Analysing the blogging analysts

I was going to put this in the snark section of Missing Link but decided it deserved a post of its own. Tim Blair is currently stoushing with a trio of academic researchers into blogging and “citizen journalism”.

Jason Wilson, Axel Bruns and Barry Saunders apparently have an ARC grant to investigate “innovative applications of digital media for participatory journalism and citizen engagement in Australian public communication”, but seem to have gone feral in the process, descending from the ivory tower and joining the wild bush horses of the blogosphere. Their latest response to Blair is a minor stoush classic:

A few lazy ad hominem attacks, cut and paste some ready-made phrases about left-wing academics, and voila, we have another blog post to, er, maintain the rage amongst the faithful. Whoopee. And people wonder why the conservative side of Australian politics is intellectually bankrupt?

While quite a few Troppo readers will no doubt be inclined to accept without question this characterisation of Blair, on this occasion that would be a mistake.

Bruns et al chose to interpret Blair’s initial attack on their writings as merely an objection to their being publicly funded by an ARC grant. While it’s true that Blair delivered his usual sideswipe at publicly-funded academia, that wasn’t in fact the main subject of his concern at all. Blair’s real concerns are set out clearly in both his initial post to a Bruns et al article a week or so ago, and in today’s riposte to last Thursday’s retaliatory sledging by Bruns et al:

  1. You claim to have pointed out that Australias bloggers are overwhelmingly left-of-centre. Yet the linked piece identified no such thing, and in fact appeared not to be concerned at all with the political allegiences of Australian bloggers. Could you please indicate a specific section of that piece supporting your claim?
  2. You claim that Australia is home to equivalents to the left-leaning Daily Kos. Could you please name these sites? (Note: Daily Kos attracts around one million hits per day. Proportionally, an Australian blog would be pulling in around 60,000 daily hits to be of similar local impact.)
  3. Jason theorised that the left-of-centre blogosphere has prospered in Australia because opinion pages only seem to be open to forthright conservatives. Would Jason classify Catherine Deveny, Richard Ackland, Traceeee Hutchison, Mike Carlton, Kathy McCabe, Phillip Adams, Sue Dunleavy, Richard Glover, Jill Singer, Alan Ramsey, Kenneth Davidson, Anne Summers, Peter Hartcher, Annabel Crabb, Michael Leunig, Michelle Grattan, Tim Colebatch, Martin Flanagan and Adele Horin as forthright conservatives?
  4. You claim that Tom Switzers resignation as the editor of the Ozs opinion pages is a clear sign that hard-right columnists [are] looking increasingly isolated. How did you reach that conclusion?

Each of these concerns arise directly from the writings of Bruns et al. Moreover, at least in my view, each requires a response to rebut the strong impression that they are just partisan barrackers whose research should not be taken seriously. That is a shame, because the Australian blogosphere exhibits numerous characteristics that make it a potentially fertile field for serious academic research.

Blair adequately demolishes points 3 and 4 in the above quote, absent some explanation from Bruns et al. However, points 1 and 2 merit further discussion.

I’ll dispose of 2 first. No political blog in Australia, whether left, right or centrist oriented, has an audience anywhere near as large as Daily Kos, Little Green Footballs etc, in either absolute terms or proportional to Australia’s population. In fact Blair has by far the largest audience according to Alexa, with a ranking of 164,177. I suspect that Andrew Bolt’s “blog” would also have a fairly large audience, but I can’t be sure because Alexa doesn’t show it separately from the main News Ltd site. The largest left-leaning blog, Larvatus Prodeo, has a much lower Alexa ranking of 352,094. You can see why Blair might have felt that an evaluation which spuriously equated LP (let alone any smaller left-leaning blog) to Daily Kos was a bit rich in the circumstances.

The claim that Australias bloggers are overwhelmingly left-of-centre is marginally more plausible, but nevertheless misleading.

When I started blogging in 2002, there was actually a significant preponderance of right-leaning Australian bloggers. The explosion in availability and popularity of easy blogging platforms like Blogspot happened to coincide with September 11 and the subsequent Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, and the short run effect was to stimulate lots of right-leaning “war bloggers” to attack their keyboards and begin blogging in patriotic outraged fervour.

