Mapping the Diversity of the Blogosphere: A Bloggasm Case Study

Premise: After reading a Newsweek article that discussed the lack of diversity in the blogosphere, I instantly became fascinated with the discussion of how the semi-anonymous blogosphere’s diversity compares to the diversity of traditional media. When talking about this Newsweek article, several bloggers pointed out that in many cases, you don’t know the race or gender of a blogger, which theoretically means that there is a somewhat-even playing field based on quality of content alone. But I was surprised that not much was done to actually chart the diversity of the blogosphere to create a frame of reference for these diversity dicussions to take place. So I set out to not only map the diversity of the blogosphere as a whole, but to also map diversity within individual niches.

Methods of experimentation: I emailed 1,000 (of which 302 responded) different bloggers with a 4-question survey that enabled me to statistically chart the diversity of both gender and race within each niche. The 4 questions were:

1. What niche does your blog fall into (Examples: Political, gadget, movie, etc…If more than one, please list)?

2. What are the genders of all the bloggers who write for your site?

3. What are the races for all the bloggers who write for your site (if there are any that you’re not sure about, just indicate that you don’t know)?

4. What do you think of the diversity of the blogosphere, both in your niche and as a whole?

I sent these surveys out over a period of several weeks and waited for them to accumulate in my inbox. After I had a representative sample from each niche, I tallied the results and then added them up.

Results: Obviously, defining race is a tricky subject, and every time someone tries to pin down a racial category, someone else can easily come up with a scenario in which this category doesn’t work. So I try to be as broad as possible in my racial categories, with the realization that no matter how hard I try, there will still be criticism as to how the races were labeled.

The Blogosphere as a whole: These are the results if you add all the niches together:

Male: 69%
Female: 31%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 73%
Black/African: 9%
Asian: 10%
Middle Eastern/Arab: 1%
Latino/Hispanic: 6%
Native American: 1%

Comics Blogs:

Male: 71%
Female: 29%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 85%
Black/African: 4%
Asian: 7%
Latino/Hispanic: 4%

Sex Blogs:

Male: 36%
Female: 64%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 100%

Gadget/Technology Blogs:

Male: 67%
Female: 33%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 29%
Asian: 43%
Latino/Hispanic: 28%

Gay/Homosexual Blogs:

Male: 94%
Female: 6%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 88%
Black/African: 6%
Asian: 6%

Movie/Film/Television Blogs:

Male: 81%
Female: 19%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 68%
Black/African: 8%
Asian: 12%
Latino/Hispanic: 12%

Sports Blogs:

Male: 86%
Female: 14%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 68%
Black/African: 5%
Asian: 27%

Law/Legal Blogs:

Male: 74%
Female: 26%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 94%
Latino/Hispanic: 6%

Music Blogs:

Male: 71%
Female: 29%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 80%
Black/African: 20%

Speculative Fiction (Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror) Blogs:

Male: 72%
Female: 28%
***
Caucasian: 89%
Black/African: 2%
Asian: 9%

Gossip/Fashion Blogs:

Male: 29%
Female: 71%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 48%
Black/African: 30%
Asian: 9%
Latino/Hispanic: 9%
Native American: 4%

Liberal Political Blogs:

Male: 67%
Female: 33%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 84%
Black/African: 5%
Asian: 8%
Native American: 3%

Conservative Political Blogs:

Male: 79%
Female: 21%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 87%
Black/African: 4%
Asian: 2%
Middle Eastern/Arab: 2%
Latino/Hispanic: 3%
Native American: 2%

Regional/City/Location-oriented Blogs:

Male: 57%
Female: 43%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 86%
Asian: 14%

Military Blogs:

Male: 76%
Female: 24%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 100%

Feminist Blogs:

Male: 14%
Female: 86%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 50%
Black/African: 38%
Latino/Hispanic: 12%

Food Blogs:

Male: 24%
Female: 76%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 94%
Asian: 6%

Literary/Book Blogs:

Male: 65%
Female: 35%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 76%
Black/African: 6%
Middle Eastern/Arab: 12%
Latino/Hispanic: 6%

Poker Blogs:

Male: 86%
Female: 14%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 88%
Latino/Hispanic: 12%

Wine Blogs:

Male: 66%
Female: 34%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 100%

Science Blogs:

Male: 71%
Female: 29%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 88%
Black/African: 6%
Asian: 6%

Automotive/Car/Truck/Motorcycle Blogs:

Males: 90%
Females: 10%
***
White/Caucasian/European: 78%
Asian: 11%
Lation/Hispanic: 11%

Interesting Observations:

1. Many of the bloggers felt inclined to include their religion for the race question. For instance, there were a lot of Jewish bloggers, and in the US they would be considered a minority group. Perhaps I should have been more broad in my survey and asked which ethnic group a blogger belonged to.

