fistResearching this article has been a nightmare. The data is suspect and contradictory. There are dozens of explanations for the anomolies, some of them quite absurd. Last fall there was a huge discussion of this issue. But I thought the subject was interesting and I needed something less grim than yesterday’s topic, so here we are. If you want to read what transpired in last year’s exchange (perhaps more heat than light), or how it’s recently started up again, here are the key links:

  • Dawn Olsen and Meryl Yourish get the debate started (Sep./02)
  • Ginger Stampley‘s large collection of links to follow-ups to the above posts, including posts by Brigitte Eaton (EatonWeb), Shelley Powers (Burningbird), Liz Lawley (Mommabear), Ampersand (Alas a Blog), Jeanne d’Arc (Body & Soul) and a few male interlopers (Sep.-Oct./02)
  • Lisa Guernsey (a Salon blogger who wrote about this in the NYT) (Nov./02)
  • Large comment thread on the above NYT article on Blogroots including some interesting comments from Rebecca Blood (Nov.-Dec./02)
  • Halley Suitt — her new post laments and questions why fewer than 10 of the 100 most blogrolled blogs are written by women (Oct./03)
  • Dave Weinberger publicizes Halley’s post, leading to a rash of comments, including a comment and a followup post from our own Rayne (Oct./03)
  •, a wonderful all-women blog about technology, adds more reader comments (Oct./03)

The now-notorious Perseus blog survey produces some data:

  • more than half of all blog authors are women, and they persevere longer and write more
  • probably fewer than one million of the more than four million blogs that have been started are still active (another million only lasted one day),
  • the number of blogs started doubles every year (ten million will be started next year),
  • fewer then one in ten active blogs is updated more than once a week (and fewer than one in twenty is updated daily),
  • the median age of bloggers is eighteen (“the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life”).

While some of these data are questionable (Radio, Moveable Type and TypePad blogs were not included), it would still seem likely that women do produce more than half the content of the blogosphere, but make up no more than 15% of blogrolls. So is the blogosphere sexist, and if so, how and why?

Just a note on methodology: BlogStreet’s Top 100 Most Influential list (the one that has stirred up the latest controversy) is computed formulaically by adding up the total number of ‘inbound blogs’ (blogs that have the target blog on their blogroll) and then weighting each ‘inbound blog’ by the number of ‘inbound blogs’ to it. So if an A-lister blogrolls you that counts for much more in the rankings than being blogrolled by an ‘unknown’. This recursive process reinforces the strength of large cliques and, I would submit, distorts the results. But if you look at the simpler unweighted ‘Top 100’ list, which still uses ‘inbound blogs’ as its measure but weights them all equally, the number of women on the list isn’t significantly higher.

Here’s my take on all this:

  1. While there are many notable exceptions, blogs authored by men are much more likely to be about politics (especially conservative politics), or about technology, and to be narrowly focused (a few easily categorizable subjects). There are many netizens whose interest is narrow and focused on politics or technology, and these people are therefore more likely to blogroll a small number of blogs authored mostly by men.
  2. Although again there are many exceptions, men tend to blog more about external events (rather than personal ones). External events, being in the public domain, are more likely to be Googled, which means that Googlers are more likely to find (and presumably then blogroll) male bloggers than female ones.
  3. Shirky’s Law says the race is to the quick — the first person blogging on a particular subject is likely to dominate that ‘space’ and if it turns out to be a hot subject, get blogrolled by a lot of people. There is evidence that men tend to get on bandwagons sooner than women — men were the first to set up blogs that were exclusively focused on Dean, Clark, SARS, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, for example, and late-comers to these causes (presumably half of them women) are, per Mr. Shirky, unlikely to ever catch up in popularity to the first ‘guy’ on board.
  4. People tend to remove blogs from blogrolls more reluctantly and slowly than they add them. Therefore, there may be many ‘inbound links’ that were added on impulse because they covered a hot topic, and are now stale, no longer used, but which still count on Technorati and BlogStreet Top 100 popularity rankings. To show what this may entail, consider that women make up 38% of the top 50 Salon Blogs when ranked by number of monthly visitors, but only 26% of the top 50 when ranked by number of inbound blogs.
  5. I just went through my own blogroll and found that 65% of the Salon blogs and 70% of the non-Salon blogs on it are by men. But I know for a fact that I tend to hit the women’s blogs on my blogroll more often than the men’s, mainly because I find them more consistently well-written and (due in part to their variety, imagination, and personal stories) more interesting. Again, there are notable exceptions. And you know what? About a third of the blogs on my blogroll were brought to my attention or recommended to me by someone other than their owner. Two thirds of these ‘third-party recommended’ blogs are authored by men. I can’t say for sure, but I would estimate that at least half of the recommendations came from women.
  6. Some blogs are on my blogroll because their owners were aggressive in telling me about their blogs. They tend to be about 60% male-authored. I’m sure the only thing that would surprise you about this is that the percentage isn’t higher than that. Guys just tend to be more full of themselves.
  7. Men seem to find reading stuff by other men more interesting. Women tend to read more than men, but seem to find writing by both genders equally interesting. I base this on an unscientific straw poll of everyone I observed during my last three airplane trips. It showed 40% of women but only 20% of men had books on board, and the authors of the books read by women were about half male, while the authors of the books read by men were all male. Add to that the fact that, of the 200 bloggers on the Blogging Ecosystem with blogrolls over 100 blogs long, about 60% were authored by men, i.e. men have on average longer blogrolls.

