February 12th, 2006

Blogging and the Elusive Mass Audience

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Here’s a confession — before I started blogging, I never read blogs. These days, it seems I read little else, but it took becoming a blogger to make me a blog reader. Is it possible that bloggers are the only people who read blogs?

According to a recent Gallup poll, blog readership was either flat or slightly down in 2005:

Gallup Blog Stats

But according to David Sifry, the blogosphere is still expanding rapidly:

Sifry Blog Stats

So what are we to make of these statistics? I can’t help recalling a quip I made in Too Much Media, for which I was much harangued at the time:

When we’re all creating media, who’s going to be left to consume it?

If there are more people blogging, but no increase in the number of people reading blogs, maybe blog readership has actually been siphoned off by blog writing. I know that the time I spend writing this post is time I might otherwise spend reading other blogs.

I’m sure I’ll get completely slimmed for saying this (and what follows), but a lot of my blog reading is motivated by my will to write — sure, I read lots of interesting things on blogs that I may never write about. But it’s the writer in me that pushes me to be an avid reader.

Which makes me wonder — how much of blog writing and blog reading is a completely closed system, both self-referential and self-absorbed?

Which brings me back to that elusive mass audience — the 80% of Americans who rarely or never read blogs. (Which reminds me of the percentage of people who’ve never heard of RSS.) Are most Americans not blog readers because they have neither the time nor the inclination to be blog writers? If you look at the ratio of blogger to non-blogger commenters on this and almost any other blogs, it’s quite high.

Maybe blogging doesn’t want or need to be a mass medium. But if we do want to reach a mass audience, then maybe we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror — or maybe we need to stop gazing at ourselves in the mirror.

UPDATE
I’m hopping off the wagon long enough to point to this New York Magazine article on The Blog Establishment, which gives a mainstream treatment to all of our navel-gazing.

UPDATE #2
Paul Kedrosky hits the nail on the head — blogs are not yet mainstream because they still reflect their geek origins as to topics and content:

Only when the proportional representation of entertainment, technology, culture, politics, and sports in blog “top 100″ lists matches that in the broader media economy will we know that blogging has truly become mainstream.

As Paul points out, this evolution is already happening, but it’s not there yet. And it’s a natural evolution in any new medium — it happened with the Internet — when blogging itself is no longer the story, the medium will have matured, and arrived.

Comments (23 Responses so far)

  1. Blogs to Riches – The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom New York Magazine Blogging and the Elusive Mass Audience Publishing 2.0 Peter Rojas gets his due The Jason Calacanis Weblog top ten reasons why nobody reads your blog gapingvoid

  2. Blogging and the Elusive Mass Audience

  3. yet so infinitely insular debate that no one outside a handful of people care about the subject matter, I’d like to underscore something raised by the insightful Scott Karp. To recap this absurd debate that has so consumed the blogosphere for the past two days, Tristan Louis started a

  4. Blogging and the Elusive Mass Audience

  5. (1 day ago)Publishing 2.0: ” Blogging and the Elusive Mass Audience ” (1 day ago)

  6. article by Clive Thompson, an excellent examination of the Power Law Curve to blog popularity (I have a post about that here). Steve Rubel’s article about the same thing. Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0’s article onBlogging and the Elusive Mass Audience (I recently added him to my Web 2.0 Squidoo Lens). A CNet.com article on China and the highjinxs with Google etc. (does reading CNet make me uncool?) A NY Times article on Prosper.com, which is a USA version of

  7. People have no interest in blogs unless they are trying to find out how blogging can help them. Hence, blogs about blogging (as this one is in large part) are suited only for other bloggers, as are your sources.

    Other people only care about information. Most people don’t know they are reading a blog even when they are… it’s just a website that may or may not satisfy their needs. Many people don’t know they are using RSS even when they are (see My Yahoo).

    As soon as everyone gets over the nomenclature and novelty, blogs about blogging will likely fade into their actual core subject matter. Instead it will be just “publishing” or “copywriting” or “marketing” rather than adding the “blog” angle in there.

    >>or maybe we need to stop gazing at ourselves in the mirror.

    Exactly. But this phase of the revolution will pass in time.

  8. Brian, so you think the blog readership stats are being artificially suppressed because people don’t know they’re reading blogs? I’d give people a little more credit than that — same as I would users of My Yahoo.

    When this phase of the revolution passes, do you plan to change the name of your blog?

  9. I would imagine so… there are other blogs… I mean websites, for me to pursue in the future. I don’t think it will happen all that quickly, though. We’ve likely got years before blogging is not a new communications and marketing tool to the masses.

    As far as whether people know it’s a blog, you might be surprised. Outside of politics and business, a lot of blogs don’t even refer to what they do as blogging. Look in the health and wellness field for one. Publishers are transitioning slowly away from ezines to the blogging format, but they see no need to talk about it with their audience.

    And Yahoo itself says that most My Yahoo users don’t know it’s RSS under the hood. So I feel pretty confortable with that one.

  10. Yahoo whitepaper on RSS adoption (and My Yahoo user RSS awarness) here if you’re interested:

    http://publisher.yahoo.com/rss/RSS_whitePaper1004.pdf

    It may not say “most” don’t know though… I’ve slept a few times since I read it.

  11. I tend to believe Sifry’s stats are highly misleading. As far as I know, though they eliminate splog, they count every demo, every one-day wonder, every long-abandoned toe-dip, as part of the “cumulative” number. That number will then almost never decrease, and increase very rapidly with hype and marketing.

