New Establishment Rising? The End Of the Flat Blogosphere

by: Chris Bowers

Sun Jul 08, 2007 at 16:30


(Actually bumped at 2:31 p.m. - promoted by Chris Bowers)

Summary
Over the past five years, as the audience and political effectiveness of the progressive, political blogosphere has exploded, the "short head" of the progressive, political blogosphere has undergone a transformation from a loose collection of small, independent, solo projects into a sophisticated media and activist structure driving the national political scene. This transformation has the side-effect of significantly increasing the entry costs into the "short head" of the progressive, political, blogosphere for new, independent actors. As a result, what was once a fluid, "outsider" and "open" form of new media is now, quite possibly, crystallizing into a new "establishment" all its own.


Introduction
This article was originally scheduled to appear in the first issue of JONI, The Journal of Netroots Ideas, to be published by the organization responsible for the YearklyKos Convention.  Instead, it will serve as the first installment in a collaborative project between Open Left and JONI. Articles scheduled for print publication in the journal will first go through a series of directed discussions online, and those discussions will eventually be incorporated into the final JONI project. In the case of this article, the editors of Open Left and JONI have posted a series of questions alongside the piece to help start, and direct, discussion. As you read the article, please examine these questions, and consider providing an answer to one or more of them in the comments. This is an important project that will help define the progressive blogosphere to a more off-line political world.

Also, I have to admit that I enjoy making a lengthy article about the difficulty of breaking into the "short head" of the progressive blogosphere my first post on Open Left. In short order, this website will become a direct test of the theories I present in this article.

The article can be found in the extended entry.
Chris Bowers :: New Establishment Rising? The End Of the Flat Blogosphere
New Establishment Rising? The End Of the Flat Blogopshere

In late 2002, when the progressive, political blogosphere first began to receive attention from established news sources for its role in helping to expose Trent Lott's racist comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, it was a very different place than it is today. For one thing, it had far fewer readers, with an audience less than 5% of early 2007 levels (see note one at the end of the piece). Second, even on the most frequently linked and highly trafficked blogs that served as hubs for the wider political blogosphere, far less content was produced. For example, during the final four months of 2002, Dailykos had 425 front-page articles, whereas in the final four months of 2006 it featured 2,327 front-page articles, as well as an exponentially increased amount of user generated content in the form of comments and reader "diaries" (see here for more on diary production statistics). Third, in late 2002, the blogosphere was much smaller. With one blog created every second over the past few years, the total number of blogs of any kind in 2002 was a small fraction of the number that exist in 2007. Specific to progressive politics, more two-thirds of the websites in the Liberal Blog Advertising Network had yet to be founded in late 2002. Further, departing from what was once largely a series of solitary productions, a wide range of progressive blogs now feature co-writers, guest writers, and diarists, adding an entirely new dimension to the amount of content produced in the political blogosphere.


The Way It Was
Connected to this explosive growth in audience, blogs, and content production, a fundamental change has occurred in the structure of many progressive, political blogs. Back in late 2002, there was a nearly universal, structural format for progressive blogging, that centered around the following five, ubiquitous characteristics:

  1. Individual. A single writer produced virtually all of the front-page content. Group blogs were extremely rare.

  2. Independent. Five years ago there were virtually no "official" blogs for electoral campaigns, party committees, politically focused news outlets, think tanks or advocacy organizations. Whatever blogs were around were independent of established media and political outlets.

  3. Hobbies. Five years ago, political blogging as a profession simply did not exist. Advertising was non-existent on progressive, political blogs. Fundraisers for the proprietors of blogs were extraordinarily rare. No one blogged full-time and no one used blogging as a primary source of income. Blogging was a hobby that operated almost entirely outside the market economy.

  4. Limited Communities. Comment sections were not moderated in any way, shape or form. Registration was never required to post a comment. Opportunities for reader generated content, such as diaries, were limited. Comment threads were sparse by today's standards.

  5. Less varied and original content. Original reporting and research almost never took place. Multimedia options such as video were equally rare. Guest posts from prominent media and political figures were unheard of. There was comparatively little in the way of direct activism on behalf of candidates and causes. Overall, at the time, content in the political blogosphere could be accurately characterized as micro-punditry on current events that was driven almost entirely by reporting from established news sources.

Now, it should be noted that these five characteristics probably still accurately apply to over 95% of all progressive, political blogs. What Chris Anderson famously termed the  "Long Tail" of the blogosphere is still almost entirely populated by independent, hobby blogs with a sole content producer, virtually no internal community to speak of, and content that is almost 100% micro-punditry on current events reporting from established news sources. (Note: for the remainder of this article, the terms "Short Head" and "Long Tail" will refer, respectively, to the roughly 1% of progressive, political blogs that receive over 95% of all progressive blogosphere traffic, and the 99% of progressive political blogs that receive less than 5% of all progressive, political blogosphere traffic. More information on the great traffic imbalance can also be found in the The Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere, co-written by Matt Stoller and myself. Also, further information on the "long tail" and "short head" can also be found at wikipedia).

(JONI Discussion Question: Many bloggers do not even wish to gain entry to the "short head" of the blogosphere. What are the comparative advantages and disadvantages of operating "short head" and "long tail" blogs?)



The Way It Is Now
Today, the "short head" of the progressive, political blogosphere looks completely different. Since late 2002, a dramatic change has taken place where virtually every blog with a large audience (1,000 or more daily readers) has begun to shed at least one, and sometimes all five, of the original characteristics.  In every case, the shift away from these five characteristics has caused a significant increase in the time and resources necessary to keep a so-called "short head" progressive, political blog operational. This increase in maintenance costs has resulted in significantly increased entry costs to the "short head," "A-list," or whatever term best describes the small number of progressive, political blogs that receive both the lion's share of readers and inbound hyperlinks. In other words, it has become far more difficult for a new and relatively unknown blogger to attract a large, national readership on his or her own than it was even in the very recent past.

Perhaps most importantly, since at least November of 2005, the entry costs to the "short head" of the national, progressive, political blogosphere have become so extreme that a new "establishment" within the progressive, political blogosphere has begun to crystallize. Less than a decade into its existence, the rise of the progressive, political blogosphere establishment represents a dramatic, and potentially dangerous, shift for an important branch of supposed "flat" and "open" new media (in other words, media where the barriers to participation in the production and distribution of new content are minimal for the majority of American citizens).  This is the flip-side, the photo negative, of the sustainable funding dilemma for the progressive blogosphere. Its rapid increase in size and political effectiveness has made it a tremendously positive, indispensable part of the progressive, political ecosystem in general. However, becoming an indispensable part of the progressive, political ecosystem required the creation of significant structural overhead. Now, even as this new establishment still struggles to find the sustainable funding required to its maintain this overhead, and thus its operational capacity over the long-term, this same overhead has now set the barrier to joining the "short head" so high that has become a near impossibility for a new independent, individual actor to join the elite ranks of the national, progressive political blogosphere.

(JONI Discussion Question: What are some successful-and unsuccessful-strategies for drawing more attention and traffic to "long tail" blogs?)


