Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: The Argument and Measuring Influence in the Political Blogosphere

In his article, Measuring Influence in the Political Blogosphere: Who’s Winning and How an we Tell?, Dave Karpf evaluates the top conservative and political blogs and puts forth something called the Blogosphere Authority Index (BAI), a system for evaluating online influence.

Karpf claims that there are four key areas where blogs can gain their influence. They include: “network centrality, link density, site traffic, and community activity.” His index combines data from current ranking systems, such as Technorati,, and Truth Made Bare. To determine which blogs were the most influential, he converted the top fifty progressive and top fifty conservative blog scores into an ordinal ranking system. When evaluated against the four key indicators of the BAI, Karpf found that the progressive blogosphere was larger than the conservative blogoshere.

While his article provides and interesting framework for blog analysis, it would have been helpful for Karpf to more clearly define what he means by “influence”. Who is being influenced and for what purpose? Is the true measure of a blog about politics the number of votes generated, the two-way conversations had, or the number of times blog content was reproduced in traditional mass media for people who are interested in politics, or is it the number of potential new voters who are brought into the debate? And is it enough to measure the number of viewer hits or acknowledgments by other bloggers, or is there a way to take measurement of influence all the way to the polls?

Matt Bai’s, The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, tracks the evolution Democratic Party’s focus on their communication systems and message. He spotlights blogs as a way that grassroots progressives have stepped out to help identify communicate their message. He notes that the successful conservative communication machine and the 2004 election ultimately spurred the Democrats down this path of innovation and reinvention.

Bai shows how blogs and bloggers have helped turn the top-town politics into a meritocracy. Rather than wait to hear what issues elected officials wanted to push, or what message those in power wanted to get out, blogs made it possible for people like Jerome Armstrong, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga and their followers to have a powerful voice in the prioritization of issues.

Bai highlights a story from the 2004 election, when Jerome Armstrong, “The blogfather,” was one of the first people to receive exit poll information. Within minutes, Armstrong provided context and posted the information for the world to see. After Yahoo News posted a story highlighting Jerome’s information, his blog crashed because so many people visited it. This story highlights the decentralization of data, and the widening circle of power within politics.

While it is clear that blogging plays a key role in American politics (many elected officials hold “blogger roundtables”, where they share information, solicit feedback and answer questions from bloggers), I still wonder how we truly measure the influence of this medium? Bloggers seem to have an aversion to traditional media, yet consider it a measure of success to be featured on national television. Additionally, do blogs serve refine and broadcast a message, or can they truly be evaluated for their ability to build influence that tracks to the polls?

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