November 29, 2003

Cites & Insights December 2003, and blog audience math

Walt Crawford's library 'zine "Cites & Insights" has had the December 2003 edition available for a few days now. It's excellent reading as always.

The meatiest civil-libertarian material is in the portion concerning "Hysterical Librarians, Attorneys General and Section 215", which collects some great critiques.

I'm quoted in the Feedback section, "on a Variety of Topics", including Open Censorware vs. Child Pornography Sites and the math of six degrees of separation.

Further on math, the discussion of the mathematics of blogs caught my eye:

The most interesting part of [the Perseus blog survey] is the conclusion, "Nanoaudiences are the logical outcome of continued growth in blogs." The mathematics are tough to challenge, but they state an "average" in a field where averages are wholly meaningless. If we get to the point where 100 million people regularly read blogs, and each of them reads 50 blogs (an awfully high number), and if there are 20 million active webloggers, then the average audience per weblog will be 250 people. So?

So, as I'm quoted (later in Cites, not the survey) blogs won't "revolutionize politics, overthrow journalism as we know it, or change the world into cyber-utopia.". Almost all people won't reach much of an audience.

The key is realizing that, mathematically, this ficticious mean average gives an upper bound for the actual median average. That's how it's meaningful. In a world of perfect equality, everyone would have 250 readers. Now any skewness means some people are going to have more, and some people less.

And so a blog-peasant with 25 readers is going to be effectively powerless against a blog-royal with 25,000 readers (much less big media with 250,000 readers).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on November 29, 2003 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Thanks for the comments.

I should have introduced the median-vs-mean distinction; I wasn't that organized. I do understand the difference. In my work life as well as coping with media hype, I spend significant time dealing with inherently irrelevant statistical claims.

I do wonder about effective power, though. Reaching the *right* 25 readers may be worth as much as reaching 25,000 miscellaneous readers.

Bringing it back home, I write a monthly column that lands in 64,000+ librarian mailboxes in snazzy print form, another monthly column that lands in 12,000+ "econtent industry" mailboxes in snazzy print form, and my own zine, which seems to reach 1,400 or so (plus passalong readership). Which has more impact?

I'm almost certain that the zine has more impact than the 12,000-"reader" column. I'm not sure about the widely-distributed column. I am sure that it gives me a voice which, *in my own field*, is significant enough to make me nervous about my often-imprecise unedited prose.

And, heck, I get written about in Infothought. That's worth quite a bit right there.

Posted by: Walt Crawford at December 1, 2003 03:55 PM