Pew has released a new survey of bloggers. The idea is to get a feel for who blogs. I worry a bit about the whole idea of a “central tendency” among bloggers, since I suspect that there are several central tendencies. I am reminded a bit of the Perseus claim a few years back that the average blogger was a 14-year old girl blogging about her cats. Luckily, this report provides us with a window on that diversity.
8% write blogs
Pew’s report, Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers, starts out by noting that while blog writers may skew young, they are demographically diverse. They update previous numbers, indicating that 8% of internet users in the US blog, and 39% (or about 57 million adults) read blogs.
Not surprising to many bloggers, I suspect, they found that the most popular topics in the long tail of blogging are individuals’ lives and experiences. This was the topic of 37% of blogs. (I suspect that it is also the topic of this blog!) This was followed by relatively small numbers who blogged about entertainment, sports, current events, business, technology religion, or health. They generally spend an hour or two on their blogs each week, and do not think of it as a central part of their lives.
They keep blogs largely for a variety of reasons, and I found this part of the report particularly interesting. A few things of note here:
* The most popular major reason for keeping a blog was creative expression and sharing a document of your life. Half of bloggers saw this as the major reason for blogging, and 78% were driven by personal experiences to blog.
* A large proportion saw blogging as a way to stay in touch with friends or family (37% major reason), or network and meet new people (34% minor reason).
* Only 15% thought of it as a way of making money.
* Of particular interest to some of the work I’m doing now, 34% saw “sharing practical knowledge or skills” as a major reason for blogging, and 30% found it a minor reason.
Interestingly, over-30 bloggers tend to have one-topic blogs, while younger bloggers are a bit of everything. When people ask me how to have a popular blog, I generally tell them to narrowly specialize. I wonder if this is a genre bias of us old folks. I mean, it may just be that wide-audience blogs need to be topically narrow, but it may also be that this is true mainly because of our assumptions about media.
One third of bloggers say they post for their audience, but most say they post for themselves. This particular question is a bit difficult, I suspect. There is a natural (defensive?) tendency to say “Oh, I just do this for me.” Sure, there is a balance there, but even though, for example, I do not blog primarily to drive an audience–if I did, I would stick to items that get the most hits/links, like building rafts, political rants, and the like–it is also true that I am blogging for you, my assumed audience, in some way. I think this is reflected by how many bloggers track their audience, and know who they are. (Despite more than half of the surveyed bloggers blogging pseudonymously, more than half knew that their families read their blogs, for example.)
Also, 9% say they have had their blogs mentioned by news media, a number the authors suggest is small, but I find to be impossibly large. The question they asked was
Skewed young, urban, non-white
54% of bloggers are under the age of 30, and are more likely than the average internet user to live in an urban area. We found that blogs, in terms of raw numbers, were far more likely to be in urban than suburban areas in the early 00s, but this survey suggests that the majority of bloggers, like the majority of internet users, tend to be in the suburbs. This might suggest a gradual hollowing out of blogging, though that might be too much to draw from such very different ways of measuring this.
They found, surprisingly, that the blogosphere is only 60% white, and evenly divided among men and women. This probably runs counter to the intuitions of many bloggers, who assume the blogosphere is a white man thing. (An intuition that is supported by Wei’s recent survey of blog commenters, and perhaps demonstrates the limitations of that study.) I suspect that this again is an issue of too much attention being paid to A-listers.
But wait, there’s more
I encourage you to read through the full report, and not just the executive summary (which is bound to be what gets spread around). There’s some great info in there about journalistic practices, blog tools (less than half have a blogroll, very few know if they even have an RSS feed), non-text posting (30% have posted audio!), and news-seeking.
There were some things I wished they had asked. For example: of all those bloggers getting their news from newspapers (the majority, surprising because of the youth of the group), how many actually read it on paper?