Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 12: November 2005


Net Media Perspective

Analogies, Gatekeepers and Blogging

I began using the term “net media” in Bibs & Blather: A Little Spring Cleaning (C&I 5:5, Spring 2005):

I can’t seem to get away from blogs, RSS, wikis, and the other tools and religions of internet culture. Think of this new section as an offshoot of Trends & Quick Takes on one hand and The Good Stuff on the other. My first name for this section was “The Infosphere.” But I’ve made fun of others for always wanting to use a neologism when there’s already a perfectly good term. Since blogs, wikis, and these other things are basically just media that depend on the internet, I’ll call them that: net media.

Since then, three essays explicitly carried the Net Media label; three more could have.

Naming a thing affects your perceptions of that thing. Gathering a group of concepts under one name is a form of synthesis: An assertion that those concepts have something noteworthy in common. While Net Media emerged as a label of convenience, I’m finding the term useful as a way of thinking about these “new things”—and as a way of relating these and other digital phenomena to the rest of life.

Net Media and Physical Media

Most of us rely on analogy to understand new things and phenomena and explain them to others. “It tastes like chicken”—I’ve heard that said about rattlesnake meat, fried ants and other exotic foodstuffs. TV is just “radio with pictures” (a little too true of most TV shows). A blog is “like an electronic diary that anyone can read.” Except when it isn’t.

Helpful as analogies are to familiarize and explain, they can also be traps—particularly when combined with the natural tendency to oversimplify. A blog is just an electronic diary. (Well, no, it isn’t.) An ejournal is just a journal that doesn’t appear in print form. (Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.) An ebook is just like a print book but with a dedicated reader instead of dead trees. (Wrong on so many counts…)

To make matters worse, many of us love to create oppositions and assumed replacements. Ebooks or print books. Electronic journals or print journals. Blogs in place of newspapers and magazines. Now that we’re in the third decade of widespread digital phenomena, it gets worse, as new digital phenomena are proposed as replacements for old ones. Email and lists must die, replaced by blogs, wikis, and IM!

We need to differentiate within net media, just as we should be better at differentiating within traditional media. Some listeners have been puzzled when I’ve said in speeches (and print) that there is no serials crisis for most public libraries, but it’s a simple matter of differentiation. Magazines (the bulk of serials in most public libraries) have very little in common with scientific, technical, and medical scholarly journals (the heart of the journal pricing-and-access crisis, which is real) other than that both appear on a more-or-less regular schedule and both may appear in print form with consistent issue-to-issue cover and internal design. Magazines have different financial models than STM journals. Magazine prices increase much more slowly than STM journal prices (if at all). Most magazines rely far less heavily than STM journals on library subscriptions for their survival.

But that also oversimplifies the situation. There may be a quarter million current periodicals, only 10% of which are refereed scholarly journals. Lumping the other 90% together as magazines may be right in some ways but is terribly misleading in others.

Similar problems arise when people discuss blogs as though all blogs were the same thing—and go on to lump ezines and ejournals in with blogs.

We need analogies. But we also need to recognize the limits of analogy. Blogs aren’t all just like diaries. Blogs don’t all fit into any single medium with any clarity of definition. Blogging software is lightweight content management used to create several different kinds of net media that we find it convenient to lump together. Maybe we shouldn’t.

These are half-finished thoughts, part of a continuum that began with a book proposal in early 2001: A plurality of media: Stories in libraries. That proposal resulted in a contract, which became the only book contract I’ve ever cancelled. At the time—2003—I was so involved with various columns and this journal that I couldn’t focus on the book-length project. When I did focus on it, I found it was no longer a book I wanted to read, which meant it was a book I couldn’t write.

That was then. The more I work with and write about various net media, the more I see the ideas in the book proposal coming back to life. With luck, there may be a series of commentaries, some as disorderly as this section, some more coherent. Over time, those commentaries could turn out to be a serial version of A plurality of media.

Or not. Remember my series of retrospective CD-ROM reviews?

The New Gatekeepers

Weblogging Ethics and Impact, C&I 5:7 (May 2005), included several pages commenting on posts at Jon Garfunkel’s Civilities blog (civilities.net), ending with three posts with the common title “The New Gatekeepers.” I don’t plan to rehash that discussion; see citesandinsights.info/v5i7d.htm.

