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Monday, May 30, 2005

How Many Blogs Are There? How Many Read Them?

Carl Bailik has an interesting article in the Wall St. Journal (no registration required to read this article) about measuring the importance and impact of blogs.   The basic point of the article is that calculating the number of blogs and blog readers is fraught with peril:

The numbers of the blogosphere range widely. Are there 10 million blogs, or 32 million? Do a quarter of online Americans really read blogs, as one oft-cited survey found? And why do rankings of the most popular blogs vary so much?

Adding to the confusion: disagreement over exactly what a blog is. In our young era of blogging, there's still no consensus. "Blog" derives from "Web log," and everyone agrees that a blog should be regularly updated, with new entries in reverse chronological order -- and that the entries can be about anything. But millions of people establish blogging accounts with free software providers like Google Inc.'s Blogger, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN or Six Apart Ltd.'s LiveJournal -- it takes mere minutes -- and then never post to their blogs. Others password-protect their blogs and use them to share photos and data with a small group of family members, friends or colleagues. Whether or not you count all those represents a big chunk of the swing from 10 million (cited recently in the New York Times and USA Today) to 31.6 million blogs (Ottawa Citizen and the Ann Arbor News). Both are world-wide estimates.

Bailik contends that the number of blogs is not a meaningful statistic because many are abandoned after they are launched (such as a blog I started back in March and abandoned after just two posts).  Bailik then turns to counting blog posts statistics, with Technorati estimating about 800,000 to 900,000 blog posts a day and BlogPulse estimating about half that amount -- 350,000 to 450,000 per day.  Bailik writes:

The total number of active blogs -- those with a post in the past 30 days -- was 3.5 million on May 1, according to BlogPulse. That was up just 30% from last September, even as the site found that the total number of blogs increased nearly 200% over that time. That suggests there's a lot of dead air out there. 

But the number of blogs doesn't say a lot about the relevance of blogs.  Bailik turns to calculating the number of people who read blogs.  A Pew poll has 25% of Internet users saying they read blogs, but Bailik points to reasons why this statistic may be dubious.  If one were to rely on the 25% statistic:

Multiplying the results with Pew's estimate for the total number of Americans online yields an estimate of about 32 million American adults who read blogs.

What about measuring the popularity of particular blogs?  One method is to count links to a particular blog, "but this measure fails to take into account the prominence of the site doing the linking."  Another method is to count visitors to the blog, but total visits does not capture "unique visitors" which is "the standard currency for many kinds of online advertising (advertisers don't want to pay twice to reach the same reader)."

I believe that statistics about the total number of blogs or blog readers are not very helpful.  Stats about the readership of particular blogs can be quite helpful, as right now, it is a small group of the blogs out there that are gaining a sizeable audience.  The WSJ article focuses mainly on how advertisers might view the statistics, but in terms of influence, I believe that total visits is an important stat.  If people are visiting a blog routinely throughout the day, it measures the fact that the blog is of great interest to these visitors.  Unlike the mainstream media, blogs are more interactive, where readers can post comments and have discussions.  Debates occur between different blogs.  In short, blogs are more akin to an ongoing conversation than a mainstream media publication or broadcast, so perhaps trying to calculate similar statistics (total readership) will not tell the whole story.  Perhaps the best statistic would be finding out from people how often they read blogs, which blogs they are reading, and how meaningful they consider blogs to be are in their lives.   (Thanks to beSpacific for the pointer.)   

Posted by Daniel Solove on May 30, 2005 at 11:31 AM in Blogging, Daniel Solove | Permalink

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