The Independent (Conservative) Blogosphere, Facebook, and Twitter

John Hawkins of Right Wing News wrote about The Slow, Painful Death of the Independent Conservative Blogosphere. He points out that, “in American politics, the energy tends to be with the party that’s out of power.” That means:

…when Barack Obama got into power, you’d have expected that traffic on the Right side of the blogosphere would have surged just as it did on the Left side of the blogosphere in the early Bush years.

That didn’t happen.

Hawkins has five explanations which I’ll condense from the longer discussions in the full post:

  1. The right has more avenues for people to get involved with, such as talk radio and the Tea Parties. (He apparently is putting aside the common view on the right that people on the left are all getting involved with dangerous organizations such as ACORN, the New Black Panthers, and NPR.)
  2. Social networking has taken off and people are spending more time on Facebook and Twitter. I’ll discuss this point more later.
  3. The market has become more mature, and people are more likely to read the big blogs such as Michelle Malkin or Instapundit as opposed to a small brand new blog.
  4. The market has become more professional, making it harder for someone who is not known to compete with names like Ann Coulter or the big blogs with large staffs.
  5. Bloggers are poor at marketing, and eventually have difficulty putting in long hours for a project which they are not likely to make money off of.

Other than the first, which claims that structural differences on the right are responsible, each of these other arguments are more general statements about the difficulties of a small, independent blog, regardless of ideology. If the right is withering more than the left, it must be for other reasons–perhaps such as the weakness of their viewpoints. If conservative bloggers are getting depressed by all of this, I will point out that a good Republican primary battle followed by a general election will do wonders to increase blog readership.

The argument based upon social networks is partially true, but also misses an important point. My interest is in using the internet to promote pro-freedom liberal values to counter the authoritarian right, and to promote reason over the anti-science view of the right. This does not have to be limited to blogs, and social networking has become a useful tool.

Facebook has pretty much killed off the discussion section here, but does it matter? There is often more discussion of blog posts when posted on Facebook than there was here on the blog. Facebook adds many additional readers. Less people might come directly to the blog, but there are many new readers who read the posts directly on Facebook. Sharing of the posts provides links which attract additional readers. Twitter also provides a number of comments, as well as additional links to the posts.

If the goal is to compete with the bigger blogs or to make lots of money, small independent bloggers will be disappointed. Small bloggers can still get their views out before a significant number of people–and effectively utilizing social networks will help to increase this number.

Initial Impression of Google+

Google+ is the hot new social networking site, with Google probably hoping to do to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace.  In design, Google+ looks a lot like Facebook. It does have some good features such as the ability to edit a post and easily decide on a post-by- post basis whether people can share it or comment on it.

In some ways Google+ is more like Twitter (without the 140 character  limit) than like  Facebook.  A user follows who ever they want, but the person does not need to follow back in the way that friending people on Facebook must be a mutual proposition.  This is like Twitter, where people you follow may or may not follow back.  There is a notification that someone has started to follow you on Google+ (or in their lingo, added you to one of their circles).

The circles are a key feature of Google+. You can have circles for certain groups of people, making it suitable to limit material to certain groups of friends, you can post things to the world, or you can exercise other controls over who can see what you post. Facebook can also do this, but the controls are not buried on Google+ as they are on Facebook.  On the other hand, a lot of people like mixing up personal posts with political comments on Facebook and assigning posts to specific circles on Google+ might make the site less interesting.

A key difference between Google+ and Facebook is that Google is more realistic and flexible in how the site will be used. Facebook is set up for people who actually know each other in the real world as opposed to more public posting and discussions. They continue to ignore the fact that many use Facebook for more public discussions. Facebook has a 5000 friend limit, and even has messages suggesting people are doing something wrong by friending someone they don’t really know. Google+ doesn’t expect people to move to a fan page if they want to have  a larger number of people following like on Facebook.

Google doesn’t seem to care how you use Google+. Perhaps after seeing so few people adopt Buzz, they just want people to use it any way  they want to. They are open to what is essentially public tweets without the 140 character limit, while also being able to handle closed discussions among friends.

Facebook has lists which can serve the function of circles to some degree. I use them when on a pc to choose between a newsfeed with more public comments versus reading personal items from people I actually know. Unfortunately none of the Droid apps can handle reading a list (short of using the browser to go to the full site). I’m currently using Friendcaster,  a third party Droid app for Facebook, which allows users to limit posts to a specific list. It still can’t handle limiting the newsfeed to specific lists. The iPhone app does allow reading of lists, so I am hoping the Droid version adds this. I haven’t tried the mobile version of Google+ yet, but from what I’ve heard I’d be shocked if it doesn’t include the benefits of circles.

That said, despite what I like about how Google+ is set up, I wonder if it can compete with Facebook. I already have well over 4000 Facebook friends, so a post over there will generally get responses, while only a few people are following me  so far on Google+. Many people I know in the real world are on Facebook and we use it for more private functions along with my public posting, but I don’t think any of them are on Google+. If I want to find someone I know on line, at the moment the best shot of finding them is via Facebook. Perhaps people will migrate to Google+ over time, but I bet that Facebook will adopt many of the advantages of Google+ before they let that happen.

If anyone wants to get onto Google+ and needs an invitation, let me know. Setting up a Google+ account is pretty easy, especially if you already have a gmail account. There was one thing about the set-up which I found curious. Why does Go0gle have users type in all that persona information when it can easily populate the  fields with the information Google already has on us? I’m not saying that Google knows too much about us all, but today they sent me gmail alerting me that the loaf of bread on our counter is starting to get stale and that the flowers on the front porch could use a little more water. (Ok, not everything in the last paragraph is completely true).