What a blog is like without comments
Wizbang had some interesting, if wrongheaded ideas about the growth of blogs in response to Chris Bowers
Then Wizbang responds:
Of the twenty-four liberal blogs in the top quintile, Dailykos, TPM Caf�, 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 Caf� 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 Caf� 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.
Unless right-wing blogs decide to open up and allow their readers to have a greater voice, I expect that the liberal and progressive blogosphere will continue its unborken twenty-month rise in relative traffic. Conservative bloggers continue to act as though they are simply a supplement to the existing pundit class, without any need to converse with those operating outside of a small social bubble or any need to engage people within the new structure of the public sphere. In the formulation of Stirling Newberry, they view themselves existing on top of a pyramid rather than in the middle of a sphere. At least when it comes to the national blogosphere, liberals are leaving conservatives in the dust. By comparison, conservatives seem all too happy to continue to cogitate from atop their lofty and increasingly irrelevant perch. That's fine by me. I hope some things never change.
The SiteMeter comparisons show traffic to the top liberal blogs is 20% higher than the top conservative blogs, but even Bowers admits there are considerably more conservative blogs in the mid-tiers. My guess is that if you were to extend my ecosystem traffic numbers on down into the 200 range (I'll send you the parsing spreadsheet if you want) the liberal and conservative traffic would be essentially equal. If you were able to extend the traffic calculation even further down the ecosystem the total traffic for conservative blogs would quickly surpass liberal blogs due to the higher number of conservative blogs. Using a power law curve I'd estimate that, were you able to do the traffic calculations into the 1000 range, conservative blogs would hold a 10%-20% traffic edge. All of which goes to show that back of the envelope traffic calculations are an "iffy" proposition, regardless of whose making them.
Those "untouchable" high traffic blogs do a damn site more linking to new voices than the liberal communities. Bowers forgets to mention that with traffic on the left converging on a few mega-sites (that by and large do not support smaller liberal blogs by linking to them) they are actually harming independent liberal voices. It's not just me (the right-wing blogger) saying that, look into recent controversies among smaller lefty bloggers trying to get a little linkage from the big liberal bloggers.
There's plenty of new new voices emerging on the right. How do I know this you may ask? Look back at listings of the top sites from 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years ago. The cast is ever changing, blogs rise and blogs fall, and if we've learned anything it's that the blogosphere won't miss you much if you leave - someone new will step up to fill the void.
There is a philosophical difference here about blog growth. On the right, it's all about getting noticed and linked to. Which accounts for the traffic jam of middling blogs in their middle. If you say something clever, the patron notices you and then pats you on the head for a day. What Wizbang doesn't get is that those links do not build audience. Sure, you could link to a bunch of small sites, slashdot them, and they go away, unable to hold that boost in traffic. We were happy when doing NetSlaves to keep 10 percent of a slashdotting. That would have been a lot. He's also wrong about smaller sites. Those that do get noticed are likely to build that audience and keep it. How many conservative sites have grown to prominance over the last year. Mainly Powerline.
What some of the smarter people do is link their blog to a Kos diary. That draws traffic based on content, not just a pat on the head.
But Bowers hits on something which I think is critical. Anyone on the right who wants to get noticed has to start their own blog. Why? Because of comments. Most right blogs lack them. Which, besides moral cowardice, inhibits growth. And even if they have a good idea, they don't have the chance to deal with reaction to their opinions. I think many of us think that instead of an increasing number of blogs, it helps to have comments and feedback as well.
Wizbang admits their site is limiting comments:
Why I've Been Closing Comments
In the past I've been a staunch defender of open comments. I don't even bother register at sites that require registration. As we Wizbangers have oft mentioned, we are one of the last high traffic blogs to allow open comments. And I guess being a high traffic blog in a growing blogosphere is a multiple edged sword. The down side is we are visited by abject morons.
After Dick Durbin called U.S. soldiers Nazis, I thought that nobody would possibly defend the comments right? When Kevin opened the comments, I told him someone would play the part of the dumbass... Enter 'Gordon:'
"One thing is for certain: There won't be any more mass graves and torture rooms and rape rooms."
President Bush Jan 12 2004
It's ok to attack Saddam because of this, but when the Bush admin is doing it, you castigate somebody who brings it to light.
Gordon takes the word "dumbass" to a height never before explored. He equates air conditioning to mass graves. I don't care if he was just a troll. People that stupid should not be given a forum... Hell, he shouldn't be given car keys.
So if you've wondered why I've been closing comments, you now have the answer. Kevin may still see the value but I personally am over its.
The problem is that they can't defend their stands. So they hide. Now, if they were too lazy to defend torture, well....But the point is that conservative blogs have a one way conversation with the reader and they find that increasingly limiting. Which why there is a spurt in blog growth on the right. They all want to make comments, but can't. I think it is a major mistake to close comments. It not only reeks of cowardice, jams your mailbox and hurts your site, it also makes it harder to support people.
What do I mean? Comments are the best way to encourage people to parrticipate in the blogging experience. It also serves as a challenge to writers to respond to their readers and defend their ideas. When you close down comments, you close down ideas.
There is some whining about Kos and Scoop, claiming that his development of it is customized. And it is. And he paid for every bit of work on it. However that is just an excuse for not having a community-based site.
You have Redstate, which routinely bounces people, and the trogodytes of LGF and the see no evil crowd of Tacitus for comments. The rest may well be better off without them. Powerline's owners send back responses which would embarass angry drunks. Imagine if they had to deal with posts on a daily basis? The same with the rest of the crowd. Token negro LaShawn Barber routinely threatens posts she doesn't like with the FBI.
So why don't they want to talk to their readers? Because they can't deal with the challenge.
As to the pat on the head theory of reader growth, it doesn't work. Sure there may be a lot of right wing blogs, but how many can keep an audience?
What we have consistantly told smaller bloggers is that they have to work on their writing and build their audience. No one can give them an audience, but I love to make sure that when I read good writing, other people can do the same. If you participate in comments on the larger sites, or post Kos diaries, that is a much better way to get readers than being annointed. Because when your writing starts to draw attention, you can accomodate that.
I think when people worry more about being annointed by Instacracker than creating their own audience, they will not keep it.
Take Jesus's General. He thought up his Operation Yellow Elephant in cooperation with Crooks and Liars. They used their readers to get this off the ground. They didn't ask for help, they didn't beg to be noticed. They did it and got their readers to help. The people who do good work don't beg for attention, you're drawn to their work. Just giving links for mundane comments isn't going to go far. People won't stay.
My point is that I want to cooperate with people, but I have to have a reason to send my readers to your site. Not just because you're a liberal. Because honestly, that's not enough. If people linked to me just because I was a liberal, well, they linked for the wrong reasons. I would hope it is because this is interesting writing and conversations, not just affinity. A badly written liberal screed is still badly written.
I think the left side of the blogosphere is not only growing, but growing smartly. We're now asking people to set up their own blogs, and they're bringing readers with them to their sites from other, more widely read sites. Which I think will work better in the end.. Bowers sites a bunch of people who participated at Kos in some way, Atrios has his offspring and two of my regulars have their own blogs. Which is what we want to see. Not just blogs, but people who have gotten others interested in their writing and then starting up their own shops. That's positive growth. That doesn't mean that people without that connection won't get noticed, but unlike the right, they're not getting pats on the heads, but using our sites to test their ideas and then go out on their own.
I want people to blog, because it will make for more voices. And it will end this gnawing passivity, whining about what someone else won't say when you can say it. This isn't TV. You can participate.