December 20, 2004

The Hyperbole of the Left

John Ray wonders why "Leftist blogs seem to have far more hits and far more commenters than conservative blogs do":

Kos, for instance, gets around 400,000 hits per day compared to Instapundit's 200,000. I think the main reason is an obvious one: Leftist beliefs need a lot more propping up than do conservative ones. A conservative finds his views -- such as the belief that you have to be careful whom you will trust -- confirmed all around him every day, whereas a Leftist finds that his views -- such as the belief that no-one (except "Rednecks") is really evil -- constantly contradicted by events. So the Leftist needs all the help he can get to generate a distorted and selective view of reality that will keep him going. So he is far more active in seeking out supportive sites than conservatives generally are. And Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore have made a bundle out of catering to that need for confirmation of Leftist beliefs too, of course. The fragility of Leftist beliefs is also attested to by how abusive they become when questioned and the Stalinist way they do their best to keep all conservative thinking out of their university enclaves. Reality has to be kept at a distance by hook or by crook.

I suspect a different explanation. The distribution of blog readership is a Power Law Distribution. The most popular blogs get a disproportionate amount of traffic, not linearly but hyperbolically. This makes intuitive sense. There are about 5 million blogs out there, according to Technorati. Let's say that the average person checks 10 blogs a day. Now let's say that he checks 2 blogs from the top 100, and 8 from the next 4,999,900. The average for the top 100 is 1/50, while the average for the rest is about 1/500,000 - meaning that the top 100 get 1,000 times the traffic as the bottom 4,999,900. This kind of relationship holds whether you take the top 10, top 100, top 1000, etc. (I suspect that my numbers underestimate the concentration at the top, in any case, they are meant only to illustrate why the Power Law Distribution makes sense. I don't know the real statistics.)

What John's statistics say to me is that the distribution of readership among leftist blogs is even more hyperbolic than among conservative blogs. This too makes intuitive sense. Leftists are more likely to follow the leader, rather than think for themselves. Conservatives are more individualistic and thus diverse in their tastes. As John says, reality is everywhere, constantly poking holes in leftist beliefs. But that doesn't mean that reality is easy to understand. One who seeks the truth will naturally range far and wide.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at December 20, 2004 10:57 PM
Comments & Trackbacks

I don't know why lefty blogs generate more comments in general (your hypothesis is as good as any) but I do think that enabling comments has a distorting effect on site traffic. If Kos gets 400,000 hits per day, is that unique visitors, or does it include commentators who check back frequently to see what responses their comments have prompted and to write their own responses? A couple thousand angry lefties determined to have the last word could drive that 400,000 hit count all by itself. On the other hand, Glenn doesn't enable comments, so his repeat traffic (how many times one reader hits his site each day) may be lower, so his stats aren't inflated as much by repeat visits.

Posted by: Tom at December 21, 2004 05:44 PM Permalink

I agree that how the statistics are compiled reflects on their validity for comparison. Kos has repeatedly given pointers to readers on how to cheat on web surveys and the like.

Some blogs are utilized as "web portals", or jumping off points. A visit to a blog may last only a few seconds while searching through the blogroll for the real destination.

Posted by: Rene at December 21, 2004 06:33 PM Permalink

Tom: You are right. Comparisons cannot be made between blogs with comments and blogs without.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at December 21, 2004 07:06 PM Permalink

Here are a few of my random observations:

Lefty blogs outside of a handful just aren't that good. Many use poorly thought out arguments, grammar and can't stand dissenting opinion. It is my opinion that many liberals commentators who can put pen to paper [so to speak] have jobs in the news/opinion industry already. They get hired by every [yes, including Fox] news channel and newspaper in America. Why do something for free, when they already do it for a paycheck? Quick, name any news anchor or editorialist that worked for a Republican administration….

In the vein of “Leftists are more likely to follow the leader, rather than think for themselves.”, I think they go to Kos, DU, MoveOn, DeLong, Moore, etc. to see what they should be thinking today. An intellectual pacifier if you will. I’ve seen it with a couple of employees where I work. They’re intelligent about other things, but with politics, they can’t think for themselves and usually parrot one of the sites I listed above. When I know that I have to work with them, I review those sites and have my arguments ready the night before. It greatly infuriates them.

My last point in this long diatribe is that half the visitors to Kos are conservative [my estimate, no basis in fact at all]. Conservatives tend to be curious about the issues and with the dearth of conservative media outlets, we have to track things down ourselves. It’s also nice to know what the opposition is thinking and how they get to their conclusions… Sometimes they have a valid argument, but usually it just makes it easier to rebut them.

Posted by: Doug Halsted at December 21, 2004 07:29 PM Permalink

Good point, Doug, about the high numbers of non-leftists who may cruise Kos and other lefty blogs for reasons of surveillance.

Istapundit is not really comparable in content or complexion to Kos/DU/etc. Instapundit is an information outlet geared to a broad array of tastes. Reynolds encourages readers to think for themselves and make up their own minds. Kos/DU/etc are merely circle jerks for the true believers. Pit stops to top off on hate levels.

Posted by: Rene at December 21, 2004 07:41 PM Permalink

I think to support your assertion, you'd have to analyze the different patterns of blog use--and that's not as easily measured.

Posted by: Chap at December 21, 2004 11:48 PM Permalink

Doug,

I think some of your comments also apply to Right blogs: e.g.,

"... outside of a handful just aren't that good. Many use poorly thought out arguments, grammar and can't stand dissenting opinion ...

"[Visitors go] to see what they should be thinking today."

"Surveillance" (as Rene paraphrased your last point) goes both ways, and often is really just looking for quotes to mock. There are, I bet, a lot of Leftists who visit LGF purely to find racist comments.

BTW, I probably am on your side. I think the best Right blogs blow away the top Left ones I've seen. But the majority of blogs, regardless of ideology or leaning (I say "leaning" because because many bloggers have no coherent ideologies), are pretty weak.

Too many blogs to me seem to be memetic transmission machines: they are efficient at spreading ideas, but it's not that interesting to see hand-me-down memes recycled for the umpteenth time.

I look for blogs with original, personal, and intellectual material (e.g., this one - where else am I going to find explanations of Judaism with the original Hebrew?) that can't be found elsewhere.

Posted by: Amritas at December 22, 2004 02:16 AM Permalink

An added datapoint: Internet savvy conservatives tend to be older, and have responsibilities that are inherently more contrained when it comes to leisure time flexibility ...which constraint usually equates to having much less time on their hands to cruise - or revisit - blogs, let alone practice the sport of "comment riposte-ing" (pun intended ...I'm currently unemployed, so I'm not a good example). My purely anecdotal generalization is that similar Internet savvy liberals tend to be younger, with MUCH more disposable time.

Too, youth tends to be an age where peer conformity is a HIGHLY "prized" behavioural attribute (in the West, at least ...hell, it might be Darwinian, now I think on't), and if in general "youth=online-liberal" is a reasonable enough truism, then they'd tend to "flock" to "popular" sites like Kos (regardless of the quality of the writing). Like, well, lemmings.

...to paraphrase an old saw "...there's no accounting popularity" (de gustibus non est disputandum).

Posted by: brandon davis at December 22, 2004 08:29 AM Permalink

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