Popular press and weblogs

In the process of researching a paper for an upcoming conference at the end of the month I did some research on the coverage of weblogs in the popular press. I queried the LexisNexis database for references to "weblog," "web log," and "blog" resulting in 4051 magazine and newspaper articles from 1998 to the present. The first article, published in the Independent, February 18, 1998 isn’t actually a reference to weblogs as we know them, but rather another invention of the term:

Just how tricky the whole thing is is shown by the many drafts through which that note has already gone. Some of these drafts are available on the Internet, and for those of you unfortunate enough to be without a weblog* , I bring you today some of the first versions of that note to Saddam Hussein.

* Weblog. This is a new Internet word I have made up, which I hope will catch on. If it does, I will work out a meaning for it later.

The second reference is an article published in the Guardian, November 11, 1998, citing Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom:

Can computers model the human predicament? John Barger’s page sets out to tackle the idea of ‘robot wisdom’, taking in James Joyce, artificial intelligence and Internet issues along the way. The real gem is the weblog, a daily account of John’s travels around the web. Watch a highly observant and thoughtful surfer at work.

The story behind weblogs becomes more complete when they start receiving attention in mid-1999, with weblog exclusives by Jim McClellan of the Guardian (June 3, 1999) and Dan Gillmor (June 14, 1999). Both of these articles followed shortly after a piece by Scott Rosenberg in Salon (May 28, 1999), which unfortunately is not indexed by LexisNexis.

Weblog citations over time

The chart above shows the citation of weblogs over time along with the average number of times the term was used per article in that month. The data have been normalized so that they can be seen on the same plot; the maximum value for occurences of the term occured in October, 1999 at 31, and the maximum number of articles published in April 2004 at 296.

The exponential growth of attention to the topic is striking, although it appears in the last month to have taper off. Comparing this trend with the average number of uses of the term per article, it appears that the more frequently the concept is cited, the fewer times the word is used per article. The obvious interpretation is that the term is slowly becoming part of our vernacular, and when journalists write about weblogs today, much less context is necessary than in 1999. Also, the number of articles exclusively about weblogs is probably on the decline, while stories only tangentially related to weblogs are on the rise.

Another surprising characteristic of the media presentation of weblogs is the oversight of the most popular tools:

Weblog tool # of articles
Blogger 1913
MovableType 919
LiveJournal 181
DiaryLand 114
Xanga 31

While an extremely large contingent of weblog users rely on the last three tools in this list, all of the attention has been on MovableType and Blogger. Given that these tools are private communities, it could be simply that the press is not aware of how explosive their growth is.

If you’re interested in working with the data, I’m offering it up in zip (21 MB) and gzip (19MB) formats. I’ve stripped the HTML of unnecessary cruft, but it could still use being converted to XML.

8 thoughts on “Popular press and weblogs

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