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March 14, 2005

Blog Patronage: A Token of Affection

Who is the number one black female blogger in the world? That's easy. LaShawn Barber. Why? Because she's untiring in her efforts to get her name out there, she has a compelling blog, and dammit people like her. I'm picking up on her meme today because it's a real enough one to discuss at length, but also because I think it's time (again) that black blogs get their due.

Just the other day, I ran into some character who thought he was the first black blogger from Detroit. As far as I know, the most popular black blogger from Detroit has been around for at least two years, and got a lot of coverage for an interesting incident that I won't go into. My point is that black blogs have long been around, the question is who is paying attention, and why or why not.

We are already learning something deep about the dynamism (or lack thereof as it were) of marketshare in the blogosphere. Because of the ways and means of linking, there are blogs that are 'popular' even though nobody is writing on them. For a long time I complained about Rachel Lucas being a higher order lifeform in the TTLB Ecosystem than I was, even though she stopped blogging for over a year.

In the blogosphere there is a real contingency of patronage. I'm not sure that everyone is so eager to say so, but it's real. As real as is the term 'blogosphere' is the term 'blogfather'. Ask any blogger of substance, and if they're honest (and are abetted by a technical clue or two) they'll know which other blogs send them the most traffic. They will also almost surely know who gave them their big break and under which circumstances that occured. There is not a conspiracy of white male bloggers, and I'd guess all of them would be loathe to admit any such clubbiness, but all popular bloggers belong to a club and none of them are about to delink anytime soon.

Dead White Male Blogs - The Elvis Factor
One way to look at the question of whether or not there is a conspiracy to keep all the goods is what [white male] bloggers do to police themselves. I think they don't. I know for a fact that there's a lot of dead linkage out there that nobody really trims, and that this ossifies marketshare. Once popular, always popular. It seems to be a one way function from which few people fall. DenBeste at USS Clueless has over 800 links and he hasn't blogged regularly for many months. In fact, I've been checking his latest post as I write this one and note that he has gotten the equivalent of one week's Cobb traffic in about 90 minutes. Here are several other dead blogs that still suck up oxygen. (I'm giving Andrew Sullivan a pass)

  • Lefty Destroyer
  • Jeff
  • Aaron's Rantblog
  • Calpundit
  • I could go on but it's boring and time-consuming work to slueth through the Ecosystem to see which blogs actually exist. This only strengthens my point.

    Juan Cole & Meritocracy
    I'm one of the people that happens to think that Juan Cole is a brilliant idiot on the level of William Shockley. He is one of those people of which I think the poet referred to as knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. In particular, I am speaking of his determined effort to sabotage the moral reasoning for the Iraq War with his incessant and well informed sniping. For this, Cole has generated a number of rivals and enemies in the blogosphere. There are others, Kaus, Kos, Atrios. I think that if the blogosphere were to be considered a meritocracy, Juan Cole would still be near the top. The reason for this is that Cole has reached the tipping point at which he is no longer dependent on the politics of blogrolling. Which is to say that he gets plenty of traffic without mutual linking, without supporting comments and without trackbacks. He's out there, unassisted, influential.

    The rest of us poor slobs, and I would consider myself a poor slob on the order of Unfogged, although I have been compared to Lileks, need mutual blogrolling, league membership, comment traffic and other methods of enlightened self-interest to maintain or improve our status as noteworthy and readable. These practices, affectionately known as 'link whoring' are a stock in trade among the B-List and Blog Rabble which I would consider to be anyone less evolved than a Primate in the TTLB Ecosystem.

    The Gratuitous, Qualified Pitch
    At Cobb, I have consistently refused advertising. I think ads would make my site look hideous, they add nothing of value, and I couldn't possibly get paid enough with my current volume to justify them. I also haven't advertised. I simply can't afford it right now, plus I can't think of a cool enough slogan at the moment. I am also already a Large Mammal and living large is enough for me, sorta.

    On the other hand, I do think that we're in a state of disgrace when it comes to the national recognition of black bloggers. As pitiable a situation as that is, I don't know that there is a list or that I'd want to be on it, considered separately. In other words, I know that when it comes to pure bloggy merit, there are a lot of African Americans that are deserving of a lot more traffic and recognition than they get, and I think Cobb ought to do a lot better than it does in terms of traffic. But, I'm not sure there's a simple solution.

    I've decided to do something about that with regard to advertisement, but what I haven't really considered until now is the power of Affirmative Action, or more properly speaking: Tokenism.