  12. [...] Today, Scott Karp riffed on the Gallup poll which points out that the audience for blogs is relatively flat. Blogging and the Elusive Mass Audience, which really should have been titled from this sentence in his post: “Is it possible that bloggers are the only people who read blogs?” If there are more people blogging, but no increase in the number of people reading blogs, maybe blog readership has actually been siphoned off by blog writing. I know that the time I spend writing this post is time I might otherwise spend reading other blogs. [...]

  13. Scott, that’s a great post!

    I spend a lot of time doing casual market research. I ask people questions every day. Very informal. I also have been developing a consumer electronics product and have been paying good money for in-depth formal consumer market research.

    The numbers you’re quoting ring true with me and I don’t think they’re misleading at all, but provide a bit of insight. Blogging is a niche, and I really do agree that part of the motivation for reading is the desire to write. Of people I’ve preached “blog, blog, blog!” to, the only ones who really stick with it are the ones that want to be involved themselves.

    I liken the whole experience to a good group discussion. You can learn a lot more by being involved in the discussion than listening.

    I also think “edge competencies” are in their infancy when it comes to blogging, and better technology will make things more fluid and easier to consume. I want something which is much better than memeorandum. In fact, I can easiliy imagine a “Harper’s Magazine” format completely populated by automatically selected and formatted blogs. Maybe this flies in the face of “owning your space” and my first inclination is to say “no I don’t want that”. But, that’s my perspective as a blogger. I think the audience perspective might be quite different.

  14. [...] this Post on Delicious | Furl Links to this Post: Technorati | Google | Bloglines | Delicious | Icerocket postCountTB(‘113986555048623654′); Trackback Comments: [...]

  15. [...] Rogers Blog – RSS Whitepaper by Yahoo!Rogers BlogFamilie, Freunde, Sachen…2006-02-14RSS Whitepaper by Yahoo! Von roger @ 00:47 [ Blogging ] A few minutes ago, I discovered this RSS Whitepaper (PDF) via Publishing 2.0. Is the current web aggregator frenzy one of the consequences of this?[...]

  16. [...] What is love? According to Hallmark, V330-5 [Research-based PR that struck gold.] (AP)James and Sarah Brady Comment on the Vice President’s Hunting Mishap [We would describe this press release as gratuitous. Kevin??] (U.S. Newswire)Blogging and the Elusive Mass Audience (Publishing 2.0)Honesty moment (Mason Cole)Holy market disruption (David Parmet)Technorati tags: Web 2.0, PR, Blogs, Websites, Public Relations, Marketing, Advertising, Media [...]

  17. Bodnar Blog has a good post with references to a “New York Magazine” article on blogging:
    http://www.esoos.com/archives/free_your_blogrolls_and_your_backlinks_will_follow.html

    Mike

  18. [...] Here’s the latest me-too analysis from The Chicago Tribune (which cites a recent Gallup poll on blog readership): Even if blogging flops as a business and doesn’t attract more readership, many bloggers will still have loyal followings. [...]

  19. [...] This news has been making the rounds quite a bit, so I won’t say much, other than, it’s still up to us to clue in the end user about RSS. And maybe now Publishing 2.0 editor Scott Karp will realize that giving people more credit is not the solution to RSS awareness problems. [...]

  20. [...] Blogging is only an evolution because the value is TOO distributed — blogging has dramatically increased the amount of quality content in the network, but nobody has yet figured out yet how to create an efficient marketplace for this content. This is why blogging hasn’t attracted a mass audience — because 30 million difficult-to-differentiate blogs is not a useful value proposition. [...]

  21. [...] Blogging is only an evolution because the value is TOO distributed — blogging has dramatically increased the amount of quality content in the network, but nobody has yet figured out yet how to create an efficient marketplace for this content. This is why blogging hasn’t attracted a mass audience — because 30 million difficult-to-differentiate blogs is not a useful value proposition. [...]

  22. [...] Publishing 2.0 has an interesting thought:If there are more people blogging, but no increase in the number of people reading blogs, maybe blog readership has actually been siphoned off by blog writing. I know that the time I spend writing this post is time I might otherwise spend reading other blogs….Which makes me wonder — how much of blog writing and blog reading is a completely closed system, both self-referential and self-absorbed?Completely closed? No, but it is still a pretty tight circle of those “in the know” about blogs. I know plenty of people who wouldn’t know what the hell a blog is if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a blogger and the topic has come up in our conversations. Blogs also tend to be a bit “niche” in nature. For example, there are a lot of blogs that focus primarily on politics. A lot of Americans just aren’t interested enough in politics to go searching out those blogs. It’s the same thing with the blog diaries that are popular with kids and college students. The media will almost always have an advantage there, because they typically provide a larger diversity of topics for their readers/viewers/listeners than blogs do. There is also the sheer number of blogs that acts as an impediment to bringing in new readers in mass quantities. If the average Joe wants news, they know the newspapers, TV and radio stations available to them. Even large blogs like Instapundit aren’t household names, though, and there is no entry portal for people to go to in order to jump into blog reading. The average guy on the street doesn’t usually know where to start when it comes to reading blogs for news or op/ed.I’ve always held the opinion that blogs have an outsized influence for their readership numbers, and appropriately so. The best ones develop an audience because they are entertaining and intelligent. They draw readers from those who deal in the same marketplace of ideas as they do, which means blogs influence the influencers of public opinion. Will blogs one day reach mass audiences? Yes, and some are already approaching that, but I suspect the culture and the structure of blogging will change before that becomes common. Some will applaud when that day comes, but even then there will be something to be said for having a highly targeted, high quality readership, even if total unique visitors for a site are lower. [...]

  23. [...] This news has been making the rounds quite a bit, so I won’t say much, other than, it’s still up to us to clue in the end user about RSS. And maybe now Publishing 2.0 editor Scott Karp will realize that giving people more credit is not the solution to RSS awareness problems. [...]

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