Trashing weblogs

Trashing weblogs
: Rogers Cadenfield is in a right proper snit about the AP’s miss-the-mark coverage of yesterday’s Pew survey, which revealed — as I saw it yesterday — surprisingly large numbers for the creation of and audience for weblogs. The AP, instead, poo-pooed the numbers. Says Rogers:

Headlines around the world for this story: “Study: Blogging still infrequent,” “Very few bloggers on Net,” “Small number choose to blog,” “Web users slow to post journals,” and my favorite, “Blog hype belies use.” All because the number of webloggers is only 2.7 million, a number larger than the circulation of any newspaper in the U.S. Does anyone still wonder why amateurs are creating their own media?

Amen. And the number of bloggers from later Pew surveys is actually between 8 and 9 million and, as we know from Technorati, it’s growing fast: 11,000 new weblogs every day; one every 7.8 seconds.

Dave agrees and so does Doc, who says:

Hey, what percentage of the adult population would describe themselves as writers at all? Earth to AP: blogging is driving that percentage up, hard and fast.

Reminds me of Gandhi’s oft-quoted line about disruptive movements that are misunderstood by the institutions they disrupt:

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. The you win.

Seems to me we’re midway between 2 and 3

I’m surprised that one of my favorite blogs, Lost Remote, takes up the AP spin here and here, linking to this guy, who decides to quit blogging because Pew convinces him the audience isn’t big enough and thus not worth his time.

Wipe the snot off your face, fellow; it’s unbecoming.

Not big enough. That’s old, big media think. That’s powerlaw think. That’s consolidation think, in which only the biggest two players win.

Those days are over.

How big is big? Big enough.

I have more audience for this humble personal blog than I ever imagined I would have. But I will admit I had to adjust my own old, big media thinking about how big is big in the blog world. I’ve given this illustration before: Back before I was a hasbeen in a suit, I used to write for TV Guide and People, where — according to the inflated readership numbers — I supposedly had an audience of more than 20 million. Granted, there was no way to know how many skipped over, tore out, or spat upon my page but even taking away a large percentage, that’s big, measured in millions. Then I started blogging for an audience measured in the low thousands. Felt small. But then one Sunday, I looked out on the congregation in my church and saw about 70 attentive faces looking up at the minister, who had worked darned hard — much harder than any weblogger — on his message to them. Is that audience big enough? As him and he’ll tell that two or more gathering is big enough.

  • Well said, Jeff. This “big” issue is analog trying to understand digital.

  • But it’s the minister’s job to preach to the congregation. It’s his profession, his livelihood. Of course there are more lucrative careers – but it is an occupation, which provides him with food, shelter, health insurace. That’s not the case for 99.99+% of people writing blogs.
    It’s not a matter of oldmedia think. It’s simply that good writing takes time and effort. And it’s hard – and often unattractive – to do that if you have to make a living too.

  • The study’s release is recent, but the underlying data is not: the telephone surveys date from March 12 to May 20, 2003. That’s almost a year ago. Blogger only became available about four and a half years ago. A year is a long time in Internet-time, maybe even longer in Blogosphere-time (the blog I contribute to was born since the survey was taken). It’s hard to make any generalizations at all based on such old data.

  • Oh, Seth, quit your kvetching. All artists are responsible for their own experience ;-)
    I disagree with Dr Johnson. Only a fool writes for money.
    I too, Jeff, have written for audiences of millions. Frankly, smaller audiences have proved more useful over the long run.

  • Ian

    That doesn’t even take into account that numerous surveys have shown that ‘net-heads (Bloggers included) are up-to-date on fads, trend-setters, opinion-formers, etc., with lots of disposable income, i.e. the ideal demographic for anything that needs an audience, ‘cos once you have them, they bring all their friends, etc. etc. etc.

  • Yeah, but at least one of those surveys was by an organization which has as its business, consulting to corporations and politicians about how to sell to net-heads. Sort of like material from Joe Trippi about why lots of TV ads are just the thing you need.

  • ken

    excellent post, Jeff.

  • KMK

    a lil off topic…did you find someone to redo your blog yet?

  • Ripclawe

    AP “missing the mark” was intentional, not an accident. Old media will downplay anything that puts new media in a positive light.

  • “This guy” here (who also happens to be a Lost Remote blogger). The Pew stats didn’t convince me to quit my personal blog — it was the specific audience numbers for my own blog compared to the amount of time and effort I put into it. The Pew stats just happened to coincide in time with when I decided to mothball my personal blog. It was a decision I’d been contemplating for months.
    But as to the Pew numbers: forget percentages. Think relative numbers. If you do the math, the number of people reading blogs is, at best, five times greater than the number of people writing blogs. That doesn’t provide a great audience-reader ratio for a typical blog, as my own experience shows.
    That said, there are some people who are happy with that because they write solely for personal expression, much as some people write the old analog style in a personal journal. I have no quibble with different goals.
    But I write to move people and get them to think. And thinking that the typical personal blog is going to move the masses requires a huge leap of faith. Some do achieve it, such as BuzzMachine. But most do not. And those who claim otherwise are deluding themselves. Or have something to sell you.
    Oh, one “pro-blog” addendum to my original essay: The third-party validation of writing that I think is important comes not only from editors and publishers. It also comes, on the Internet, from the number of other sites willing to put their reputation on the line by routinely linking to your blog, in essence endorsing and validating that it’s worth reading. That’s a good kind of filtering that’s unique to the Web.
    I’ll still keep my professional blog because I believe in its value and the audience (though never as big as I get when I write for print) is sufficient and high quality. But the personal blog? Nah.