    I hereby submit Cobb for the consideration of all A-List Bloggers as the Head Negro in Blogs. Send me your poor, huddled vanillified readers yearning to breathe diversity. I lift my banner beside the olive greed sidebar! But since I also link to more black blogs than the average bear, I know the trickle down will continue.

    I do so with the confidence of years of blogging and writing online that have thus far so nobly advanced me. And I also do it as a publicity stunt, and further and most importantly I do it because I understand that the dynamics of patronage in the blogosphere is the most important factor in launching a blog's popularity. If anyone anywhere today is saying that blogging is a white male domain, then they clearly do not know about how huge the blogosphere is and how many women and non-whites are active and popular. But there is the big unanswered question about whom the A-List Bloggers consider to be representative of those outside the top of their blogrolls. I've been a hot blog launched by DenBeste and by The Agonist (my blogfathers) when they were at their peaks, and I certain am appreciative of that, but I have never before sought nomination. The very persistence of the question of black blogs amidst 'white male hegemony' demands that the real black bloggers please stand up, and it's about time. But you and I both know that the A-List Bloggers or the MSM have to say it's an issue before the average blog reader, or average American takes notice and says 'hmm, I wonder...'.

    Bottom line, merit in the blogosphere is what the top bloggers say merit is, and they allocate it out by referring to blogs with which they are engaged in conversation. I don't think that's going to change much. Blogs move not only on their own power but on their ability to get big bloggers to compete, cooperate or otherwise notice and comment on them.

    And the People Say..
    On the other hand, the phenominal rise of LaShawn Barber over the past year puts a distinct question to me, which is that while she has gotten very popular, most of us, her mates in the Conservative Brotherhood have remained pretty much where we were. Although I can speak only speak for myself, the big rush has not come, and trickle down just might not be real. So why second guess the market? Perhaps it's altogether true that people are indeed finding exactly what they want in the blogosphere from blacks, whites, women and everybody else who identifies some orientation to their writing. There isn't going to be a technical revolution in blog traffic monitoring, and the 'sphere is mature. All change from here on out is going to have to be phenomenon-based.

    But that does not dissuade me from believing that Cobb and other purposefully black [political] blogs could use some publicity. We have something to say and we're worth reading. But until somebody with marketshare says so, we remain as we are. Obscure, poor and somewhat reconciled the the fact that our say so only reaches a paucity of eyeballs. And so we keep stepping.

    Disclosure: According to the TTLB Ecosystem, Cobb ranks 1510th in average daily traffic with 137 readers per day. Cobb ranks 721st overall with 184 links.

    Technorati: blogging_while_black
    SXSW Liveblogging: Blogging While Black
    Snarky Commentary at The Captains Quarters.

    Posted by mbowen at March 14, 2005 10:54 AM

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    There Goes the White Male Bloggerhood from AMERICAN DIGEST
    MARK BOWEN, AKA "COBB" SPEAKS THE UNSPEAKABLE @ Blog Patronage: A Token of Affection.. Bowen's an old hand at telling it like it is without fear or favor, and points out a number of facts that are being elided in the current blogwide discussion of "Whi... [Read More]

    Tracked on March 15, 2005 04:50 PM

    Looking at the Navel Again from baldilocks
    If you’re tired of the “white male hegemony” that is the blogosphere, sit your butt down in the chair and write. Otherwise, stop whining!"It has taken 'mainstream media' a very long time to get to [the] point of inclusion," Jenkins [Read More]

    Tracked on March 15, 2005 06:18 PM

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    Tracked on March 16, 2005 02:38 AM

    Michael Bowen on Blog Patronage from La Shawn Barber's Corner
    "In the blogosphere there is a real contingency of patronage. I'm not sure that everyone is so eager to say so, but it's real. As real as is the term 'blogosphere' is the term 'blogfather'. Ask any blogger of substance, and if they're honest (a... [Read More]

    Tracked on March 16, 2005 05:26 PM

    They read me, they really read me from dustbury.com
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    The Blogosphere: A Caste System? from Expertise's Politics and Sports Blog
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    Tracked on March 17, 2005 02:31 AM

    A clear headed analysis of the blogosphere from UNCoRRELATED
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    Tracked on March 17, 2005 09:28 AM


    Eh. I think the whole notion of the Blog Ecosystem as being a validation of your efforts is vacuous. If you wanted hits, you could run an echo chamber like Kos or Atrios or O.W.; but you'd either have to check your brain or your integrity at the door. If it were me, that would be too high a price to pay, and I guess for you also.

