Readership of online journals known as Weblogs grew significantly in 2004, driven by increased awareness of them during the presidential campaign and other major news events, according to a study released Sunday.
Twenty-seven percent of online adults in the United States said in November they read Weblogs, or blogs, compared with 17 percent in a February survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Blogs that cover the tsunami disaster and relief efforts are bound to boost readership further, said Lee Rainie, the project’s director.
“The tsunami is one of those cataclysmic news moments where lots of people’s perceptions change,” Rainie said. “Awareness of blogs will grow dramatically. There’s so much attention to the coverage on blogs and Web sites and first-person video as primary news sources.”
In the past week, blogs have shared information on giving money and finding missing family members, and several posted first-person narratives and photos from the affected areas. The web of links that are fundamental to blogs made it possible to quickly disseminate information that otherwise would have remained obscure.
A magnet for political coverage
Earlier in the year, politics was what drove readers to blogs.
Democrat Howard Dean embraced blogs early, allowing supporters from around the country to organize and talk about the campaign informally, without needing to clear remarks with campaign headquarters. Many bloggers who supported his campaign provided links for readers to easily make campaign contributions over the Internet.
Even after Dean’s campaign fizzled, bloggers continued to play pundit, and a handful were credentialed and invited to cover the Democratic and Republican national conventions for the first time.
Time magazine even named its first Blog of the Year, crediting the Power Line blog created by three lawyers for challenging mainstream media and questioning the validity of documents behind a “60 Minutes” report on President Bush’s National Guard service. CBS News anchor Dan Rather later apologized for airing the report.
‘More people became aware’
“Blogs have been around for several years, but because of the coverage in the political campaign, a lot more people became aware of the idea of blogging and certainly went online to read blogs,” Rainie said.
Though blog readership jumped, the percentage of online Americans who write blogs grew only slightly — to 7 percent in November, up from 5 percent early in the year. Blog creators tend to be male, affluent, well-educated and young; 70 percent of them have high-speed connections at home, and 82 percent have been online at least six years.
Despite the attention to blogging, a large number of Americans remain clueless — only 38 percent of Internet users know what a blog is: online agglomerations of ideas, information and links, usually presented with the most recent postings on top, and often offering a mechanism for visitors to post comments.
Software tools developed in recent years have made blogs easier to create and maintain.
Newer technology, known as Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, make it easier to read blogs. RSS software regularly pulls headlines from news sites and Web journals and presents them within e-mail software, Web browsers or standalone programs known as readers. The Pew study found that 5 percent of online Americans use them. MSNBC.com currently offers RSS feeds from 17 of its top sections.
The survey, based on random telephone calls with 1,861 Internet users conducted Nov 4-30, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The RSS question was based on a smaller sample of 537 Internet users and has an error margin of 4 percentage points.