However, that situation has progressively reversed itself (perhaps in part reflecting public reassessment of the wisdom of the Iraq intervention and pre-emptive aggressive warfare in general – including, I should make clear, my own re-evaluation as someone who initially cautiously supported the Iraq invasion), so that today we instead have a measurable preponderance of left-leaning bloggers over those of a more right wing persuasion. Missing Link’s Google Reader blogroll (which the team reviews daily) is probably as close as you could get to a comprehensive listing of Australian blogs that post frequently on political topics and that have been operating long enough to become known. Our list contains 70 left-leaning blogs, 35 centrist ones and 34 right-leaning ones (not counting economic and psephological bloggers whom we mostly don’t attempt to place ideologically).

However, that ratio is slightly misleading. There are 3 fairly large right-leaning group blogs, namely Catallaxy, Australian Libertarians and A Western Heart. Most of the authors at these group blogs once had individual blogs of their own, but have chosen to cease publishing them and concentrate solely on writing for their group blogs. By contrast, most of the authors at the two major left-leaning group blogs, LP and Road to Surfdom, have maintained their personal blogs and adopted a practice of cross-posting at both. Thus we get a somewhat misleading picture of the numbers of left and right -leaning bloggers if we only look at the raw numbers of blogs.

I estimate that the real numbers are approximately 70-45 in favour of the left, with another 35 blogs (including the rather large group of disparate individuals here at Club Troppo) not being clearly aligned either to left or right. It’s fair enough to assert that the Australian blogosphere leans overall to the left, but it’s hardly “overwhelming”. Moreover, even a cursory look (let alone a careful academic one) at blogging’s short history indicates that this ideological balance is a dynamic one which can be expected to shift again as world and local political circumstances change. I doubt that one can sensibly draw any meaningful sociological conclusions from it.

Tim Blair also initially made an issue of a claim by Bruns et al that “it’s hard to pick out our own equivalent to Little Green Footballs or Town Hall, where Australian conservatives can form communities of opinion “, but seems to have dropped that objection in today’s post. God knows why, because it’s probably the most dubious claim of all by Bruns et al. For a start, what do they mean by “communities”? If we take the relatively crude measure of number of comment box contributions, it’s clear that Blair hosts a very large and vibrant community. As a matter of idle interest, earlier today I counted the average number of comments on the last 10 posts at several right and left leaning blogs.

Right – Tim Blair’s average is 85 comments per post, Andrew Bolt’s is 54, Catallaxy’s is 36.

Left – Tim Dunlop’s average is 48, LP’s is 43, Road to Surfdom’s is 8, Jeremy Sear’s is 17 and Andrew Bartlett’s is 16.

Doesn’t leave much room for a good faith conclusion that the right’s sense of community is deficient by comparison with the left, does it? Bruns et al, however, allow their own prejudices to cloud their assessment and play semantic games with the proposition. They apparently see commenters at right-leaning blogs as just a rabble of “the faithful” while the left’s audience is a “community”.

However, Bruns et al have a more pseudo-scientific basis for ascribing a greater sense of “community” to left-leaning blogs, as they explained in last Thursday’s post:

Oh, and in fairness, in case any of the Blairites are indeed interested in evidence for our claim that the left of the Australian blogosphere is better developed than the right, here’s a study I conducted about a year ago. Follow-up studies focussing on a number of different cases have shown much the same outcome – greater clustering and more cluster members on the left than on the right. (Raw data from these studies is available at Issuecrawler, if anyone would like to do their own analysis.)

The principal graph on which this assertion of a “better developed” left blogger community is based can be found here. It plots link referrals between blogs concerning the David Hicks issue during a period a year or so ago, and it’s certainly true that there is marked clustering of a large group of blogs many of which most people would classify as left-leaning. But the cluster also includes three separate manifestations of Club Troppo, none of which can reasonably be labelled “leftish”, and several others which are also best viewed as centrist or non-aligned. Thus the claim that this large cluster evidences a highly developed left-leaning community is misleading on this ground alone. Similarly, individual blogs like Susoz and Robert Merkel are also part of this tight cluster, even though they are actually LP group bloggers. Again that helps to create a false impression of tight clustering and community, especially when nearly all the right-leaning group bloggers no longer maintain their individual blogs with which to swap links and create a pictorial impression of clustering. The latter no doubt frequently link to each other, but those links simply wouldn’t be detected by Bruns et al as evidence of clustering/community because they’re internal to a single group blog.

However, in an even broader sense, what does the clustering phenomenon actually mean? It simply connotes blogs that habitually link and refer to each other. Is it reasonable to define a “better developed” community as one whose members are more inward-looking and self-referential, mostly swapping links between themselves? Conversely, is it reasonable to define blogs which link widely to both Australian and overseas blogs as exemplifying a less developed community? Surely these assumptions require questioning and analysis at the very least.