Garfunkel continued the series. In “Part 5: The problem of crowds,” he begins by noting a “mini-epidemic of interest” in the series (including my coverage). Ideas and posts spread through the internet in various ways; Gladwell uses “epidemic” and Rushkoff and Godin both use “virus” as an analogy. Garfunkel prefers “information cascade” (suggested by James Surowiecki, The wisdom of crowds). Surowiecki’s book warns of the dangers of blindly accepting the wisdom of crowds. As Garfunkel notes, the blogosphere doesn’t always avoid the problems of buying into the information cascade or virus of the day.

Positive forces urge us to go along. Who are you to question accepted wisdom? What’s wrong with you, that you don’t see what everyone else sees? Gary Jones, quoted in Garfunkel’s essay, puts it this way:

Perhaps the greatest impediment to improved social structures will be resistance from those dedicated to exploiting information cascades to achieve power and skew social behavior for gain. Activists of all stripes work to develop manipulative skills to cause cascades. They aren’t interested in wisdom or good governance, they just want to make the sale, stampede the herd, win. They don’t seek to inform, they seek to persuade. They don’t value dissent, they demonize dissenters and try to marginalize them.

Garfunkel says he aims to “exonerate [individuals] somewhat by finding fault in the technology itself.” He believes that the architecture of the blogosphere encourages cascades, as do “the values of those who drive the technology.” I wonder.

When it comes to information cascades, blogs are a big improvement to what came immediately before—email forwarding. With email chains it is virtually impossible for the average person to trace the source; all context is stripped off; there is no way to respond in a way that everyone will see it.

Maybe, although ethical writers always retain the original writer’s name when forwarding. I’d suggest that electronic lists have as much to do with information cascades as email forwarding—and lists preserve the original context and provide for coherent responses that everyone can see. Are blogs an improvement over lists, or a step back? I’m not sure. They may be a step sideways.

Garfunkel provides an extended example of the “new gatekeepers” at work. It’s a complicated story and you might do better to read Garfunkel’s post directly (civilities.net/TheNewGatekeepers-Crowds), preferably linking through to the sources mentioned. The controversy involves a mix of blogs, traditional commercial net-based sources such as CNet, and physical media such as the San Francisco Bay Guardian. It seems to show that people were far more likely to spread an apparent scandal than to recognize a correction. Herewith “Garfunkel’s hypothesis”:

People who blog have a much greater tendency to pass along incomplete quick impressions than balanced analyses written later, by a ratio of greater than seven to one. Or, the blogosphere breeds propaganda better than the corrections. I doubt that any serious person in civil society would be proud of that ratio. And I doubt that the traditional media [are] anywhere close to that ratio.

He then proceeds to recognize “a mistake I’ve made.”

The old gatekeepers and the new gatekeepers are not the same. Both, after all, influence what we watch and read. The difference is that the old gatekeepers do so by restricting information. The new gatekeepers do so by manipulating information cascades. Perhaps we shudder at the thought of information being restricted consciously. But it just may be preferable to having information manipulated without any awareness of the people involved.

Well…are there really “new gatekeepers”? Here’s a list of “names in the last story:” Michael Bassik, Chris Nolan, Dan Gillmor, Michael Hirsh. Who on that list do you trust? Who have you even heard of?

Garfunkel uses Google and Technorati result “counts” as the basis for the extent to which a story has spread, using the Wendy’s finger-in-the-chili story this time. I have trouble with that, and with the resulting 7:1 ratio. Right now, “wendy+finger” yields “1,750,000” items at Google, while “wendy + finger + arrested” yields “154,000.” I don’t believe that means the scandal spread “11 times as far” as the story. I’m not sure it means much of anything.

The equivalent Technorati search, done four months later, shows 6091 and 646 as compared to 3300 and 386 in late April—but when you look at the posts, you see how nonsensical the comparisons are. The second “wendy finger” post has nothing to do with the scandal. Several posts that are about the scandal don’t use the word “arrested” but nonetheless are about the denouement, not the original scandal. Incidentally, making the Google search “wendy finger guilty OR arrest OR arrested OR hoax” yields more than 300,000 items. So much for ratios.

