Is the Right Wing Blogosphere Stagnating?
Early this year, Duncan “Atrios” Black and Kevin Drum launched an interesting round of discussions with their observation that many more of the top Left-leaning blogs allow readers comments than do their Right-leaning counterparts. In response, I noted that relatively few of the blogs with extraordinarily high traffic were Lefty sites and that the quality of reader discussion tends to erode as site traffic increases.
Chris Bowers has a long, thoughtful post at MyDD entitled, “Aristocratic Right Wing Blogosphere Stagnating.” Taking up where Black and Drum left off, he notes that there is a major revolution underway among the biggest Lefty blogs that threatens to leave the Right behind.
The left-wing blogosphere is beginning to decidedly pull away from the right wing blogosphere in terms of traffic. This is largely a result of the open embrace of community blogging on the left and the stagnant, anti-meritorious nature of the right-wing blogosphere that pushes new, emerging voices to the margins.
As I have always been prone to do, I spent much of the morning looking at the Blogads traffic rankings. Adding up the 200 blogs that are concerned with politics and either identify or have been identified with Democrats / liberals or Republicans / conservatives, I found 87 blogs that general fit into the “liberal” category and 113 blogs that fit into the conservative category. However, despite the greater number of conservative blogs, the liberal blogs totaled nearly ten million page views per week, while the conservative blogs managed just over six million. I have been tracking the comparative audiences of the two blogosphere off and on for the past nine months, and this is the largest lead for the liberal blogosphere that I have ever found. In September, the margin in favor of Democrats was 25%. In winter, it was 33%. In the spring, it was 50%. Now, it has risen to 65%. This is particularly amazing, since less than two years ago the conservative blogosphere was at least twice the size of the liberal blogosphere.
So the liberal blogosphere is beginning to pull away from the conservative blogopshere in terms of audience size. At the same time, there appear to be more conservative blogs than liberal blogs. In fact, when it comes to total number, new Republican / conservative blogs might even be outpacing new Democratic / liberal blogs. What could be the cause of this?
The answer that seems most likely to me is community. Take a look at the breakdown of the 200 blogs I surveyed by quintile:1-40 41-80 81-120 121-160 161-200 Lib 24 16 14 13 19 Con 16 24 26 27 21
Of the twenty-four liberal blogs in the top quintile, Dailykos, TPM CafÃƒ©, Smirking Chimp, Metafilter, BooMan Tribune, MyDD, and Dembloggers are full-fledged community sites where members cannot only comment, but they can also post diaries / articles / polls. By comparison, there are no community sites among the top twenty-four conservative blogs. None, zip, zero, nada. This is particularly stunning when one considers the importance of the Free Republic community to the conservative netroots. While it would appear that there are hordes of Glenn Reynolds wannabe’s among conservatives in the netroots, Redstate.org sticks out as the only success story for a community oriented blog within the conservative blogosphere. In fact, of the five most trafficked conservative blogs (over 200,000 page views per week), only one, Little Green Footballs, even allows comments, much less the ability to actually write a diary or a new article.
The nine liberal community sites I listed in the paragraph above have accounted for the bulk of the exceptional growth of the liberal blogosphere over the past two years. In the summer of 2003, Dailykos was roughly equal in traffic to Atrios, and had less than half the traffic of Instapundit. However, starting with a large growth spurt following the introduction of Scoop in October of 2003, now Dailykos has grown to three times the size of Instapundit and four times the size of Atrios. Over the past year, Scoop sites Dembloggers, MyDD, and BooMan Tribune have risen from miniscule traffic numbers to top forty, even top twenty, blogs. Over the past two weeks, the traffic at Talking Points Memo and TPM CafÃƒ© has risen to a combined 1.3 million, making it easily the second most trafficked political blog (comfortably passing Instapundit). In fact, the introduction of the community oriented TPM CafÃƒ© has more than doubled the traffic at TPM of late. Overall, while both the right-wing and left-wing blogosphere have seen growth in traffic, the truly exceptional growth of many community sites on the liberal end of the blogosphere has made the difference that catapulted the liberal blogosphere from half the size of the right-wing blogosphere in July 2003 to more than 60% its size in June 2005.
Anyone who spends a significant amount of time on Scoop blogs should not have any difficulty figuring out why this is the case. Because of Scoop’s diary feature, it is possible to become at least a semi-famous blogger without having a blog of your own. An entire generation of popular liberal bloggers grew out of the Dailykos diaries and comments: Billmon, Steve Soto, Steve Gillard, Melanie, DemfromCT, DhinMI, Theoria, Tom Schaller, Meteor Blades, DavidNYC, myself, SusanHu, Jerome a Paris, lapin, Maryscott O’Conner, NYCO, Mariascat, and many, many more. I believe that the wave of new talent and fresh voices that the comments and dairy options bring to a blog has been the key factor in the liberal blogosphere outpacing the growth of the right wing blogosphere. Every day brings more reasons to read the highly trafficked liberal blogs. Every two weeks or so brings a new liberal blog from someone who has already become famous as a diarist. Community moderated blogging platforms such as Scoop have provided us with an excellent means of finding new voices, and these are the voices that are generating the accelerated growth in the liberal and progressive blogosphere when compared to the right-wing blogosphere.
