in Woodstock out there. They are the elitists and we are the Swamp Yankees. Colin McEnroe actually chided me for cooking possum so I have exploited that persona at CTLP.
To get to the point, I struggled to find CTLP's site stats. Finally I found them. Over the last two months they have reported an average of 853 visitors per day and an average total of 2988 page turns per day. I was surprised that they don't have thousands of visitors each day, but frankly I have not been impressed with their writing, or the commentary at their site. At CTLP a small group of people are basically speaking to themselves polarized as left-wing liberals (see their polls). Most of the substance of that site is in the form of links to regular news articles; there are very few creative essays and little original humor (nothing wonderful like "Giant Fart" or "Woodstock Should Go Nuclear" both of which deserve a Pewlitzer for the Café ). I told those of our readers that may be repelled by our off-color humor that they should register at CTLP and stay there.
To try once more to get to the point, the Café's average visitation for the last 2 months has been 173 visitors per day and 486 average page turns per day, 20.3% and 16.3% of CTLP, respectively, but our page turns do not involve clicking on ads and other stupid stuff. The visitation has varied from a low of 96 on January 20th to a high of 382 on February 7th. And we are in the dullest time of the year for Woodstock. The Café will rise again after the sap is collected. With 20.3% of the visitation of CTLP, our highest respondent poll thus far is 18.3% of the highest respondent poll at CTLP (whose polls have been up one week longer), so the ratio of voter respondents for the two sites is essentially the same...and we have completely different demographics. But this is not what it's all about. It's about substance... but unfortunately substance breeds abrasiveness and conflict in a politically charged environment ... but, we are tougher than the ninnyhammer geeks at CTLP. The substance and the quality of the articles and commentary at the Café have been impressive. I recommended to Cafe'ers that we continue to grow our thick skins and sustain the dialogue. We don't want the other 3,391,200 Yankees unless they want to talk about Woodstock Connecticut. See a local political blog that is HOT at www.woodstockctcafe.com .
by Citizen Cain 2007-03-01 04:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

This was a really great posting! I think it's a bit sad that the single-politician blogs are no longer working well since they can be very interesting as well. Of course it's great that the audience have a greater chance to speak but I like the old kind of blogs as well.

And I have to say that blogs like this is way much more interesting than social communities like Facebook....

Douglas, Programmer currently working on the Men's Health Online Pharmacies project.

by Douglas 2008-02-25 11:04AM | 0 recs

This was very interesting reading and I think you might be right in what you're saying. I really hope the political blogs won't die though, they're way to interesting.

Marlena, Web Developer currently working on the Caalis, Cails, Calis project.

by Marlena 2008-02-25 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Apex Reached? Moving From Bloggers To Communit

How To Lose 6 Pounds

by abdullah 2008-03-04 05:33AM | 0 recs


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