Blog awareness

by John Quiggin on October 3, 2004

While I was thinking about the role of blogs, I came across an observation (which I can’t locate again), that many Internet users may read blogs from time to time but don’t distinguish them from other kinds of websites. This was certainly true for me – it was only after I started blogging that I realised that kausfiles and Brad DeLong’s Semi Daily Journal, which I had visited quite a few times, were blogs and (at least in Brad’s case) part of a much larger blogosphere.

The experience of reading these sites is different for me as a result. I wonder if others have had similar experiences? And I’d be interested to hear about the relationship, if any, between the way in which people find their way around the Internet and the way that they use and interpret the sites they visit. For example, does a site reached through a portal appear different from the same site found through Google? I imagine Eszter will have something to say about this.

This leads me on to a question that has been examined here a few times, that of blogs versus courseware systems such as Blackboard and Web CT. At the moment, courseware systems are more widely used in teaching than blogs, but I’m going to predict that, as general awareness of blogs grows, they will displace special-purpose proprietary courseware, in part because there will be less need to introduce students and academics to the set of social conventions and understandings associated with blogs, while the costs of learning to use courseware must be met be each new cohort of students.

Moreover, blogs automatically facilitate cross-linking and collaboration, which people generally want. By contrast, a lot of courseware is closed by design. Even where courseware is intended to be open, it doesn’t benefit from the collective experience of blogs in making links of all kinds (615 million links tracked by Technorati as of today). Ideally, an open courseware system could be attached to a blog in some way – again this is the kind of area where progress is likely to come mostly from the blogging side, finding clever ways to manage links, rather than from modfiications to courseware.

I’d be interested in thoughts on this, and ideas about other kinds of special-purpose groupware that might be challenged or improved by blogs and similar systems. The general idea I’m reaching for here is that because information is a public good[1], it is more effectively disseminated as a by-product of activities like blogging that build various forms of social capital, and therefore favor open access, than in the context of attempts to create intellectual property.

fn1. The statement ‘information wants to be free’, is a half-truth but the half that is true (once information is created, there is no social benefit in restricting access to it) is probably more important than the half that is omitted (information is costly to create).

{ 23 comments }

1

eszter 10.03.04 at 6:14 am

John, you raise some good points.. enough for a methodological headache. I don’t know of any studies that look at whether people understand if a site they are reading is a blog or not. Assuming your experience is similar to others’ (and I have heard other people also say that they did not realize some sites they were reading were blogs) then it will be even harder to gather data on blog readers. That is, even if surveys were to ask users whether they read blogs, the responses may not be very accurate. I am not sure what would be a good way to ask then. What did you think Brad’s site was before you came to learn that it is a “blog”. Did you just not think about it?

As for this question: For example, does a site reached through a portal appear different from the same site found through Google? – I’m afraid I have an answer to that question. I am not sure I understand what you mean by “appear different”. It might relate to my question above. In what different ways are you thinking sites might appear to users? (And here you don’t mean “appear” as in “show up on the screen”, but “appear” as in “be perceived as”, right?)

2

clew 10.03.04 at 6:21 am

“Information is born in cost, but everywhere wants to be free.”

3

DaveVH 10.03.04 at 6:47 am

Before GoogleAds, blogs tended to be advert-free zones. This might have confused a reader coming across a blog for the first time – “Hey this is an opinion piece, but it’s obviously not the online version of a newspaper, so… what is it? And what are all these comments at the bottom?” Having taken that in, I don’t think it would be that long before they realised they were looking at a new species.

The repeated use of the personal pronoun is another indicator of something new – a warning that the article may deal in opinion and feelings as much as hard facts; that it’s as much an attempt to clarify someone’s thinking as to influence a given debate.

Your question about Google and portals: Don’t most people come to blogs for the first time via a recommendation, perhaps found on usenet, perhaps through a newspaper article? In other words, they’re already conditioned to see a blog posting in a favourable light because somebody else thinks it’s good.

4

John Quiggin 10.03.04 at 7:22 am

“What did you think Brad’s site was before you came to learn that it is a “blog”. Did you just not think about it?”

Not much. I thought of the whole site as an economist’s website, like mine only better.

Although I occasionally followed links from Brad’s posts, I didn’t pick up the idea that Brad was engaged in a more or less continuous interchange with a bunch of other bloggers, for example.

Knowing this makes me perceive the whole thing differently, though not in a way that I can articulate very well.

I suspect that most people first conscious arrival at a blog comes through a newspaper article or similar. Certainly that was the case with me.

5

Gabriel 10.03.04 at 12:19 pm

I used to think ‘movable type’ was Brad’s clever name for his personal website.