Transformation At The Top
In order to better understand the degree to which progressive, political blogs in the "short head" have moved away from the original format of a single, independent writer producing mirco-punditry as a hobby, it is useful to once again look at the five characteristics described above as they apply to the "short head" in mid-2007. The following is an incomplete list of which blogs have departed from, or even developed entirely separately of, each of those five characteristics:


  1. Group blogging is now the norm. Huffington Post, Dailykos, Crooks and Liars, TPM Café, Think Progress, Firedoglake, Americablog, Newshounds, The Agonist, MyDD, Pandagon, Talk Left, Feministing, Sadly No, My Left Wing, BooMan Tribune, The Group News Blog, The Left Coaster and many more now feature multiple, regular, front-page writers. By featuring multiple writers, all of these blogs are able to produce more new content on a more regular basis than sole proprietor blogs. Even many highly trafficked blogs not listed here, such as Hullabalo, Eschaton, and Political Animal, sometimes rely on occasional or weekend posters to keep the content flowing. Nowadays, the contemporary "short head" blog never shuts down for vacation, weekends, holidays, work, illness, or personal reasons. Ever. An individual content producer simply cannot match that over an extended period of time, even though certain extremely rare and verbose individuals, such as Digby, Josh Marshall, Atrios and Juan Cole, are able to come close.

  2. Institutional blogs on the rise. According to Technorati, as of July 6, 2007, Think Progress, a blog produced by the Center for American Progress, is now the fifteenth most linked political blog in the entire world, and fourth among all political blogs.  While it is the best example of a successful, institutionally-based progressive blog, it is hardly the only example. Now, the Democratic National Committee (Kicking Ass), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (From the Roots), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (The Stakeholder), every major Democratic presidential candidate, most statewide candidates, and many congressional candidates also have blogs. Many advocacy organizations, from The American Constitution Society to Wal-Mart Watch, now have official blogs. Many other progressive bloggers, such as Glenn Greenwald at Salon, Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly, and Ezra Klein at the American Prospect, have signed on with established news organizations. With institutional backing, these "official" blogs and bloggers have advantages, including regular salaries and research capability, which independent blogs lack.

  3. Professional bloggers emerge. Even aside from the new corps of progressive bloggers working for electoral campaigns, party committees, advocacy organizations or established news outlets, a new group of progressives have been able to make independent political blogging their primary source of income. Several independent blogs now feature full-time bloggers. These blogs include, but are not limited to, Dailykos, Talking Points Memo, Crooks and Liars, Eschaton, MyDD, My Left Wing, and BooMan Tribune. When one considers the combined total of independent and institutionally based blogging professionals, there are now at least three-dozen progressives for whom political blogging is their primary income and primary work-related activity. That total does not even include the many consultants who came from the blogosphere and who have used that experience to help make a living as political professionals in other ways. While political bloggers, netroots coordinators, and Internet consultants are currently in high demand, back in 2002, none of these jobs existed. Needless to say, when it comes to generating new content, traffic, and inbound links, being able to blog full-time is a decisive advantage over the hobbyist model.

  4. Self-Reinforcing communities. Starting in 2003 with the introduction of a Scoop platform on Dailykos, many well-established, highly trafficked progressive blogs began to implement more interactive, community facilitating website designs. Specifically, through software platforms such as Scoop and Soapblox, several highly trafficked websites now give registered users the ability to produce their own self-directed content in the form of user diaries. This has not only increased the amount of content produced on many blogs, thus further enhancing their competitive advantage in content production, but in many cases it has actually deterred people from starting their own blogs. After all, why bother creating a new progressive blog near the end of the Long Tail when Dailykos offers new writers a substantial, ready-made audience? Since October of 2003, several dozen new bloggers, including the author of this article, first rose to prominence in the progressive, political blogosphere not by founding and maintaining a blog of their own, but rather by keeping a fairly regular diary on Dailykos. The comments section at Firedoglake has also served as a training ground for new progressive bloggers, and there are other examples as well. The path to blogosphere new prominence now travels almost exclusively through established community blogs rather than through the creation of new blogs.

  5. Moving beyond blogging. Various combinations of the four above factors have allowed many blogs to evolve into fully-fledged boutique media and activist outlets. Over the past four years, all of the "short head" blogs listed here have begun to branch out beyond punditry and engaged in at least two, and often more, of the following: investigative journalism, live reports from major political events, on the ground reports from campaigns in all fifty states, professional-grade election analysis, heavy-duty fundraising, whip counts on major legislative campaigns, the commissioning of independent polls, interviews of prominent political figures, the lobbying of elected officials, comprehensive analysis of government documents, dishing out inside gossip, running for public and party office, writing books, recruiting candidates, and many forms of non-financial direct activism. Furthermore, while micro-punditry on current events still accounts for the majority of content even on the most highly trafficked blogs, that micro-punditry now plays a major role in driving the direction of American political discourse. Simply put, when bloggers write about current events, their work often becomes news, as perhaps best demonstrated by National Journal's Blogometer and CNN's "Inside the Blogs" segment. In short, there is no longer any media or campaign related political activity in which, collectively speaking, the "short head" of the progressive, political blogosphere does not engage on a regular basis. The progressive, political blogosphere is no longer just talking about politics-it is making politics happens.

(JONI Discussion Question: Given their changing nature, is the term "blog" still a useful way to describe many of these "short head" websites?)


The Demand for High Quality Content
Contrary to a certain popularly held belief, the creation of a progressive blogosphere establishment was not primarily the result of blogosphere collusion on hyperlink patterns, search engines and blogrolls. Instead, the solidification of a new elite was primarily the result of the development of group blogging, full-time writers, institutional support, self-perpetuating communities, and the expansion of political blogging into other activities besides punditry and opinion journalism. Over 80% of blog readers connect with any given blog through the "front door," aka, the main blog URL, without any assistance from various connective tissues such as hyperlinks in front-page articles, search engine optimization strategies, and permanent blogrolls. What keeps people coming back through the front door of any given blog is a virtually non-stop stream of original, high quality content. Due to the massive resource discrepancies outlined above, a small number of blogs now have decisive advantages when it comes to producing large amounts of new, original, quality content. Above all else, that is why the "short head" has begun to solidify.

There was nothing nefarious or pre-determined about this transformation. On the independent side of the blogosphere, most of these changes happened organically in an ad hoc, spur of the moment fashion. On the institutional side, many establishment forces in the progressive, political ecosystem understandably wanted to spend resources to connect with a new, massive, popular phenomenon. Also, many people with experience in the blogosphere justifiably took advantage of the professional opportunities these new outlays of establishment resources provided.

However, no matter the motivations involved, by late 2005, the end result of this transformation was a collection of four or five dozen well-established national websites that no new progressive blog following the old, independent, single content producer could ever hope to either equal or surpass. In fact, as of July 6, 2007, of the 50 progressive, political blogs with the most traffic, every single one of them was founded before November 2005, and over 90% were founded in 2004 or earlier (see note two at the end of this piece for more on this). It has been over one and a half years since a new blog has broken into the "short head" of the national progressive blogosphere, whereas not long ago new members of the "short head" used to be fairly common. Over time, their appearances slowed to a trickle, and now seem to have stopped entirely. Back in October of 2005, Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory might have been the last great individual breakthrough. Now, even Glenn Greenwald has gone institutional and blogs for Salon.com. The entry costs to the "A-list," the "top tier," and the "short head" have simply become too high for individuals to sustainably break through on their own. A caste system is solidifying and a new establishment is crystallizing.