By comparison, right-wing blogs have pretty much only one means of finding a new voice in the blogosphere: when someone starts a new blog. The inability to operate within a community must be the primary reason behind the large number of conservative blogs in the second, third and fourth quintiles of the Blogads traffic rankings. In fact, of these 120 blogs, 77 of them are openly conservative / libertarian. 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.
These are points worth considering.
The traffic issue is certainly important, especially as the ability to generate revenue from a site increases. To the extent that a site massively increases its traffic by being, in essence, dozens or even hundreds of individual blogs all running the same SiteMeter and/or BlogAds counters, it has a huge competitive advantage over a single blog.
The “new talent” issue is more persuasive. I must admit, I’ve never understood the appeal of Scoop sites. I seldom read Red State, for example, even though I have a great deal of respect for Mike Krempasky, Josh Trevino, and a few of the other authors. I find it confusing not to have the content all on the front page. I visit Kos occasionally but read the diaries only if I’m following a link from elsewhere. And, while I’m aware of sites like Smirking Chimp, I didn’t even realize they were using the Scoop format. That said, there is clearly a large number of people with different tastes than mine in that regard, as several of the sites are flourishing. Even if the traffic figures are distorted by hundreds of people going to read their own ill-read site, there’s still a ton of activity there.
The number of Lefty bloggers who have had successful spinoffs from those sites is impressive. Aside from Red State, the Right has nothing like that in terms of a farm system. So, is the Right Blogosphere in fact stagnating?
Taking one standard measure, the TTLB Ecosystem, it doesn’t seem that way. Several of the very top sites, and even more of the sites in the top 100, are new or at least emergent in the last year or so. There has been remarkable turnover in the list since I first started looking at it about two years ago. Michelle Malkin just had her first blogiversary this week and is already ahead of Atrios and sometimes ahead of even DailyKos. Ed Morrissey‘s Captain’s Quarters is several months younger than OTB and regularly in the top ten. PowerLine has been around since May 2002 but only hit the stratosphere in the last year. Dozens of newish sites are in the top 100 and many of the stalwart blogs that were in the upper reaches of the Ecosystem when I started blogging have fallen off the charts.
Using another metric, influence, I’d say the Rightie sites are holding their own as well. PowerLine was Time’s Blog of the Year, Morrissey was a key force in breaking the Gomery scandal, and InstaPundit is still the most linked and read single author blog.
Chris is right, though, that the collective blogs are a traffic generator. DailyKos was a major site when I started OTB but always well behind InstaPundit by every measure and even behind Black’s Eschaton on the Left. Since going the Scoop route, he’s exploded. Using Bear’s traffic rankings, which are admittedly a moving target, the Righty and Lefty blogs seem about evenly represented in the upper reaches (with several non-blogs thrown in the mix as well). That’s a significant change from two years ago, when the Righty sides predominated.
Chris has already done the BlogAds traffic meter, which may well be the more meaningful since it’s directly related to revenue. There, too, a lot of non-blog sites are thrown into the mix. Clearly, the aggregate blogs are onto something. It stands to reason that a site that hosts, in effect, dozens of blogs will get more traffic than one that hosts a single blog. I have no knowledge of how DailyKos and other community sites distribute that income, though. One wonders how one figures out how to divide the loot if they’re all using the same counters. Presumably, though, Marshall is offering a good enough deal that the likes of Matt Yglesias was willing to close down a quite popular site to join up.
So, I’m of mixed minds on what Chris suggests. He’s right that the mega blogs on the Left create a sense of community that can direct traffic efficiently and give quicker visibility to budding authors. This has surely been a significant factor in the rapid rise to parity of the Lefty blogs after letting the Righty sites get a big head start.
On the other hand, I’m not sure that I want to see the rise of a assimilated blogs on the Right. The current system, where people start off reading blogs and participating in the comments sections before getting inspired to start their own sites, seems to be working out fine. For example, Kate McMillan got started in the comments sections at OTB and several other sites, launched her own site at small dead animals, and quickly built up her own readership by providing insightful commentary on Canadian politics and other issues that interested her. She’s now a regular in the top 30 of the Ecosystem and averaging on the order of 5000 visits a day. There are dozens of sites in the top 100 who have done that over the last couple of years.
Hat tip to Mark in Mexico, who has a long post of his own on the topic.
Update: Llama Butcher Robert adds,
The conservative/libertarian side has brought about NYTimes-Gate, Memo-Gate, the Swifties and other stories which have had, so far as I can tell, a serious impact on the course of the national debate, arguably winning Dubya’s reelection. All of these stories, as I recollect, were cracked first by second, third and fourth tier blogs, thus demonstrating not the smothering of conservative/libertarian voices, but rather the depth of the Right’s bench. On the other hand, the most important impact the Liberal side has had so far is to bring about the rise of Howard Dean. That’s a trade I’d take any day, even if it means I have to wear shackles.
Update (0534 June 17): Kevin Aylward, who knows about a million times more about software than I do, points out many of the flaws of Scoop as a blogging tool. What’s particularly interesting is that the DailyKos crew has used their resources to create a feature rich version that simply isn’t available to startups.