6

Robin Green 10.03.04 at 1:58 pm

I’ve been reading Slashdot since 1997. I guess I’ve been reading a blog for many years before I knew what the term “blog” meant.

7

bob mcmanus 10.03.04 at 3:07 pm

I am pretty sure I came to blogs through Slate, Salon, MSNBC, Newsweek, My Yahoo, NYT and WaPo columnists. So for instance, Richard Reeves “page” on Yahoo has his columns in chronological order with a linklist on the left. Every Yahoo(Reuters or AP) story has links at the bottom in chronological order and links at the left arranged by subject. And often links to real time comment sections. I spend time at IMDB, each movie page is essentially a linklist, with realtime comments and conversations(on new releases), their pages of amateur reviews, links to external reviewers who often have commenters.

The first blog was Alterman’s, which, a couple years ago, would contain in the post links to news stories and op-ed pieces, and comments (email) at the bottom.

It just doesn’t seem that big a transition. I just read the Friedman column, which would be improved by internal informative and supportive links(What is the “Powell Doctrine?” Do we really not control the roads to Baghdad, or is Friedman making it up?), links to other opinion and analysis pieces(CSIS report, that Hoover guy), and a few hours of realtime comment and feedback.

Lazy, ill-sourced, oracular old media. Blogs without integrity.

8

Trammell 10.03.04 at 3:13 pm

I doubt this is the really scholarly thing you are looking for. but I have several websites I Visit daily for hard news (Buzzflash, Imformation Clearinghouse), I have several favorite blogs which I visit alomost daily.Basically they are serious, thoughtful, insightful opinion blogs with references to hard news. But the ones I really cannot live without are the ones that crack me up. Those are the ones I like to read late at night.

I also really enjoy visiting new blogs on the weekends. Some of have them have been added to my favorites over the weeks.

I visit the wingnut blogs some. They do bear watching.

9

Michael 10.03.04 at 6:31 pm

The distinction between weblogs and “traditional” web sites is further blurred by sites that use a blog engine to publish their content but disable the community-building features (commenting and pinging) that make blogs so much fun.

Such is the case with the Gawker Media blogs (Gizmodo, Wonkette, etc.), and I doubt many non-bloggers would recognize these sites as part of the blogosphere.

10

MaryLou Corrigan 10.03.04 at 9:16 pm

I’m probably somewhat atypical of most blog readers (age 62, retired, worked in corporate America, female). I first became aware that blogs even existed during the Dem primaries when I became a daily visitor to the John Edwards campaign blog. I followed links from there to Daily Kos, and from there became aware of Talking Points Memo, Calpundit, Matt Yglesias. I pretty much started reading comments and blogrolls, and picking the ones that were well-written and made good points. Now I have set of blogs that I read daily, and some that I check several times a week (eg, Fafblog). One good aspect: the chance for somewhat isolated people (eg, retirees) to paricipate in a community of informed, articulate people plus learn something new. For example, I read Brad DeLong to get somewhat educated about economics.

11

Greg Hunter 10.03.04 at 9:58 pm

I cannot remember when I found blogs, but yours (CT) was one of the first and your links provided some other sites that I continue to read today. I live in Dayton, Ohio and due to consolidation of newspaper and media, there is a general lack of news, only groupthink. Blogs allow people with curious minds to expand it’s exposure to ideas.

Thank you CT for your efforts and I feel like I have been freed from the Matrix.

12

yabonn 10.03.04 at 10:56 pm

I remember the first time i tried to see what these “blogs” were, i fell on instapundit and sullivan.

Happily, i nevertheless gave it another try, a few months after.

Heh.

13

mdog 10.04.04 at 2:30 am

I learned about blogs reading somewhere about Bagdad Burning (www.riverbendblog.blogspot.com) Now I scan my Kinja digest (www.kinja.com/user/MarshallKirkpatrick) daily to review headlines of my favorite blogs.

Commenting, etc. has long been used in the Indymedia world as well. http://www.indymedia.org

14

John Quiggin 10.04.04 at 2:37 am

A point raised by Eszter earlier, and mentioned by Michael, is that a blog isn’t really a blog without comments.

OTOH, if the number of commenters grows beyond a certain limit (roughly 100 comments per post) the whole process degenerates into Usenet-like noise.

It seems to me that this will offset tendencies to concentration that are apparent in the blog world. The top 10 or 20 blogs will attract lots of readers (by definition) but won’t allow comments or will have out-of-control comments threads.

That means the more interested readers will tend to look elsewhere which creates room for more diversity.

This is certainly true for me – I rarely read blogs without comments threads, which excludes most of the top 10 on the usual lists. I’d be interested to hear from others on this point.

