This paper provides an update on an ongoing research project which maps and investigates the Australian political blogosphere, and expands on work presented at IR9.0 in Copenhagen (Bruns et al. 2008). The project is situated in a growing tradition of quantitative and mixed-method research into the shape and structure of national and international blogospheres (cf. e.g. Adamic & Glance, 2005; Kelly & Etling, 2008; and a number of the studies collected in Russell & Echchaibi, 2009), which utilise a combination of link crawling, data scraping, and network visualisation tools to map interconnections between blogs and analyse their contents. However, our work also addresses some of the limitations of these studies.
First, we track blogging activity as it occurs, by scraping the content of new blog posts when they are announced through RSS feeds, rather than by crawling existing content in the blogosphere after the fact. Second, we utilise custom-made tools that distinguish between the different types of links and content found in blog sites and thus allow us to analyse only the salient discursive content provided by bloggers, without contaminating our data with static links and ancillary content. Finally, we are able to examine these better-quality data by using both link network mapping and textual analysis tools, to produce both cumulative longer-term maps of interlinkages and themes across the blogosphere, and specific shorter-term snapshots of current activity which indicate clusters of heavy interlinkage and highlight key themes and topics being discussed within these clusters in the wider network.
This paper will document first outcomes from the second stage of this research project, tracking activity in the Australian blogosphere since the start of 2009. Against the baseline of quotidian activity we will identify periods of heightened blogging (and the leading drivers of such activity in the Australian political blogosphere) as measured by a number of core criteria: number of posts, length of posts, and number of incoming and outgoing links for blog posts. We will identify the core themes of conversation during such periods, and correlate them with domestic or international events covered in the mainstream media.
This provides a first-hand account of the internal dynamics of the blogosphere. It enables us to profile key critical voices in the Australian political blogosphere, and to document the stability or volatility of their membership in the 'A-list' of Australian blogging. It also provides insight into questions about the relationship between niche and mainstream media, by indicating whether key themes in the blogosphere closely follow those in the news media, or whether bloggers are preoccupied a set of topics that is considerably detached from current political debates. Finally, we will also be able to examine the extent to which the Australian political blogosphere is divided into a number of standing clusters, or to which such clusters form and dissolve over time as political debate moves through different themes and topics.
For better or for worse, 2009 provides an excellent context for this research. Our project has already captured domestic blogger coverage of international events such as the inauguration of US president Barack Obama and the growing efforts to contain the threat of a global economic recession, as well as discussion of national political events. Although unpredictable due to the peculiarities of Australian electoral law (which enables sitting premiers to call an election well before the regular end of the legislative period), it is also likely that there will be at least two state or territory elections during 2009.
Adamic, Lada, and Natalie Glance. "The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election: Divided They Blog." Paper presented at the WWW 2005 2nd Annual Workshop on the Weblogging Ecosystem: Aggregation, Analysis and Dynamics, Chiba, Japan, 10 May 2005. 19 Jan. 2008 <http://www.blogpulse.com/papers/2005/AdamicGlanceBlogWWW.pdf>.
Bruns, Axel, Jason Wilson, Barry Saunders, Lars Kirchhoff, and Thomas Nicolai. "Australia's Political Blogosphere in the Aftermath of 2007 Federal Election." Paper presented at the AoIR 2008 conference, Copenhagen, 18 Oct. 2008. 19 Jan. 2008 < http://snurb.info/files/aoir2008/Australia%27s%20Political%20 Blogosphere%20in%20the%20Aftermath%20of%20the%202007%20Federal%20Election%20(AoIR%202008).pdf>.
Kelly, John, and Bruce Etling. "Mapping Iran's Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere." Cambridge, Mass.: Berkman Center for Internet & Society, 2008. 19 Jan. 2008 <http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2008/Mapping_Irans_Online_Public>.
Russell, Adrienne, and Nabil Echchaibi. International Blogging: Identity, Politics and Networked Publics. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.