October 27, 2003
On being a top blogger
Halley Suitt has brought up an issue that's come up in the past: is there gender bias in the blog world? Says she:
This week as we looked into the Perseus Study, which David Weinberger linked to in his excellent post "When Blogs Get Really Popular" to find out that "56% of hosted blogs" are created by women.
Connect that with Dana Blankenhorn's interesting post on Corante called Everybody Wants To Rule The World and his assessment that the most striking thing one might notice when reading Blogstreet's 100 Most Influential Blogs is how many are about politics ... call me crazy, but isn't the MOST STRIKING THING rather that in a new technology dominated by women so few women are in the list? This would be like reading a list of the Most Influential Civil Rights Leaders and not having any African Americans in the top 100. Imagine a list that read "Lyndon Johnson, Bob Dylan, Robert Kennedy, Joan Baez," and on and on. Martin Luther who?
Halley undercounted the number of female-written or -cowritten blogs (she guessed three; it's more like 20) in the Top 100 list, a point that was noted later on
. She goes on to ask a great question:
Which, of course, gets us to the definition of "influential" and Blogstreet's algorithm for determining who is influential. They say it is based on who blogrolls whom. I will email them today to ask about this in greater detail. If you look at some of the most influential blogger's blogrolls, they all have women listed. Many have the same women listed -- so how is it that none of these women are on the Top 100 list? Women like Shelley Powers, Virginia Postrel, Mena Trott, GnomeGirl Cheyenne, Jeneane Sessum, Elaine Kalily, Asparagirl, Esther Dyson, Karlin Lillington, Elizabeth Spiers, Reverse Cowgirl, Denise Howell, Moxie, Betsy Devine, Xeni, Susan Mernit, Jennifer Balderama, Amy Wohl, Jenny (Shifted Library) Levine, Elizabeth Lane Lawley. I am throwing this list up in no particular order -- actually referring to the top 5 male blogger's blogrolls. [If I forgot you, remind me.]
It's clear that the top male bloggers are not denying women their blogroll inks, for the most part. It's clear that the top male bloggers take every chance to list women bloggers and engage the topics that they raise. These men are too smart not to take us seriously. We are their colleagues, friends, girlfriends, sisters, bosses, moms, daughters. They want the best for us. Guys, feel free to blogroll us anytime.
Still we are almost inviisble and I want to know why. What are we doing wrong? Are we not publishing our blogs in RSS? Are we not promoting ourselves enough? Are we not expressing ourselves clearly? Our footprint is illegible, although our actual influence is not inconsequential. If you take a look at the list of women above, there are a few pioneers listed who could actually be considered founding fathers ... whoops, I mean, founding mothers, no, ... well you get the idea.
As it happens, Ginger
does a swell job addressing these queries in the comments here
. I have a couple of additional thoughts.
First, as far as I can tell, being among the Top 100 Most Influential Blogs is like being one of the top prizewinners on the Professional Bowlers' Tour, without the money and glamour. It's a big deal to a very small audience, and meaningless to everyone else. For what it's worth, I get something like one or two referrals a month from that Top 100 list, according to my Sitemeter stats, so even within this small audience, it has little practical effect beyond a button on my sidebar and some egoboo.
Second, despite Ginger's skepticism about the "women blog personally and men blog politically" meme, all I can say is that counting expats and at least one blog that hasn't updated since February, there are 14 blogs among the 91 Texas political blogs that I know of which are at least co-written by women. Given Ginger's accurate observations about how Blogstreet compiles its list, if this ratio is representative (which of course it doesn't have to be), it goes a long way towards explaining the discrepancy.
Compare this, by the way, to the list of all Houston bloggers, a group that's overwhelmingly nonpolitical. Just click on a few at random - they're mostly written by women. For sure, turnout at the various get-togethers we have are usually majority female. I don't see a single blog in the Blogstreet list that's in the personal-diary style that most of the H-Town Blogs are.
I don't know what Blogstreet's algorithm is, and I don't know if being a "most influential" blog is something anyone should worry about. I do know that every time this issue comes up, a bunch of interesting and new-to-me blogs written by women get publicized here and there. That's reason enough to be happy to see it again.
(Link to Halley's post via Joanne McNeil.)
Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 27, 2003 to Blog stuff
I'm not a top anything, or even a representative anything, but I blog and I'm a girl, and I'm perfectly happy with the smallish civilized group that comes by. You only have to look at the reindeer games over at the TLB ecosystem or the thoroughly insane amount of blogrolling over on the right in general to pretty rapidly make the connection that indiscriminate linkchasing gets you indiscriminate links (and far worse, indiscriminate readers).
You know, thanks but no thanks. The links I do get, I very much appreciate as a great compliment. The ones I could get, I can spare.
One of the interesting things about all this to me, and it's something to which I alluded in my comments at Misbehaving, is that the leftward end of political blogdom has taken a share of the pie by concerted linkchasing and blogrolling of kindred spirits. Women bloggers could do this, but it would take a concerted effort on their parts, just as it took a concerted effort to get Atrios where he is.
On a more personal level, I agree with Julia. If I were a "top blogger", I'd have to deal with the sort of crap Atrios gets in his comments, which would only induce me to turn them off.
There's something seriously wrong with a list of "influential" blogs anyway if it ranks me ahead of Volokh, Welch, and Romenesko. If there's any weblog that has actual influence in the real world, it's Romenesko.