(JONI Discussion Question: Are there other possible causes for the solidification of the "short head?" Also, what effect does the pressure on bloggers to keep producing new content in order to stay competitive have on the nature of that content?)


Positive and Negative Effects
As unpalatable as terms like "establishment" are to a movement that prides itself on grassroots action, people-power, and "crashing the gates," it needs to be remembered that this development is not entirely negative. The only reason a blogosphere elite has come into existence is because the progressive, political blogosphere now effectively engages in a far more expansive range of political and media activities than it did just three or four years ago. The progressive blogosphere has done all of the following: played a key exposed a number of Republican scandals; kept the activist base engaged and informed on a daily basis; expanded progressive political activism over the past five years; reinvigorated moribund Democratic campaigns and local parties; made the fifty state strategy both a reality and a success; challenged a lapdog, corporatist press on a daily basis; and catalyzed every single progressive improvement in the American political scene over the last four years. We have come a long way from exposing Trent Lott. In order for this to be possible, a broader structural framework was necessary. Also, the achievement of broad, progressive political goals was always the main impetus behind the creation of every aspect of the new infrastructure. Ultimately, the increased entry cost to the "short head," and the resulting creation of a new blogosphere establishment, has been an unforeseen, and unfortunate, side effect of the progressive blogosphere's many successful efforts to change American politics as a whole.

Still, no matter the causes, no matter the intentions, and no matter the positive impacts, the challenge of breaking into the "short head" of the progressive, political blogosphere is a problem that must not only be addressed, but also be alleviated. Simply put, the progressive blogosphere thrives on mass participation, innovative ideas, and vibrant discussion. If the barriers to entry stay too high for too long and if the people directing discussion and action remain the same for an extended period of time, then there will be a corresponding drop-off in the political effectiveness of the progressive blogosphere. Some warning signs have already appeared. For example, it can hardly be a coincidence that the growth of the audience for the political blogosphere began to stagnate at almost precisely the same moment, late 2005, when the composition of the "short head" ossified (For more information on stagnant blogosphere traffic, click here). Further, another, more long-standing problem of the progressive blogosphere, its lack of diversity, will never improve if the people who make up the "short head" never change (click here for more information on the demographic make-up of the netroots).

While it would be presumptuous to claim to have all of the solutions to this complex problem in an article of this length, I would like to point to three areas that show promise. First, on the institutional front, the Center for Independent Media has begun to offer significant resources, media training and exposure to small, independent, individual bloggers in a number of states. Second, when it comes to hyperlinks and other forms of connective tissue, more bloggers, both large and small, are engaging in wide-ranging "blog roundups" that give exposure to a wide variety of progressive blogs. Third, local blogging, which in most regions, states and cities does not suffer from nearly the same level of "short head" solidification as the national scene, has seen the emergence of a number of prominent, influential blogs in the past two years. These are all efforts that need continuing support.  Beyond that, hopefully recognition of the problem, and the conversations that develop from that recognition, will result in even more potential remedies in the near future.

(JONI Discussion Question: apart from those already mentioned, are there other negative side-effects of the solidification of the "short head?" Also, what other potential solutions are there to this problem?)


Notes
One: See The Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere. The traffic reports cited in that study only go back to July of 2003, when the progressive political blogosphere had an estimated daily audience of about 200,000 people. Given that current estimates for progressive blogosphere readership range as high as four million people a day, and that progressive blogosphere traffic undoubtedly saw a substantial increase during the first seven months of 2003 due to events such as the start of the Iraq war and the rise of Howard Dean's presidential campaign, it is entirely possible that the daily audience of progressive blogosphere in late 2002 was significantly less than 5% of its current size. Also, the current high-end estimate of four million has been suggested both by the traffic estimates of the Liberal Blog Advertising Network (keep in mind that the LBAN does not include some large blogs like Think Progress and the Huffington Post, the latter of which typically has an audience slightly larger than that of Dailykos), and by a January 2007 study conducted by Joseph Graf for George Washington University, The Audience for Political Blogs.

Two: This claim is derived from my personal work in building the Liberal Blog Advertising Network, which ranks blogs according to traffic and where a blog age of six months is a requirement for membership. For national blogs not in the network, I am aware of none that have an average traffic in excess of 30,000 page views a week. It should be noted that some locally focused progressive blogs have appeared since November 2005.


JONI Discussion Questions


  • Part One, The Way It Was: Many bloggers do not even wish to gain entry to the "short head" of the blogosphere. What are the comparative advantages and disadvantages of operating "short head" and "long tail" blogs?

  • Part Two, The Way It Is Now: What are some successful-and unsuccessful-strategies for drawing more attention and traffic to "long tail" blogs?

  • Part Three, Transformation At The Top: Given their changing nature, is the term "blog" still a useful way to describe many "short head" progressive websites?

  • Part Four: The Demand for High Quality Content: Are there other possible causes for the solidification of the "short head?" Also, what effect does the pressure on bloggers to keep producing new content in order to stay competitive have on the nature of that content?

  • Part Five: Positive And Negative Effects: Apart from those mentioned in the article, are there other negative side-effects of the solidification of the "short head?" Also, what other potential solutions are there to this problem?

And, of course, anything else you might want to discuss.


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Growing the progressive blogosphere (4.00 / 2)
Second, when it comes to hyperlinks and other forms of connective tissue, more bloggers, both large and small, are engaging in wide-ranging "blog roundups" that give exposure to a wide variety of progressive blogs. Third, local blogging, which in most regions, states and cities does not suffer from nearly the same level of "short head" solidification as the national scene, has seen the emergence of a number of prominent, influential blogs in the past two years.

We're not even up yet, but the folks behind the new Missouri Soapblox-based blog Show Me Progress are looking at some of this when we launch. We'll have a feeds page with headlines from all progressive blogs in the state, so our readers can quickly see who's out there and see what they are saying. It'll be a perpetual blog roundup.

Join us at the Missouri community blog Show Me Progress!


Missouri Blog (0.00 / 0)
is an excellent example of the spreading out of the progressive blogosphere.  FiredUp Missouri is the Carnahan blog and not really interactive.  This one will be a true progressive blog.  You're doing great work on it, clarkent. 

[ Parent ]
Quite impressive for (0.00 / 0)
a bunch of 'kids, dressed in pajamas, sitting in the basement, of their parents house, blogging on their laptops.'  LOL. 

Glad to see Open Left, well, open.  Good luck to you Chris!


always interesting (4.00 / 3)
There's a group blog not mentioned (The Next Hurrah) that are a combo of individual star power (emptywheel), group effort, cheap entry, but including non-professional (make a living) bloggers who are nonetheless professionals in their every day lives. Still, even though it got started as a Daily Kos spin-off, and members subsequently got promoted to the front page of Daily Kos, it has a community and a hive mind of its own.

Another soapblox site, Flu Wiki Forum, is a netroots community without being a progressive community and in fact, is a multi-functional non-partisan site that uses netroots techniques whatever the label.

There are always "where do I fit this into a neat category?" blogs. There likely always will be.


