Will the blogosphere become a Fifth Estate? :: Pew & BuzzMetrics

My sister Karen has become quite interested in the political blogosphere. She sent me this recent publication from Pew Internet & American Life Project in association with Buzzmetrics. Thanks, Karen.

It is an interesting question. Fifth estate? I wrote a post (which I’ve never published) asking if the blogosphere was more like Levittown.

My main two points are: (1) most of the blogosphere looks/sounds the same (CMS/style) and the niche groups sound the same/think the same (the echo effect), (2) CMS has made it so easy (like tract homes) for all these like minded niche audiences to find one another and have conversations. Think “communities” and “neighborhoods” – so, are the blogs “the hood” of the 21st century? (Yes, I have a very big grin on my face as I write that.) 😀

Once you do something unique – you’ll get them all buzzing. So, the key to success online seems to be – “Be unique” – if you really want to make the buzz start. The blogospheres seems to take care of the ‘buzz’ (echo) effect on its own, after you get your niche group’s attention.

The blogosphere: “Is it Levittown?” In some ways, yes.

Is it Levittown? Are blogs really reshaping Journalism through self-expression via social networks?

In the world of ‘new media’ – blogs and the WWW (more specifically CMS) – publishing and ‘citizen journalism’ are now as available to the pedestrian Internet user as a tract home was to returning WWII veterans. OK, more available. But, I hope you get my drift. The architecture of the net and the creation of numerous blogging platforms has enabled citizen voices (journalism or commentators) like nothing before.

Now, the work ethic and social philosophies aren’t the same as that era. But, the effect CMS has had on citizen publishing is quite the same. Affordable, more easily available than ever before –

But, still … don’t they all look/read/sound alike? Sure, there are the exceptions, but if you just take those that are left/right and compare them within their ‘label’ group, they really are echoing the views of the A-list bloggers. Then, there is the question of the Long Tail. “The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.” Take the lessons of the Long Tail and apply it to the political conversations online and you get similar results. Four words: Howard Dean for America.

Joe Trippi’s book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, we learn just what the internet/blogosphere can do for politics and business.

Joe Trippi’s “seven inviolable, irrefutable, ingenious things your business or institution or candidate can do in the age of the Internet that might keep you from getting your ass kicked but then again might not”:

1. Be first. There is very little about the internet that is proprietary. I could start an online bookstore tomorrow and do everything Amazon does. And you know what? Amazon would still beat me like a dirty rug. It’s about more than branding. The first car company to let people pick the colors, the first beer to let people design the label, the first candidate to embrace people on the Net – the first everything has a head start building a community. Go now. (Rule 1a: If you’re not going to be the first mover, you’d better be a hell of a lot better.)

2. Keep it moving. Do not be static. The internet is a liquid medium. It’s amazing how many companies spend $100 million on TV advertising while their $64,000-a-year “web division” consists of the CEO’s twenty-two-year-old Nintendo geek nephew updating the web site with a new press release once a month. Don’t let your website be wallpaper. Your internet presence should be an organic, flowing, daily dialogue with your customers, back and forth. If you aren’t regularly e-mailing customers, if you aren’t responding to their e-mails, if you don’t have a blog, if you’re not using your web site to engage the people around you . . . then you are wasting your time on the Net.

3. Use an authentic voice. The blogging expert Dave Winer calls it the essential element of web writing: “the unedited voice of a person.” We’re not morons. When we get an e-mail from the president of the company, we know it wasn’t really written by him. People would rather get a real e-mail from a real guy in the real mailroom than a phony one from the CEO (who we know is vacationing on his yacht anyway). Sacrifice some of the slickness of your web site for the real, sometimes messy quality of the best blogs. And no more autoresponses. Have real people write real stuff.

4. Tell the truth. The Internet has an inherent transparency. A strong Internet presence is a way to open the doors of the company. But if you invite people in, you’d better be prepared to have them look in the medicine cabinet. So don’t hide anything. Tell them what you want. Don’t manipulate. Put what you want up high. Put it on the first page of your web site, at the top of the e-mails.

5. Build a community. Create a commons, a town square, a place where people can come together to talk about their Ford Mustangs, or their Kodak cameras. If you are running the Kodak web site and you don’t have an online photo gallery for the people who buy your digital cameras, or an online photo contest . . . then you should give up now. Because someone else is going to do it. Get people involved! This is not top-down, one-to-many anymore. The Internet is side-to-side, up-and-down, many-to-many. Use it that way. It’s the dialogue, stupid.

6. Cede control. Once you invite the people in, they’re going to want to do more. I know this violates everything they taught you in school, but you have to let go of the old command-and-control style of business. Let the edges blur between customer and company. And remember: We are smarter than you are. If you let us choose the color of Mustang, you’d better be prepared to produce some squash-colored cars.

7. Believe again. The days of condescension toward customers and citizens are over. Have some faith in the American people again. Democracy is based on the principle that if we give the citizens control over their common future, they will choose the best path. The same is true of consumers.

There are those that believe blogs work much better for politics than business. I might agree with much of that. Hugh Hewitt and John Fund are two of them. Fund writes of Hewitt, “(He is) a law professor and radio talk-show host, (and) is as much an evangelist for the possibilities of New Media as Mr. Trippi is, but he believes that conservatives, libertarians and Christians are better positioned to take advantage of them. “If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat” is less a manifesto than a how-to guide for conservatives to become technology-savvy activists for their beliefs.” He may be right, but as for Hewitt’s “potestas democraticorum delenda est” (“The Democratic party must be utterly destroyed”), right now – both parties seem to be using the net to their advantage. And, Daily Kos may have a larger audience than any five conservative blogs – combined.

Here is some of what Pew/Buzzmetrics had to say. Read the PDF here.

Two Pew surveys conducted in early 2005 show that 16% of U.S. adults (32 million) are blog readers. After a 58% jump in readership in 2004, this number marks a leveling off within the survey’s margin of error. But the blogger audience now commands respect: it stands at 20% of the newspaper audience and 40% of the talk radio audience. Meanwhile, 6% of the entire U.S. adult population has created a blog. That’s 11 million people, or one out of every 17 American citizens.1 Technorati recorded the ten millionth blog in its worldwide tracking system this month.

and they ask the question:

Will the blogosphere become a Fifth Estate? That is one possible development. It would be a good thing if it meant institutionalizing the ethos of the current blogosphere. The national discourse could benefit from a sector favoring transparency over opacity, conversation over presentation, small pieces over big works, flexibility over anchorage, incompleteness over conclusiveness, documentation over description and, paradoxically, individuality over institutionalization. Not all bloggers and especially not all commenters on blogs adhere to these values, to be sure. But enough do at the present time to assure their dominance.

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