Two Blogospheres: Left and Right

It has long been an article of faith that — in terms of authorship, comment policy, other user interaction, and linking policies — Left-leaning bloggers are more communitarian and Right-leaning bloggers more individualistic. At the same time, however, several studies have found that neither side does a very good job of linking to and discussing arguments from the opposite side of the blogosphere.

Yochai Benkler, Aaron Shaw and Victoria Stodden have re-examined these conclusions using a broader methodology that looks beyond URLs:

two-blogospheresBased on qualitative coding of the top 155 political blogs, our results reveal significant cross-ideological variations along several important dimensions. Notably, we find evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation across political blogs. Sites on the left adopt more participatory technical platforms; are comprised of significantly fewer sole-authored sites; include user blogs; maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content; include longer narrative and discussion posts; and (among the top half of the blogs in our sample) more often use blogs as platforms for mobilization as well as discursive production.

Our findings speak to two major theoretical debates on the political effects of the Internet and networked discourse. First, the variations we observe between the left and right wings of the U.S. political blogosphere provide insights into how varied patterns of technological adoption and use within a single society may produce distinct effects on democracy and the public sphere.

In terms of “participatory technical platforms,” they’re talking about the use of Scoop and other diary-based platforms that allow dozens or even hundreds of users to create their own subblogs, often with a chance of being bumped to the main page by a group of editors, and commenting systems like Disqus that are hosted off-site and allow integration with other social media sites, sharing with the commenter’s own community, and so forth.

Conservatives tend to be less likely to experiment with such models because they necessarily mean giving up control.  I’m intrigued with the cross-discussion and traffic-generating potential of hosting dozens of OTB Diaries, for example, but am uncomfortable with having the commentary on said sub-sites associated with my name.

I’m more likely to experiment with something like Disqus — which my friend Steven Taylor (interestingly, included in the study above as a Center blog while OTB was included on the Right)  is doing right now.  I am, however, a bit leery of having an outside entity control my content and being at their mercy.

In both cases, then, I’m conforming to type.

Secondly, our study suggests that the prevailing techniques of domain-based link analysis used to study the political blogosphere to date may have fundamental limitations. The fact that we find evidence of significant cross-ideological variation when we compare intra-domain attributes of political blogs demonstrates that link analysis studies have obscured both the diversity of participatory affordances online as well as the primary mechanisms by which the networked public sphere alters democratic participation relative to the mass mediated public sphere.

Here, they’re talking about the fact that not all sites are really one site.  They give the example of Glenn Reynolds’ InstaPundit vice Markos Moulitsas Zúniga’s Daily Kos.  The former is a single site run by a single individual.  The latter, by contrast, is really hundreds upon hundreds of sub-sites under the rubric of one brand, including one site that’s a major standalone blog in its own right.    The authors are right that treating them identically is problematic.

Aside from RedState, which was specifically conceived as an answer to Daily Kos,  and, recently, Hot Air (with its Green Room), I can’t off the top of my head think of significant community blogs on the right.  I suppose Town Hall qualifies as do the suite of blogs under the National Review masthead, but they’re both corporate creations rather than grassroots blogs of the sort that Talking Points Memo, FireDogLake, and a plethora of others represent.

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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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. john personna says:

    Just curious, do you ever go to memeorandum and just peel off a topic? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I think that might be common, and lead to some … what to they call it? Epistemic closure?

    (I think I was going to write something like Disqus at one point … so may projects, and I’m so darn lazy 😉

  2. James Joyner says:

    I do memeorandum quite a bit, although not as much as I did when I had time to do 10-15 posts a day. Now, I write about stuff there that I really care about, otherwise I find stuff through RSS, Twitter, and general reading.

  3. cas says:

    Do you think that the blogs that are hosted by Pajamas Media (labelled as “Pajamas Xpress”) fit this criteria?

  4. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    I’ve been banned at RedState every time I posted a comment, so I hardly think it’s an example of an open communitarian site. All you have to do to get banned there is express ideological opposition to the blogger or diarist. In contrast, the only thing that will get you banned from Daily Kos is being a 9/11 “truther”, which I think is fair.

