Sunday, August 05, 2007

The myth of right wing reach

By Libby

Patrick Ruffini takes a stab at analyzing the influence of the political blogs and falls into the customary trap of equating traffic with reach. He ponders why the lefty blogs are more effective activists when the right boasts such higher numbers, both on blogs and conservative sites.
It seems to me that the numbers are there to do something great around the 2008 elections, and that all we need to do is effectively tap into the conservative blogosphere. I looked at N.Z. Bear’s traffic stats for political blogs with over 20,000 visits a day. And the visitor gap between left and right was lower than I could remember in some time: 1.2 million to 870,000 for the left (half of the left’s total was Kos).

Looking beyond the blogosphere, a place the MSM isn’t as familiar with, and you’ll see that the conservative Web is larger than the liberal Web. Sites like Townhall, WorldNetDaily, and Free Republic have monthly audiences that regularly beat Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, to say nothing of Drudge, which still reigns supreme.

So the people are there, just as they’ve always been. My concern with some of the sites I discussed above is that for ten long years, they haven’t been giving our people Web experiences that teach them how to be more than simple readers.

He almost gets in the last sentence. Right wing readers don't generally do anything but read and romp with each other in the comments. They talk big, but they largely don't donate to politicians and I suspect many of them don't even vote. Ruffini misses the mark entirely though, when he adds up the numbers on the assumption that every site's traffic is unique.

The Rightopians artificially inflate their numbers through a variety of technical tricks. For one thing, they only link to each other. Rarely will they link to a post on the left, cherrypicking quotes out of context while they ceremoniously "debunk" factual data with half-truths and even outright lies. The wingers apparently fear honest comparisons.

The left is far more generous and fair with links. If they diss a winger post, they link to it, trusting their readers to make their own judgements. And their readers will go to the opposing post to do just that. Thus some disparity in the traffic is driven by left wing readers that don't support the Wingtopian agenda but the blog owners still count that as reach when they're selling their ads.

The winger blogs also hold regular linkfests for the sole purpose to drive up their stats in the ecosphere. Click on some of the lesser known names on the PJMedia blogroll and you'll find blogs ranked high in the system who get under 100 hits a day in traffic. I've noticed lately they seem to have developed a penchant for enrolling in some kind of robohit services. You subscribe to some group and everyone in the group hits your blog on request. Chances are they don't even read the post.

So in short, the wingosphere's numbers are bigger because of the incestous nature of the beast. It's a closed, circular community, more of a glorfied chat room than an opinion maker. The readers come in to have their views validated, not to be challenged and to hang out with their friends. To more accurately count the real number of voters they reach, one would have to take the traffic from the single biggest blog and probably cut that in half to eliminate google hits, which don't really count as real readers. They come in for one post and most don't stick, on either side of the fence.

Granted, the left suffers to some extent from the same phenonmenon. If you try to wade through a comment section at Kos or Atrios, out of 200 comments, 175 are likely to be insider jokes with other regs, attempts at oneupsmanship on clever retorts and flame wars with perceived trolls. Nonetheless, they're generally more disposed towards issue driven debate and likely to be active participants in the political process.

But the big difference is the Leftopians are a more diverse community and their numbers aren't driven by gratuitous linking. Indeed the general complaint is the big boys don't pass out enough links to the lower ranked blogs. There are many more smaller blogs with unique readerships who plug away every day and whose goal is effect change, not necessarily accrue power. If one wants to more accurately gauge "tipping point" influence, a better mathematical model would be to count from the bottom up. Not the top down.

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