And finally, once the power curve is established, and male-dominated, it is, as it is in all other spheres, including business, politics, and journalism, self-perpetuating. To break into the A-list you usually need to get noticed and linked to by an A-lister. Guess which gender is more likely to benefit from that? To that extent, the blogosphere becomes unconsciously sexist. But it isn’t to begin with — it’s the seven phenomena above that set the stage.

Most importantly, we need better measures of blog popularity and quality, measures that better identify great new bloggers (and great one-off posts) by some electronic analogue of ‘word-of-mouth’. If you can come up with such measures, I guarantee that the people at Technorati and BlogStreet would love to produce the data. And I think many bloggers of both sexes would use them. With time at a premium, the blogosphere would quickly embrace mechanisms that would help us find great writing and bloggers of like minds in ways less serendipitous, and less subject to the vagaries of Shirky’s Law, than the ones we must rely on now.

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  1. Susan says:

    The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that my inbound links on technorati have fallen as my weekly server stats, including # of “bookmarks” and referrals from other web sites, have gone up to record levels. So I think the “inbound links” in technorati, et al, is a dubious measure. Most of my readers probably don’t even know what a blog is, and I think that is probably true for some of the other female-owned Salon blogs as well.

  2. Rayne says:

    How do RSS feeds affect blogrolling (asks the woman still buzzing from taking OTC cold medications)…?

  3. Leo Gomez says:

    Blogrolls as a measure of anything are BS. I never look at all the mutual linkfests going on along the side of any blog. It’s a meaningless indicator of cronyism. What matters is whether the person is making a substantial or interesting contribution to a topic. Like you do Dave.

  4. Jon Husband says:

    I wonder…if…as some of us believe that blogging (or at least the process and dynamics, whether it’s called blogging or something else) will become much more widespread, work it’s way into the workplace and organizational communications…it’s arc of evolution will follow the same path as the penetration and spread of women into law, medicine, journalism, music, and business – particularly amongst younger women, who (I believe) may be starting to dominate some of these areas pre-assimilation into the work force and “real” adult life.I wonder if it’s part of the same (good news) trend?

  5. Stentor says:

    I’m a little skeptical about how important #2 is. About half of my hits come from Google, often on searches for things that have little to do with what I write about (a phenomenon I think is more common to blogs, since a single page will wind up with information about a bunch of different topics). Yet nearly all the blogroll links I’ve gotten have another explanation — generally they’re someone I read (and thus would notice me in comments and their referrer logs).

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Susan: Good point. Not only are ‘non-bloggers’ not counted in these stats, those who subscribe via RSS aren’t counted either. You’ve almost convinced me to give up on my monthly Salon Blog popularity list. If only there was a better measure…Rayne: RSS feeds basically free you from having to keep a blogroll for your own purposes, though lots of people keep them going because readers want to see where the author is getting his/her inspiration. As RSS feeds gain in popularity (I read somewhere that fewer than one in twenty bloggers use them right now), I would guess that blogrolls might disappear entirely (or at least off the front page)Leo: Yes, but how do we measure that, so that we don’t have to read all 4 million blogs to determine for ourselves which ones are worth reading?Jon: My fear is the opposite — that males will coopt business blogs as one more means to compete and try to one-up women in the workplace, and another tool to keep exclusive ‘old boy’ networks alive.Stentor: You’re right, I doubt Google is a very high-quality source of new readers. But unless you’re an A-lister it’s hard to say, or know, who of your regular readers (including the anonymous and blogless ones) stumbled onto you initially via Google. Just listen to the outcry when there’s any suggestion that Google is favouring their subsidiary, Blogger/BlogSpot, over other blog tools in their rankings.