Maybe all this is somewhat irrelevant to C&I readers. Do you believe the most widely read library bloggers act as gatekeepers—that they do or can manipulate “information cascades,” controlling the way we think about library issues? I’m skeptical, at least in our little corner of the blogosphere. But Garfunkel has wider concerns and he raises interesting questions.

“Part 7: Solutions” discusses “aggregatable declarations”—things like voting, signing petitions, participating in surveys, rating movies at IMDB or NetFlix, reviewing at Amazon or Zagat. “In all these cases, people take a declarative action which can then be summed up to form some aggregate picture of how many total people are making that statement.”

Garfunkel calls aggregatable declarations “crucial for markets and democracies” and says it’s unfortunate that “so much of the communications essential to both democracy and markets escapes aggregation.” He then goes on to note “practical deployments”—e.g. Google PageRank and Technorati rank.

And here I see why I may be having so much trouble with Garfunkel’s series—why I keep recommending it and talking about it, but disagree with so much of it. Garfunkel’s looking for ways to establish significance. I’m more interested in discussion and complexity. I believe Garfunkel’s looking for the kind of simple “good/bad” rating that aggregatable declarations lead to. I don’t much care whether most library bloggers prefer IM reference to separate virtual reference software—but I think it’s interesting to see individual threads of discussion as to why one is better than the other. Some aspects of life require voting. Many are better served by discussion.

If you’re with Garfunkel on this one, you’ll find his suggested problems and solutions interesting. I wonder about the problems. For example:

How can we get an appraisal of a given article, so that the publisher, and the readers, can be aware of how it has been received by its audience?

He suggests a response system with content rating on 17 aspects of an article. Do you really want to know what some array of strangers concluded about an article—or do you want to be guided to interesting articles by a handful of “trusted strangers,” the bloggers you believe offer good advice? The other problems and solutions are more interesting, but I’m still a little wary. I’m not sure these are “problems” I find particularly interesting.

“Part 8: The future” is worth reading on its own. He cites a number of what I’d consider ethically questionable cases, notes that bloggers attack traditional media more than media attack bloggers (perhaps for the same reason that little-read bloggers spend more time talking about widely-read bloggers than the reverse), notes that the current system “rewards good writers and editors,” and says he’s working on a future that would provide a “more flat society.”

Guess what? Any text-based system will reward “good writers and editors”—as it should. People are more likely to keep reading good writing. Why should people continue to read semiliterate blather when elegant essays are available?

Good writing and editing isn’t gatekeeping or protecting an elite; it’s learning the tools of the trade. If “the citizenry” is unwilling to learn enough eloquence to make cases clearly, “the citizenry” will not be read. There may be structural problems that keep giving those who already have voices even more listeners, but rewarding good writing isn’t part of the problem. (Seth Finkelstein reacted to the “more flat society” possibility with some pessimism, mostly because it’s such a difficult problem. “Nobody knows how to do good technology for non-hierarchical organizations…”)

The 11 layers of citizen journalism

This essay, posted June 13, 2005 on PoynterOnline (www.poynter.org) by Steve Outing, isn’t part of Garfunkel’s series—but it relates to his ongoing issues and he commented on the essay at some length. Outing calls “citizen journalism” one of the “hottest buzzwords in the news business these days.” What is it? “Harnessing the power of an audience permitted for the first time to truly participate in the news media.” Okay. Outing sets forth eleven possible steps, beginning with “Opening up to public comment” through “Wiki journalism: Where the readers are editors.”

It’s an interesting list, although in some cases “citizen journalism” may overstate the nature of the process. Allowing reader comments on articles at publication websites? Some sites have been doing that for years (PC Magazine, Slate, possibly hundreds of others). Outing says such comments “routinely…bring up some point that was missed by the writer, or add new information that the reporter didn’t know about.” That can happen—but many commentary threads at popular journalistic sites tend to be more combative than informative. Slate doesn’t call it “The Fray” for nothing.

The other layers are more interactive and perhaps more controversial. “Citizen blogs” as part of newspaper sites seem somewhat redundant—is location really a good basis for aggregating blogs?—but “transparency blogs” don’t amount to much more than informal ombudsman efforts.

