Part 5. Audience
Despite a blogger’s often private sense of the nature of his or her blog, the act of keeping a blog (unless password protected or otherwise locked down) is an inherently public act. Blogs are generally kept so that they may be read by others, yet the audience of a particular blog is technically nearly impossible to measure. While Web servers have traditionally collected information about who or what visits them, in this day and age of RSS feeds, many blog readers who might have been counted by server or site traffic logs are now obscured behind the single visit of an RSS feed reader’s URL or IP address.
But we do have a good idea of the size of the general blog-reading population. In February 2004, the Pew Internet Project added a question to our internet activity survey: “Do you ever read someone else’s web log or blog?” At that time, 17% of internet users said yes. Since then, the percentage of blog readers has increased to 39% of internet users, or about 57 million American adults.16
“RSS” – most often thought to stand for “Really Simple Syndication.” An RSS feed enables a “feed reader” or aggregator to periodically check particular spots on the Web for new content, pulling that content into one central location for easier reading.
A blogger can gain a sense of audience composition through “on-blog” or “off-blog” means. On-blog measurements include site traffic logs17 as well as commenting and tagboarding functions where a reader of a blog can post feedback. A comment is generally a response to a specific post, whereas a tagboard is a general space for commenting on the entire blog or website. Off-blog mentions occur outside of the blog and include hearing from someone—in conversation, on the phone, via email or IM—that they read your blog. Readership may also be suggested—though not necessarily guaranteed—by the linking from one blog to another on a blogroll (or list of links to other blogs generally found in the sidebar of a blogpage).
“Blogroll” – a list of links to other blogs generally found in a blog’s sidebar18
Given the fact that many types of simple blogging software do not incorporate traffic statistics into their blogging packages, it is not surprising that nearly half of the bloggers in our sample (47%) say they do not know their traffic statistics. One in five bloggers (22%) say they have fewer than ten hits a day in blog traffic, and 17% say they have 10 to 99 hits on a typical day. Just 13% have more than 100 hits a day, though a handful in this group has much larger traffic levels.
Of the bloggers who do know their traffic, male bloggers in our sample are more likely to report higher average levels of traffic. The 10 highest self-reports of blog traffic were all by male bloggers.19
Most bloggers post material for themselves, but one-third blog mostly to engage their audience.
When asked whether they blogged for themselves or for their audience, more than half of bloggers (52%) responded that they blog for themselves. About a third (32%) of bloggers blog mostly to entertain or engage their audience, and another 14% volunteered that they blogged for both themselves and their audience equally. About one percent say that neither personal motivation nor the idea of an audience motivated them.
Many bloggers who say they blog “for themselves” truly do—these bloggers report lower numbers of daily hits than other bloggers.
Blogs gain attention, if only at a personal level.
We asked bloggers what kind of attention they had received for their blog and from whom. Most frequently, bloggers received attention from other bloggers, either through exchanges of links or discussions proceeding from postings and their responses, either via comments or on other blogs. Nearly 60% of bloggers had been noticed by other bloggers. Young bloggers (age 18-29) were most likely to say that they had received this kind of attention. About half of bloggers (52%) report that their blog has been noticed by family members. Parents of children under age 18 living at home were more likely than those without children at home to say that they had had blog recognition by a family member.
Work colleagues, coworkers and bosses were another source of comment or recognition of a blog (though whether the recognition was positive or negative was not asked), with a bit more than a third (35%) of all bloggers hearing mention of their blog from this group. Another 20% of bloggers have received attention for their blog from members of their local community.
Precious few bloggers achieve the kind of attention – very public, and perhaps nationally or internationally influential – that may come from political figures or the news media. Just 10% of bloggers have received attention from public officials, political campaigns or politicians. Nine percent of bloggers have had their blog mentioned by the news media.
In many ways it is not surprising that so few blogs have achieved major recognition politically or in the media. As Clay Shirky points out in his essay, Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality,20 traffic to blogs builds unevenly, and those who garnered traffic early in the history of blogging for whatever reason will tend to continue to gain traffic over time, while newer blogs will have a harder time earning the same amount of traffic.
Half of bloggers believe their audience is mostly people they know.
Even in the absence of a reliable way to measure their blog traffic, about half of bloggers (49%) believe that their blog readership is mostly made up of people they personally know. Another third of bloggers (35%) believe that their readers are mostly people they have never met. About one in seven (14%) of bloggers say that their readership is a mix of personal friends, family and colleagues as well as people they have never met. Just 3% of bloggers say they do not have a clue as to who reads their blog.
Female bloggers and younger bloggers (age 18-29) are more likely than men or other age groups to say that mostly people they know personally read their blog. People whose blogs are read mostly by strangers are generally male, age 50 or older, and live in higher-income households.
Blog writers are enthusiastic blog readers.
Fully 90% of bloggers say they have read someone else’s blog, compared with 39% of all internet users who say they have done so.
Bloggers who read other people’s blogs are likely to check in at least a few times per week: 19% read someone else’s blog several times a day; 16% do so about once a day; and 16% do so three to five days per week. One in five bloggers who read other blogs say they do so every couple of days. The rest (28%) of blog-reading bloggers say they do so every few weeks or less.