  7. Indigo Ocean says:

    I don’t mind having a small readership. I think my writing is good and I like my blog so I do let people whose blogs I like know about me and ask them to link to me. But when I was getting a lot of random visitors (from being a readers’ favorite on the weblog review, for example) I also got a lot of annoying juvenile comments and more spam. I prefer to have people find me through the slow and personal process of reading the blogrolls of like-minded individuals who link to me. That is also how I find new blogs. If I was a purely political writer, or purely focused on any external issue, I might feel differently. But as I mix the personal with the political I prefer a more intimate “setting.” And my ego doesn’t need to break the top 100.Of course, I’m not addressing the general issue of creating opportunities for women who want to be in the 100, and believe they write better than some of the blogs that are there. As to that, I think they just need to organize, per blogsisters, misbehaving, red kitchen etc. I always say that when you can’t find something you need, assume others are looking for it too – build it and they will come.

  8. I do not have a weblog yet. I have found over the past year of reading weblogs and making the occaisional comment that this is an incrediblely open free speach medium.Even alternative press and mags do not have the kind of content, and especially the variety of viewpoints, as weblogs.Then there is the excitement of finding new weblogs from reading posts and following links to the various posters weblogs.Where else can someone follow the cutting edge in global discussions ?

  9. judith says:

    hard to believe i have only been blogging since july 1 of this year… in july i had 5000 hits to my site, august 25000, september 50000, all word of mouth, or google, or my own campaign to introduce myself to folks in my blogging domain… i am not on the radar of any of the vanity blogging services, but then, i like not getting spammed in my comment and trackback fields… and i love sharing ideas with those who think in the domains i hold dear… one thing that i do use to find folks who are ‘talking’ about things that i am posting on is the waypath plugin… [ ] a nifty little plugin with 13 arguments that you can tweak and tune to reduce static and zero in on weblogs you might not find otherwise… thanks again dave for continuing to create these stimulating discourses… cheers…

  10. Doug Alder says:

    Leo you’re wrong – most blogrolls are of great value. Yes some people try and get as many links as possible anbd those aren’t of much use, but in my experience the vast majority of bloggers link only to people they find interesting. That alone makes the blogroll valuable to others because it means if you find one blog that you like you chances of finding another that you will like goes up significantly.

  11. Indigo Ocean says:

    I use the same way Judith uses Waypath. Works well if I know what subject I want to read about, but still doesn’t insure quality, just relevancy and recency.

  12. Nui says:

    Dave, I like the way you don’t take data or statistics for granted, nor are you shy to look for new alternatives. I find statistics totally frustrating for the way that they have distorted our views of the world. And because in university, I had to re-take the course 3 times before I passed the subject, there was no way I could have avoided it because it was a required subject. But I remember vividly the quote (by some ancient philosopher -sorry don’t remember whom) that was in the introduction of the textbook, that statistics were “lies, lies, and damned lies”.

  13. alyssa says:

    i fear that i am going to become one of those women who writes about her cat all day long. i hope that my new blog will start leaning in a funkier directions, because right now it’s all about me, me, me, and abortion rights.

  14. Stentor says:

    La NuiT: Perhaps you’re thinking of the quote attributed to Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

  15. Nui says:

    Stentor, thanks for putting it right. What a bad memory I have! ; )

  16. Dave Pollard says:

    Nui: Wait til you see my comments tomorrow on the latest economic statistics :-(Alyssa: You’ve only been blogging three days — and you’re off to a good start — so don’t be so hard on yourself. I like your ‘voice’ — spare, brutally honest, and quite funny — you’re a natural for this medium.

  17. Owen says:

    Being a male who blogs consistently on personal matters, rarely follows topical discussions on other blogs, seldom if never write about technical or political stuff and frequently includes forays into fiction, I guess I don’t fit the blogmold.thrive!,O

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