2. There were a few bloggers who grew defensive about the race question. They would answer “American” or that they were part of “The Human Race.” One blogger posted my survey on his blog where it was ridiculed by several readers for exactly this reason.

3. Several bloggers noted that they didn’t really know much about the diversity of their niche because they couldn’t see the faces of most of the bloggers (excluding ones who include pics).

Conclusions:

1. You can compare the demographics of the blogosphere to the demographics of the US through the 2000 US Census (PDF). Please note however that a couple of the blogs included in my survey aren’t written by US citizens.

For gender:

Male: 49.1%
Female: 50.9%

For race (please note that the Census places Hispanics as Caucasian):

White: 75.1%
Black or African American: 12.3%
American Indian and Alaska Native: 0.9%
Asian: 3.6%

2. You can compare the demographics of computer owners who have access to internet to my results through this Census report (PDF). As you can see, there seems to be a correlation between those who have access to internet and those who have blogs. The chart shows that a higher percentage of Asians have access to internet than blacks, and this could be why more Asians blog despite the fact that they make up a smaller US percentage than blacks.

3. The only niches where females outnumbered males were Sex Blogs, Gossip/Fashion Blogs, Feminist Blogs, and Food Blogs.

4. White males make up the largest group within the blogosphere as a whole.

Flaws in the experiment: Oh, there are many. To list:

1. This was not a scientific poll, and should not be regarded as such. It gives a veryrough idea about blogosphere diversity. It really all came down to who actually responded to the survey. In order for there to be a more accurate picture of the blogosphere, more studies by professional pollsters would have to be conducted.

2. As always with my Bloggasm Case Studies, I would have liked to have a larger sample.

3. This really only maps the diversity of niche bloggers. It doesn’t take into account the millions of livejournal, xanga, and myspace blogs out there. If I were to survey people who just keep a blog for personal journals, then the results might have turned out differently.

4. There are probably several more. I’d like people to write in with their criticisms of this study so that I can have a follow-up post in a few days that will publish some of the things you have to say. Please be civil in your emails. Remember that I didn’t do this study to personally offend anyone. You can send these emails to simon.bloggasm@gmail.com

The Blogosphere Speaks out: For my fourth question, I asked what the bloggers thought about diversity within their niche and in the blogosphere as a whole. Here’s a small sample of the responses I got:

1. John Scalzi: I assume the diversity of the blog world maps to the diversity of college-educated adults, since in my experience (and leaving aside MySpace and Facebook for the moment), college-educated adults are the people most likely to blog. Whether this is sufficient diversity is up to other people to argue about. I will say that given the current low barrier of entry to blogging (i.e., all you need is an internet connection), there’s no reason the blogosphere couldn’t be profoundly diverse.

2.Jeff Soyer:While most of the high profile bloggers are white males, it doesn’t take long to discover that there are huge quantities of bloggers of every interest, race, gender, religion, and political persuasion. There are whole groups of black bloggers, gay bloggers, tons of women bloggers. There are bloggers about every niche subject under the sun. The other day I wrote a short post about switching browsers, from Safari to Firefox. A blog dedicated to news about Macs gave a link and sent 400 readers my way! There are bloggers for pets, cooking, sci-fi, local state politics, travel, there was even one from a research scientist in Antarctica posting pictures every few days. There are homeless bloggers using the computers in libraries or cafes.

These days, almost everyone has access to a computer and with so many sites willing to host blogs for free, anyone can get their opinions onto the web. I consider the blogosphere to be the most democratic of institutions in that anyone can have a blog and — since most blogs accept comments — anyone can respond to blog posts. This is where Main Stream Media can never hope to compete because they have limited “letters to the editor” space as well as censoring rights. Needless to say, TV news opinions almost always go unanswered, too — except via the blogosphere.

3.Chuck Dupree: I’m starting from the viewpoint that everything I know about the web—and I’ve been using the internet since 1979; I was building SGML processing software in 1980—relates either to the US or to cyberspace in general. When we talk about how ‘representative the blogosphere is, that’s a relative term. I can only compare to what I know.