Frequent updates to one’s own blog seem to beget frequent reading of others’ material. Bloggers who post new material at least once a day are the most likely group to check on other blogs on a daily basis – 61% of daily bloggers say they do so, compared with 16% of bloggers who post weekly.
Bloggers who say their blog is very important to them are more likely than other bloggers to read someone else’s blog several times per day and to post comments.
Nearly nine in ten bloggers allow comments to be posted on their blog.
Commenting functions on blogs allow readers to post text responses to specific posts that the author has written. Comments can create a discussion, a place for feedback or provide a sense of community for both the author and his readers as well as serve as a way to get a sense of the number of active readers. On most blogs, the reader clicks on the comments link below an entry to both read the comments that others have left and to leave a comment themselves via a text box. Commenting functions are found on most blogs, but not all. Fully 87% of bloggers in our sample allow comments on their blogs; only 13% do not allow them. Younger bloggers are more likely than other age groups to allow comments on their blog. Fully 94% of bloggers age 18-29 allow comments, compared with 84% of bloggers age 30-49 and 69% of bloggers age 50-64.
Eighty-two percent of bloggers say they have posted a comment to someone else’s blog. While male bloggers are more likely than female bloggers to not only check in on other blogs, but to do so several times a day, male bloggers are not significantly more likely than female bloggers to post comments. Bloggers with broadband at home are more likely than those with dial-up to say they read other blogs and are also more likely to post comments. Bloggers who are part of a multiple-author blog are no more likely than single-author bloggers to read someone else’s blog, but they are more likely to post comments (91% vs. 78%).
Four in ten bloggers have a blogroll and most keep the list to under 50 blogs.
Another way to ascertain readership is through blogrolls or friend lists, which list links to other blogs.21 Two in five bloggers (41%) keep a blogroll on their blog, while 57% say they do not provide such a list. Bloggers who post new material daily are more likely to have a blogroll (70% vs. 30%).
Of those who have a blogroll, the largest percentage of bloggers have fewer than ten blogs on their blogroll. Nearly 43% of bloggers have fewer than 10 blogs listed on their blogroll. Another 29% say they have between 10 and 49 blogs on their link list and 18% have 50 or more links listed. Bloggers age 18 to 29 are more likely than older bloggers to have larger link lists.
A bit under half of all bloggers say their blog is listed on the blogroll of someone else. About 46% of bloggers say their blog is on someone else’s roll, 34% say their blog is not listed elsewhere. Another one in five bloggers (20%) say they do not know whether their blog appears on another blogroll or not. Younger bloggers are more likely to say that their blog is listed on someone else’s roll, as are bloggers who post material daily (78%), or who are members of multi-author blogs (57%).
Of bloggers who know that a link to their blog appears on someone else’s blogroll, the largest group – 29% – say that 10 to 49 other blogs link back to them. Another quarter (27%) say that fewer than ten others link to their blog, and 19% say that more than 50 bloggers link to their blog. Another quarter say they do not know how many others link to them.
Few offer an RSS feed, possibly because many bloggers are not aware of the technology.
Bloggers were among the pioneers of RSS feeds, streamlining the users’ experience by allowing them to interact with fresh content in one central clearinghouse instead of having to visit blog after blog. Still, RSS does not have a strong presence yet, even within the blogosphere. Only 18% of bloggers in our survey say they offered an RSS feed of their blog. Nearly 6 in 10 (59%) say they do not have an RSS feed for their blog content, and close to another quarter (23%) say they do not know if they had a feed, or did not answer the question. It is worth noting that bloggers are not behind the curve when it comes to this new technology. In a general internet-user survey conducted in May-June 2005 only 9% of internet users said they have a good idea of the meaning of the term “RSS feeds.”
- Based on January 2006 and February-April 2006 survey data. ↩
- This assumes the software the blogger uses provides site traffic logs or that a secondary counting application has been installed, which is often not the case. ↩
- For some bloggers, a different term is used to refer to a list of links to other blogs. For example, with LiveJournal, the list of links is titled “Friends” and may appear on a separate internal page, often with biographical information about the blogger. On Xanga, the same list is called “subscriptions,” and appears on the side of the main blog page. ↩
- A further complication to fully understanding blog traffic–the term “hit” used in the survey question is one which can have a variety of meanings depending on the Web traffic software that a blogger uses, and does not generally represent individual unique visitors to a Web server or site. ↩
- Shirky, Clay (2003) Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality. http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html ↩
- Though as Amanda Lenhart has suggested in an academic paper on this topic, the mere fact of a blog being listed on a blogroll does not guarantee that the blog owner doing the listing is actually reading the blog listed. See Lenhart, Amanda. (2005) Unstable Texts: An ethnographic look at how bloggers and their audience negotiate self-presentation, authenticity and norm formation. Masters Thesis, Georgetown University. http://lenhart.flashesofpanic.com/Lenhart_thesis.pdf ↩