Category Archives: blogging

APC: How Electronic Media is Affecting the Political Campaigns

Last Thursday I made the intrepid journey to downtown Atlanta to attend my first Atlanta Press Club event: How Electronic Media is Affecting the Political Campigns. The podcast is available here.

The four panelists were:

  • Tom Baxter – Southern Political Report
  • John Helton – Cnn.com
  • Shelby Highsmith – Shelbinator.com
  • James Williams – Griftdrift

I thought the panel was a pretty good balance between big media and the new media blogger types. On one hand you had Cnn.com, which recorded 97 million page views on super Tuesday, and on the other you have some fairly small blogs which get perhaps dozens of page views a day (at most).

There were some interesting comments which I thought were relevant to some of the work I do:

  • CNN had to hire another layer of staff to check comments on its site; this is the same way that comments are handled on NYTimes.com and seems to be the defacto way of making sure people are clean and play fair.
  • Political campaigns muster blogger power to 1) get their message out and 2) pounce on the other guys if they have an inaccuracy. This has the weird effect of making something that (I think) we still perceive as authentic, the Blogosphere, and makes it actually much more of a manipulated, top-down “forum.”
  • Each blogger is only responsible for 1 little information niche; this is what can make them valuable.

This left me with a few questions for further thought:

  • How could you computationally determine authenticity?
    • Detect similar words? Structure? See if bloggers are just reposting what the campaign is feeding them?
  • If something gets corrected once on one blog, how could those corrections be syndicated out to wherever else that content is replicated online?

Profile of Bloggers

This is old news but I recently read the survey report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project entitled, “Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers.” The report describes a phone survey of bloggers in the US, which was done in the 2005-2006 time-frame. Here are some take aways that I thought were interesting:

  • 8% of internet users are also bloggers [In 2006 terms this was about 12 million American adults]; 39% or 57 million Americans are blog readers
  • 37% of bloggers cite “my life and experiences” as the primary topic, only 11% cited politics and government, 5% blog about general news and current events
  • 34% of bloggers consider their blog a form of journalism;
    • 56% of bloggers spend extra time verifying facts they want to include in a post either “sometimes” or “often.” 57% include links to original source material
    • 38% post corrections
    • [Many bloggers take time to consider the information quality of their posts (though they wouldn’t call it that)]
  • Bloggers are major consumers of online news (95%) and political news (72%) and 45% prefer sources without a particular political viewpoint, 24% prefer political news from sources that challenge their viewpoint, and 18% choose sources that share their political viewpoint
  • 55% of bloggers report that they often or sometimes post because of something they heard or read in the news media [A lot of blogging is an echo chamber of what happens in the mainstream media]
  • 59% of bloggers only spend 1-2 hours a week on their blog, 25% spend 3-9 hours a week
  • 15% of bloggers post video

Comment Press – Paragraph level comments

Comment Press is a WordPress plugin that allows for paragraph level commenting of texts and pages on the blog. Produced by the Institute for the Future of the Book, Comment Press is meant to facilitate collaboration around longer, more complex texts which require a finer degree of granularity in annotation and commenting.

The interface for comment press is fairly straightforward, the primary text runs along the left and the comment box along the right. The comment box tracks up and down as the page is scrolled. Small icons are associated with each paragraph of the main text and allow someone to click and apply a comment to just that paragraph; or an ueber icon allows the user to comment on the text as a whole. While this is quite an interesting improvement, I wonder why the paragraph was chosen as the optimal unit of commenting. Sure, it’s a good trade-off because paragraphs aren’t usually too long, but still, how would this look if people could really get down to the sentence or even the phrase or word level? To support the broadest range of texts and behaviors it seems like the user should be able to select an arbitrary length of text and then apply a comment at whatever level of granularity makes most sense. This of course greatly increases the complexity of the interface needed to display and browse what could become quite a messy set of annotations.