Niches and New Terms (0.00 / 0)
And those niches are always important. And, as others have mentioned, not everyone, and probably not even most, want to be in the short head. Maybe it just isn't as big a problem as I would make it out to be, but I know there are a lot of people upset by the perception of there being new gatekeepers, and those concerns are warrented.

Your point about the definition of flu wiki forum is also interesting. It is certainly "open" and "progressive." Where does it fit into the blogopshere, and to new media in general? And is there a better term we can use to help describe all of these new sites, without being so generic with a term, like, I guess, "new media."


[ Parent ]
Nomenclature (0.00 / 0)
So for those of us with tiny readerships & no inclination to grow:

Are we Tailies?


The plural of anecdote is not data.


[ Parent ]
It could work (0.00 / 0)
I can certainly think of worse names than that... :)

[ Parent ]
So... (0.00 / 0)
do those of us in the middle (in the case of Obsidian Wings, around 4,000/day) count as part of the thick neck?

[ Parent ]
Q1: long tail (4.00 / 1)
There seems to be an assumption that all bloggers WANT to be in the short head.  Not the case.  Firstly, short head bloggers cover national politics.  Many long tail bloggers stake out a much smaller geographic area and focus there.  The short head simply can't accomodate numerous posts on state level races let alone county or township.  Long tail blogs are where people look for information on state house and senate, county and township commissioner candidates and officials and so on. 

Secondly, many hobbyist bloggers like their day jobs and don't have any interest in becoming full time bloggers.  Just like people enjoy being part of community theaters but don't really want to go on Broadway.  Or will be active in community affairs but don't want to run for office.  Or do want to run for office but only for school board not for president. 

Thirdly, long tail individual blogs let people set up shop the way they want.  Managing the number of comments that come in on a short head blog must be a real headache.  If you have your own shop you can set specific rules on what is allowed and what isn't and the few people who come around and comment will follow that.  Working with a larger audience means settling feuds, cautioning the uncivil, soothing ruffled feathers, etc.  Who needs or wants to do that? 

Fourthly, most long tail bloggers will tell you they get a lot of business via search engine hits, people looking for specific information.  It is usually the local data and since the long tail may very well be the most frequent posters on that topic they are the ones search engines retrieve.  We need that kind of information available and findable.  It would get lost in the short head.

In closing, for full disclosure and as you might have guessed, I write a long tail blog, aboveavgjane.blogspot.com.  It focuses on the Philadelphia suburbs and is fairly low key.  Not a huge audience but enough to keep me going.  I'm happy with it as it is and have no interest in it becoming a national blog.  It takes all kinds and, honestly, there is room for everyone.


I certainly didn't mean to imply that (0.00 / 0)
I even pointed out, if only as a small aside, that many bloggers don't have any desire to be int eh short head. I certainly agree with you on that point, on which you have been instructive in the past.

As for the general sense of freedom that smaller blogs allow, again, I agree with you. Constantly being forced to churn out content doesn't always allow you to produce exactly the content you would most want...


[ Parent ]
long tail (0.00 / 0)
I didn't mean to be pedantic or criticize the post, only to answer one of the questions listed after the article.  This is one of the few issues in the blogosphere that I can speak or write to with any experience or even remote credibility so I thought I'd throw my 2 cents in.

[ Parent ]
Ossification (0.00 / 0)
This is a really great piece, but one some level I challenge  your assertion that the problem of the ossification of the short-head blog "establishment" is something that can be changed in the short-term.

As you document, "blogging" today (at least in the A-list/short head sense) is simply not what it was in 2002. The barriers to entry are time and money for what is now a full-time job, and unless some innovative new funding model emerges, those basic barriers will remain to any average blogger out there who aspires to "A-list" status.

But while this may be true, the entry costs to being an influential blogger are still not prohibitive. A blogger consistently producing compelling content that's focused on an unfilled niche - whether that's a political race, local blogging, an uncovered issue in which s/he has expertise, etc. - can, with some effort, still be somewhat widely read.

And the institutions that the top "short head" blogs have become shouldn't be stagnant. New front pagers and respected diarists emerge constantly, and should be recruited constantly. Opportunities for entry to the "establishment" exist within these institutions, and those should be expanded as well.

Perhaps the immediate focus shouldn't be on the problems of new blogs gaining entry to the "A-list" (which may prove unsolvable), but on making sure those establishment blogs provide access for new voices, while at the same expanding access and traffic to a new and more influential "B-list."


feeding (and training) the New Kidz (0.00 / 0)
so they can become Old Kidz is part and parcel of the mission of A-listers. The progressives have never done this as well as think-tanks/employment agencies like AEI and Hoover, where someone can be parked, groomed and paid until an opportunity arises.

[ Parent ]
Re: Ossification (0.00 / 0)
I think ossification of the (I'll use DemFromCT's term) A-list blogs was/is inevitable. It's a matter of market dynamics in a growth market, and it applies in any growth market, from the major car makers and breakfast cereal purveyors of a century ago to the dot-coms of the '90's.

New A-list blogs will emerge, but they'll do it the old-fashioned way. I work in the telecom equipment industry, which experienced a growth frenzy that coincided with the dot-coms (both were enabled by the explosive growth of the internet in the '90's), but differed in there being an existing base of telecom equipment manufacturers when the frenzy started. What happened is that a slew of new companies started up, intending to target the internet's specific infrastructure needs better than the existing Lucents and Nortels would or could. The founders of these new companies were, in essentially every case I'm aware of, a mix of disgruntled and opportunistic employees of Lucent, Nortel, etc.

Which is exactly how I would expect 2nd generation A-list blogs to come about. Open Left is a perfect example of this kind of Gen-II dynamic at work - people leaving one or more established outfits to start a new one.

So I'm really not concerned with ossification - it's inevitable and not necessarily fatal, and we're already looking at what could prove to be the cure. What does concern me, though, is the stagnation of readership. We've had too little impact on the practices of the MSM to peak at this level!


[ Parent ]
Entry into the "A-list" (0.00 / 0)
Although the issues raised are important, I find this post misleading in a number of regards. You've pointed to one of the more important gaps in logic, tparty. Good writing and research can be recognized and promoted quite easily, if the high-traffic blogs would bother to (a) read smaller-traffic blogs, and (b) link to and discuss their work.

The sad fact is that in the left side of the blogosphere, that rarely happens. There are gate-keepers, effectively, because the A-listers behave like the high-school in-crowd. They read and discuss each other, and precious little else. It may not be their intent to draw up the ladders behind them, but by ignoring the many worthy but small-traffic blogs, that is exactly what they're helping to achieve.

And incidentally, there are some outstanding blogs that have been around for years that for some reason never became part of the cool gang. It's not just new blogs that don't get the attention they merit.

In fact, I would argue that some of the central premises of this post run afoul of reality. A-listers don't acquire that level of traffic either because of a concentration of resources, or because of the high quality of content, or  because they offer special insights that others don't provide, or because they do independent research and reporting.

The majority of the heaviest-trafficked sites remain almost entirely in the breaking news and punditry mode that predominated 5 years ago. Any independent reporting or research is rare, and often leans heavily upon information supplied by readers or other bloggers. Whether you visit one of the A-listers or another, you see almost identical links and commentary. Any actual independent work at a site like Daily Kos is mostly done by diarists, not the "front pagers".