My other starting point is that I basically don’t give a crap about the non-political blogosphere. My guess is that no matter how you define the word, most of the blogosphere is not about politics and the related civic, social, religious, and literary issues I care about. Probably most definitions of “blogosphere” would assign a miniscule proportion to the political. I’m happy that people are finding this new communication medium useful for non-political purposes; but I don’t care about sewing or CB radio or teenage angst or other peoples’ videos of themselves, so I don’t visit those parts of the ‘sphere and I thus have little to no idea what they’re like. I’m only talking about the part I inhabit.

In that context, it seems to me that the blogosphere’s diversity leaves a lot to be desired.

The blogosphere is certainly more diverse with respect to political opinion than the mainstream media. In fact I’d claim that we represent the range of opinion in the US fairly well. I have no way to measure how representative bloggers outside the US are of their neighbors.

I think the blogosphere has made significant strides with respect to gender diversity in the last year or so. There are a lot more well-known female bloggers than there were when I started, which is obviously a fine thing. I think there are some male bloggers who did their bit by linking to and promoting the better blogs from women. But mostly I think that there aren’t as many female nerds as male nerds, and it wasn’t until people began to think of the internet as communication rather than computing that women got turned on by the possibilities. Now that everyone realizes it’s about communication, women have begun to take their rightful place in the medium.

As far as racial diversity goes, one of the cool things about the web is that you generally don’t know what race, religion, or gender your commentors and correspondents are. You take them on their ideas and their words. But to judge from the data one sees in the news, we need to do more to make sure that the worst off, who in the US are disproportionally black and Hispanic, have easy access to the internet. A society full of literate people is a better society for all except the top couple of percent. Our society is not currently set up to encourage movement up the economic ladder, but in my opinion it will either become more encouraging of such movement or it will face gradually increasing civil revolt.

In a society that allows people to move from the lower class to the middle, education is key; and for upcoming generations, understanding computers will be part of what it means to be literate. Thus we must make familiarity with the internet easy to gain for everyone. It’s possible that the Negroponte laptop will allow significant strides in this area. In any case it’s a worthy attempt, and if it fails we should try to figure out why and make an improved model. The goal is vital.

4. Pinko Feminist Hellcat: I think the blogosphere as a whole and feminist blogs in particular are pretty diverse. However, (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) people still tend to link to and give credence to folks who ‘look’ like them. So, for example, you’ll see White feminists shutting down and shutting out women of color like Nubian, Shannon, and Brownfemipower. There is a lot of defensiveness about discussions about race, class, ablility, or sexuality. People tend to feel threatened when we’re called out on something, and a lot of us have the mistaken view that because we’re leftists or feminists or whatever, that we’re above all of that.

5. Greasy Guide: I think diversity for the blogosphere is good. But for the urban bloggers or bloggers who focus on Hip-Hop and Black Lifestyles it’s hard for us to make real money. While there are communities out there like Gawker…there is no organization which unites urban bloggers together and helps them make money or get access to items for stories. So while it’s good to see a huge number of sites that are diverse, we are not making the money that the mainstream blogs are.

6. Edward Champion: I think the literary blogosphere is a little different from other niches. There are a lot of women out there who blog. Laila Lalami and Tayari Jones are two bloggers (also accomplished writers in their own right) who often bring interesting cultural perspectives into their blogs, and I read them both every day.

The blogosphere as a whole, however, seems the province of mostly white males — particularly on the politics and technology side.

7. ADD: The blogosphere, and especially the comics blogosphere, seems diverse to me, but I seek out as many opinions and angles as I can in my quest for a better understanding of the artform of comics. While owning a computer and an internet connection are, I suppose, barriers to complete freedom to blog, once you’re online the only determining factor to getting your voice consistently heard is what you have to say, and how well you say it. I don’t personally care what race, gender or sexual orientation you are — if you have something to teach me, I am willing to listen. I’d like to think quality writing is the great equalizer: My favourite comics blogger of all time is gay, but it seems ridiculous to even say that. He’s just my favourite comics blogger of all time, and I’m glad he’s back.

8. Golden State of Mind (Atma Brother #1): Right now the hoops and more generally sports media is primarily dominated by white middle-aged men (the Bay Area being a welcome exception). The hoops blogosphere affords new opportunities for people that have been excluded from having a voice to share their unique perspectives. NBA blogs in particular are growing at a rapid pace and with that growth a diverse array of fresh ideas and thoughts from both people of color and women have emerged. Traditional hoops coverage better watch out! In a year or two the hoops blogosphere and subculture is really going to explode.