For example, we can also see a number of blogs of a generally left-leaning persuasion that are just as loosely clustered as Blair and other “righties”. Tim Lambert, Robert Merkel, Gary Sauer-Thompson and Christopher Sheil are examples. They all linked less often to local blogs and more often to overseas ones, not because of a looser sense of community than the tightly clustered blogs, but because the diverse range of their authors’ intellectual interests drew them towards other sources than purely local ones.

An adequate understanding of these and other blogosphere phenomena requires a much wider and more subtle range of qualitative approaches than this trio seems to have contemplated. Apart from anything else, their understanding would benefit enormously from sitting down with blogging veterans like Tim Blair (and Tim Dunlop, John Quiggin and others including me), but their prospects of getting a co-operative response are hardly enhanced by their current seemingly partisan, confrontationist stance. The ARC should expect more for its money.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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John Quiggin
John Quiggin
13 years ago

I’ll hop in to defend the “overwhelmingly left of centre” claim. I think nearly all the blogs you’ve classed as centrist in your sidebar, lean more to the left of centre than the right. That includes Club Troppo, by the way, though most of the others are more clearly left, partly because there are fewer authors. And many of the right-leaning blogs in your list are moribund or have moved away from political commentary.

Jason Wilson
13 years ago

Hi Ken.

I’m one of the researchers whose work you’re talking about here. Just a matter of housekeeping first – there seems to be a little confusion in your post here about blogs – one, Gatewatching, is a group blog involving Barry, Axel and I, but you do seem to mix that up in the post with Axel’s personal blog, Snurblog – I think Tim’s post conflates them slightly, too.

I’d direct you and your readers’ attention to my most recent response to Tim’s questions on Gatewatching, here. This makes clearer, I hope, the relationship between our ABC Opinion writing, our blogging, and the larger ARC project we’re involved in. I think Tim has managed to blur all of this pretty effectively, and I thought some clarification was necessary.

You may well appreciate that it’s easy to be stung into hasty responses when you’ve been “Blaired” – I’ve tried to answer Tim’s objection in good faith in the post linked to above – I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether I’ve succeeded. It must be said that Tim did talk about our work without seeking to confirm anything about our project with us – I hope the post I’ve directed you to corrects some of that.

Your own contribution here, which seeks to nuance our idea of left and right in the Australian blogosphere is incredibly useful, and your questions around notions of “community” etc. are fair ones. I won’t go too far into debating them here, but I’m happy to talk to you about it at some other stage. It should be stressed that we’ve never represented our opinion pieces or blog posts as final, formal research findings – stimulating this kind of response is one good reason for trying out our ideas in public.

In fairness to Axel’s research on Australia’s blogosphere, it’s the innovative methodology and the data he turned up which I think is the most important thing of all, and I assume that he’s sincere in saying he’d welcome other interpretations and readings of the data. This quantitative approach is, of course, not the only approach we’ll be taking – we’re also looking at blogging from a number of other angles, but Axel’s interest in this approach has been rewarded by what I think is an interesting and provocative paper.

I should add that the early part of our project has been practically-focussed – we spent the election campaign running youdecide2007, by which we hoped to get practical experience in the kinds of things that we’re researching, and also to try out some innovative methods of promoting online public affairs communities.

We are planning to interview Australian bloggers, and I’ve already interviewed a number – including some you mention like Sen. Bartlett and Tim Dunlop – and I’ve extended an invitation in my post to Tim for an interview, and I’d like to take the same opportunity in respect of yourself at this time.

I’d suggest finally, though, that your claim that the ARC is wasting its money is a little harsh. As I point out over on Gatewatching, the opinion stuff is done outside the bounds of the project proper, mainly because we’re so enthusiastic about being part of the conversation that’s being had about blogging in this country. Again, you’re entitled to your opinion, but perhaps a bit more information on the project would modify that opinion somewhat. I suppose it’s our fault that the scope of the project isn’t clearer – we’ll work on that, and hope that you’ll continue to monitor it with interest.

trackback

[…] everybody. Ken Parish over at Club Troppo concurred somewhat with Tim Blair’s criticisms of us. I replied in the comments but it got marked as spam so […]

