Thursday, June 23, 2005

Conservative blogs: yesterday's news

I was surprised to read in an e-mail newsletter from the Weekly Standard that liberal blogs are much more popular than conservative blogs, based on BlogAds traffic rankings -- and they are getting more popular every day. Maybe I missed it, but I haven't heard anyone like Hugh Hewitt or the Northern Alliance guys discuss this phenomenon.

If this is true, and the evidence from MyDD cited by the Weekly Standard is compelling if arguable, then the war of ideas, in which conservatives claim an advantage, could be anyone's game in 2006. The Internet is here to stay. It has become an essential medium for political communication and mobilization. The party that exploits it the most creatively and effectively will have a potentially insurmountable advantage in elections at all levels.

The "next big thing" in the political blogosphere is already underway in its liberal regions, but apparently not in conservative areas. Liberal bloggers (most notably Daily Kos and MyDD) are leading the way with a new kind of web site that combines group blogging and social networking. The most popular platform for this right now is called Scoop. According to Scoop's web site:
Scoop is a "collaborative media application". It falls somewhere between a content management system, a web bulletin board system, and a weblog. Scoop is designed to enable your website to become a community. It empowers your visitors to be the producers of the site, contributing news and discussion, and making sure that the signal remains high.

A Scoop site can be run almost entirely by the readers. The whole life-cycle of content is reader-driven. They submit news, they choose what to post, and they can discuss what they post. Readers can rate other readers comments, as well, providing a collaborative filtering tool to let the best contributions float to the top...The real power of Scoop is that it is almost totally collaborative.
Chris Bowers of MyDD provides the "so what?:"
Community moderated blogging platforms such as Scoop have provided us with an excellent means of finding new voices, and these are the voices that are generating the accelerated growth in the liberal and progressive blogosphere...By comparison, right-wing blogs have pretty much only one means of finding a new voice in the blogosphere: when someone starts a new blog. The inability to operate within a community must be the primary reason behind the large number of conservative blogs...
Well, that explains why blogrolls are getting so long. Bowers continues:
...the anti-community nature of right-wing blogs has resulted in a stagnant aristocracy within the conservative blogosphere that prevents the emergence of new voices and, as a result, new reasons for people to visit conservative blogs. [Emphasis added.]
I think that Bowers overstates his case here. The conservative blogosphere is not "stagnant," nor does it "prevent" the emergence of new voices. It would be very interesting if the entire (politically agnostic but right-leaning) MOB suddenly reconstituted itself from a blogroll into a Scoop website. Hmmm.

Weekly Standard editor Johnathan Last is unsure whether any of this matters. If the conservative blogosphere consists of individual bloggers or small group blogs, and the liberal blogosphere has more Scoop-style hybrid community blogs, will it make a difference on Election Day 2006? In spite of the best efforts of George Soros and, Howard Dean's Internet campaign, the decentralized use of by Democrats, Dan Rather, Michael Moore, and the Star Tribune, President Bush was re-elected.

The evolution of blogs has implications at the grassroots level, were I live. E-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, blogs, message boards, multimedia, social networking (for example, Friendster), and online communities (such as Scoop or more consumer-oriented services like Lycos Circles or MSN Spaces) are, as they say in high tech, converging. Phone calling trees and sign-up sheets alone aren't going to cut it in '06. Republicans saw this on a large scale for the first time at the highly configurable and interactive Bush Cheney '04 website. But as with most blogs and the campaign itself, was a top-down pyramid structure. "Community moderated" websites are a bottom-up structure, in the middle of the sphere rather than the top of the pyramid (see Stirling Newbury).

An existing example of what I am talking about is the home page of the Senate District 42 Republicans. It is run by the local BPOU, not the state party. It isn't too interactive, but it is a sort of front door to the district, making it easy for both activists and casual sympathizers to connect with the party at the BPOU level. You can contact the party and contribute money at the site. If they just added some of the community-style interactive bits, they would have a better online point-of-contact to cultivate an increasingly wired, young, and active party base, right where Rep. Paulsen and Sen. Hann, Gov. Pawlenty and the rest of the Republican ticket will need them next year to go on lit drops, walk in parades and neighborhoods, and get out the vote.

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