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Bursting Technorati’s Blogosphere
August 15, 2006
Trevor Butterworth
Extravagant claims for the growth of blogging reveal a problem in measurement

Apart from NPR’s Weekend Edition and CNET, the mainstream media took a pass on covering the arrival of the fifty-millionth blog on earth, as enumerated by the blog-tracking site Technorati.

The news seemed momentous. As David Sifry, Technorati’s founder, wrote in his “State of the Blogosphere” report:

“On July 31, 2006, Technorati tracked its 50 millionth blog. The blogosphere that Technorati tracks continues to show significant growth… Technorati has been tracking the blogosphere, or world of weblogs, since November 2002, and I'm constantly amazed at the growth over the years. The blogosphere has been doubling in size every 6 months or so. It is over 100 times bigger than it was just 3 years ago.”

And, naturally, it’s even bigger today: 51.3 million blogs and counting.

But therein lies a problem. Is Technorati describing a virtual media juggernaut or an Ozymandias in the making? How many of these fifty-plus million blogs were active, real-live blogs let alone blogs whose authors post on more than a once-per-week basis?

What is clear from Technorati’s numbers is that the volume of posting has increased from approximately 400,000 posts per day in October 2004 to approximately 1.6 million per day in August 2006. This is quite impressive.

But relative to the overall number of blogs, Technorati seems to be charting a decrease in activity (the links take you to Sifry’s “State of the Blogosphere” reports):

October 2004
Approximately four million blogs
Approximately 400,000 posts per day

Average number of posts per blog site per day:  0.1

March 2005
Approximately 7.8 million blogs
Approximately 500,000 posts per day

Average number of posts per blog site per day: 0.06

August 2006
Approximately 50 million blogs
Approximately 1.6 million posts per day

Average number of posts per blog site per day: 0.03

These figures suggest that the number of blog posts per site is going down, so while the number of outlets is increasing, each outlet is used less frequently.

This presumes, of course, that the number of blogs being tracked by Technorati is a real measure of virtual life in the blogosphere; but what this measure of diminishing output points to is that the number of blogs isn’t real at all: The 50-million figure is meaningless, an artifact of blogs past and present, derelict and dying, of virtual enthusiasm and manifest lassitude.

This should give Sifry some concern, but his mind is elsewhere – wondering if the “growth” of the blogosphere can continue:

“Will I be posting about the 100 Millionth blog tracked in February of 2007? I can't imagine that things will continue at this blistering pace - it has got to slow down. After all, that would mean that there will be more bloggers around in 7 months than there are bloggers around in total today. I shake my head as I am writing this - the only thing still niggling at my brain is that I'd have been perfectly confident making the same statement 7 months ago when we had tracked our 25 Millionth blog, and I've just proven myself wrong.”

What’s more to the point is that if Technorati continues to “track” blogs by current methods, and if these trends continue, then the average post-per-blog-per-day rate will keep advancing towards zero. In other words, the more “growth” Technorati tracks, the less activity it will reveal. 

Of course, the posting rate will never actually reach zero (unless everyone stops posting altogether), but at some point the approximation to zero relative to the claims for growth will be patently ridiculous. That may be an amusing thought for someone like me, but it suggests that Technorati needs a new way of mapping its virtual world, and fast.