By contrast, sites that focus on independent reporting and research occasionally climb up to middling ranks in traffic, but remain pretty much unacknowledged by the cool gang.

Take our group blog, Unbossed.com. We avoid pontificating about the outrage du jour, and instead develop our own stories. We do actual research. We read government documents that others can't be bothered to do. We uncover things, we break stories, we keep after deeper issues for months and years.

Do any of the big-traffic sites link to Unbossed on their blogrolls? Hell no; they rarely even acknowledge our existence with the occasional link to a story. Almost all incoming links to Unbossed come from medium-sized and small blogs. In fact, I notice that Unbossed is not on Open Left's blogroll either.

We have now gained a large readership (13,000 page views per day -- and, no, Unbossed is not part of the BlogAds network). But we did that without any appreciable help from the cool gang. We built our audience slowly, one reader at a time, many of whom found us initially via google and stayed.

Will Unbossed ever become an influential site? I doubt it. No matter how big our audience grows (and the last 4 months it has grown fast), we aren't striving to join the in-crowd. And if the past is any model, they don't seem to see any advantage to themselves in promoting, discussing, or acknowledging our work.

That's what it comes down to, in the end. Whether it's a "blog amnesty day" pulling up of ladders, or plain old sloth and ignorance of the work done by B-listers, the A-listers could choose to promote other bloggers any time they wish. They rarely wish to bother. Ossification is not merely an accident.


[ Parent ]
Lame meme (0.00 / 0)
Please, everyone, the next time you're tempted to say "It's like the cool kids in high school," don't. While I rarely visit Kos anymore, he writing - both style and content - is amazingly good. His blog succeeded because he found a voice that works well in this medium.

So why aren't I there much now? Because the new front pagers aren't in his league; and because ideas don't get across well in discussions with more than 200 comments - which a few years ago was where they'd top out.

Maybe it's natural that people would be attracted to politics who are worried about being popular - a bit of an occupational requirement for the politicians themselves, it seems. Yet if you're not the politician, what matters first is if you're able to develop any ideas which are truly new. What matters second is if you're able to get them to reviewed by others, and - if they are truly promising - incorporated into our politics.

The hordes at Kos aren't the people most likely to give a truly original idea a thorough review. And begging Kos to do you a favor by sending some of those hordes your way - why? None of us has any right to require any particular person to give us a break into the limelight. But breaks happen. Make your own.


[ Parent ]
The coup that said 'ewww'! (0.00 / 1)
Thanks for a timely and well documented study.

For my two cents worth, I'd describe what's happened to the overall blogosphere (an important historical term) as a blatant and somewhat unpleasant recognition of not only what we actually 'won' as a movement but of who we really are.

We were a unified tsunami, at our peak last spring. 
But then I saw the beginnings of a major division: part of it was a kind of class warfare between some of the key blog writers/insiders opinions versus their own readers/posters /contributors..
At the Kos convention last year several popular writers said as much in blunt terms: (paraphrasing)
"I never pay attention to the comments." and "People who post comments are those who sit around all day and have nothing better to do"...
Markos telling his readers in O'Reilly fashion to 'shut up' about the Lamont/Lieberman fiasco, and on and on I could go.

But that was his blog, after all.

And so it all began to go.  The territories began to now erect walls and control as much of the waters, for their own benefit, as they could.
The tsunami was sucked back into the currents, almost as if nothing had ever happened.

The Democrats capitulation on the elections mandate...the pandering, the money, the war... our efforts have all gone to shit, in my humble opinion.

And the current crop of new Democratic leaders now have enough control to keep Congress just as it is, and keep us from making any progress, for years.  Something the DLC, Hoyer and Reid have done very well so far.
Thanks for nothing Harry.

So please, in the future, write whatever you want.  But don't tread lightly on the truths anymore.  Spit them out and stand by them, and take the consequences.  The public depends on you, because you're all they now have.

And unless Gore wins the Presidency, the Congressional Democrats will fail. And the party is over.



Nationalism is not the same thing as terrorism, and an adversary is not the same thing as an enemy.


or not (0.00 / 0)
(but in either case, it is all Markos' fault).

One thing that this article did not list is the unrealistic and unachievable expectations placed on A listers (sorry, "short head" sounds like an especially ugly and bad tasting kind of fish species). Perhaps, as this comment illustrates, it should have.


[ Parent ]
interesting (3.00 / 4)
I ALWAYS read the comments in my diaries, no matter how long it gets, and I try to be very responsive.  Hell, the comments section gives me more insight and information (by far) than the amount that I find out by doing the research for the diary itself.

Anyone that ignores or minimizes the comments section is missing the boat, and the point of the diary/community aspect.


[ Parent ]
me, too (2.00 / 2)
those who don't read the comments to their diaries are making a big mistake--that's where the good stuff is and where the feedback is.  Often, people will also catch any embarrassing mistakes you may have made.

[ Parent ]
As a new blogger who plunged in at Daily Kos (0.00 / 1)
I've found many diarists pay attention to comments and respond to commenters.  I find the level of interaction, both from diarists and from other commenters, is generally satisfying and promotes both learning and sense of being heard, being part of an ongoing group conversation. So some diarists dismiss commenters as peons?  Well, not surprising, I suppose; but hardly a deadly defect in the Short Head.  THere's room for a wide range of attitudes.

I like the terms Short Head and Long Tail; the comet image works for me. 


[ Parent ]
lol Funny, the image I get from it (0.00 / 0)
is much more organic and seminal.

Kind of makes me wonder just what our target egg looks like, and just what it is we hope to conceive.


[ Parent ]
Ossification creates opportunities (4.00 / 1)
as is always true when businesses (and the A-list blogs are now businesses) get bureaucratized.

For example, the A-List blogs have been largely hostile to impeachment for the past two years, even as polls showed plurality or majority support among voters.

So we've made this our niche at Democrats.com and built alliances with other pro-impeachment blogs and groups like Brave New Films. Working together, we pushed their new video at ImpeachCheney.org up to #1 at Youtube.

The lesson: don't follow the crowd, be bold!


exactly (0.00 / 0)
if ossification leads to a new CW, then someone always has to opportunity to break that CW apart.

[ Parent ]
Two Positives (0.00 / 0)
First, one of the greatest weaknesses of the blogs is the reliance on the corporate press. The emergence of a parallel (perpendicular?) information gathering apparatus is absolutely essential, and that has speed up the ossification. Five years ago, every new blogger was linking to main stream links and commenting, with varying degrees of anger and frustration at the lack of substance in almost all of the reporting. At this point, no one is going to be able to compete with Josh Marshall or the Firedoglake/Marcy Wheeler, but the stand alone reporting is so much more valuable/powerful that I do not see a marginal cost of a limited entry being greater than the benefit.

Second, and this is strange to not see it noted in this post, but all of the blogs listed are basically first generation blogs, and although this article addresses entry, the real problem is the lack of exiting from the scene. I can only think of two national blogs to stop posting, Whiskey Bar and The News Blog, both of which are greatly missed. I think the untimely death of Steve Gillard and the resulting shift in visits to other blogs, if that were possible, would be an interesting adjunct to this series.

