U.S. Political Blogs: What Aspects of Blog Design Correlate with Popularity?

U.S. Political Blogs: What Aspects of Blog Design Correlate with Popularity?

Lynne M. Webb, Tiffany E. Fields, Sitthivorada Boupha, Matthew N. Stell
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-744-9.ch011
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Previous studies of successful political blogs have focused primarily on their content. However, a closer look at a blog website can reveal an array of channel characteristics that can be associated with blog popularity. To provide a holistic assessment of the popularity of political blogs, the authors of this chapter examined the formal features of blog homepages in a sample of 100 top political blogs in the U.S. The purpose of the study was to determine whether blog channel characteristics (such as complexity, interactivity, user-friendliness, and navigability) were associated with blog popularity. Ideological orientation was included among the variables to account for any differences associated with channel characteristics across the political spectrum. The analysis indicated that blog complexity, interactivity, user-friendliness, navigability, and political ideology were directly related to blog popularity. The authors argue that these results allow researchers to distinguish between blog popularity based on blog content and blog channel characteristics. The results also may permit blog developers to develop the formal features of the blogs to maximize popularity.
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According to the Pew Internet and the American Life Project researchers, by 2004 blogs and blogging became a vital part of the American online culture. At that time 27% of all Internet users in the United States were writing, commenting on, or reading blogs (Pew Research, 2005). In a six-year period, 1998-2004, blog readership increased by 297,000 views, demonstrating steady growth (Johnson & Kaye, 2004). By the end of 2004, 8 million American Internet users had created blogs; 32 million Americans adults read blogs; almost 9% of U.S. Internet users infrequently accessed political blogs during election season for political news updates, and 4% reported doing so regularly (Pew Research, 2005). By 2008, 42% of Internet users in the United States had read someone else’s blog and 12% said they had created or worked on their own blog; approximately 5% of American Internet users blog on any given day (Smith, 2008).

Blogs exist on a variety of topics, as they can fulfill various information and communication needs of the audience. Political blogs in the United States have become a widely read and cited source for news and opinions on public issues, as well as a recognized form of political participation and public deliberation. Many Internet users rely heavily on political blogs to follow domestic and world political events (McKenna, 2007). Many users perceive blogs as more credible sources of political news and commentary than traditional media outlets or other online news sources (Johnson, Kaye, Bichard, & Wong, 2008).

Researchers, journalists and lay-people alike may be particularly interested in the popularity of political blogs because of their potential to influence elections, public policy, and government actions. We elected to study political blogs due to their enormous communication potential in a democratic society. Political blogs in the U.S. are plentiful and diverse—in short, obvious targets for analysis in the examination of blog channel characteristics.

Perlmutter (2008) described the political blog, as “a personal commentary on nonpersonal events, issues, ideas; a site for interaction; a spawning ground for activism; a vessel of wrath” (p. 11). Blogs devoted to politics provide the opportunity for bloggers to express their views and for readers to post their responses. While blogs do not always have the power to directly influence the political process, scholars (Williams, Trammell, Postelnicu, Landreville, & Martin, 2005) have noted that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott “lost his job because bloggers would not allow the story of his inappropriate racial remarks … to go away” (p. 178). Similarly, Rogers (2005) posited that the blogosphere often attends to poignant issues ignored by traditional mass media.

U.S. presidential and other candidates running for office now routinely maintain blogs as online campaigning tools (Sweetster, 2007). Internet audiences actively contribute to the political blogosphere by posting responses to messages from candidates, pundits, and fellow bloggers.

A remarkable feature of the so-called Web 2.0 movement with its tremendous growth of user-generated content is the rise of weblogs, or blogs. Gordon (2006) defined the blog as “an online journal or log” (p. 32). Blogs provide Web users with an interactive content-sharing platform that allows bloggers to reflect on literally anything and that allows blog readers to respond. Research on blogging after one of the most devastating natural disasters in the United States history, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, documented that blogs fulfilled at least four major functions for the affected communities: communication, political, information, and helping (Macias, Hilyard, & Freimuth, 2009). During the time of crisis and afterwards, blogs established a critical line of communication, provided social support and help, distributed valuable information, and encouraged political participation by discussing federal and local governments’ responses to the crisis.

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