Counting eyeballs

by Henry Farrell on June 21, 2005

“Chris Bowers”: has an interesting post trying to explain why left wing blogs are now getting a lot more traffic than right wing ones. Bower’s theory is that this is because the high-traffic blogs in the left-blogosphere make far more use of community based systems such as Scoop and active comments sections than their equivalents on the right. The result, in Bowers’ eyes, is that:

bq. There are swarms of new conservative voices looking to breakout in the right-wing blogosphere, but they are not even allowed to comment, much less post a diary and gain a following, on the high traffic conservative blogs. Instead, without any fanfare, they are forced to start their own blogs. However, because of the top-down nature of right-wing blogs, new conservative blogs remain almost entirely dependent upon the untouchable high traffic blogs for visitors. In short, the anti-community nature of right-wing blogs has resulted in a stagnant aristocracy within the conservative blogosphere that prevents the emergence of new voices and, as a result, new reasons for people to visit conservative blogs.

I’m not convinced. There’s an alternative explanation that seems to me to fit the facts just as well, if not better. _Contra_ Bowers, the explosion in traffic to left wing blogs may be an artifact of the data. Bowers supports his argument using what he says is data on weekly pageviews from Blogads. We don’t do the Blogads thing at CT, so I haven’t been able to verify this – but assuming that Bowers is accurate in his terminology, there could be a problem. Pageviews are by no means necessarily a good proxy for overall audience size, and they’re especially problematic when you’re trying to make inferences about the relative readership of sites with very different structures (and thus different kinds of reader interaction). Hence my alternative hypothesis: that the left’s advantage in page-views doesn’t reflect a bigger underlying audience, so much as it reflects the different ways in which left wing and right wing audiences read blogs. Readers of prominent left wing blogs, who want to follow the debate in a comments section, are likely to reload a post multiple times in a day or week in order to see what commenters have added. Each time that they reload the post, the pageview count for that blog will go up. Readers of prominent right wing blogs, in contrast, aren’t as likely to have rapidly changing comments sections that they want to keep up with. Thus, they’re likely to reload their favourite blogs less often. In other words, Bowers may be right in claiming that leftwing blogs get more pageviews because of their greater emphasis on community structure – but for the wrong reasons. All other things being equal, we’d expect that community/commenter type blogs would get more pageviews than comment-free blogs _even if the former have exactly the same number of readers as the latter_. In order to test Bower’s implied claim that more pageviews reflects a bigger audience, we’d need different kinds of data, either unique visitor counts (although these have their own problems), or the kinds of aggregate data that companies like Nielsen generate by going to readers and asking them what websites they visit.



des von bladet 06.21.05 at 4:54 pm

Since we are by no means sober, and we care but little for “facts” even when we are, we will confine ourself to chortling at the idea of the Rightosphere as a Weberian bureaucracy.

Man proposes; God disposes; Moses supposes erroneously; and we, for one, blowses our noses vicariously.


Backword Dave 06.21.05 at 5:10 pm

Nice reasoning, Henry. (Although there’s still a way to overcome recounting users who load pages several times a day, it uses cookies, so it’s not perfect, but any sensible advertiser should be interested in how many individuals read a page.)

You do realise that hilzoy of Obsidian Wings covered this a week ago, and hilzoy quotes (whom I’d previously never heard of): “So why don’t most other conservative blogs allow comments? Because liberals are jerks. If a conservative blog allows comments, it is immediately overrun by juvenile, illiterate, liberal hecklers who ruin the comments section. …”

See coverage of the LA Times experiment for possible proof of this hypothesis.


engels 06.21.05 at 5:10 pm

One word: trolls.

Seriously, though, can’t you track IP addresses?


Henry 06.21.05 at 5:16 pm

engels, yeah – unique visitor counts are effectively IP address counts.


Henry 06.21.05 at 5:20 pm

backword dave – hadn’t seen the OW post – have been a little erratic in my blog reading of late. But aren’t most comment sections for big blogs overrun by jerks?


goatchowder 06.21.05 at 5:29 pm

Let the market decide. The left-wing blogs are doing a very, very, very smart, quintessentially capitalist thing: making themselves more marketable to advertisers, and thus ammassing more capital with to expand and keep themselves going strong.

