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Australia's Political Blogosphere in the Aftermath of 2007

Axel Bruns, Jason A. Wilson, Barry J. Saunders, Lars Kirchhoff & Thomas Nicolai

abstract Australian political bloggers and citizen journalists appear to have played an important role in the campaign leading up to the 24 November 2007 federal election. They provided a highly critical corrective to mainstream journalism, seemed to influence public opinion on key election themes, and offered a coverage of political events which diverted from the customary focus on political leaders and bellwether locations only. Bloggers were wooed by political parties (such as the Australian Labor Party with its Labor First blog site), mainstream media (such as the online arm of public broadcaster ABC, which ran several blogs of its own), and journalism researchers (through projects such as Youdecide2007.org, which provided a space for a hyperlocal citizen journalism coverage of the campaign in participants’ individual electorates ).
But what remains unclear to date is exactly how information travels within the distributed network of the blogosphere itself, and from here to other (online) spaces of citizen and industrial journalism. To trace such movements may underline (or undermine) news and political bloggers’ claims of influence and importance; it would highlight the extent to which blogging operates merely as an echo chamber for the political cognoscenti, or has impact in the wider population. It would provide insight into the extent to which news bloggers and mainstream journalists feed off and respond to one another’s work, and outline possible avenues for mutually beneficial collaborations.
The main problem with tracking interactions in the blogosphere in a quantitative fashion is two-fold: on the one hand, scholars have yet to agree what metrics may be appropriate for measuring bloggers’ actions and their influence on the wider political sphere (and indeed, what appropriate definitions for terms such ‘influence’ may be). On the other, even if an appropriate working model of what those metrics may be is agreed upon, the question of how to document them in a reliable, testable fashion across a potentially large population of sites also remains non-trival.
This paper examines the use of automated tools to address such questions in the context of tracing patterns of interlinkage and clusters of interconnection in the Australian political blogosphere. While this approach is not without its own limitations (as noted in Bruns, 2007), early results have nonetheless proven instructive – network crawls on a number of current issues, for example, indicate the existence of a relatively stable structure in the Australian political blogosphere which involves a number of fairly clearly defined hubs (and leading sites within these hubs), most likely formed largely on the basis of shared ideology.
But there are significant methodological problems with such research, too – most of all, current tools remain fairly blunt in their analysis specifically of blog-based content. Link crawling and network mapping tools are generally unable to distinguish between the different forms of content that may be found on a blog: they simply crawl the entire page, or the entire Website, which means that navigational and other functional links on a page are included in a common category with links in blogrolls, posts, and comments (and even, in the case of some sites, ads) – and this takes place possibly for the site overall, combining recent and archival links. When these data are mapped, then, such maps represent a blurred, composite picture only. Similar limitations apply for textual analysis-based automated data gathering and evaluation approaches, of course – by default, an automated textual analysis of a Website using a tool such as Leximancer will take in actual blog posts themselves as well as static pages, functional information, and other material.
   
type conference paper (Deutsch)
   
keywords network, mapping, blogs, blogosphere, public sphere, Leximancer, VOSON
   
project Blog Mapping
name of conference AOIR Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Community, Rethinking Place (Copenhagen)
date of conference 15-10-2008
review blind review
   
citation Bruns, A., Wilson, J. A., Saunders, B. J., Kirchhoff, L., & Nicolai, T. (2008). Australia's Political Blogosphere in the Aftermath of 2007. In .