Reprinted with permission from the Feb. 2005 issue of Public CIO.
At 8:43 p.m. Pacific time on Dec. 11, 2004, the American Digest Weblog announced the number of blogs being tracked by Technorati had exceeded 5 million -- 5,002,014 to be exact. By the following evening, the number of blogs jumped to 5,028,255.
The "blogosphere" -- or the universe of Weblogs -- continues to explode exponentially. Perseus Development Corp., a firm that studies Internet trends, estimated that more than 10 million blogs will exist by 2005. And based on the latest figure, that 10 million will certainly have been exceeded before the end of 2005.
These fantastic numbers really don't mean much, however, other than to illustrate that blogs are catching the attention of a growing number of regular Internet users.
Blog-hosting services make it so easy to create a blog that many would-be bloggers show no real commitment to continuing the blogs they initiate. In October 2003, Perseus randomly surveyed 3,634 blogs on eight leading blog-hosting services, discovering that 66 percent had not been updated in two months and had practically been abandoned. They also estimated, based on the survey, that about a quarter of all blogs were one-day wonders, with no postings at all after the initial launch.
Moreover, even those blogs updated regularly have almost zero chance of attracting wide readership. "Blogging is many things, yet the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life," Perseus COO Jeffrey Henning noted in the study summary.
He compared the blogging phenomenon to an iceberg. "An iceberg is constantly dissolving into seawater, and the majority of blogs started are dissolving into static, abandoned Web pages," he wrote. "Right now, though, this iceberg is moving so quickly into arctic waters that it is gaining mass faster than it is losing it. The key is that an iceberg is never what it appears, and so it is with today's blogging community."
Tip of the Iceberg
Certainly one factor fueling greater public awareness of blogs is that there have already been a few major shipwrecks when public figures and the mainstream media collided with this growing iceberg.
It was only after intense online commentary in 2002 that the mainstream media paid any real attention to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's remarks at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, turning these into a full-blown scandal that ultimately forced Lott's resignation.
"Blogs have ignited national debates on such topics as racial profiling at airports and have kept the media focused on scandals as diverse as the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity to bribery allegations at the United Nations," wrote political scientists Daniel W. Drezner and Henry Farrell in a paper on the influence of blogs in foreign affairs called Web of Influence.
"One thing bloggers are very good at is focusing attention on things that have often been underreported by the mainstream media," Drezner, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, explained in a follow-up interview. "Bloggers have become very good at fact-checking the media and pointing out errors."
One high-profile example of this is the Dan Rather/CBS News admission that they could not authenticate documents presented in a story about President George W. Bush's National Guard service. "Nineteen minutes into the segment using the documents, the first post appeared on the Net saying, 'These are fake, and here's why,'" explained Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's former campaign manager, in a presentation at the Commonwealth Club in Silicon Valley. "Within four hours, it was spreading across the Net, and within five or six hours, it had leaped from