Advertisers want page views. Community sites such as the lefty blogs encourage– nay, require– lots and lots of page views, as you comment, edit, preview, submit, and finally view comments and then come back to view replies to your comments… it’s an advertiser’s wet dream.

So, I’m very glad to see the left-wing, liberal, progressive blogs doing the classic Michael Moore thing: get your progressive vision across not by avoiding or dismantling capitalism, but by using capitalism as a tool.

Michael, keep making blockbuster movies. Liberal blogs, keep up the good Scoop/Drupal work!


astirring 06.21.05 at 5:52 pm

The traffic numbers may not be accurate and the typical blog format may differ from one end of the spectrum to the other… But I have no trouble explaining the trend, if it exists, because I would have expected it. And not necessarily because we on the left tend to be the more cerebral folks, either (which I wholeheartedly believe, by the way). If we were the ones with control of every branch of government and little effective political opposition, what would we have to get really worked up about? The election is history, so there’s nothing left to talk about there. And as the abuse, corruption, incompetence and overreaching becomes more glaringly obvious, fewer and fewer of those folks must feel like blogging is a good use of their summer evenings.


des von bladet 06.21.05 at 5:54 pm

Goatchowder: Are you clinically insane, or do you really hold the wildy hilarious opinion that refresh rate increases towards the left of the political spectrum? In the latter case, would you be innerested in buying some premium Usenet real-estate?


troll 06.21.05 at 6:09 pm

[aeiou] The left blogs are visited by preening intee-lect-chuls who love to see their words on screen over and over. The right bloggers have more to do with their lives. The difference in a nutshell.


Henry 06.21.05 at 6:21 pm

des – I actually think that goatchowder is at least half right on this one. Or at least my argument in the post is exactly that readers of the Daily Kos are likely to refresh more frequently than readers of Instapundit, because they want to keep up with the comments. From the point of view of advertisers, it makes sense – they’re interested in number of page views as well as number of unique visitors, b/c they want people to view their ads repeatedly. From the point of view of arguing that more page views means more readers, perhaps not so much.


Henry 06.21.05 at 6:22 pm

astirring – your argument is plausible and may well be right. I’d certainly like it to be right. But one could make equally plausible arguments that the right should be increasing readership too. Which is why it would be nice to have some actual data (social scientists have no problem coming up with plausible hypotheses; testing them, now there’s the rub).


engels 06.21.05 at 6:40 pm

Number 9 looks a lot like billings’ bons mots.


Eszter 06.21.05 at 6:40 pm

On a sidenote, what Nielsen surveys are you referring to? Nielsen//NetRatings is best know for their aggregated log info about user site visits.


jet 06.21.05 at 6:51 pm

I wonder if a neutral party could talk most of the top 200 blogs into using a unique page view tracker that could then be used to get 99.9% accurate data. You might even be able to get some of top 200 to allow users to post some non-identifying personal data. And with their ip addy’s you could see who views which blogs. Anyone know if someone who could swing this is attempting it?

Another point I think were considering is that the new traffic to liberal sites might contain quite a few conservative readers. Liberal sites tend to have more content and that content tends to be more dynamic. And that’s almost completely because of the comments sections. So while most readers can blow through the new stuff on their favorite 5 conservative blogs in 10 minutes, the liberal blogs can keep you coming back every hour to see how the conversation is going.

Des von bladet,
Smooth, very smooth. I know you don’t read most of a comment before responding, but you might at least try reading the f/\D\D\D/ing article [RtFA].


Phil 06.21.05 at 6:53 pm

because of the top-down nature of right-wing blogs, new conservative blogs remain almost entirely dependent upon the untouchable high traffic blogs for visitors. In short, the anti-community nature of right-wing blogs has resulted in a stagnant aristocracy within the conservative blogosphere that prevents the emergence of new voices and, as a result, new reasons for people to visit conservative blogs.

b-b-but surely, trickledown economics would apply??


BroMarx 06.21.05 at 7:02 pm

I know of a few left wing blogs that make a regular habit of deleting posts, eg

granted, he is slightly left of Karl Marx


paperwight 06.21.05 at 8:53 pm

Of course, one might view reloading to follow a conversation as an increase in intensity-of-engagement which doesn’t happen in a “here’s your talking points for the day, now go forth” model.