  5. grampagravy says:

    Only blockheads listen strictly to people they agree with. Hence, we are very nearly a nation of blockheads.

  6. steve says:

    The right has major holes in its part of the blogosphere. While I easily find and regularly read a bunch of libertarian economists, I have yet to find a regular blogging, quality conservative economist blogger. There is also no one regularly blogging on health care issues from the right, just people who do it occasionally.


  7. bains says:

    Two points.

    At the same time, however, several studies have found that neither side does a very good job of linking to and discussing arguments from the opposite side of the blogosphere.

    While likely literally true, this ignores the fact that the preponderance of hard news sites linked are left of center. All right of center blogs I visit regularly link the NYTimes, WaPost, BoGlobe, LATimes, etc. Left of center sites typically link (the very few) right of center hard news sites only to deride, not to engender discussion. In other words, the authors create the false assumption that both sides purposefully cocoon themselves against opposing opinion. Anecdotally, many of my family/friends who claim they gain a “balanced” perspective by tuning into FoxNews, their coffee tables populated by the NYTimes, Newsweek, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Economist, have never heard of, or have never read, The Weekly Standard or National Review.

    Secondly, that left sites are much more willing to allow subbloggers to headline is a clear admission that the MSM holds lefty bloggers to a different standard. Many of the MSM mine righty sites for outrageous comments, finding them mostly in anonymous comments and portrait them as coming from the site’s authors. Yet when Markos says “Screw them”, the MSM does its partisan best to downplay the comments.

    Put personal, James, I suspect you don’t want subbloggers on your site because you know that their opinions would likely would be used to tar your name. Lefty bloggers don’t have this worry.

  8. Jamie says:

    This report seems to mimic what I see between the two sides of the blogosphere. On the tech side, there has always been a bigger embrace from the left. Take the diary/sub-blog as an example. For years there was only one real platform that handled those decently, which was Scoop. To get Scoop installed is no small task, and the fact that it is written in PERL makes it a lot harder to maintain.

    Then a few years ago you saw Drupal really start gaining popularity. Drupal can also do a diary type system with minimal setup. Redstate used to use Drupal for their diary system. They claimed that it couldn’t handle their increasing size, but that wasn’t a true assessment on their part. For example, I do all the tech work for Crooks and Liars. Generally we run two servers – one database and one web. We are also powered by Drupal. Back during the 2008 election Murphy’s law hit. We had a hard drive go bad in the database server, so we had to move everything to a single server. To double up on Murphy’s Law, we got hit with one of our busiest traffic days ever right in the middle of this. At one point we were pushing out over 60,000 page views in an hour. This all came from a single server and the server load never even got into the yellow, let alone red. I’ve also spent countless hours benchmarking our current setup. By my tests and calculations we can handle over 20,000 new posts, 500,000 new comments and 3.5 million page views in a single day before the site will start to go down. This was all gained from embracing newer technologies for the performance, like memcached clusters. Setting these up in Drupal is very simple. Just download and install a module and put a few lines in your configuration file.

    To get WordPress to handle diaries is a nightmare. I should know since I’m the one who developed the diary system on Firedoglake. WordPress is mostly set up as a blogging platform only, and extending it out to handle more things like diaries takes an awful lot of coding.

    As far as Disqus goes, give it a try. I started using it on my personal site about a year ago and love it. Comments add a lot of overhead to blogging platform, and with Disqus you offload that resource hog to their servers. I’ve never had a problem with them and their spam blocking alone is great.

    The best thing about Disqus and WordPress is that there is a plugin that will move all your existing comments over to Disqus. Later on if you feel like you want to go back to WordPress comments, it will bring all your comments back from Disqus to WordPress.

    Oh and Disqus also handles trackbacks, which is another big source of spam on things like WordPress blogs. I have never had a spam trackback since using Disqus.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Jamie: Thanks for the tips.

    I use Drupal for my work site and it is indeed much more complicated that WordPress for my purposes.

    I’ll definitely explore the Disqus idea.