There’s more here, quite a bit of it (it’s a 13-page essay). In many cases, I’m not sure I see why a connection to a traditional newspaper or other outlet is particularly useful (other than as a way to increase ad revenue), but it’s still interesting reading.

Garfunkel’s commentary appeared on June 16. I like Garfunkel’s formulation of “citizen journalism”: “There’s good stuff in the clutter that’s written by folks who don’t write professionally for a living.” (I’m not sure which of two overlapping terms Garfunkel means. Most professional writers—people who are paid for their writing—do not write for a living.)

He then goes on to “deconstruct” Outing’s layers. He seems to dismiss some of them (possibly correctly) as being nothing more than what newspapers already do. (But doesn’t putting something on the web make it dramatically new and different, asks Walt with tongue firmly in cheek?) As I go through the briefer “deconstruction,” I think about “citizen initiatives” at my local metro daily, the San Francisco Chronicle (which has a robust Web presence at SFGate.com). Citizen add-on: They have a large “two cents” panel to add a range of brief perspective on key articles. Transparency blogs: They have some newsroom blogs—but they also have printed columns from a readers’ representative/ombudsman. Inviting citizens to point out government issues that need attention: The Chronicle’s been running “Chronicle Watch” for some years now, where people call in with something that some local government needs to pay attention to, and the Chronicle publishes a daily take on new problems and whether old problems have yielded results. TV news operations have been doing this for years: It works.

I find it interesting that Garfunkel agrees that providing a print edition as part of citizen journalism is retrograde. “I’d say so. What people want in print are what print does best: great graphic spreads, catchy layouts, dense print (such as arts & entertainment list[ing]s).” Really? Garfunkel knows “what people [universally?] want” in print form?

By my standards, Outing’s essay is far too long to read except in print, particularly if you want to contemplate his suggestions. Don’t read Garfunkel’s response without reading the original. If you’re interested in this kind of “citizen journalism,” read both and draw your own conclusions.

What do I think of Civilities and “constructive media”? At this point, I’m not sure. I suspect there’s a fundamental disconnect in my worldview and Garfunkel’s, possibly because I find net media more interesting in narrower fields.

I continue to be unconvinced that the so-called A-list has any special powers. Yes, they’re the bloggers most likely to earn serious money from ads or other sponsorship. Yes, they have more readers. But if the blogosphere has any meaning at all (a debatable point), it is as a grotesquely complex universe of overlapping specialized and generalized spheres, with most of its participants more involved with smaller than larger spheres.

Other Blogging Notes and Papers

The blogging geyser

Perseus Development published “The blogging iceberg” in October 2003. At that time, based on a survey of 3,600-odd hosted weblogs, Perseus asserted that 4.1 million blogs had been created on the hosting services surveyed—and that 66% had been abandoned at least temporarily (no posts in the last two months), including more than a million “one day wonders.” New blogs were being created so rapidly that the overall blogosphere continued to grow. That survey also includes age demographics, and a recent post on Perseus’ “blog survey weblog” provides their current claim on age distribution for hosted weblogs: 0.3% are by people 50 and over. Compare that with the results of Meredith Farkas’ survey of the biblioblogosphere, noted near the end of this section!

The commentary, posted on or before April 14, 2005, is based on a random survey of “10,000 blogs on twenty leading blog-hosting services.” Extrapolating, Perseus estimates that 31.6 million blogs have been created on hosting services. It’s important to point out this limitation in Perseus’ studies, particularly given the number of high profile (and low profile) blogs that don’t use BlogSpot, LiveJournal, MSN Spaces and the like. BlogSpot, LiveJournal and Xanga were all launched in 1999 and each have between 6.6 and 8.2 million hosted blogs as of 3/30/05. The biggest challenger is MSN Spaces, launched December 2004 with nearly 4.5 million blogs by 3/30/05.

Perseus uses a geometric expansion model to project future growth (that is, that percentage increases will continue), yielding an asserted 53.4 million hosted blogs by the end of the year. That’s 22 million blogs in nine months, or more than had been created from 2000 through the end of 2004—but they could be right. (As they note, some social software applications include blogs as account features so that you wind up with millions of “incidental blogs”—ones that get created semi-automatically and may be zero-day wonders. I’ve seen one recent claim that there are already one hundred million blogs.)