Peter 06.21.05 at 9:15 pm

A medium-sized post and seventeen comments down, and still no one’s managed to explain this in terms of the Right being generally dumber than the Left. You are disappointing me!


engels 06.21.05 at 9:25 pm

Peter, it’s an unspoken premise of the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy – you were just too dumb to realise.


modus potus 06.21.05 at 10:25 pm

Kos will get hits when people refresh for comments, but Atrios won’t. In fact, a lot of the popular leftie blogs use holoscan like him, and it’s holoscan and not the original site that gets the hits when someone refreshes to see new comments.


anciano 06.21.05 at 10:59 pm

Being more or less leftist (anti-kerry, anti-War) I’d like to think that left wing blogs get more hits, and maybe even have more influence, but it doesn’t compute. These are not the times for querulous left wingers who question everything, they are the times for simple answers to complex questions.


Sebastian Holsclaw 06.21.05 at 11:10 pm

On a blog with many diaries, it isn’t really clear what the number of hits for the overall blog means. On a front-page style of blog, you can be fairly sure that most of the hits are interactions with the main posts. A raw number on a diary-based blog doesn’t give you that same assurance.


lenin 06.22.05 at 1:53 am

bromarx – I delete comments from time to time, but I’m not aware of having deleted any posts at all?

goatchowder – You remind me of that Bill Hicks routine: “I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, “Oh, you know what Bill’s doing, he’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market, he’s very smart.” Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! “Ooh, you know what Bill’s doing now, he’s going for the righteous indignation dollar. That’s a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We’ve done research – huge market. He’s doing a good thing.” Godammit, I’m not doing that, you scum-bags!
Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!
“Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill’s very bright to do that.” God, I’m just caught in a fucking web! “Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market – look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar…” How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don’t you?””


Movie Guy 06.22.05 at 2:24 am

Conservative blog readers are followers…

Independent thought? God forbid.


des von bladet 06.22.05 at 2:55 am

So I am to understand that Little Green Foopballs and all the crazy shit that Belle keeps uncovering are either secretly “left-wing” or that their readers are unusually reluctant to refresh.

I can see comments vs. no comments affecting refresh rate, for sure, but I’m still unpersuaded that this correlates well with political ideology. Of course, I don’t read any American political blogs that aren’t this one, so I don’t claim my sample is representative, but I have read and occasionally read:

* Leiter (doesn’t have comments)
* Timothy Burke (no comments)
* Butterflies and Wheels (has a rubbish forum which largely fails to serve the purpose of comments on sensible blogs)

(Does anyone really read the comments on Fafblog?)

My theory, which is mine, is that any site with a daily readership in the multithousands is not getting its figures all that heavily skewed by the couple of hundred or so people who can be arsed with the trench warfare in its comments section, and by a happy coincidence the lurkers support me (in email) on this.


abb1 06.22.05 at 3:29 am

What Astirring said. It must be the anger factor. Listen to c-span call-in show for a half-hour and you’ll see. It’s like a mirror image of 1998.


Doug 06.22.05 at 5:28 am

Timothy Burke has comments in his new-ish incarnation, which has been up since May 11.


lth 06.22.05 at 5:44 am

rofl @ 15. Yes, surely???


Peter 06.22.05 at 7:14 am

Thanks, movie guy.


engels 06.22.05 at 7:26 am

Peter: Well, Mill said it first, and he hadn’t met Boris Johnson.


Seth Finkelstein 06.22.05 at 7:45 am

“stagnant aristocracy within the conservative blogosphere that prevents the emergence of new voices and, as a result, new reasons for people to visit conservative blogs.”

While I’m sympathetic to the author, I have to say I believe this is flawed logic. It misses how the system seems to work in practice. A new right-wing blog gains a following by serving the aristocracy.

Basically, the left side has lots of meetings and communes, while the right side has apprenticeships and fiefdoms. It’s different. But no reason to think that some questionable numbers mean much.

