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Monitoring the Australian Blogosphere through the 2007 Australian Federal Election

Thomas Nicolai, Lars Kirchhoff, Axel Bruns & Timothy J. Highfield

abstract Mainstream and niche online media have played an important role in recent election campaigns both in Australia and abroad. The new US president’s social network alone is reported to have attracted more than 1.5 million members during the drawn-out US campaign season (Stirland 2008), and Obama is likely to attempt to utilise this network of supporters (which exists at arms’ length from Democrat party organisations) as leverage in the difficult political negotiations ahead. The Australian election campaign of 2007 similarly saw widespread – if perhaps somewhat less sophisticated or successful – use of Facebook, YouTube, and home-grown sites such as Kevin07, and the Rudd Labor government has begun to explore the use of department blogs for citizen consultation (see e.g. Bruns 2008a for an early analysis).

The role in these campaigns of third-party commentary and analysis Websites, ranging from partisan bloggers to bipartisan citizen journalism sites and from campaign reporting to issues analysis, should also be stressed. Well-known political bloggers in the United States, such as Ariana Huffington or Ann Coulter, were frequently called upon as pundits in televised discussions, while a number of Australian bloggers had part- or full-time roles in the print and online media – Larvatus Prodeo’s Mark Bahnisch, for example, was a commenter for New Matilda and Crikey, and Road to Surfdom’s Tim Dunlop operated Blogocracy as one of News Ltd.’s in-house blogger/commenters. At the same time, the blogosphere also successfully provided an important corrective to mainstream news reporting, and a number of specialist bloggers rose to significant prominence as a result of their work – perhaps the best example for this trend has been the emergence of psephologist blogs such as Possums Pollytics, The Poll Bludger, or Mumble as fixtures of Australian political analysis. During the campaign, a well-publicised running feud between commentators in The Australian and the pseph-bloggers over the veracity of The Australian’s analysis of polling results highlighted political blogging’s challenge to the mainstream media’s opinion leadership (see e.g. Bruns 2008b/c), while post-election, both Pollytics and Poll Bludger found a permanent home in Crikey’s stable of independent political commentators.

In spite of the increasing visibility of political blogging and other social media practices in such recent political campaigns, however, clear evidence documenting the real impact of these phenomena remains hard to come by. Four years later, Adamic & Glance’s observation from the 2004 US presidential campaign that the blogosphere was deeply divided into ‘red’ and ‘blue’ camps which only rarely interconnected with one another may no longer apply, partly also due to the impact of many other social networking tools which serve to interconnect these political blogging networks at least indirectly; today, a much more mature blogosphere combined with tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Digg, and other social networks may mean that active online users are exposed to a far greater variety of political news and commentary than previously.

Fundamental questions which arise from such considerations are these: how does information travel across the political blogosphere and its ancillary networks? Who are the central nodes in this network of practitioners, and to what extent do they act as influencers and opinion leaders, perhaps even in a traditional framework as articulated by Katz & Lazarsfeld (1955)? Due to the digital nature of blog-based communication, such questions can now be approached at a new level of scale and detail, using mixed quantitative and qualitative approaches: where previous research had to extrapolate from limited case studies, it is now becoming possible to use large-scale datagathering tools to cover national blogospheres virtually in their entirety (see e.g. Kelly & Etling’s study of the Iranian blogosphere, 2008).

Exploring these possibilities, this paper reports on early findings from the first stage in a larger pro-ject to investigate the shape and internal dynamics of the Australian political blogosphere. This first stage tracked the activities of some 230 political blogs and related Websites in Australia from 2 No-vember 2007 (the final month of the federal election campaign, with the election itself taking place on 24 November) to 24 January 2008. In an effort to generate high-quality data, we improved upon the tools for data-gathering used by earlier research projects, focussing specifically on the content of blog posts rather than including the entire contents of blog pages in our analysis or focussing only on mapping the networks of hyperlinks contained in such pages. We harvested more than 65,000 articles for this study.

Where previous papers from this project have discussed this methodology (Bruns et al. 2008a) or investigated the thematic preoccupations of leading political bloggers (Bruns et al. 2008b), in the present paper we will examine the observable patterns of content creation by Australian bloggers during the 2007 election and its aftermath, thereby providing insight into the level and nature of activity in the Australian political blogosphere during that time. The performance indicators which are identified through this process enable us to target for further in-depth research, to be reported in subsequent papers, those individual blogs and blog clusters showing especially high or unusual activity as compared to the overall baseline.
type conference paper (English)
project Blog Mapping
name of conference Australia & New Zealand Communications Association Conference 2009 (ANZCA 2009) (Brisbane, Australia)
date of conference 8-10-2009
page(s) 16
review double-blind review
citation Nicolai, T., Kirchhoff, L., Bruns, A., & Highfield, T. J. (2009). Monitoring the Australian Blogosphere through the 2007 Australian Federal Election. In , pp.16.