This will sound terrible, I know, but of the 20 bloggers Halley -- whom I've only vaguely ever heard of -- suggests I (I'm giving a personal datapoint) should consider "most influential," I've only heard of 8. It's difficult for me to consider that I'm "most influenced" by people I've never heard of. And of the 8, one doesn't do her own blog, but is a late contributor to a group blog (Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing, so she's simply not eligible to be on the list); one dsn't do what I consider a blog (Esther Dyson); one does a blog I don't find particularly interesting (Reverse Cowgirl)-sorry, just because it's about sex doesn't mean I find it an interesting blog); another does what strikes me more as a personal journal, not a blog (Moxie); and one does a blog for pay (Elizabeth Spiers), which, probably because although I have decades of history working in professional publishing, I tend to regard blogs as an unpaid personal thing, and so I don't really consider blogging for New York Magazine to be in the same category, either.
Virginia Postrel, Asparagirl, and Betsy Devine have long been on my blogroll, which I do my best to keep as small as possible, not that I do very well at that.
More generically, the Perseus study is ludicrously irrelevant to the world of political and technical blogs, given its sweeping inclusiveness. For goodness sake', it includes the umpty tens of thousands of Journals on LiveJournal, not a single one of which I would call a "blog." (I distinguish between "blogs" which, in my definition, must include a certain amount of linking, and not just to other personal journals, and which are not primarily diary-style, focused about one's own life, journals; you're free to feel this is an overly-narrow definition and use another definition.)
66% of their "blogs" haven't been updated for two months. Those aren't real blogs, in my view, by definition -- a blog must be updated reasonably frequently, other than when on hiatus.
132,000 were abandoned. Should those be included as candidates for "most influential"?
52% were by people under 19. Should they be largely considered likely candidates for "most influential"?
I mean, really, using Perseus figures to then argue about Blogstreet (or Technorati, or Ecosystem) results is an insane idea. We're talking about, at best, a tiny subset of the Perseus universe when considering the "influential" measures, and more meaningful, basically two separate universes. One could as meaningfully complain that there are few or no LiveJournals on those lists. Well, that would be because, you no, there are few or no "influential" LiveJournals that influence blogs on those lists. We're simply talking about reflecting reality there.
If one wishes to discuss possible sexism in the blogging universe, one needs to use a different metric than Perseus figures, which are utterly irrelevant.
I have 166 entries on my blogroll right now, although at least a dozen aren't blogs, and another odd dozen are group blogs. Of actual individual blogs, there are approximately 30 blogs by women and 80 blogs by men. Does that reflect some sexism on my part? Quite possibly.
On the flip side, there *are* some things that women tend to like more then men and men tend to like more than women. Emphasis on the word "tend." That some of that might show up in context of blogrolls would be a plausible hypothesis. Is that sexist? Arguably. But what definition of "sexist" are we using here? I'm just wondering.
As a separate datapoint, I'm currently getting about 30 or so hits a day from being #37 on that Blogstreet list.
Crap, trying to correct typos in this message, I find that characters are simply over-writing each other, not inserting. So this post is a mess. Sorry about that, but I'm not going to duck out and rewrite this from scratch.
Thinking about this more: Halley declares that reading the "Blogstreet's 100 Most Influential Blogs" list is "...like reading a list of the Most Influential Civil Rights Leaders and not having any African Americans in the top 100."
This seems like a remarkably inapplicable analogy. The Civil Rights Movement was primarily about gaining political, social, and economic rights for the "black" minority in the US. So, indeed, it would be strange to see a list of "most influential Civil Rights leaders" that only had a smattering of "black" people.
Blogging, on the other hand, is not primarily about gaining political, social, and economic rights for women. Or about doing anything for women. It's not even a movement for anything.
It's a medium, not a message.
So I really don't see the analogy.
I strongly suspect, on the other hand, that if one did a measure of the "most influential LiveJournals," the top 100 would be -- big surprise here -- LiveJournals. And while it might not be the case, I wouldn't be surprised if the majority turned out to be by people under 25, and I wouldn't be surprised if the majority turned out to be female.
If it, hypothetically, turned out to be the case that 75% of that Top 100 LiveJournals t out to be under 25, and 60% turned out to be female, would that, I wonder, be cause for pondering the agist and sexist nature of LiveJournaling?
Final datapoint: different clusters of people have different primary interests. I strongly suspect, though I may be wrong, that Halley might find my blog totally uninteresting, or possibly worse. I just took my first look at her blog, and it looks like she's doing a fine job of doing what she wants to do. And I imagine she's extremely popular with a whole bunch of people.
But the reason I suspect she'd find my blog of little interest is that, my superficial glance suggests, I find, well, I hope this isn't too impolite, and I certainly don't want to offend her, but, well, she's not talking much about stuff that interests me. Which is fine. There's no reason -- in fact, it would be a horrible world if -- we all had the same interests. Let a hundred flowers bloom.
But I'm not likely to link to Halley because I don't find her blog interesting. So she's not going to get my "vote" for "most influential." Ditto that I've never heard of the overwhelming majority of the blogs on her blogroll, just as she was unfamiliar with many of the blogs on the Blogstreet list, whereas contrarily, I'm familiar with almost everyone on that list.
Is that all reflective of sexism? Again, arguably. But it's definitely reflective of interest-clustering. That may be sexist, but I'm not convinced it's sinister.