By: David D. Perlmutter
There are ten million blogs on the internet — no, fifty million.
Soon everybody, from peasants in Kyrgyzstan to the Pope, will have their own blog. Blogs, as voices of the people, will replace the mainstream media, it is said.
Read some of the sensational headlines about our newest genre, medium and technology of mass media and you get deja vu. Almost everything people boast today about the online personal journal was also claimed for dotcoms in the late 1990s. If we are in a similar period of irrational enthusiasm about the weblog as the new new thing, will we also soon face a “blogbust,” its eventual collapse or winnowing out?
On the surface blogs seem unstoppable. In 2004 the word “blog” was the most-looked-up term on several online dictionaries. The world blogroll has hit at least eleven million according to the tracking site Technorati. Studies by the Pew Center show blog readership increasing sharply. Superblogs such as Eschaton, Instapundit, Captain’s Quarters, Daily Kos, Power Line, and Little Green Footballs receive more daily visitors than many newspapers or television news programs.
But there are strong challenges to the optimistic model of independent blogs — the feisty new press — ruling the world.
First, are bloggers truly “the people”? Bloggers tend to come from the higher-education and higher-income portion of the population. This is as true in Egypt or Nigeria as it is in the United States. Peasants don’t blog. Not yet, anyway. And the same studies that attest to their popularity show more people have never even heard of them.
Second, astronomical descriptions of blogging numbers fail to account for that fact that many blogs are rarely updated or are orphans. These are blogs posted by people, as a lark, or as an experiment, typically with free and easy programs like Blogger.com. They put up a few posts, get bored, do not get any reaction, or get lots of the wrong kind of reaction and drop out.
But the blog corpse lingers in cyberstasis. One of my female students told me about starting up a live journal blog dedicated to “college women thinking about engineering careers.” The response she got: “spam and 50 year-old men [asking me] for dates, nude pictures, or both. Who needs that?” She no longer blogs.
Blog numbers are also falsely inflated by fake blogs, a new form of passive spam that I call “clogs.” Put up a blog that might gather some attention, say, dedicated to a celebrity or just use any random letter combination and feature nothing but hyperlinked ads as your journal “entries.” Go to, for example, the blog “jkasjdfjhasdkdsd4” and you see entries such as “Thursday, August 04, 2005, emerald island resort Kissimmee…” The hyperlink is to a travel Web site. Such clogs are still listed in the different counting schemes for blogs.
But probably the biggest challenge to blogs are those who cynically emulate their form without their soul.
An independent blogger’s greatest asset, besides wit, energy, bravery, and doggedness, is sincerity. We read them to hear a credible independent voice — not the shills of a corporation, lobbying group, a government agency, or a party. But now it seems that every auto company, PR firm, and politician is taking up blogging — to sell us the same old pitches in a sleek new package. Some bloggers, unfortunately, are selling out and jumping on the payroll of corporations and political parties.
Blogs are indeed a democratic wonder — the first instance in human history where an ordinary individual can communicate her or his thoughts to the entire planet, instantly, and without editing by the elites of journalism or government. They provide a real service, as a complement and a watchdog to the mainstream sources of information and analysis. But the cause of blogging is not helped by unwarranted and blind enthusiasm about their success that ignores the threats to their authenticity and independence.