TimT
13 years ago

Maybe, or maybe not. Take Rob Merkel, one of the smartest of the sidebar ‘centrists’ – he blogs at LP and happily bangs on about climate change with the rest of the lefties, but he also seems quite enthusiastic about nuclear energy (hardly orthodox left-wing position, that) and is generally quite strong on the need for sensible economic management. I think the Saint (Dog Fight at Bankstown) leans to the right. I read a couple of right-wing blogs where the bloggers don’t really worry about commenting a great deal on other’s blogs. Tex, for example

http://www.whackingday.com

Leon Bertrand

leonbertrand.blogspot.com

(he comments and argues on Jeremy Sear’s blog, but I haven’t seen him elsewhere)

And the observation deck bloggers

Observationdeck.org/weblogs

The perceived left-wing tendency of the blogosphere may in fact be just that, perceived, and not real.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
13 years ago

I’m at least agnostic on nuclear power, though I don’t think it will be a goer in Australia for some time, and I’m in favor of sensible economic management. So unless you want to put me in the centre I don’t think those points change the judgement that Rob is at least centre-left. I agree that Saint is a little to the right of centre, but not enough to change the overall claim. And Tex is an example of my claim that lots of rightwing bloggers aren’t doing much political stuff these days.

I’ll leave the linking issue alone for now.

Jason Wilson
13 years ago

See above for a trackback to my post where I answer this from within the research team – my comment seems to have been definitively swallowed.

Anyhow – I’d liek to respond specifically to this from Ken:

I estimate that the real numbers are approximately 70-45 in favour of the left, with another 35 blogs (including the rather large group of disparate individuals here at Club Troppo) not being clearly aligned either to left or right. Its fair enough to assert that the Australian blogosphere leans overall to the left, but its hardly overwhelming. Moreover, even a cursory look (let alone a careful academic one) at bloggings short history indicates that this ideological balance is a dynamic one which can be expected to shift again as world and local political circumstances change. I doubt that one can sensibly draw any meaningful sociological conclusions from it.

Even without the questions John’s asking about political alignments, Ken, 70-45 is a 14/9 ratio – what would it need to be before it was overwhelming?

You’re right in saying that the ideological balance is dynamic, but isn’t where it is in the cycle significant? It might be expected to shift again, but the only point we were trying to make – the one that Tim took such exception to – was that it could be that a preponderance of left-wing blogs now is as a result of a preponderance of conservative opinion in the MSM during the late Howard era. This is the idea that we floated that started Tim off, but how unreasonable does it sound to other people?

Jason Wilson
13 years ago

Hi again, Ken.

I, too, most certainly hope that it’s not too late to mend fences! Tim seems to have taken my clarifications in good part, so there’s some room for optimism there.

I can assure you that our chief motivation is really actually to understand the importance of the blogosphere in the shifts that are happening in the consumption and production of news. I think that if you look over our ABC Opinion columns, and also the youdecide2007 stuff, what you’ll see is a range of contributions that are lot more even-handed, poltically speaking, than they might have been presented as being over the course of this debate. They’re all premised on the idea that this is not a frviolous or fleeting phenomenon. The only people we really consistently have a go at is probably The Australian!

Tim had a bit of fun at Axel’s expense, but again, in his work, across a number of books and publications, I think you’ll see an abiding concern with trying to understand these shifts, and very little concern with pushing any narrow political agenda. I’m sure that he’ll consider your criticisms of the quantitative work when he revisits the data.

You’re right about the need for qualitative stuff, too, and we are doing that – hence the interviews, and the “participant-observer”-style work on the practical projects. And of course you have to consider qualitative readings of blogs in order to make sense of quantitative data anyway… We’re still in an early phase, and your comments and your preparedness to consider an interview are both positive developments.

And once again, the fact that we’re testing hypotheses for explaining the situation as it strikes us, and testing them in public, does not mean that these are our formal results. If anything, what we’re learning about most of all is the experiential dimension of blogging – staking out an opinion, copping criticism, fighting your corner, and often enough having to concede a point in public. That’s another reason that this whole exchange has been so interesting.

Graham
Graham
13 years ago

Two brief observations:-

First, notwithstanding many references to “centre”,”left of centre” etc I failed to find what criteria was being applied in the making of these “blogger” assessments.