15

bob mcmanus 10.04.04 at 3:09 am

“I rarely read blogs without comments threads,”

I read them all. Not really, but Farber’s Amygdala, or Schmitt’s Decembrist, or Beyerstein or Sawicky don’t get a lot of comments, tho they have threads available. That makes them not so different from Marshall and Juan Cole.

Use an RSS feeder, and read Atrios and DKos in the pane. Come to CT via the “Recent Comments” feed. Wish more blogs used it.

Obviously Drum and DKos are out of control. No, take that back, they are just a large party. Zizka and others bitch too much, you can speed read thru the dreck. Some threads suck at 20, some are great at 200.

I would never dream of commenting at Weatherson’s or Quiggin’s blog, but do here when I shouldn’t. I am trying to give confidence to the lurkers.

16

dave heasman 10.04.04 at 9:46 am

Robot Wisdom was an early link-driven, no-comments blog. Actually called itself a “weblog” too, in, I think, 1996. It’s defunct now, a shame, he was good on James Joyce. More personal near-blogs from ’96 were a chap from Alabama calling himself “Bokonon”, and Eve Andersson, later of ArsDigita fame. Phil Greenspun, too. Apart from the comments, there’s not much difference between a web diary, a blog, or indeed a web-cam, is there?

17

Eimear N Mhalid 10.04.04 at 10:29 am

I started reading blogs when I realised where my favourite Usenet posters had disappeared to.

18

eudoxis 10.04.04 at 4:09 pm

I also have the suspicion that there is a large population of internet users who aren’t aware when they’re reading blogs. Readers are drawn in by a link and go on from there. A lot of blog content shows up in go*gle searches, making the blogosphere rather unavoidable.

I suspect that the (artificial) finding of limited readership is because of the tendency to define blogs in an exlusive way. Blogs are as varied as the individuals who write them and shared features such as chronological order of posts and hyperlinks are shared by a massive number of personal web pages.

19

Jeremy Osner 10.05.04 at 8:44 pm

John — when I started reading blogs, 2 or so years ago, it seems like it was uncommon for a blog to have comments. At least the ones I started reading — Calpundit, This Modern World, TPM — were commentless (Calpundit later added comments and I was initially happy about it, but less so as time went on) — I think for this reason, comments strike me as something extra for a blog to have. I think maybe Matt Yglesias’ was the first blog I read regularly that had comments.

In the case of Crooked Timber comments are definitely an integral part of the site — but I evaluate group blogs a little differently than I do blogs. I can’t think of any group blog I’ve read that did not have comments, and have them as a very important feature of the site.

20

Jeremy Osner 10.05.04 at 8:57 pm

Yeah, hm, and Body and Soul didn’t have comments back then either, another one of my first blogs. And Instapundit, which I have never read but still a lot of people seem to think of it as an important blog. And there was no such thing as “Trackbacks” then, I’m pretty sure, except when they were added in by hand. The community-building feature of blogs definitely existed — that is what I remember drawing me in — but it consisted more in people cross-linking and cross-referencing in the bodies of their posts.

21

eszter 10.06.04 at 2:42 pm

I disagree that a blog that allows comments but doesn’t get many is the same as a blog that doesn’t allow comments at all. For me, it’s the option of commenting that draws me to sites that allow comments. Once a blog doesn’t allow for comments anymore, it’s really not that much different from a traditional outlet.. except that the material did not have to be approved by an editor. But if you have no input from either editors or readers on the content of a post then there is very little public quality control available. Sure, you can send an email to the author, but that’s private. You can also address the post on your own blog – assuming you have one – but that won’t necessarily be visible to others reading the post so your entry is pretty much in isolation of the original writing.

BTW John, you have raised several issues in this post already, you could easily write a new entry on them.

22

yabonn 10.06.04 at 8:24 pm

_I started reading blogs when I realised where my favourite Usenet posters had disappeared to_

Yup. Often wondered if there is a measurable switch of usenet users to these – comparatively noiseless – blogs.

23

vernaculo 10.07.04 at 3:39 am

Starting with a definition of information as intellectual property, then proceeding to “…(information is costly to create)”?
Sunlight is probably the most powerful information we encounter. And the cost of creating it is beyond our ability to reckon, on one hand, while on the other it pours through our lives freely every day.
Unless by information you mean solely those recieved particles of abstract symbolism created by human beings…

The blog format is used by a lot of people to do things not quite in the agreed-upon standard. Mark Wood’s ::: wood s lot ::: is 4 years old today. If anybody’s standing in a larger-than-blog arena and still using this technology he is.

Comments on this entry are closed.