Monday, June 23, 2008

The State of Maryland Blogdom, Part One

Like many MPW readers, I am a heavy consumer of blogs. Yes, I am addicted to information in general. It’s difficult for me to go an entire day without checking the Post, the Sun, the New York Times and several other mainstream media (MSM) sources at least once each. But blogs (at least the good ones) offer something of value beyond the MSM: a fresh take blending fact and opinion from informed, involved observers – and sometimes players – in the scene they cover. Over the last two years, blogs have become an important but largely intangible part of the Maryland political scene. In this five-part series, I present my best shot at measuring the reach of Maryland’s blogs for the first time.

Now there are many, many blogs in Maryland and everywhere else in the world. They range across every interest imaginable: music, art, food, travel, sports, professional issues, medical issues, and on and on. Our focus in this series will be on blogs that relate to Maryland politics. (Hence our name!)

We exclude from our focus “blogs” that are essentially extensions of corporate media outlets. Maryland Moment, a “blog” that often carries short versions of Washington Post stories, is one example. PolitickerMD is another, as we exposed last year. So are the countless other “blogs” run by the Post, the Sun and other MSM sources. While these sites contain useful information often provided by capable professionals, they are for-profit sites controlled by editors and operated for the benefit of corporate entities. That makes them news sites but not truly independent blogs.

Regular readers know that I am a stickler for measurement and that is the biggest challenge for evaluating blogs. How many people read them? Who reads them? How much influence do they have? These are very difficult questions to answer.

Bloggers, and website operators in general, can use a variety of tools to measure traffic on their sites. Most of them identify IP addresses that connect to the site and access its pages. These tools can then aggregate the visit and page view data and report it back to the blog owner. Some blog owners make the aggregate information public while others do not.

The most common traffic measurement tool used by Maryland bloggers is Sitemeter. Sitemeter describes its measures on its website:

Sitemeter tracks page views and visits. You may also have heard the term “hits.” When someone comes to your site, they generate a “hit” for every piece of content that is sent to their computer. Viewing a single web site page would generate one hit for the page and one hit for every individual graphics file that was on the page. A single page could easily generate a dozen or more hits. When you are browsing a site, every time you follow a link, it is treated as a single “page view.” Sitemeter defines a “visit” as a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes in between page views.
The definitions of both “visits” and “page views” leave a lot to be desired. Visits are not unique; one user accessing the blog in the morning and the evening would be counted twice. And page views are a better measure of use intensity than the number of users. But the virtue of examining statistics from Sitemeter is that it applies the same imperfect standard to every site it measures. Blog-to-blog comparisons can be made and trends can be determined over time. This is a far more transparent standard than that applied by BlogNetNews, which declines to release its criteria for selecting the “highest influence” blogs on the grounds that they are “proprietary.” Imperfect though it may be, data from Sitemeter may be the best available option for measuring and comparing the state’s blogs.

We collected data from Sitemeter or a comparable service for 25 Maryland blogs related directly or indirectly to state or local politics over the last year. In Part Two, we will begin reporting our results.

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