In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 people. When Scottish artist Momus used that phrase back in 1991, he might have had the blogosphere in mind. But even if he didn't, a new report on American bloggers released last Wednesday by the Pew Internet and American Life shows that he was right on the money.
The study indicates that the average American blogger is not a member of the so-called "pajamahudin" who furiously post a dozen or more comments a day expressing a particular political viewpoint. Instead, most bloggers are people who just want to share their everyday experiences with a relatively small group of family and friends, and perhaps a visitor or two who might surf by and find their writing enjoyable – an "audience of the willing," as head Pew researcher Amanda Lenhart describes it.
In other words, as one pundit put it, the average blogger is a 14-year-old girl writing about her cat.
The study, which has an error margin of ±7 percent, shows the blogosphere is pretty evenly split along gender lines: 54 percent male and 46 percent female. Roughly 12 million Americans (or 8 percent of Internet users) now write blogs, and about 57 million Americans (or 39 percent of Internet users) read them. The latter figure represents a significant jump from previous years, according to Ms. Leinhart, But what is most revealing about the report is why people blog.
Americans, it would seem, yearn to be creative, and blogging provides them with an outlet. Seventy-seven percent of the 233 bloggers who took part in the survey said they write a blog in order to have a place to express themselves creatively.
They are not, in fact, writing to attract a large following; 52 percent said they blog for themselves. Another 37 percent said they did it in order to keep up with family and friends. Most bloggers, 59 percent, said they only spend an hour or two a week on their blogs.
"Blogs are as individual as the people who keep them, but this survey shows that most bloggers are primarily interested in highlighting their creativity," says Lenhart, "and in sharing themselves with others."
Bloggers are young and tend to be more racially diverse than the general population. More than half are under age 30, and according to the report, African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities represent a greater percentage of the American blogosphere than they do in the general Internet population.
Bloggers are also information junkies. More than three-quarters of them have high-speed Internet connections. An amazing 95 percent of them said they get their news online. And 64 percent say they go online several times a day. Only about one-quarter of regular Internet users can make that last claim.
The results show that the image the media has created about bloggers is an erroneous one, says Nora Paul, director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota, which looks at ways stories can be told using online tools.
"One of the things this indicates is that few people want to be pundits or analysts," she says. "And, frankly, not that many people want to read the volumes of punditry ... out there. They just want to tell about themselves and share their personal experiences."
Ms. Paul views many blogs as an opportunity for media outlets looking to capitalize on this surge of creativity. "There are clearly people who have the time and inclination to write. The challenge for news organizations is to channel it and create an aggregation of comments that will be destination information for the community," she says.
So what about bloggers and journalism? The report offers a few more surprises. Only about one-third of those surveyed considered blogging to be journalism, but 56 percent say that they "often or sometimes" spend extra time verifying what they write in their posts. People do this because they care about being seen as accurate, Lenhart says. While she doesn't think they are "trying to be journalists," bloggers understand that using journalistic values will enhance their online credibility.
The latest step bloggers are starting to take involves more of the new tools available online. As a result, more and more of them are offering podcasts and even video.
So let me amend what was said about bloggers earlier. The blogger of the future will be a 14-year-old girl, writing and talking about, as well as showing home movies of, her cat.