Second,the left/right continuum has probably been around since the French Revolution but has become less and less useful as a classifacatory tool in contemporary political debates. Many significant issues today cannot be analysed using the blunt shorthand of left/right terminology. Ideology is of course not dead but analysis needs to be conducted with much greater complexity and subtlty than appears to be the case with this post

Graham

saint
13 years ago

“I agree that Saint is a little to the right of centre”

But but, Tim Blair has called me a leftist! And I voted below the line thank you very much.

No frigging wonder I’m in a straitjacket ;-)

Rafe Champion
Rafe Champion
13 years ago

What Graham said. The right-left classification is simply misleading and it delays the time when the classical liberal agenda is addressed in its own terms by critics from the left and the non-left. That will be the day!!

BTW has someone out there read “Us and Them” eds Sawer and Hindess, and especially the chapter by Hindess which I have criticised. I want to take a fresh look because he claims I have misread his paper and I am keen to fix this up and withdraw any criticism that is invalid.

Fred Argy
Fred Argy
13 years ago

Ken thanks for that interesting piece. But I agree with Graham that the terms “left” and “Right” need clearer definition. I think the benchmark test should be the role of governments relative to individual freedom.

On this test, some people (like me for example) are all over the place. They are (a) very liberal on personal morality issues (little or no government interference on sexual preferences, what people can read or view, abortions etc.)
(b) opposed to a big role for governments in markets and resource allocation (where competitive forces prevail) and
(c) sceptical of passive welfare as a dominant instrument of redistribution.

Yet these same people may be very much in favour of an active role for governments in (a) levelling opportunities (health, education, employment, housing, public transport etc.) (e) ensuring that economic reforms are sensitive to their incremental distribution effects and (f) in protecting the environment. And for the most part, they are agnostic on most foreign policy issues (treat each case such as Hicks on its merit).

I don’t think one can classify such people as necessarily left or right and I think it applies to many bloggers I read. Nor are they really ‘centrists’ as they have strong views on many issues. It is all confusing but fascinating.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Back ‘on point’ :

the only point we were trying to make – the one that Tim took such exception to – was that it could be that a preponderance of left-wing blogs now is as a result of a preponderance of conservative opinion in the MSM during the late Howard era. This is the idea that we floated that started Tim off, but how unreasonable does it sound to other people?

Surely this sounds like a complete furphy to everyone on this blog?

It only takes about six months of reading blogs to realise that:

the left bemoan right-wing media bias,
the right bemoans left-wing media bias, and
everyone agrees that a lot of journalism is pure crap.

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[…] Ken Parish walks into the blog fray between Tim Blair and Jason, Axel and […]

Laura
13 years ago

Yes, it sounds a furphy to me Patrick. If the ‘preponderance’ of ‘left-leaning’ blogs is real (and scare quotes are really necessary here) then it could just as easily be a sort of snowballing of things that happened during the leadup to the 2004 election.

I’m afraid I also have to register the usual protest against excessively narrow definitions of what constitutes a political blog or what counts as a post on a political topic. But I’m not going to bother arguing about it, because it’s not my research that’s being hopelessly skewed as a consequence :)

Bring Back CL's blog
Bring Back CL's blog
13 years ago

Sant is in a straighjacket. That would be mad.

I thought he was prayerie bound!!

Legal Eagle
13 years ago

I concur with those above who have questioned the Left/Right divide. Personally, in some respects I lean one way or the other depending on the issue. I’ve had to make up my very own wing.

P.S. Patrick’s comments made me laugh. At least we all agree on something. I just hate badly reasoned arguments, whether they’re left or right wing. There’s an awful lot of rubbish in the MSM.

The Doctor
The Doctor
13 years ago

So Ken did you count messages to the blogs, or separate contributors?

Niall
13 years ago

This is just more of the usual same from Blair. If we’re to look at statistics, as to whose blog get’s the most comments or who has the more external links, or which blog author shave’s their arsehole and who doesn’t…..perhaps note should be taken of the fact that Blair’s supposed popularity rests primarily among American conservatives and not Australians. Popularity is in the ideology of the reader and blogging is a pure and simple popularity contest. Perhaps the greatest of all popularity contests, given the rampant one-upmanship which seems to pervade the ‘sphere.

On the left -v- right dichotomy, I’m in total agreement with Graham and other commenters that it’s a complete and utter nonsense to claim one over the other in percentage terms. Firstly, there is no hard data, and secondly, just who decides what is ‘left’ and what is ‘right’? More amusingly to me…..what the fuck is ‘centre’?