Bottom line, the financial barriers are prohibitive, but the finite amount of opinions on national affairs cannot also be overlooked. How many highly intelligent white men and women can have profoundly insightful commentary on the same daily events? Until the added diversity kicks in, or until other bloggers leave the scene by choice or circumstance, things are not going to change all that much, and that will not necessarily portend dire circumstances.


Look at demographics .. (0.00 / 0)
I find Facebook very interesting, for one reason.  I can see who the people who post are.  I added Bowers as a friend.  People like Bowers and Jane Hamsher will add their readers as friends.  Not only that, but it gives you a view as to who they are.  The diversity, if you will.  Also, different groups have a different set of priorities.  One of the reasons for the rise of the blogs is the suckiness of the MSM.  Another is  wanting to take back the Democratic Party from the Corporate-crats like Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel(among others).

[ Parent ]
facebook and priorities (0.00 / 0)
I agree that it is nice to see who is doing the talking, I think anonymity is still valuable, and in terms of diversity I meant that I would like some afro-centric blogs and various latino centric blogs. I myself and a archtypical white male progressive, and I would love to be better enformed by newer blogs whether I can look at a picture or not.

In terms of priorities, I think you are absolutly correct, my only point is that some of the root causes of the ossification is that the progress of the best blogs are tremendously important advances and the bad has to be taken with the good.


[ Parent ]
Your one question......... (0.00 / 0)
JONI Discussion Question: Given their changing nature, is the term "blog" still a useful way to describe many of these "short head" websites?

I think "blog" is still the best way to describe these "short Head" websites.  At least until someone comes up with a new term.  Most people are used to hearing "blog" and know what it means when someone says it.


I'm not certain on that (0.00 / 0)
while you may be right and it's a generic term that will stick and evolve beyond its initial definition, I think the term 'community portal' which has popped up from time to time is a better description of such sites.

[ Parent ]
community portal (0.00 / 0)
is a great description for the big institutional blogs, not so hot as a name IMO. And even if it were a great name, blog has already stuck, and there's no way it's going to be changed by edict. It might be possible to get people to distinguish Kos et al as "community blogs"...


[ Parent ]
Policy Issue Blogs (4.00 / 1)
I'm delighted to be able to draw up to this open table!  The history of the progressive political blogosphere movement is important to acknowledge, to honor, to analyze, and to use as foundation from which to build.

Please steer me if I've overlooked this, but where is mention of the place and role of policy blogs?  I write a progressive healthcare blog which examines US health policy, healthcare quality and patient safety, patient advocacy and professional nursing issues. It's is definitely written from a progressive political frame of reference.  Yet because much of it focuses on policy, backgrounder information and ethics/legal issues examination, it seems to run under the radar of most of the progressive political blogs.  Indeed, most of the traffic comes from right wingers who come to taunt, to bait and to hate.  Another significant segment of traffic comes from health professions students and patients looking for references and resources. Very little traffic is sustained from progressives.

Is there a place for those of us who blog about healthcare, education, the economy, energy, transportation, housing, etc. from a progressive frame of reference but not with a predominant political issues take?  If so, where is that in the progressive blogosphere?

Thanks for taking this on....


Opportunity for integrated growth (4.00 / 3)
The increasingly crowded A-list blogs are loaded with well-meaning, politically interested commenters. Many of them are just loaded with opinions, but they're often short on facts and analysis. I'm hoping that one of the big kids on the blog block will start tackling issues in such a way that policy-oriented blogs will become natural partners. They would set aside progressive policy pages to point folks towards commentary and resources to support particular policy initiatives. You all could then provide the brain power, while the more activist blogs could provide the people that are ready to push the policies. Hand, meet glove.

[ Parent ]
Partnership model? (4.00 / 1)
Or perhaps, what you describe is more along the lines of a synergistic relationship.  That would be very appealing.

I've found a few other bloggers who write about education and healthcare, but very few who orient toward policy.  It would be akin to finding the shore to have a legitimate home within an overarching progressive community.  It's been a long time at sea!

Thanks for providing this perspective.


[ Parent ]
Have you read nyceve's diaries at dailykos? (4.00 / 1)
She's built a strong following on health care issues, in part growing from her own drive to build personal knowledge on the subject. Pulling together the kind of "example" policy talk that she's offered with a more focused policy-oriented approach seems to me to be the next natural step in progressive blogging.

[ Parent ]
Yes (0.00 / 0)
However, Eve's diaries are even narrower than general health policy.  She is speaking to the failures and limitations of the insurance-based model of health access, IIRC.

I'll continue to use healthcare as the exemplar of a single policy issue.

Health policy entails a much broader sweep of the brush.  That's why it would be so useful to have a niche whereby all of the various aspects of health and health policy blogging, for example, could have an umbrella'ed home. It would allow for more comprehensive discussion, it would be easier to find gaps in blogging coverage, and I think it would have the platform, the exposure and the momentum become a powerful tool in developing message, talking points and eventually, policy predicate and public mandate.


[ Parent ]
Preliminary thoughts (4.00 / 1)
It seems to me that this, like locally-focused blogging, is an endeavour that's useful but incapable of surviving outside the Long Tail.

Blogs like this are potentially online thinktanks for progressives, but because they concentrate on a single area whilst most progressives will have other significant issues, such a blog cannot become the centre of one's involvement with the progressive blogosphere, which I would categorise as being a feature of the Short Head (a reader may visit several Short Head blogs, but he or she will likely base himself primarily at only one or two, due to lack of time.)

I'm not entirely certain how you'd integrate them into the system, aside from cross-posting diaries at a Short Head blog and getting them referenced by front-pagers.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog


[ Parent ]
Diaries, PMs, e-mails (0.00 / 0)
Read the a-listers stuff.  Get to know what they're interested in.  Then either post a diary to their site, or PM them or e-mail them (do this second sparingly).  Do it for the moderate a-listers, not the big boys, as a rule.  Atrios or Kos get so much e-mail you get lost in the blizzard.

Chris sort of said this, but I'll say it more explitly - carrying an short head blog is a lot of frickin'work.  If you're responsible for the front page you are constantly looking for things to write about and good material.  Diaries are wanted.  If they are good and fit the site, there's a good chance they'll be promoted.  It's entirely kosher on most sites to put a link to your site in the diary (it is not usually Kosher to just link to your site with a blurb, that won't get front paged often.)

Blogging, for the short head, is literally work.  If you make their job easier, most a-listers are happy to promote you to the front page, to send you links on occasion, or if it's their area of interest, to write about your article as part of one of their articles.

The key is to help yourself by helping them, which makes it no different from most of life.

The truth is that this will get you less new readers than you may think.  But it will get you some.  And it may get your ideas


[ Parent ]
And apparently I can't write. Ah well. (0.00 / 0)

"... And it may get your ideas out there."


[ Parent ]
MMMM.... Academic Quality Blog Post - Drool.... (0.00 / 0)
Its a shame I gotta run and can't add my two cents, but this has been a fantastic analysis. You distillation of systemic trends is impeccable and I'm rather sure this article is without any equivalent peer in Blogdom. I think I just found my new fav playground on the 'Tubes.

the cracks are already starting to appear (4.00 / 2)
the major problem is that back in 2005, we were still a unified movement, even if we disagreed with each other from time to time.

