Blogging by the numbers: An introduction

Damn you statistics!!!

I did some research this semester about blogging. The inspiration for this was my economics of information class. As a requirement for that class, we had a final paper and presentation about any economic/information topic of our choosing, so I decided to study the economics of blogging.

At this point, I want to make sure we all understand what economics is. The best definition I heard for economics is that it’s the study of the distribution of scarce goods. Most people confuse economics with money. Certainly money has a lot to do with economics, but economics is much more than that. Economics has a lot to say about utility and usefulness, distribution, production, and more.

In other words, I sought to find information that wasn’t simply about money and the business of blogging. Someone out there coined the word “blogonomics” as a bastardization of both words “blogging” and “economics.” Thankfully that word hasn’t been adopted; the person who came up with it (or at least was credited with it) was pandering for donations. This just shows you how little most people really understand about economics.

So I divided my efforts into a few parts. First, I needed to learn more about bloggers. Who is blogging? How many blogs are there? How fast is this growing? This alone is worthy of massive amounts of research to say the least of the two months I had to produce my final paper. I’ll start discussing that in a bit, but suffice to say the quality of blogging statistics is miserable at best.

Next, I wanted to get a little deeper into the nature of the blogging realm. Why are people blogging? How are companies using blogging as part of their strategies? Who reads which blogs, how is traffic distributed, and why? Rather than just plea to the Zipf curve, most people avoid the deeper implications of why these traffic patterns emerge and what it means for the blogging world.

I also did some of my own research into the function of the blogging realm. I wanted to look at linking patterns between blogs and the rest of the Internet. Do blogs exist in their own little realm or do they anchor themselves among the rest of the Internet or what? By looking at link structures, maybe I could get some sense about what blogs really do.

At the end, I was left with more questions than I started with. This was the most disappointing aspect of my work; you would like to hope that weeks of work would turn out some revelation but instead I was wondering where I could find other people to help me out. No matter though, I’ll offer you the same questions I asked myself hoping that maybe someone out there will get a clue and do this much needed work.

Somewhat related to the research I did for my economics of information class, I worked with a friend on a project for another class using this blog research as some of the basis. Before we began our research, I was showing him some polls I found on the Internet with details about bloggers. In particular, there was one poll that had… um… interesting results.

This poll used a methodology that made it completely useless. It was done by a search engine site, and most of the less than 1000 responses came from people who had registered with that site. In other words, this was a self selected population. When you deal with polling and statistics, the most important aspect is to ensure that your sample accurately reflects whatever it is you’re studying. When your poll takers decide for themselves to do it or not, you will never know how or if it’s biased. My guess is that only the most interested bloggers will take the poll, biasing it towards more participation and more frequent posting when the opposite is more likely.

This was lost on most readers however. Commenters loved it and said it was great. I can only feel bad for the people who use it to prove anything about the blogging world. There is NO WAY that 95% of bloggers post at least once a week. That’s why I won’t offer you a link to the poll. It’s crap. The only use it might have is for the site that did the poll, to get insight into the type of people who use the site. Given that number above, you should have no trouble identifying it, then closing your browser as soon as you encounter it.

Unfortunately, this poll is typical of blogging statistics. They’re loaded with hidden biases, skewed samples, and gaping holes that most people don’t care to look for before reporting them to the masses. So let me get this caveat out of the way. Quite possibly the numbers and information I’m going to provide in the coming weeks will be slightly off or outright wrong. This should not detract from the points I will make along the way. If there’s anything you should take away from these writings, you should think deeper about the numbers before accepting them as truth.

There are lots of great quotes about statistics I could use as a conclusion here, but I won’t. In fact, it’s quite possible that I’m here to mislead you with numbers and prove to you that I’m right and everyone else is wrong. But it’s also quite possible that I’m onto something, and if so, then I promise you I’ll be the most surprised one in the end. Next time, we’ll get into the numbers.

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