The caveats at the end of the study are good and important, although slightly misleading. One caveat defines nonhosted blogs as “blogs that individuals maintain on their own servers using local software.” Not really; they’re just blogs that aren’t part of blog-hosting services. Walt at Random, hangingtogether.org, and the Webjunction blog are all “nonhosted” blogs, that don’t run on “their own servers.” As with a few dozen other blogs, they operate on Lishost.org.

What I don’t see in this survey is any analysis of how many blogs are still active. Once a hosted blog is created, can it ever disappear? When 30 people in a classroom or blogging demonstration all open BlogSpot blogs and only one of them ever posts anything after the demonstration is done, what does that mean about the proliferation of blogs? Are there many more active weblogs than the 10 to 20 million that blog-tracking services claim to include? If the 66% morbidity rate of “The blogging iceberg” still holds, perhaps not: That would yield just over ten million active hosted blogs as of 3/30/05. That is still, to be sure, one hellaciously large number of “citizen journalists” or “diarists” or “blatherers”—or, more properly, all of the above and many more varieties of linkers and writers.

Copyright ownership in blogs

A brief editorial by Lesley Ellen Harris from The Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter, volume 2005, issue 1, as posted on the digital-copyright list on April 21 by the e. I’m not wild about Harris’ definition of blogs—“A blog is basically a stream of consciousness discussion available to the public at large.” But there’s no question as to the next point:

Blogs are original material, and once they are fixed in some form, saved digitally or in a printout, they are protected by most countries around the world. In fact, they would be protected for 50 to 70 years after an author’s death—much beyond the life of any blog itself.

You can eliminate the words from “once” through “printout”: You can’t post something on a blog without saving it digitally, at which point it’s a fixed expression and protected by copyright.

What about blogs done on the job or with the encouragement of the employer—say, for example, hangingtogether or Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog? Who holds copyright in those blogs? “If an organization requires blogging as part of the duties of an individual, it is likely that the employer owns the content in the blog…” [emphasis added]. In other cases, it’s cloudy. Most companies don’t yet have weblog policies. Ownership is significant in that it determines who can authorize reproduction. That’s only an issue if others wish to quote blogs in their entirety or use their contents in some other publication; linking to a blog entry shouldn’t raise copyright issues.

Harris doesn’t know of any lawsuits related to ownership, reproduction or redistribution of a blog’s content—and notes that bloggers can always explicitly grant permission for distribution and reuse in the blog itself. I use the same Creative Commons license variant for Walt at Random as for Cites & Insights, quite deliberately: I’m delighted if any other blog (non-ad-supported) quotes all or part of an entry, or if a professional newsletter includes one of these essays—but I reserve commercial rights, on the chance that I’ll bundle some of these essays and posts in book form. In fact, some blogs have been turned into books: It might not happen here, but it’s not unprecedented. There’s even a new “blook” award for such books.

Yahoo! personal blog guidelines: 1.0

I’m not sure how or when I got this (it’s a PDF), but you should be able to find it. I haven’t seen too many corporate guidelines for blogging. This one’s terse and useful (and accompanied by advice from four experienced Yahoo bloggers, but I didn’t click through to those subdocuments). Three guidelines offer legal parameters: The individual Yahoo is legally responsible for their blogged opinions—“In essence, you blog (or post on the blogs of others) at your own risk”—and confidential or proprietary information is off-limits for blogging. Yahoo! also asks Yahoos to contact “if a member of the media contacts you about a Yahoo!-related blog posting.”

Then come four reasonably brief, nicely written “best practice guidelines,” stated as recommendations in a paragraph that ends: “We encourage Yahoos to follow these guidelines, but it is not mandatory to do so. It’s your choice. We really mean that.” On the other hand, I would regard all four guidelines, each elaborated in one paragraph, as basic for anyone employed by an organization who blogs in any way related to that organization, and the first three make sense for all bloggers:

Ø    Be respectful of your colleagues. (One aspect of that: let your manager know that you’re blogging, although Yahoo! doesn’t ask for prior clearance of posts.)