That has changed now.  Time was, the only people on the left that devoted their time to critiquing DailyKos were random bloggers who were offended by their well-deserved bannings.  But now there are entire group blogs whose mission has seemed to become setting themselves up in opposition to DailyKos, and that has created a fracturing.

The main problem the progressive blogosphere has is a problem of purity.  There are two different kinds of bloggers: those who want to gain institutional influence so as to make the changes they want to see happen from the inside; and those who have no trust whatsoever for institutionalization of any sort.  I'm in the latter category, and while I'm certainly not a "top-tier" blogger, a bunch of the top-tier bloggers know me either because of my writing or because of various projects I've done.

The problem is that this automatically leads to a two-tiered system: those who want to gain influence will tend to band together and support the efforts of their fellows who are trying to do the same, while those who view it as an "impure" thing to do will band together to critique those who want to gain influence as corporatist sellouts.

This fracturing was inevitable ever since anyone started listening to what we had to say, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing.  And the reason it doesn't is that the power structure of the progressive blogosphere already has its own very willing and able accountabiliy blogosphere built in.

This process is just the first step on Max Weber's described process on institution-building and the routinization of charisma.  We'll have to be judged by our effectiveness from now on, not our unity.


Rings True to Me (0.00 / 0)
A very insightful and interesting piece.

One part that could use clarification, however, is an apparent contradiction.  You note all the people who've started their own blogs based on the readership they gained writing diaries on, for example, dKos.  You note that this includes the present, very new, blog.  This phenomenon appears to belie the notion that barriers to entry are quickening the short head of the progressive blogosphere.  What you say may be true, but you do not explain how these entry barriers are keeping people out, especially when so many new blogs have come in over the past two years, and especially since many new writers -- brilliant ones like Bob Johnson or Dood Abides -- continue to gain large audiences by writing diaries.  Some of the regular diarists at dKos are as good as any of the frontpagers and should be considered for their contributions as equals to that short list of 36 or so full timers you note.

Think of what emptywheel has been able to do, first at dKos, then at TNH. 

In some ways, what Ralph Nader did in developing his constellation of organizations -- Public Citizen, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the PIRGs -- provides a similar model.  Nader paid close attention to developing institutional support, memory, and framework.  But he also used this to plug in devoted, brilliant people who's talents were developed (and, often, burned out) and who were then spun off into their own organizations, law firms, publications, almost all with a progressive bent.

In some ways the exposure people get from writing diaries that are well received, and which gives them wide exposure, allows these new writers to overcome the increased costs of maintaining a new blog of their own.  Moreover, established progressive blogs provide examples of successful business models.  They show the way for others and the software that was developed for them then becomes available to people who want to start their own progressive blogs.

This paradox could use more discussion in your piece.


I was wondering similar things (0.00 / 0)
The fact is that, even if the same 50 blogs are the 50 most heavily trafficked blogs as they were just after Glenn Greenwald broke into the A-list, there are indeed a lot more people doing front-page writing for them.

How many more?  I don't know.  But it's hard to say you can't break in, if people can start off by posting diaries on a short-head blog, then develop enough of a following to be asked to join the front-pagers.

While this was a remarkably deep and insightful piece, even by Chris' standards, I think some terms are being used in a confusing way.  If the 'short head' is the 1% of blogs that get 95% of the views, the fact remains that 1% of blogs is a LOT of blogs.  There surely has to be movement into and out of that large a 'short head.'

Next, even if we're talking about the top 50-100 blogs, it boggles my mind to believe there's no movement into or out of that group.  Do we really have the same 50 most heavily trafficked blogs that we did 18-20 months ago?  I'd believe that all the current top 50 were in the top 100 then, but there's always movement.  It would be interesting to know how much movement there is.

Especially if there are underrepresented viewpoints.  That was what fueled the rise of the netroots in the first place.  And if, say, the front-pagers at dKos are all pooo-poohing Chimpeachment, then it will lose some traffic, and other sites that are trying to get that ball rolling will gain traffic.  At some point, black and Hispanic activists will have a larger Web presence than they do now, and the first American bloggers to fulfill the need for a political watering-hole for lefty blacks or lefty Hispanics in a big way will go rocketing up the charts.  (Yeah, I know Markos is Hispanic, but to be a significantly Hispanic-oriented blog would be a step down for dKos.  Someone else will have to grab that role.)

Finally, a 'flat' blogosphere wouldn't be able to be a 'player' on the larger political scene.  It takes muscle to move mountains, and that means some sites have to become big enough to start the avalanche.  One might wish for a blogosphere that's flatter than the one we've got, but a totally flat blogosphere would be pretty worthless.


[ Parent ]
Rings True to Me (4.00 / 1)
A very insightful and interesting piece.

One part that could use clarification, however, is an apparent contradiction.  You note all the people who've started their own blogs based on the readership they gained writing diaries on, for example, dKos.  You note that this includes the present, very new, blog.  This phenomenon appears to belie the notion that barriers to entry are quickening the short head of the progressive blogosphere.  What you say may be true, but you do not explain how these entry barriers are keeping people out, especially when so many new blogs have come in over the past two years, and especially since many new writers -- brilliant ones like Bob Johnson or Dood Abides -- continue to gain large audiences by writing diaries.  Some of the regular diarists at dKos are as good as any of the frontpagers and should be considered for their contributions as equals to that short list of 36 or so full timers you note.

Think of what emptywheel has been able to do, first at dKos, then at TNH. 

In some ways, what Ralph Nader did in developing his constellation of organizations -- Public Citizen, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the PIRGs -- provides a similar model.  Nader paid close attention to developing institutional support, memory, and framework.  But he also used this to plug in devoted, brilliant people who's talents were developed (and, often, burned out) and who were then spun off into their own organizations, law firms, publications, almost all with a progressive bent.

In some ways the exposure people get from writing diaries that are well received, and which gives them wide exposure, allows these new writers to overcome the increased costs of maintaining a new blog of their own.  Moreover, established progressive blogs provide examples of successful business models.  They show the way for others and the software that was developed for them then becomes available to people who want to start their own progressive blogs.

This paradox could use more discussion in your piece.


does "Projects" mean action? (4.00 / 1)
Glad to bookmark this new site.  Noticed that you have a heading "Projects." 

Personally, I am desperate for action.  I would like every Progressive with email to send Cheney, Bush, Gonzales an email every day saying, "Resign or Be Impeached!"  Copy Nancy Pelosi. 

Re institutions of the Old Left, there is also League of Women Voters, and Planned Parenthood's political action section.  Every group has its area, issues, and constituents, and that diversity is a good thing. 

What we are desperately lacking now is Leadership advocating specific actions to achieve specific goals.

Mayfly


How about Bathroom Window blogs? (0.00 / 0)
The ePluribus Media Community blog is what I'd have to call a Bathroom Window blog, because a majority of those who visit don't come through the front door.

We still manage to hover around 1,000 visits per day with a slow and steady (sometimes spiking) growth rate.

I am very curious as to why our site doesn't fit the mold yet continues to grow.


Local (0.00 / 0)
My blog, Scrutiny Hooligans, averages about 150 readers a day with spikes around election times.

