Last week, I attended a seminar at the Oxford Internet Institute presented by J. Ignacio Criado and entitled "Political Blogging in Campaign and Political Communication: Political Leadership 2.0?" (see my announcement and the event's abstract here). My impressions are mixed, particularly in relation to the relevance of the seminar and the methods and conclusions of the presenter. I'll touch on these methodological issues briefly, but the main point that I took home was this: campaign blogging is fundamentally different from everyday political blogging, and it doesn't truly fit into the broader blogosphere--at least not at this stage.
Criado (who is from Spain) decided to study political blogging by looking at the blogging activities of mayoral incumbents in 24 major Spanish cities in the month leading up to the May 2007 elections. He gave decent justifications for his who and when selection criteria, although, clearly it would be interesting to know more about the blogging activities of non-incumbent candidates and the blogging activity outside of this window. Of the 24 eligible races, a slight majority (13) of the incumbents had blogs, indicating that blogging certainly had caught on in Spanish politics, although he gives plenty of evidence that it is still in its infancy there (in only one of these cases, had the mayor been blogging for more than six months). Criado evaluated these blogs based on several metrics in order to get an idea of exactly how these candidates were using their blogs and how this activity differed from standard campaigning. I'll discuss a bit of his results here, and then I'll compare them to my impressions of the blogs of the 2008 American presidential candidates (particularly those of the Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama).
If you are interested in his full results, you can see the abstract here and the full paper here, but I'm just going to focus on a couple of results that are particularly relevant and interesting. Before I do this, though, I'll note that Criado did not compare these campaign blogs to other Spanish political blogs, something that would have been particularly informative, particularly looking at how these blogs hook into the broader blog network in terms of traffic and links. He also didn't look as much at the broader implications of his work as much as I think would have been appropriate. I also think the title should have used the phrase "campaign blogging" instead of "political blogging", since these are two quite different phenomena. Regardless, Criado's work is nice in that it sheds some quantitative light on some interesting issues in blogging.
Criado found that 38% of the blogs were hosted on their own site, 31% were hosted on a political party's site, and 31% were hosted on the site of a major media organization). The fact that a majority of the blogs were still located on the sites of larger organizations indicates that the blogging culture here is still in its infancy. Criado also found that 50.0% of posts included campaign-promises, 31.4% advertising, 22.9% reporting, 12.7% position-taking, and 0.0% included polling (the distinctions between some of these categories are quite hazy). Based on qualitatively observation, it seems that the American campaign blogs focus more attention to advertising and reporting, although these also rarely or never include polling (which is probably due to polling being already so entrenched in political culture and already carried out in an organized and professional manner).
Criado found that basic blogging mainstays, including blogrolls and linking to other blog posts in one's own posts, were not widely used. Most tellingly, when there were links, they were rarely to other bloggers but to major media organizations. This fact alone puts these campaign blogs outside of the blogging network and emphasizes the stark contrast between these blogs and everyday political blogs, at least in this setting.
As I've noted a few times, the Spanish mayoral races currently have a very young and undeveloped blog culture. Let's see how this compares to the much more advanced blogging culture of the American presidential race. Of the six most prominent campaigns (Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney), five have blogs (the odd one out, Giuliani, instead has a news aggregator-like feature). Unlike in the cases examined by Criado, all of these are diary-style community blogs, where the actual candidate rarely posts his or her own material (although Romney's is a little bizarre, since all posts are by his family members).
Let's take a more detailed look at the blogs of the three Democrats listed above. Of the three, I'm disappointed to say that the Obama blog appears the most disorganized and doesn't follow great design principles (although it's a little better if you just look at the blog from Obama headquarters, which is what initially comes up when you click on the "blog" tab on the main Obama site). There seems to be the freest flow of information on the Obama blog, which is a good thing, but some more attention to the aesthetic and organizational aspects couldn't hurt. The Clinton blog is much more pleasing to the eye, but one gets the feeling that the content is more tightly controlled. Neither of these blogs has a blogroll, a point that once again emphasized the difference between campaign blogs and other political blogs. The Edwards blog, on the other hand, has none of these downfalls and manages to be organized and easy to use while still hosting a diverse array of posts. In addition, it has a comprehensive blogroll. Engaging the blogosphere has clearly been a major priority for the Edwards campaign, and, if I had to put my money on it, I'd say that this is the future of campaign blogging. If it is, campaign blogs will probably eventually integrate themselves into the larger blogosphere. Currently, though, that's not the case.
Very interesting. Now I'm off to check out the Edwards blog. After Kucinich, I think he's the only other candidate that I feel good about supporting.