So, some academics scunged a grant to study citizen journalism/blogging/literary masturbation (collectively interchangable in most cases). Big fat hairy deal! That fact that Blair is first out of the blocks in the whinging stakes only leads me to believe that he’s probably miffed because he didn’t think of the idea first.

Lyn
Lyn
13 years ago

No way can the average number of comments tell you anything reliable about the popularity or sense of community at a blog. Consider how often a long thread turns out to be a handful of people having a brawl over something. How many of Tim Blair’s commenters leave multiple, single sentence comments? All blogs, and sometimes the whole blogosphere, go through quiet periods.

Links alone are misleading for similar reasons.

There’s further confusion when what could nominally be refered to as either a left or right leaning blog posts an entry that attracts a lot of comment from the opposite side of the political fence.

saint
13 years ago

Didn’t one of the earlier incarnations of Tim’s blog mention RWDB…now dropped? Too lazy to check. In any case yes, get rid of the left-right nomenclature, except for the loonies on the extremes/those who wish to self-identify as such. Because just about everyone has.

I also recall that when I started blogging (about 4 1/2 years ago), certain bloggers got a leg up by (international) friends and colleagues. Sure, one must maintain the readership once you get it, but who knows what sort of talent out there was missed because of a lack of self-promotion.

Tony T.
13 years ago

I’m with Mr Quiggle.

Flute (Centrist) and Barista (Arts) are rampant lefties.

But FXHolden is a rampant fascist hippy.

Tony T.
13 years ago

That’s because my large and fractious audience have become fractious about cricket.

As far as state politics are concerned, Vic has a good Melbourne Grammar boy at the head of their secretive, pro-business, conservative government, so that’s good. No complaints. Although it won’t be long before ex-teacher Brumby caves to the teachers union and gives us… I mean, the teachers what they want.

And federally, when Labor have been in power for a while the righties will have lots to complain about, just like when the Coalition was in power and the lefties had lots to complain about.

It can’t be long until everyone realises Rudd is a massive, but very cunning, fraud.

John (The Analyst)
13 years ago

mmm … I’d probably agree with John Quiggan that some 9most) of the Centris blogs lean slightly to the left.

However, it seems to me that Centrist is a range, and on a political scale might range from -1 (left) to +1 (right), and I think most would fit within this definition.

Of 3 “political scale tests” for Aus politics, I came out at Centre, centre-left, and centre-right. As with any “test” or survey, it is the questins that determine the result. For what it’s worth, I think I fit in the Centre of politics, and show some conservative views and some social views based strongly on principles of social justice.

I hope my blog is rather like the boy who cried “The emporer has no clothes” – a voice that cuts through the “spin” crafted for politicians who seek to serve themselves.

:)
John
The Analyst

John (The Analyst)
13 years ago

mmm … I’d probably agree with John Quiggan that some 9most) of the Centris blogs lean slightly to the left.

However, it seems to me that Centrist is a range, and on a political scale might range from -1 (left) to +1 (right), and I think most would fit within this definition.

Of 3 “political scale tests” for Aus politics, I came out at Centre, centre-left, and centre-right. As with any “test” or survey, it is the questins that determine the result. For what it’s worth, I think I fit in the Centre of politics, and show some conservative views and some social views based strongly on principles of social justice.

I hope my blog is rather like the boy who cried “The emporer has no clothes” – a voice that cuts through the “spin” crafted for politicians who seek to serve themselves.

http://truepolitik.blogspot.com

:)
John
The Analyst

Andrew Bartlett
13 years ago

As with all such research, the need to categorise and neatly explain everything in a single analysis risks oversimplifying or mythologising. But it’s still a topic very much worth researching – even with a government grant – but I hope they remember unclear results can be more accurate than a single neat theory of everything.

The loose categorising of people into left or right irritates the hell out of me, but in the absence of a better shorthand way of categorising people I can see why it still keeps being used. Indeed, I still use it myself sometimes even though it irritates the hell out of me. Despite its limitations, it still retains some loose value. The main thing that annoys me about it is the straightjacket it seeks to place around people – ie. that people who are ‘left’ are all assumed to believe one set of things and people who are ‘right’ believe another set, thus leaving no scope for assessing each issue on its merits and being used to automatically dismiss a view or person.

