Effect Measure

Portrait of the blogger as an old man

As a blogger, I’m apparently in the minority in more ways than one (I speak here as one of the Reveres and for myself only). A telephone survey done by the Pew Internet and American Life project estimates that half of bloggers are below the age of 30 (not me, alas), are interested in blogging as a form of self-expression (not me, alas), documenting personal experiences or sharing practical knowledge (not usually) or just keeping in touch with friends and family (like they read our blog, right?). More than half live in the suburbs (nope) and are equally split between men and women (the Reveres don’t divulge personal details). They are less likely to be white than the general population of internet users (60% versus 74%). Only 11% of blogs focus on government or politics. We are therefore in the small minority who do. Most bloggers have never published anything before and don’t consider themselves writers. Again we are different in that all the Reveres have written and published extensively. In one way, however, we are in the majority. 55% of bloggers post under a pseudonym. More beneath the fold . . .

Most bloggers spend less than 10 hours a week at it (don’t we wish we were in that category). In fact, most spend only a couple hours a week maintaining their blogs and they don’t do it for money, for politics or for ambition. the fact that few do it for money isn’t surprising because you can’t really make money doing this. You can’t even come close to breaking even. Because the most common reason given for blogging is to express thoughts creatively, blogging has brought a whole new set of voices into the public sphere. Some of them are truly talented writers. Once seduced into the blogging world, bloggers also not only create new content but consume it as well, especially political news, even if neither their blog nor their interests are political. Obviously they are also heavy users of the internet.

Interestingly, few of them see blogging as a public activity, although it is in fact very public. I still remember how surprised I was when I first started blogging to see the really intimate thoughts expressed in many blogs. I began my blogging career on Blogger, mainly because it was so ridiculously easy to start a blog and I wanted to see what it was like. One feature of blogs hosted on the Blogspot service is a little button on the menu bar, “Next Blog,” which takes you to a random blog hosted on the Blogspot server. I never used it myself, but in looking at my referrer logs I began to see readers coming to my blog from other blogspot sites that never linked to me and had nothing to do with public health. They were the random stops of the Next Blog buttons. And what I found astounded me.

Now I know from what Mrs. R. says and my own knowledge that personal diaries are commonly kept by young girls. They are extremely private, kept hidden and often destroyed post adolescence out of embarrassment or fear of discovery (boys don’t keep diaries; I’m not sure why). Imagine my surprise to find these extremely intimate personal logs being kept by pre-teen and early teen girls for all to see on the internet. I only looked at a few because reading them was too painful and often made me feel like a voyeur, but they were the kind of thing you might expect. Trouble with parents, boy friends, girl friends, loneliness, feelings of rejection, the whole mess of adolescent sufferings most of us spend a lifetime successfully forgetting. It was truly amazing. Apparently there is a good readership for them, too.

The Pew survey was limited to those over 18 and they estimate that 8% of web users (12 million adults over the age of 18), keep a blog, and that an impressive 40% of internet users read blogs. This is a significant increase in readership over the past year. Both blog writers and blog readers are heavily skewed toward the younger age group, so old geezers like ourselves but who don’t read blogs are now getting a different stream of information than our younger counterparts. Whether it is better or worse, more or less accurate varies from user to user. But there is no doubt it is more diverse than conventional information outlets. The idea that people use blogs as an echo chamber is belied by the huge range of subjects, links and cross references the medium allows. Even if you only read right wing blogs or left wing blogs or mommie blogs or financial blogs there is so much link out you are invariably exposed to other points of view, if only in the form of denunciations. In conventional media those other perspectives aren’t even mentioned. In the blogosphere they are not only mentioned but you usually have immediate access to the original.

I’d say that was an improvement. But then I’m a blogger.

You can read the report of the Pew Survey here (.pdf).


  1. #1 cougar
    September 2, 2006

    The willingness of so many to post intimate details about their personal lives on the internet for all to see simply amazes me. Several of my friends have encouraged me to get on MySpace or some such site and share my life with the world: “You meet the most interesting people there….” Being a very private individual, this frankly horrifies me, and yet, I’m sure there are those out there who might find interest in the direction of my life. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about the trials and tribulations of a city-born-girl-turned-primitive-country-survivalist/naturalist who eschews electricity and running water to live a simple farming lifestyle alone in the East Texas piney woods??? Hmmmm, sounds like the makings of a blog….

