The Republic of T.

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Pew Report on Bloggers

The Pew Research Center just published a new report on bloggers. Being a blogger, needless to say I was intrigued. (We tend like reading about ourselves almost as much as writing about ourselves.) I poured over 33-page PDF yesterday during my lunch break, and though it probably warrants further analysis there were a few points that caught my eye, and a couple more that need to be made in light of the data.

First, the size of the sample — 233 bloggers from previous surveys, who agreed to participate in a call-back survey) — is a red flag. It suggests that the results of the survey should be taken with a sizable grain of salt, since the number of participants is basically a scintilla of the 19.4 million bloggers still posting after their first three months according to Dave Sifry’s last state of the blogosphere report. And it’s only slightly larger percentage of the 3.9 million reported as posting on at least a weekly basis.

Still, there’s some interesting information for anyone who deals in blogs and bloggers. Just the basic data on who blogs and why is pretty interesting.

  • 54% of bloggers say that they have never published their writing or media creations anywhere else; 44% say they have published elsewhere.
  • 54% of bloggers are under the age of 30.
  • Women and men have statistical parity in the blogosphere, with women representing 46% of bloggers and men 54%.
  • 76% of bloggers say a reason they blog is to document their personal experiences and share them with others.
  • 64% of bloggers say a reason they blog is to share practical knowledge or skills with others.
  • When asked to choose one main subject, 37% of bloggers say that the primary topic of their blog is “my life and experiences.”
  • Other topics ran distantly behind: 11% of bloggers focus on politics and government; 7% on entertainment; 6% on sports; 5% on general news and current events; 5% on business; 4% on technology; 2% on religion, spirituality or faith.

So, based on the survey results, the blogosphere is mostly young, mostly male, and mostly white (60% of the bloggers surveyed were white, with with African Americans, Latinos and other ethnicities making up the other 40%). That’s more diverse than the general internet population, according to the report.

While that’s encouraging news, it’s worth keeping in mind that — like it or not — there is a hierarchy in blogging; haves and have-nots in terms of readership and traffic. I guess that’s particularly true in the political blogosphere (11% of the total blogosphere according to the report), and I tend to agree with Chris Bowers’ assessment that the political blogosphere isn’t quite as diverse. Closer to the top of the curve, it’s even less so. The intent of the survey, however, seems to be focusing attention away from the top of the curve and towards the long tail.

To date, much of the public and press attention to bloggers has focused on the small number of high-traffic, A-list bloggers. By asking a wide range of bloggers what they do and why they do it, the survey found a different kind of story about the power of the internet to encourage creativity and community among all kinds of internet users.

That’s admirable, and worth doing, but given the size of the survey sample and the increasing length of blogging’s long tail, it will probably be difficult to get a firm grasp on who most of those bloggers are and what drives them.

In fact, some aspects of the survey illustrate how easy it is to get caught up in optimism. Particularly when it comes to discussing the “democratization” of the tools of media.

Some observers have suggested that blogging is nothing more than the next step in a burgeoning culture of narcissism and exhibitionism spurred by reality TV and other elements of the modern media environment. But others contend that blogging promises a democratization of voices that can now bypass the institutional gatekeepers of mainstream media. This democratization is thought to have implications for the practice and business of journalism as well as the future of civic and political discourse.

According to the survey results, in addition to the earlier demographic data, bloggers are mostly urban and suburban; with 36% living in urban areas, 51% in suburbs, and just 11% in rural areas.

But the numbers have to be combined with common sense. Blogging requires internet access (79% of bloggers surveyed have broadband), access to a PC, enough knowledge to use both, and enough leisure time to read and write blog posts; all of which usually requires a certain degree of education and economic privilege. Put all of that together and you get a clearer picture of who’s being “democratized” and whose voices are being empowered.

The last bit of information that made me do a double-take was that only 18% of the bloggers surveyed offered RSS feeds of their content. That’s puzzling because most of the blogging platforms used by the bloggers in the survey (LiveJournal, Blogger, TypePad, etc.) automatically include and RSS feed of content for any blog setup. It’s probably the case that most of the bloggers surveyed do in fact have RSS feeds and just don’t know it (23% admitted as much) because, as the report points out, most internet users don’t know what RSS is.

Despite it’s shortcomings, the Pew report is an overdue look beyond the usual suspects in the blogosphere, and well worth checking out. Given the number of bloggers below the media radar, it will probably take several more attempts like this before we get a clear picture of the vast majority of bloggers.

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