Ø    Get your facts straight (particularly since you know more about your organization than a blog reader would).

Ø    Provide context to your argument.

Ø    Engage in private feedback (make it possible for other Yahoos to respond “off-blog”).

In all four bullets, text in parentheses is my gloss or summary of the paragraph; the text up to the left parenthesis is the heading for the guideline. A nice, terse, permissive set of guidelines.

Don’t bore me with your blog

Here’s one I’m going to take issue with, posted by Susan Solomon on July 12, 2005 at MarketingProfs.com (www.marketingprofs.com). Solomon starts out, “Blogs are beginning to bore me. Not all blogs, but many are getting on my nerves.” So far, so good. A bit later: “What’s wrong with most blogs? They’re too chatty, like my first paragraph.”

“If you’re going to blog, become an expert on something… The best blogs provide chunks of great information… Don’t make your blog look boring…. Pictures that illustrate your points are also fantastic… A blog is about originality and sizzling hot information in written and graphic form.”

To which I say, most blogs aren’t marketing blogs, and for you to dictate what all blogs should be is nonsense. Some of the blogs I enjoy most don’t contain “information” at all; they contain essays on aspects of life, copyright, librarianship, whatever. As for “expert,” that’s a loaded word: What constitutes an expert? Am I an expert on copyright, net media, censorware, ebooks? I’m inclined to say no—and, by the way, most journalists are not experts on the topics they write about. Walt at Random looks “boring” in Solomon’s terms, I think, and “pictures that illustrate your points” are few and far between in most blogs.

I do find some of Solomon’s bullet points on “how to make a blog sizzle” worthwhile. No passion, no blogging. Take risks. Find your tone. Break from the pack. Be topical. Know your audience. In some cases, I’d argue with some of the expansions—particularly for a blog that isn’t designed as a marketing tool—but the points are useful.

Most of the blogs I care about aren’t marketing tools. When I realize that a blog is a marketing tool, all the sizzle in the world won’t help: I’m gone.

Ethics in blogging (2005)

Thanks to Professional-lurker, whose July 24, 2005 post guided me to this July 18, 2005 report (weblogethics.blogspot.com) by Andy Koh, Alvin Lim, Ng Ee Soon, Benjamin H. Detenber, and Mark A. Cenite, all of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The group prepared a stratified sampling web survey on ethics and collected 1,224 responses over three weeks. Of those responding, 73% considered their blogs personal, 27% non-personal; non-personal bloggers are typically older better-educated males, have more readers, spend more time on blogs, and update blogs more frequently than personal bloggers.

The survey posited four underlying ethical principals for blogging: Truth telling, accountability, minimizing harm, and attribution. When it comes to ethical beliefs, both groups valued attribution most highly. Personal bloggers valued minimizing harm and truth telling somewhat less highly (in that order) and accountability least. Non-personal bloggers valued truth telling almost as highly as attribution, minimizing harm significantly less highly—and, again, accountability least of all. In practice—as reported in a voluntary anonymous survey—personal bloggers claimed to minimize harm more than they told the truth and provided proper attribution, with accountability trailing. Non-personal bloggers claimed to attribute more than anything else—but in a near-deadlock with truth telling and minimizing harm.

Several blogging codes of ethics have been proposed—but both groups surveyed “are quite ambivalent as to whether a blogging code of ethics is needed.” Here’s an interesting tidbit: “It is estimated that no more than two dozen individuals in the US earn their living from blogging.” There are two dozen people earning a living from blogging? Remarkable!

One in 10 visitors to blog sites uses RSS

That’s the headline for an August 15, 2005 vnunet story by Robert Jacques, based on a Nielsen/NetRatings “Understanding the blogosphere” survey. It’s actually 11% of the sample: Five percent using feed aggregation software, more than 6% using aggregation websites like Bloglines.

Is it plausible to estimate that the readership of a blog is more than ten times the blog’s Bloglines subscriber base (given that Bloglines may be the largest but certainly isn’t the only aggregator)? I’d love to think so, as that would give Walt at Random close to 2,000 readers—but I doubt it.

