Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The year of the blog? 

2004 is fast becoming known as the year of the blog - that is among those who care about such things like the blogs. For the overwhelming majority of humanity, and most people in the West, 2004 will undoubtedly be the year of something else.

Still, dictionary publishers Merriam-Webster have made "blog" their
word of the year, based on the fact it has been one of the most searched terms on their website in the past twelve months. Hugh Hewitt is publishing a book about blogs early next year. Dan Rather has finally resigned just the other week, arguably the second biggest scalp claimed by the blogosphere after Trent Lott's. Journalists and pundits are still debating the impact of blogs on the election and weighing the old media versus the new media, all accompanied by a considerable amount of sneering about bias, journalistic standards and pajamas.

Blogs are obviously playing an increasingly important role as disseminators of information and commentary; one day they might become an essential fixture of the news universe - but we're not there yet. As a source of news, blogs are quite clearly still dwarfed by the mainstream media outlets: newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, web sites. Instapundit is getting some 150,000 visits a day, a major newspaper shifts a million copies and Rush Limbaugh is listened to by several million people around the US. Blogs, of course, reach a much more targeted and arguably more news savvy audience, a self-selecting information junky elite. Still, the reach is often as important as impact, and, clearly, blogs still have a long way to go before they graduate from a niche to mainstream mass-media status.

Blog readership is also substantially more volatile and cyclical than is access to major news outlets. I'm not talking about the phenomenon well knows to all bloggers - the weekend dip by as much as 50 per cent below the average weekday readership (in contrast to mainstream outlets), but about longer-term trends. Let's use Instapundit as an example again:
from January to July this year, Instapundit was averaging around 3 million visits a month. With the election campaign heating up, this shot up to over 7 million in September and October. In November, visits peaked at 420,000 two days after the election and have steadily declined ever since to an average of around 150,000 a day. I found this pattern replicated in a dozen other major and middle-range blogs chosen at random. It seems that for many average internet users, blogs still merely provide an information supplement at some specific times, rather than a regular news diet.

Designating 2004 as "The Year of the Blog" might be a bit too premature then - perhaps a more accurate description would be "The Year of the Beginning of the Long March of Blog".

Update: Bill at INDC Journal finds a bright spot about being "just" a blogger:

"If raising one's profile to be read by only a few thousand people a day exposes an individual to daily criticism that needs to be largely ignored in order to function, then imagine the level of criticism received by a newscaster with 12 million viewers."
I guess that a newscaster with 12 million viewers has a staff of one or two - or five - to go through all the emails, delete 90% of them and follow up on the other 10%. I take Bill's general point, though - my blog clocks up on average about 6,000 visits a day, and even that generates a lot of email, by way of links, comments, questions, stories, and so on. For some totally unexplained reason I have been very fortunate not to have attracted too many "trolls" to my blogs, and most, if not all, emails I receive are constructive and positive, so unlike Bill, managing the correspondence doesn't take a psychological toll on me - merely in terms of time.

So thank you to my readers for their kindness and civility. I appreciate both your contribution and the manner in which you make it. God bless.


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