  • Mike G

    It’s all about attentiveness, not raw numbers. I’m in advertising, occasionally I do things that are seen by millions. In theory. Does anyone notice them, really? Like them? Dubious at best.
    I published a book a few– ulp, almost a decade ago now. 14,000 copies sold. Hey, that’s pretty cool, 14,000 people wanted to read what I REALLY had to say. That’s better than a million who see it, but try to ignore it.
    I still get email from half a dozen people talking about stuff relating to it now and then. Relative to 14,000, not much. Relative to millions seeing a print ad or TV spot, infinitesimal. But the idea that total strangers seek me out because they liked my old book and want to know what I think now– well, as an ad I did NOT do would say, priceless.

  • It’s about effect.
    Raw numbers are often a proxy for attentiveness. This leads to the rebuttal that a few interested and powerful readers are better than many uninterested readers. But most people have neither large numbers, nor small numbers of powerful people, as readers.
    That is, it is implicitly assumed in the argument that a large number of readers in absolute terms, yields at least a small number of powerful and interested readers. This is not strictly true.
    But pointing out the fact that it isn’t strictly true is too often a distraction from the main point of the argument, that almost all bloggers have neither.

  • Sitemeter says I’m getting 39 visits a day. About half are people googling the grain I took as a nickname, or an unusual word or two which show up in a post. On the other hand, I also know that I have half a dozen regular readers. That’s about as many people who notice the scale models I build for my other hobby, and, tho my ego would like more attention (for both hobbies) they are things which I do for my own pleasure.
    Blogging is more satisfying than yelling at the callers to talk radio as I drive.

  • Dexter Westbrook

    Comparing an estimate of the number of bloggers to newspaper circulation is silly. I suspect there are few bloggers who someone would pay $180 a year to read (that’s the rate for my local newspaper). Even the Wall Street Journal keeps its pay site below $50 a year.
    I look at a lot of blogs, enjoy many of them (including this one) and hit the tip jar for more than a few. But I also think bloggers tend to vastly overrate their own influence, and they’re as thin-skinned as any reporter when someone points this out.
    I forget who said this first, but it’s useful to remember that 90 percent of everything is crap _ including blogs. When it comes to blogs, actually, the percentage is probably closer to 95 to 98 percent.

  • Old Spook “95% of all science fiction is crap.” Ted Sturgeon, otherwise know as Sturgeons Law. It’s one of the most quoted in the intell game, and for good reason.

  • Old Spook

    Google is our friend.

  • Charlie (Colorado)

    How big is big? Big enough.
    Boy, there is an insight more people need to have. Just looked it up, and Scholastic says J.K. Rowling — certainly the most successful writer of recent times — has sold 170 million books total.
    That should be read as “only 170 million books total.” Out of a population of maybe 3 billion people who can read her books.
    It’s made her a billionaire — she’s richer than the Queen — and she did it a dollar or two at a time.
    As Jeff pointed out, blogs have about an 11 percent share — beating Fox News, CNN and MSNBC together if I’m not mistaken. Instapundit has several million hits, and rather more individual viewers than Dennis Miller.
    Dean and Rosemary Esmay have gotten “hundreds” of tip-jar contributions in their recent difficulties; Andrew Sullivan makes a pretty good living out of his blog.
    How big does blogging have to be? It’s already competing seriously with the so-called “mainstream”.

  • When I first started blogging, I almost quit because of people telling me 1.) that I shouldn’t write for free and 2.) that no one would read my blog.
    To #1, that’s missing the point. To #2, you get as much traffic as you want – or more importantly – as you deserve. In the 3 months or so since I started my blog, I’ve established a regular readership of about 300, something that I honestly never thought I’d see.
    I’m not sure why I posted this “testimonial,” I know I’m preaching to the choir. There was a time in my life (not so long ago – I’m now 21) when I was writing a “letter to the editor” every day in an attempt to get my opinions out there. Usually they’d get ignored or occasionally my main points would be edited out and they’d get printed. Now, if I have a point to make – big or small – I type it up and click “post.”
    It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

  • People who blog simply for the number of eyeballs that will supposedly hit their site, and then quit in a huff because they have decided it’s not “worth it” if they only get a small audience, aren’t really writers and probably should get another hobby, one that is more ego-gratifying than writing.

  • “you get as much traffic as you want – or more importantly – as you deserve.”
    Now, now, one or the other may be true, but certainly not both! :-)
    Would you write “you get as much money as you want – or more importantly – as you deserve”? The problems with such a view should be manifest (and in both directions, overrated as well as underrated).
    Maybe I am not “really” a writer, not an artist(e’). I am concerned with mundanity, of materialism and worldly goods. Perhaps I am not worthy.

  • Good thought, Jeff. I like the comparison. The minister has his place in God’s kingdom, and if he is teaching well in submission to the Lord, then his work is worthwhile. In one sense, blog readers are like personal friends. You wouldn’t say that if you can’t have several friends, then you won’t have any at all, even if you would like to have more of them. And if you write stories, you wouldn’t say that if you can’t publish with a large circulation magazine or big publishing house, then you won’t publish at all. So it is with blogs, which should be more like the editorial section than the national/metro news section–well, usually more like the letters section than anything. Bloggers write for themselves and their part, however large, of the blogsphere. We all have our place, our personal influence, and responsibility for our time and resources.