I’m not sure of the value of meausuring comments or commenters. I suppose it might have some loose indicative value. But without being too harsh on some of the people who are kind enough to leave comments on my blog, sometimes I find the comments threads on my site so full of incoherent or sometimes just plain juvenile and nasty dribble that it makes me want to switch off comments all together (although no doubt some would say the same of my posts which the comments are ‘responding’ to). I certainly don’t necessarily feel much of a sense of a community with some of my most regular commenters, so I’m not sure its a terribly helpful way of measuring this. Having said that, I don’t particular want a bunch of comments that just agree with me and tell me I’m brilliant (although one or two every now and then would be nice) – I’d rather have a few comments that provoke thought and give me some fresh insights than 100 comments flinging standard issue insults at the so-called ‘right’ or ‘left’ (which is bringing me back to my previous paragraph, so I should stop here before I start imitating the commenters I’m complaining about).

Francis Xavier Holden
13 years ago

Mr Parish – I claim to be misrepresented by that arch Kanganite the Hon Member for Teaching, Sport and Sport, Mr Tony T. He’s Country Member.

I am no Fascist with a capital N neither am I a small f fascist or even a brownshirt. Although I do tend to favour knee high leather boots, monocles and comb overs my temper is democratic and I have the utmost forebearance when it comes to the underclasses and their employers.

As to rampant. I’m afraid that Tony T is only casting nasturtiums. I’m only rampant in the privacy of my bedroom, never in public. Except for the time Sister Mary Potential caught me down at the state school toilets.

Now to the biggest insult of all, and I suggest you suspend him from the house for this, I wish to state categorically – I am not a hippy, I have no desire to be a hippy, I have no hippy tendencies and I did not, and am not currently seeking, seek hippy re-assignment surgery.

Jason Wilson
13 years ago

Hi all. I’ve been following this thread with great interest – thanks for the attention to our work. I feel like I need to stress again that the pieces that occasioned Tim’s criticisms (and which are part of what Ken commented on) are not formal research pieces, but Opinion pieces for ABC Online. If they sometimes seem simplistic, that’s because they are to an extent – we work within an 800 word or so limit. Limited room for nuance, there, and no hope of encompassing the complexity of the Australian blogosphere in any particular piece. Still, if they occasion this kind of discussion, I guess they’re more than worth it. I also know that we’ve caused ABC Online readers to check out blogs that they may not otherwise have read.

On the left-right stuff, we can put the vocabulary aside for the moment and consider this. Axel’s research with the tracker software did show one thing – that at least on the Hicks issue (only ever presented as a case study) – there were some blogs that were densely interconnected in terms of referrals. Some prominent blogs were far more likely to discuss Hicks than others, and some were more likely to refer to other blogs’ discussions of Hicks than others. Axel tried to explain this in terms of left-right, and that’s one, easy way of framing it, but he concedes that the data is available for other interpretations. It’s difficult to argue with the raw data, but we certainly can talk about how we read it.

Check out this visualisation.

The densely interlinked cluster of blogs on the lower left – is it fair enough to describe them as “left wing”? If not, what’s another way of thinking about their common clear preparedness to discuss the issue (relative to other, prominent blogs) and their propensity to link to one another in these discussions? Is it fair enough to say that they have a range of political opinions in common?

Ken’s right – this is precisely where qualitative work comes into play. Reading the posts, thinking about the contexts of the links, and thinking about the ways in which this conversation developed from the point of view of what was written are obviously important. But in fairness, I think Axel was testing out methods quantifying and visualising the conversations that take place across the blogosphere, not trying to give final answers about who sits where on the political spectrum. It’s not a political quiz, and the left-right stuff is offered in the paper as one explanation for the data showing a density of links between some blogs, and a greater likelihood of certain bloggers discussing the issue at length.

And doesn’t this methodology allow us to frame these questions about the blogosphere in new and interesting ways? Doesn’t it tell us something new about the relationships between all of these sites in relation to a prominent political issue?

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

re that diagram, I think that whether blogs are .net, .com or .com.au or .anything else just might be totally irrelevant to any point you might possibly be trying to make.

Also there is the type of linking. Tim Blair links to Tracee Hutchinson (admittedly not a blog) all the time, and Chris Sheils as often as he can, for example – which hardly makes the two of them a community!

Laura
13 years ago

Yes, what is that .com .net business? Everyone knows that having your own domain is supposed to be a sign that you mean serious business, but everyone also knows that if you host on Blogger you have no worries with service interruptions.

