Blogging and Power Laws

The proprietor of Simon World compliled a huge list of blogging tips from his own experiences and those of other bloggers entitled, “Everything you wanted to know about blogging but were afraid to ask.”

This caused Glittering Eye to take a look at the traffic, start dates, links, and professions of the TTLB Top 20.

  Blog Date started Links Traffic
1 Michelle Malkin June 2004 6,171 86,967 Journalist
2 Instapundit August 2001 6,119 127,741 Academic
3 Daily Kos May 2002 5,271 560,636
4 Captain’s Quarters October 2003 4,595 30,947
5 Power Line May 2002 4,078 69,986
6 Boing Boing January 2000 3,890 ?
7 LGF February 2001 3,866 88,994
8 The Drudge Report 1998 3744 ?
9 Eschaton April 2002 3,314 119,069
10 The Volokh Conspiracy April 2002 2,898 16,317 Academic
11 Outside the Beltway January 2003 2,772 7,623 Academic
12 Talking Points Memo November 2000 2,697 ?
13 Wizbang April 2003 2,551 14,299
14 Hugh Hewitt January 2003 2,446 29,484 Academic, journalist
15 The Washington Monthly August 2002 2,426 45,559
16 Mudville Gazette February 2003 2,296 5,736
17 The Huffington Post May 2005 2,276 ? Journalist
18 Andrew Sullivan August 2000 2,086 30,768 Journalist
19 The Evangelical Outpost October 2003 2,017 935
20 La Shawn Barber’s Corner November 2003 2,008 ? Free-lance journalist

More than half of the top twenty are professional writers; several are academics; some were celebrities at least to some degree before beginning to blog.


[O]nly two of the Top 20 Ecosystem blogs started after 2003 and both of those were started by people with some degree of celebrity prior to blogging.

There̢۪s another little piece of prevailing blogging wisdom that I have serious doubts about: the idea that the most successful bloggers have something unique or fill a niche. With the exception of Boing Boing (and Boing Boing is the oldest by a considerable margin) all of the top blogs comment on news of the day. Sure, they have constituencies and points-of-view. Unique? Hardly. But most have been in their niches for quite some time.

So, here are my tips for becoming a top blogger: be a celebrity academic or journalist and start your blog in 2000 or before. Be outrageous. Attract attention. Throw red meat.

There’s something to these, to be sure. I’ve often noted that, like golf, the key to blogging success is taking it up earlier. And academics have huge advantages in both training and time.

I would note, though, that the coding here is a bit off. While I have a PhD and taught college for a few years, I haven’t worked as an academic during the life of this blog (although one of my co-bloggers does). LaShawn Barber did some freelance writing before starting her blog but didn’t take that up full time until well after the blog was entrenched in the upper reaches of the Ecosystem. Of course, Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo) and Kevin Drum (Washington Monthly) are journalists who aren’t labeled as such. Drum became a journalist, though, as a result of the success of his previous blog, CalPundit, which was actually ranked higher in the Ecosystem in those days than now.

It’s true, too, that being controversial is helpful in garnering attention. Still, most of the top sites listed are analytical and reasonably fair in their coverage. Very few of them routiely provide much in the way of “red meat.”

The other thing I’d note about the numbers in the table is that blogging was around a long time before 2003. When I started OTB at the end of January 2003, it was ranked in the 700s of the Ecosystem; it’s now #11. While 11 of the top 20 sites are older than mine, that means nine sites have displaced those that once occupied those exalted positions.

It’s not surprising that being around long enough to build an audience would be an advantage in getting linked by other blogs. And there’s no surprise, either, that those who can spend a lot of time reading and writing will have a big advantage over those who can’t. And a nationally syndicated column or a big market radio show can’t hurt, either. But you’ve got to write something that people want to read or they’ll quit coming back once the novelty has worn off.

Hat tip: Watcher of Weasels

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Yes, a few of my notes were judgement calls. What’s a journalist, anyway? And red meat? James, have you looked at Daily Kos, Eschaton, LGF, or Michelle Malkin’s sites lately?

    But thanks for the link. All such gratefully received.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Dave: Yep, several of the sites are red-meatish. But InstaPundit, Captain’s Quarters, OTB, Volokh, TPM, Powerline, Sully, Evangelical Outpost, Political Animal, Mudville Gazette, etc. are pretty mainstream. Partisan, sure, but not rantfests.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Actually, James, I agree with that completely. But (and it’s part of a post I’m working on right now) the modalities for “throwing red meat” between the Left and Right Blogosphere are dramatically different. Although the demeanor of the Right Blogosphere bloggers tends (IMO) to be significantly more temperate than that of many Left Blogosphere bloggers I think the Left Blogosphere consider the subject matter itself of some of the prominent Right Blogosphere bloggers to be “red meat” and I think I can see what they mean (sort of). So the notably partisan Right Blogosphere blogs like Captain’s Quarters and Powerline are, in their own way, throwing red meat as much Daily Kos and Eschaton and I think I’d classify them that way. Maybe I’m being too rigid.

    I know that many Left Blogosphere bloggers consider Glenn to be rabidly partisan but I think that’s hyperventilating. I find him very temperate and reasonable—a libertarian-leaning centrist. I feel the same way about Volokh (although for some reason or another quite a few Left Blogosphere bloggers seem to consider him a member of the VRWC).

    So I’d classify more than half of the top ten blogs as at least highly partisan (which was my point to begin with).

    My own vantage point on this is peculiar since I’m a Scoop Jackson Democrat. I hit the bull’s eye every time on the Political Compass.

  4. Jim Rhoads (vnjagvet) says:

    One trend I have noted in the past several months is an effort by reasonably articulate left of center commenters to try to start rant fests or take cheap ad hominem shots at some of the leading libertarian or centrist academics like Volokh, Cpt. Ed, Althouse and Glenn.

    It as if there is a concerted effort to undermine their influence with centrists and “respectable” intellectuals. I do not believe it has been particularly effective, but it is interesting that they think it is necessary.