I used to study the political blogosphere. My first three research papers were on the blogosophere. First I put together a ranked tracking system for comparing elite political blogs. Then I designed a typology of “blogspace” that separated individual blogs from community blogs, and institutionally-based blogs from personal blogs. Then I researched the role of community blogs like DailyKos in driving turning Republican political gaffes into substantial political mobilization.
Then I became convinced that there isn’t any such thing as the blogosphere anymore. Blogging is just a format for typing things and putting them online. In the early days of blogging (1999-2006ish), the subset of Internet-writers that used this format was small and relatively well networked. It made sense to talk about “the blogosphere,” because there were identifiable clusters of people using this digital tool, and they had distinct goals, priorities, and values.
But as blogging proved useful, it was adopted by more people, and adapted to a wider set of aims. Talking about “bloggers versus journalists” stopped making much sense once the New York Times and Washington Post started hosting blogs on their sites. Talking Points Memo used to be the blog of just-some-guy named Joshua Micah Marshall. Then he developed a business model and started hiring journalists. Then his site won the Polk Award for investigative journalism.
And then, of course, we started getting alternate digital formats that better supported some of the purposes that blogs used to be aimed at. Atrios (Duncan Black) and Instapundit (Glenn Reynolds) were two early influential bloggers who both stylistically chose to writes 20 or so brief posts per day. They were usually a sentence or two, with a link to something interesting. Today, most bloggers write longer posts. A couple sentences plus a link has become a tweet.
Andrew Chadwick calls this rapid dissolution of media genres “hybridity.” One of the major points he makes in The Hybrid Media System is that our newer, hybrid media system encourages nimble organizations that experiment with a wide assortment of tools and technologies.
The latest reminder of this trend comes from DailyKos. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Markos Moulitsas’s post from earlier this month, on traffic surges at the site. Here’s a key point:
Email action list. We’re no longer just a website, or a mobile site. Our email action list has grown so large, it’s now one of the largest in the (non-campaign) progressive movement. As of the end of August, the list is 1.6 million strong, which means it has literally doubled in size every year for the last
threefour years. That list gives us the ability to create massive pressure when necessary. For example, check out this report from the Sunlight Foundation on the 800,000 public comments the FCC received on its Net Neutrality plan. Of those comments that Sunlight could directly source to their sponsorship organization, fully 10 percent of them came from Daily Kos, making us the fourth largest source of pro-Net-Neutrality energy (behind CREDO, Battle for the Net, and EFF).
DailyKos.com has 1.6 million members on its email list. Those members receive daily updates on breaking stories and popular diaries at DailyKos. They also receive calls-to-action, urging them to participate in online activism. I’ve heard that DailyKos is building a field program as well, with a goal of supporting offline organizing.
There’s still blogging at DailyKos. There will always be blogging at DailyKos. And there’s still a community of diarists who use DailyKos to publish thoughts, opinions, comments, and reportage. But it no longer makes sense to talk about DailyKos as a part of “the blogosphere.” The blogosphere is a concept from ten years ago that seems to have already gone past its expiration date. DailyKos has succeeded because it has morphed from a community blog into a more complex digitally-mediated political organization.
Just when we researchers get comfortable talking about a digital phenomenon, the phenomenon itself morphs and changes into something new.