I’m still kinda puzzled about the terminology.
“On the left-right stuff, we can put the vocabulary aside for the moment…Axel tried to explain this in terms of left-right….The densely interlinked cluster of blogs on the lower left – is it fair enough to describe them as left wing?….its not a political quiz, and the left-right stuff is offered in the paper as one explanation for the data”

followed by

“doesnt this methodology allow us to frame these questions about the blogosphere in new and interesting ways?”

LOL.

I’ve been reading most of the blogs in the crowded part of the chart for three or four years. (the ones whose names I can decipher, anyway.) It’s no news to me (nor I should imagine is it news to any other denizen of this version of the Australian blogosphere – there are other versions, of course) that they link to each other in blogrolls and in posts, subscribe to each others’ feeds, comment on each others’ posts. Can this congregating be explained as an expression of leftist solidarity?

Hell, no. Really. Gentlemen.

There are heaps of ‘lefty’ bloggers around who don’t link much and who don’t get many links. Many of them are just as readable as the ones on the chart. If dense interlinking is to be satisfactorily explained by the bloggers’ political tendencies then why are some lefty blogs not part of the linky network? I see that technorati has been asked to show blogs with some authority, which technorati measures by links, since it has that type of mind. Can Technorati also explain why some blogs don’t get into the linking business? And does this compromise their leftiness?

I need to be convinced that linking patterns reflect anything at all besides linking patterns. Specifically I need it explained to me how a higher link ratio equates to that infinitely slippery and intangible concept, ‘influence’

Tony T.
13 years ago

Point of order.

You must have misheard me, I said happy. The rest was taken out of context.

Laura
13 years ago

And what happens to blog posts which are clearly addressing a current affairs topic but do so slantwise, without using the obvious keywords – viz this post responding to events following the death of Heath Ledger:
http://sternezine.blogspot.com/2008/02/religious-nutcases-picket-fag-enabler.html

Tony T.
13 years ago

The little twerp cracks me up.

The left right dichotomy was perpetuated when the lefty blogs started rabbiting on, some with a performance-enhanced level of dudgeon, about the Rudd cardboard cutout as if this was the greatest sin in the history of parliamentary discourse.

People: it was funny. Simple as that. If the stunt was pulled by one of the Labor funsters, you would have been LOLing and ROLFing all over each other in your attempts to say so.

Laura
13 years ago

Thanks Ken.

When I remember to look at my blog’s sitemeter it’s clear that most of the drop-in visitors and the random links from strangers are actually there for the photographs only – googlers looking for a photo to illustrate their own writings, or photo links called up because the googlers found something and hotlinked it.

When I had posting privileges at LP it was fairly clear that a lot of the site traffic there was related to the images.

I wonder if this means that heavily illustrated sites get more random link action of the kind that’s fairly meaningless but nevertheless boosts search engine rankings?

Tony T.
13 years ago

I get 100 hits a day looking for this. (Bit rude.)

trackback

[…] all. This continuing thread over at Club Troppo is discussing the merits (or lack thereof ;)) of our research. I had written a […]

Jason Wilson
13 years ago

Hi folks. I have written a long response – mostly to points from Ken and Laura – over on our blog. I was gonna post it here but it felt a bit rude taking up so much troppo space. I’ll look for responses here – not trying to steal traffic!

Link here.

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

I don’t really want to buy into this for a host of reasons, though it’s an interesting discussion. But I want to correct the claim that “a lot” of LP’s traffic is generated by searching for images. The stats package we previously used separated out hits from crawlers and other bots and also hits from google images from other traffic. The only time there was really a substantial proportion of the traffic going to images as such was when a photo of Segolene Royale in a bikini was featured – a lot of hits coincident with the mention in the MSM about that. Certainly any claims I ever made about traffic were about traffic with what could obviously be excluded subtracted.

And contrary to Ken’s point up the thread, it’s been a long time since I made any claim about traffic at all. Put it down to the naivete of previously being 30 something and a callow youth. We don’t have a stats package of any sort installed now, so I wouldn’t have a clue what our stats are.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Ah, so that’s why LP has a ranking above 1,000,000! Note that Blair’s site is almost image-free.

:)

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

No, it’s not, as I previously explained, Patrick!

Anyway, part of my shift in terms of thinking stats stoushes are meaningful relates to the “my hits are bigger than your hits” alpha male schtick which seems to cluster around any such discussion. To the degree that I’ve participated in that in the past, I am truly regretful!

Anyway, will leave youse to it.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Sorry I hadn’t refreshed. I still think it is funny and the defensiveness of your response even funnier :)

But I will take your apparent conversion in good faith.