We began as a pundit blog talking about national issues, doing news roundups, and being snarkadelic.

Over time, we came to focus on our area Congressional Race (Charles Taylor vs. Heath Shuler), and this is when the blog's traffic really took off and when we found our voice.  Through a mixture of local, state, national, and cultural posts, we've built a consistent readership of Democratic Party officers, Congressional staffers, journalists, and Republican lurkers.  These, in addition to the drive-by hits, have helped us sustain our enthusiasm as we recognize that our voices are being heard/read by those we'd most like to influence and form relationships with.

It hasn't been all rainbows and ponies, since we busy ourselves scrutinizing our local Democrats as much as we do the opposition, but ScruHoo has become a legitimate voice in the politics of this area.

My point?  Isn't one.  I just wanted to talk a little about our experience.  We don't have ambitions to become a huge blog, and we've never even tried to make a dollar.  We're content to speak and be heard, to report and be noticed. 

Thanks, Chris, for your continued work in analyzing the medium!

Western North Carolina and the world at Scrutiny Hooligans


The virtues of the short head far outweigh its problems. (0.00 / 0)
While I recognize that the investment costs for starting a new Short Head blog are indeed steep and this could be a problem over time, I think that the creation of these group blogs is a great step forward in offering widespread opportunities to participate and be heard.  An unknown first-time blogger who wants to write about national-level issues no longer has to create a brand name and then market it -- investing time and energy in generating exposure and reaching enough people to become well known.  By beginning with diaries on a group blog with a national focus, the unknown first-timer gets an immediate shot at writing for a sizeable audience.  The ability to pick a blog where your interests are shared, the discipline to gather accurate information, and the ability to write well become the key ingredients, with the need for self-promotion reduced to an absolute minimum.  Personally, I consider it a great trade-off.

The group blogs of the short head represent an amazing democratization of opportunity to become, as mentioned above, "influential bloggers" -- to addess national issues in forums that have a national audience.  Careful information gathering, persistence, and writing talent are the only costs of admission. 

Group blogs are a great innovation.


Sounds Tremendously Exciting and Rewarding (0.00 / 0)
Almost like the sensation of biting a drained cadaver, I'd guess.

[ Parent ]
We need to help fund enterprising bloggers (4.00 / 1)
Shameless plug: over the past two years I have put together a site that strives to make order from the chaos that is my local blogosphere: The PNW Topic Hotlist 

What it does that is different than most other aggregators is present the postings by topic instead of region, like Lefty Blogs, or popularity.

The content can also be embedded in a page as a widget.

The problem I've had is funding the hosting costs.  For a mere pittance in the political fundraising world I could host the site on a server I know will be well serviced and can handle the traffic I'd like to get.  For lack of funding I've actually had to cut back on the features and options I present to my users.

We ask our readers time and again to help support a candidate clear across the country from where we live, yet we don't ask our readers to help support people like myself who aren't looking to make any money doing these things, but just want to be able to pay the bills associated with doing them.

That's why I've always being telling people that after the 2006 elections we needed to turn to infrastructure needs and create a fund where grants for assistance can be made, where people like myself can submit a request for such help, and the most deserving can receive it.  All I need is a couple thousand dollars and I can do so much more and reach so many more people.

If we really want to help grow our new establishment, we need to establish this type of foundation and encourage innovative, or useful tools we can all benefit from.

I hope some of you will agree with me on that.

On The Road To 2008: Commentary on issues as we countdown to the next opportunity to change the direction of America


The money question (4.00 / 1)
Good analysis.  The development of the blogosphere in this manner is natural, and probably necessary to seriously influence progressive policy change. Community blogs also open the door to participation for many people who would otherwise never create their own blogs.  I hope the top community blogs always keep those doors open, continuing to build an ever-broader progressive movement.  I love the rapid-response and self-correcting qualities of community blogs.  As the volume increases, new ways to highlight quality have developed (such as diary rescue on DKos and blog roundups), and there is room for new methods to emerge. Also, the growing capacity for independent research is a real opportunity, in a media environment where investigative journalism is all but dead.

The question is, as such blogs become more costly to start and maintain, and as more costly but valuable functions expand, how will that cost be paid?  I worry some about blogs accepting advertising, since that is part of how the pathetic MSM became the pathetic MSM.  Fund raising is often annoying, drives many people away, and can become the tail that wags the dog, as has happened to many nonprofit organizations.  There are still too many web options for user fees such as subscriptions to finance operations without dramatically limiting audience.  No matter what the financing method, the moment it drives decision-making more than core purpose, that core purpose is dead.  Yet the effectiveness we desire is not free.

For now, the costs are still low enough that the "short head" blogophere can survive and grow through some combination of progressive-friendly advertising, tolerable fund raising, financial support from progressive institutions or key individuals, and motivated bloggers willing to work more for the cause than for money (with just enough able to make a living to keep at it for the long term).  Over time, these challenges will become greater, tracking right along with the greater influence of the progressive blogosphere.

However it grows--and our nation and world desperately need it to grow--it is imperative that this new open communication wave not lose its soul in the process (remember, much of the MSM once had a soul, too).  It must not be co-opted by the corporate MSM or lose its platform, either (hence the importance of net neutrality).  The more effective we become, the greater the threats to the progressive blogosphere will be, but the very fact we are talking about this shows how far we have already come.

"The lightning whelk is strong, attractive, capable of growing to be one of the largest shells on the beach--and it opens to the left."


Power, outrage and inclusion (4.00 / 1)
When I really started to read the blogsphere, in mid-2005, it seemed to me useful to think of it in those three terms.  A lot of issues, though not exactly about power, involved questions of power:  who should be in charge and making these decisions, how can we get ahold of the process so that better decisions are being made, and so on.

It is worth thinking about whether minority blogs, whose members may not have grown up with the same views about power, approach issues in the same way.

A second feature is the very honest outrage at the screwing-up that was going on because of malfeasance, ignorance, incompetence, and so on.

And there was a deep belief in inclusion, along with the idea that ordinary voices needed to be heard and could bring ideas that should make a difference.

Chris, your essay seems to me essentially about power and, to some extent, about its effects on inclusion.  An account of the current structure of the blogsphere might look at the issue of inclusion a lot more.  Are there race, gender, ethnicity lines coinciding the the division between the head and tail?  How did people let power work so very effectively against inclusion to the extent that at least some African Americans who address the issue say there isn't anything at places like dkos (and, I assume, most of the short head) for African Americans.  It is worrying that the short head may be even less congenial to AA concerns than the Democartic Party.

And with power comes professionalization.  What is happening with a professionalization of the blogsphere? 


As a brand new member of the long tail (0.00 / 0)
and with a brand new slow-to-get-off-the-ground but earnest progressive group blogger...

Would anybody be interested in adding our blog to your blogrolls to help establish our place on at least the long tail of the democratic comet?

Try us out here and, then, if you like us, make us real by acknowledging our existence in your blogrolls!

Everyday Citizen

www.everydaycitizen

(Forgive me for the blatant promotion of our new long tail site, but, it seems germane to the discussion to talk about new long tail sites.... ;-))

Everyday Citizen
Story tellers help us understand where we've been and blaze paths to take us where we want to go - www.everydaycitizen.com


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