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A top-heavy political blogosphere?

An interesting piece in the New Statesman this week on the state of left-of-centre political blogging in the UK. In the article, James Crabtree argues that while the right-of-centre bloggers have been most prominent so far, some left-of-centre sites are in the ascendency.

One thing that struck me in the article was a point about the role of a small number of leading right-of-centre blogs (Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale and ConservativeHome):

The right-wing blogs are, in truth, a top-heavy affair, with little strength below their big three. Labour’s new digirati will likely be broader and deeper, reflecting the greater political power and reach of the internet today relative to five years ago, when the Tory blogs began in earnest.

The ‘top-heavy’ nature seems to go against the accounts of the blogosphere as an ‘ecosystem’ or network of many activists. Instead, it suggests a small number of people are speaking to a mass audience. I would be interested to know if there are any recent studies on the UK blogosphere, which show the extent of its top-heavy nature?

I’m not sure I agree that the left-of-centre blogs will be any different. I suspect that there will still be a small number of sites that get the bulk of attention. In the competition for people’s attention, those sites that are best known are likely to act as a primary point of reference and receive most links (leading to a ‘rich get richer’ trend). What will be of interest is the relationship between the leading sites and other smaller scale speakers.

The other thing about James Crabtree’s article is his reference to the importance of money, from ‘Unions, left-wing charities and bruised Labour millionaires’ in getting sites set up. This seems to question the assumption that the internet provides a more egalitarian place for ‘cheap speech.’ While it may be cheaper than the traditional mass media, economic resources are still important.

A bigger issue in relation to equality on the internet was raised a few days ago in a New York Times op-ed. Given the power of search engines in determining who gets heard, Adam Raff calls for American regulators to look into a principle of ‘search neutrality,’ by which he means:

the principle that search engines should have no editorial policies other than that their results be comprehensive, impartial and based solely on relevance.

Some US scholars, such as Frank Pasquale, have looked into the possibility of regulating search engines to address the power held by Google and the other leading engines. Yet if Google is considered powerful in the US where it has a 70% share of the market, the issue is even more pressing in the UK, where Google has over a 90% share.

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  1. January 1, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    I don’t know about the UK, but generally, when this issue has been studied, when the size of the topic grows past a certain point, it consolidates into a few sites which dominate attention on the topic. This is often termed the “power law”. People who tell you differently are often marketers trying to con suckers with an appealing storyline that is fiction.

    See Matthew Hindman’s book, “The Myth Of Digital Democracy”

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