As for the blogosphere as a whole- there’s more flavors than Baskin Robbins could ever feature! The diversity and niche interests represented are impressive. You have to do a little work to find them, but there are blogs for anything you can imagine that connect to people at a very personal level. Are you a South Asian American who loves Bay Area hip hop, sports, and nerdy gadgets? There are exactly zero TV shows for you, but there’s tons of blogs just for you. Just poke around.

Current media giants have been incredibly slow to respect and fully understand diversity, mostly because they are often times so detached from the people they want to reach. Blogs on the other hand (not counting the fake corporate ones) are inherently community-based and are created for the people by the people.

9. Secret Simon: I can only speculate, but on the whole, blogging can be anything from a glorified personals ad to an introspective essay on the state of the universe and all shades in between. But since most have facets of reader interaction, even ones that are anonymously penned, blogs become a giant social network and include at least a diverse readership, if not participation.

Something I’ve observed in niches is that they tend to link each other sometimes exclusively, for instance, the gay bloggers tend to communicate and comment and read other gay bloggers, the art bloggers seek out other art blogs, mommy bloggers keep to their inner circle of fellow moms. Because of the shared interest and what they are comfortable with it’s hard to find an overlapping diversity because you run into the same people over and over. It’s there but doesn’t spread easily. People fall into their niche, just as they would seek out a social group, often times filling a void if that social group is physically unavailable.

It is pretty basic though, that people who read and write blogs must have access to the technology, and while that is pretty easy worldwide now, there is a section of Earth’s population that will always have no idea what a “blog” is. As such it tends to fall to the countries or communities with the personal computers and internet connection.

If I may add I’m more accustomed to seeking out personal, journal style blogs and rarely read bigger ones that are collective. Also while I am sure there are those whose intentions are less than honorable and one must be careful, I have not had any negative experience in the blogosphere with the those I have interacted with.

10. Cork and Demon: The blogosphere seems quite diverse to me, both in niche interests and gender/race. I have seen and read blogs by people of Asian, African, Middle Eastern and European decent, although I don’t recall having read one written by or about those of Hispanic descent. I see lots of blogs written by women, men, teenagers and younger kids.

As for the niche of food and wine, I see plenty of women writing food related blogs, particularly sharing recipes and at-home food experiences, many of whom have a particular subject, such as desserts, or even more specific, such as cupcakes. Women also review restaurants, offer tips on making beverages and wine pairings, and discuss the foodie culture.

The niche of wine talk is dominated by caucasian men, as far as I can see, with a range in age of about 25-60. There are a few women, including myself, but I have never felt that I am dismissed because of my gender in any way. I just think that the wineblogging community reflects the wine interest niche as a whole, and women have typically shyed away from it.

11. Green LA Girl: I have to agree with Gregory Dicum, who says many big green bloggers are highly educated males. So I do wish we had both more women and more people of color blogging on sustainability. Or more accurately, there ARE lots of women and people of color blogging about these issues, but their blogs tend not to be very popular as they tend to be more personal blogs from people who don’t already have a big name due to their affiliation with work or with an enviro org.

I guess I’m saying that the high percentage of white males heading up various big enviro orgs and businesses tends to translate into a high percentage of while males heading up big enviro blogs. This is hardly a situation that’s unique to the environmental movement, of course, but one that we environmentalists could keep working to address. On the upside, these highly educated male enviro bloggers I mentioned tend to be dudes that care deeply about environmental and social justice, so I’m optimistic that they too are concerned about issues of diversity.

12. Manhattan Offender: The honest answer is that I am so within my own niche that I don’t have a real awareness of other bloggers outside of the “gay” or “humor” genres. And while there may be diversity within those niches, for the most part, those I have encountered have been white, college educated people. Even within that niche I sort of stand out as having come from a blue-collar background and age-wise, I’m an “older” blogger.

I’ve tried to transcend the niche to a degree. Mine is one of the few sites of “GWM” bloggers that links to sites written in Spanish, Portuguese, and even Turkish. While it seems that many bloggers are out to find people of “like-mind”, I think I have enough of that in the “real” world. My experience with blogging has been to search out sites that have diverse viewpoints in politics and other perspectives. (The exception is religion. Religion is for suckers.)

There were predictions written years ago that as the diversity of available media increased, there would be an equivalent increase in partisanship or “niche-ism”. While these predictions have come true in the infant and toddler years of the internet, it would be my guess that readers will eventually grow bored of reading the same viewpoints within their niche. In time, we will part of the tools available for those reaching out for a diversity of viewpoints in order to formulate opinions of their own.