I’d also say that the right-wing side coordinates *much* better with their bigger media allies, but that may just be an artifact of having many more bigger media allies.


goesh 06.22.05 at 8:54 am

ya’ gotta wonder – the Belmont Club shows a site meter reading of 7.145 million, Nation of Riflemen shows a meter reading of 5.137 million and LGFs showed 92,322 visitors yesterady


Stuart 06.22.05 at 8:54 am

I guess how you view the different sites depends on your view of the world. Some might say that the left is migrating to a centralized socialist system, where the big site administers to its members, gives them services and goodies, and relieves them of the need to have to get their own bandwidth and addresses. The right, on the other hand, is more decentralized and individualistic, with less support but more room for individuals to make their own way.

It’s all in how you view it.

I’m not sure how significant the data are that the post is talking about. It could be that they are measuring apples against oranges, as many of the commenters here suggest. The net is still relatively young, but because of the nature of computerized activity, there are lots of data getting thrown off. We may or may not have figured out yet which data are most significant/reliable/useful. I suspect we haven’t; after all, Nielsen is still trying to get better data on usage of that paleolithic technology we call television. But hey, it’s grist for academics and others, so grind out those papers, boys and girls!!!


Soldier's Dad 06.22.05 at 2:20 pm

I have a simpler explanation

The Left/Liberals measure everything thru a utopian lens. As nothing in the world comes anywhere near a utopian solution, there is plenty of complaining and accusing to do. Someone’s Koran was mishandled becomes a huge issue…

The Right/Conservatives measure things from the way they are. The only things to discuss are substantial changes that affect the ways things are.


Alex Fradera 06.22.05 at 4:21 pm

I think the second two sentences are a non sequiteur, but anyway, equally compelling would be

The left are the reality-based community. as such they are committed to sifting all the evidence and bashing out the arguments til they settle on the truth.

The right decide on what they want things to be, and then stick to that story. Hence, there is less to be said except “yup” or “heh. indeed.” depending on socioeconomicl class.

I don’t believe that one bit, but if we’re running with lazy stereotypes…


triticale 06.22.05 at 5:34 pm

I would say that it is meaningless to speak of A right blogosphere and A left blogosphere. Even speaking of a spectrum or continuum from right to left would fail to accurately consider what to do with libertarians.

There is also the fact that there is a lot of linking going on which doesn’t merely cross the division I just denied exists but transcends it. How many of you would ignore a link to something yummy from the Carnival of Recipes based on who posted it?


Dan 06.23.05 at 2:18 am

Doesn’t the left sell more books, too? Might lefties be more into reading?


cs 06.23.05 at 5:49 am

Re: Utopianism

The right is as utopian as the left, though in a somewhat different way.

The left seems quite happy to sacrifice the good for the perfect. Why more on the left haven’t embraced Bush’s push for increased democracy in the world, as flawed as his methods are, I’ll never understand.

Sacrificing the good also seems to apply to themselves. They are better at unity than they used to be, but they still love to feed upon their own.

The right, ironically, resembles the true believers in the Soviet Union or any other collective exercise in utopianism. They have relatively noble goals: democracy everywhere in a world free of terror, but they’re willing to sink the country in a quagmire of a war, torture prisoners, reduce civil liberties, all in the quest for their ideals.

Like any true believer, they believe the world should be working in unison towards this goal, and any criticism from the outside must be silenced, any criticism from within comes at pain of excommunication.

And their blogs reflect their respective blindness. Let’s hear it for Libertarian blogs where the, useless but oh-so-satisfying, theme is usually a pox on both their houses.


shpx.ohfu 06.23.05 at 12:43 pm

Why more on the left haven’t embraced Bush’s push for increased democracy in the world, as flawed as his methods are, I’ll never understand.

oh, I don’t know…

maybe it’s because “push for democracy” is the cynically themed third string excuse trotted out after all the other garbage was revealed for what it is [see DSMs];

maybe because the “push for democracy” seems remarkably selective in its application;

maybe because blowing up, invading, and occupying a country under false pretenses is hard to swallow as legitimate means to “push for democracy.”


abb1 06.23.05 at 2:35 pm

Nah, it’s because you reject the good for the perfect. Just stay the course, bomb the bastards till they embrace democracy, dammit.

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