  2. #2 tardigrade
    September 2, 2006

    You know, Pew never asks me anything!…. (wink wink)

    The conversation that happens on the internet is an amazing experience. The Internet was supposed to be this incredible mechanism for financial wiz-bang greatness…. and then it went KA-BAG! Many upper level management from a whole host of corps in the late 80’s and 90’s bet more then a few pittance that the internet would take over for Sears, JC Penny’s and and IBM and… ATT….. oh, yes,….. ATT at that time period ‘it’ wanted to go phone/internet/wireless/cable … But then we had a stronger sense back then of what was a monopoly and why it was a bad thing.

    After the bubble, and the stocks of companies, which did no real business, died (though perhaps like the evil spirit of ATT Past coming to take over everything again, fake businesses are doing well now, too, in a different venue… war) that the internet allowed something new, something the forward seeing business suits missed….

    …an open conversation with -how many???- People talking to each other is very very powerful. It’s like having a dinner party (though, I am having some coffee and toast) and I get to listen to all sorts of ideas and perspectives.

  3. #3 angela in alaska
    September 2, 2006

    To Cougar “…eschews electricity and running water to live a simple farming lifestyle…” So why are you bothering with going on line and reading old man blogs? I would have thought this would have been one of the first things to go. You might want to try living in Alaska where there are folks who are off road, off line,and off the grid. Throw in 3 to 4 months of darkness every winter and off line takes on a whole new meaning.

  4. #4 pogo's mom
    September 2, 2006

    Love the idea of being remote from every human influence EXCEPT the internet. Wonder what brain structures will develop and which will atrophy?
    Could be an interesting return to “civilization.”
    Seriously, though, are there really ANY off-the-grid remote areas that still have fast connections, cable or wireless? Preferrably without extreme cold and dark during the winter.

  5. #5 Ana
    September 3, 2006

    Hmm. Many surveys by commercial companies are anecdotal at best. When the topic is blogging, well, no matter. No blogger or internet user will change his behavior because of the survey.

    When it is political, then it matters, it matters very much, as it is generally supposed (I have no refs. to hand) that survey results influence voter behavior. Which is why some countries, like France, forbid their publication for some span of time before voting day.

    The (main) reason for bias is that the survey is conducted by fixed phone to HOMES, as cell phone calls cost more, and have a lower call back rate, so cost even more. As one can see in the PEW report, they mention ‘random dialing’ but say nothing about what kind of phone, that is left in the shade.

    People who have fixed phones and fixed addresses listed in phone books, d-bases, voter registries and so forth, represent a particular segment of the population. They are, in the US, most likely: better established; richer, older, whiter, more conservative.

    Add in another very important factor: the respondents are home during the day or early evening and take time to answer the phone seriously, and if asked, will call back, or accept another call, in some acceptable proportion. That is, they are idle, pensioned, supported wives, or young, affluent, bored, etc. and take appeals for their opinion as interesting, or even flattering, thereby certifying their belonging to err…the dominant class…or participants in the mainstream.

    The list of the categories of people who either are never reached by such surveys or who slam down the phone if contacted is very long. Includes the affluent young and mobile who only or mainly uses cells-phones.

    The US seems particularly affected, because of its layered society. The one person in 6 who has no health insurance is not responding to surveys. Of course, all this is perfectly well known to the companies that do the polling; they know on which side their bread is buttered, and know they would fold if they did not turn up opinion or ‘fact’ representative of some sort of imaginary picture of Amerika, with, say, 30% supporting Bush. (Reality: 5 – 10 %??)

    And of course pollsters have their habits and tricks and cheats.

    Wandered a bit Off Topic here.

  6. #6 cougar
    September 3, 2006

    Angela, Texas is too damn cold for me (in the winter). I thrive at 95. Alaska? Never make it up there! I’m keeping the internet because this is still a material world and I can’t find a mortgage company that will take produce in lieu of money. Gotta pay for the land and house somehow and an internet based business makes more sense than driving back and forth to work every day in the big city. I’m keeping the cell phone too, but I did give up my microwave years ago.

  7. #7 creonnoir
    September 5, 2006

    Hello pogo’s mom:

    West coast of Vancouver Island has good internet access in Ucluelet and Tofino, very moderate climate, and (relatively) cheap sat access


    if you want to live in the ‘wilds’ and can’t get cable.



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