Here’s an oddly useless factoid, even if you accept extrapolation from the survey: “The top 50 blogging and blog-related sites grew in popularity 31 per cent to attract 29.3m unique visitors during July 2005 as compared to the beginning of this year.” The biggest site—a shocker, really—was MSN Spaces, with 3.3m (million) unique visitors in July. “Fark.com and Blogger ranked second and third.” Fark.com? In any case, what can you determine from the “fact” that 3.3 million visitors reached some blog on MSN Spaces during July? Not much, as far as I can tell, particularly if there were really 4.5 million blogs there.

Discovering important bloggers based on analyzing blog threads

Here’s a scary one, a paper presented at WWW2005, held May 10-14, 2005 in Chiba, Japan. The eight-page paper, very much formatted as a scientific treatise, has five authors—two at Kyoto University, one each at NEC’s Internet Systems Research Lab in Ikoma, Nara, Japan and NEC Laboratories America in Cupertino, and one at Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology. It’s government-sponsored research.

These five claim to have developed a method for identifying “important bloggers” automatically through computer algorithm, and “acquiring important content from their blog entries” so that it can be used to supplement other sites, e.g., news sites.

I’m not going to provide detailed commentary. There’s a bunch of words in the paper that I resist regarding as subject to computational analysis, “important” being one of them. You may be more open to the idea. If so, I’m sure you can find the article.

The Biblioblogosphere

Meredith Farkas of Information wants to be free published the results of her demographic survey on library bloggers in mid-September. Go to meredith. wolfwater.com/wordpress/ and look for September 12, 2005 posts to reach the index posting. The survey included 19 questions and yielded 165 results, from 96 females and 69 males.

Farkas comments on the 58%/42% women/men breakdown: Since the 2002 U.S. Statistical Abstract shows that 82% of librarians are female, she concludes that males are more likely to blog than females. “What’s up with that?” she says. One response is that the balance of women to men in library technology is almost 50-50 (as it is in LITA), and library technology types are much more likely to be bloggers.

Remember “the blogging geyser,” where 0.3% of those with blogs on hosted services were 50 and over?  19 of Meredith’s respondents, more than 11%, are 50 and over. I’m pretty sure the percentage of 50+ bloggers among those profiled in my own study is more than 10% and less than 15%, so this strikes me as just right. (Only five of the 165 were 60+, but that number has since grown to at least six.)

Farkas offers the breakdown of workplace settings—21.3% in large academic libraries, 15.2% in medium-sized academic libraries, 9.1% in large public libraries, 7.3% in small academic libraries, and so on—and then says “Who says there are no voices of academic librarianship?” The issue is not whether lots of academic librarians write blogs, but whether they write about issues of academic librarianship.

Half of those responding have had their blog for a year or less. “I wonder how many blogs don’t make it past that milestone.” I’m inclined to believe that people who respond to a survey are a bit more likely to keep blogging, but it’s still a good question.

Quite a few library bloggers don’t use traditional hosted services. For example, almost 21% use WordPress, second only to typically-hosted Blogger. The answers to “what type of library blog(s)?” can be multiple-choice, so the percentages don’t add up, but almost 70% indicated one-author personal blogs, almost 46% one-author professional blogs, and 30 of those responding were involved with official library blogs for patrons.

Roughly 45% of those responding subscribe to or read 76 or more blogs, with 8.5% subscribing to more than 200. “I don’t know how those of you who read more than 200 blogs manage to do it!” It’s getting easier and easier, particularly with more bloggers choosing quality over quantity. I still have 230+ feeds in Bloglines, and even after being away for a week it took me less than two hours to plow through the posts. Most days, I spend half an hour (give or take) checking Bloglines, usually in a 15-minute morning session and another 15-minute evening session.

The last question was “Why do you blog?” The most common answers, after Farkas helpfully grouped the answers into categories: To share ideas with others/to communicate with colleagues, friends, family (40.5%); to record ideas for self/to keep current (24.1%); and to network/to build community (19%). There are eight other categories noted; I find it interesting that only 14 (12%) said “to write/to build up one’s writing skills” and refreshing that only five (4.3%) said “to market self/self-promotion.”

An interesting survey, carefully reported. Worth reading on its own; very good work.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 12, Whole Issue 68, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

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