13. Freya’s House of Dreams: Diversity? As in the cultural or racial differences or overall diversity of race, class, gender, quality of perspective?

The first one would be hard to answer. It’s the internet, people can say they’re anything they want to be. So while someone might say they were an Asian woman but be an old white guy living in his mom’s basement in Philly. It seems that there are more white bloggers of middle class out there but I can’t say for sure. I’d wager it was true given the way class works in American culture (I don’t see a whole lot of blogs from other countries but that may be because I can’t read in other languages).

Who has computers? Who has enough spare time to blog? Single mothers working two jobs to pay the rent don’t have the time. Guys on swing shift trying to make the mortgage and keep the family eating and with health insurance don’t have the time. The blogsphere has a great scarcity of perspectives from blue collar/working class people.

As for the second issue – IMO this is also colored by the relative ease with which people can masquerade as just about anyone online. However, I don’t see a whole lot of blue collar sex blogs, nor do I see many sex blogs I’d consider to offer truly good writing or interesting perspectives. In that sense, most sex blogs are at best boring and homogenous and at worst, awful drek.

14. Sexoteric: Well, there’s both a lot of variety and a lot of duplication. There’s a lot of sex blogs that aren’t much more than spam. And there are many blogs that liberally borrow content from each other, mine included. Most interesting are probably the people who write candidly about their actual experiences. Much good stuff there, of high quality. The best are for some reason usually women, with a few exceptions. Overall, I think there’s a lot of diversity in the blogosphere.

… But, wait, you’re thinking about diversity as in male/female, black/white, aren’t you? Not diversity of content? I personally think that’s a very U.S. – centric way of looking at it. You know, diversity being that the ratio of bloggers who are African-American should be the same as in the general population, etc. I don’t particularly buy that, and personally think that’s a bit of a racist/sexist attitude, to try to force particular ratios. Some kind of collective guilt thing from Amerca’s relatively recent past as a slave-holding nation.

There is no lack of bloggers who’re in minorities, and I think blogging provides excellent opportunities for any groups that otherwise might find it difficult to have a voice. An excellent equalizer.

15. Ben Peek: I think in my particular niche, there are too many writers, and not enough readers. It seems to be that these days if you’re a struggling author you go out and grab yourself a blog to help with your writing ‘career’, whatever such a thing is. Granted, it’s exactly how I began in 2001, but I did it simply because I couldn’t be bothered to create a dead web space site. I wanted something fluid.

Also, the bloggers are very white. This is especially the case of the Australian speculative fiction scene, which is, of course, largely white. The age range begins in the early twenties and goes out somewhere in the early to mid forties, from what I can tell. I can only think of one blogger over the age of fifty in the Australian speculative fiction scene.

So, I think the diversity could stand to be amped up a bit in the niches I find myself part of, but it’s not exactly like you can force a blog into the hands of someone just to change that. Over all, however, I do find the blogsphere to be a fairly diverse and interesting place.

16. Terra Sigillata: I am quite pleased with the diversity in my part of the blogosphere, especially at ScienceBlogs.com. Diversity of class or stature: we have a great mix of people across the scientific career spectrum, with basic scientists and physicians, as well as graduate students and fellows. Diversity of gender: we are almost 50/50 men and women, and the women are among the most reflective and constructive of the writers, raising the most critical questions and encouraging debate. Diversity of race: we could do better. We have a few brown-skinned folks, Bangledeshi, and “general” African-American, a few Asian-Americans (including one Canadian). I think that we could use some women of color and Hispanic-Americans of either sex.

In general, outside of ScienceBlogs.com, I am pleased to see so many feminist bloggers and female scientists, especially since one of my real-life career interests is increasing the number of women in science and medicine. Outside of blogging, medicine has done particularly well, although we have yet to see women significantly breaking into the upper eschelon of academic medicine administration (Donna Shalala as president of the Univ of Miami, notwithstanding). I was also tickled to see this year’s Lasker Award winners include two visionaries for their work on telomerase, Elizabeth Blackburn and her former student and now Hopkins professor, Carol Greider. The blogosphere clearly reflects this trend toward women helping women, even if it is not always present in academic science and medicine. I also see many mid-career men like me who blog are learning more about the real problems facing women in science and medicine that we may not necessarily hear in our daily academic lives. My hope is that the community that has developed in the blogosphere will come back and renew the sense of community and mentoring that seems to have been lost in the highly competitive real-world academic environment.

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