    Posted by: Scott Ferguson at March 14, 2005 02:24 PM

    Yes, I feel that deep in my heart, and I have to believe that I am writing for posterity and not what the tickers. You cannot measure influence on clickthroughs alone and I recognize that. I just found that George K. mentioned almost a paragraph worth of me at SXSW and that means more to me than a day with 500 readers. Similarly, inclusion in Punditdrome's Notable 30 is a great honor and affirmation of what I've been doing here.

    But I think like all artists, we're never quite sure or satsified... Today I'm happy for a number of reasons, but the issue is still an issue.

    Posted by: Cobb at March 14, 2005 02:43 PM

    Check out her style.
    That's why.

    Posted by: EBrown at March 14, 2005 03:35 PM

    What did the martian say to Woody Allen ... "tell funnier jokes".

    First, you should do more link whorage; ads are OK (glenn does them).

    Second, maybe, like me, shorter posts? I've been to LaShawn's, from her to here and other Conservative Brotherhood blgs, but not back often.

    Prolly the same reason you don't visit me -- somehow, not interesting enough.

    Brevity is important.

    Posted by: Anonymous at March 15, 2005 01:58 AM

    I'm honored that you feel honored. :) I only get around 200 uniques a day, but I get a lot of reloads and "unknown" referrals, which means that there are many people who have made my site a part of their daily routine. That's an honor.

    Blogs find their niche markets eventually. The blogs that thrive tend to be newsy and trenchant; written by authors who have the mentality of caffeinated beagle puppies. When blog entries are longer and more ruminative, as yours are, you lose people. I find that my site traffic is higher Monday through Friday; which suggests that people read it at work as a diversion. Traffic falls off on the weekends. At work, reading little newsy bits between emails and phone calls is more acceptable than spending a lot of time with an essay on the screen -- the "I'm not doing the work they're paying me for" guilt starts to set in.

    You want more traffic without a drastic change in your lifestyle? This might be the way:

    1. Design your page so that the cartoon strip and the text blog are two separate blog streams. Place the cartoon strip stream above the text blog stream.

    2. Religiously update your strip on a daily schedule -- at least Monday through Friday, but add Saturday or Sunday if you don't mind the work. Then, stick with the schedule. Update your text blog whenever you feel like it.

    This way you'll give the community their daily dose of Cobb, without a huge time commitment (unless they want to read the text blog). And your hit counter will grow.

    3. (optional) Syndicate the strip the way that Day-By-Day does. I ask this based on self-interest, since I do want to put it at the top of the Second Page. You usually have more topical humor in one strip than Aaron McGruder has had so far in one wasted lifetime. And you're hip.

    Posted by: Scott Ferguson at March 15, 2005 07:41 AM

    You sir, are on my roll as of NOW. I look forward to being here everyday.

    Posted by: Steel Turman at March 15, 2005 05:42 PM

    This is my first time to your site.
    I like the content.
    The formatting is weird on my Mac OSX, Safari. There aren't any margins, left and right; the text runs against the edges of the screen. Maybe that's just because of my setup. If not, maybe fix that? Which would make it more pleasant to hang around here.

    Posted by: Anonymous at March 15, 2005 06:52 PM

    Funny, but all of this time I've been blogging (1996), I've never really visited your site. Sending you bloglove, man.

    Posted by: Anonymous at March 15, 2005 07:55 PM

    I'm going to go ahead and call bullshit. I've had you on and off and on my blogroll for years. You're a regular stop on my daily rounds when you're producing. Not in a million years would I have predicted a 'poor pitiful me' post from you.

    Bottom line, merit in the blogosphere is what the top bloggers say merit is Good gravy. Yeah, I guess that's true, if you want to think that way. I dont' know what the heck it means, though. Seriously. Who are you writing all this stuff for? You, me, or a bunch of doofs who go to media panels?

    Bah -- I hate this jr. high clique BS. NEVER expected to see it here. You're 100x better than that.

    Posted by: Scott Chaffin at March 15, 2005 08:58 PM

    You're right about one thing, Cobb. Perhaps you should advertise more. You should let people know who you are. And if it's not a problem for you, e-mail people every now and then with links to a post you think might interest them. For example, I had no idea you blogged about me until I saw the accumulated "mdcbowen.org" hits on my site meter.

    Then again, if I checked TCB's blogs more often, I'd have known sooner. :)

    I'm just ambitious as heck. I'll be 38 years old in May, and I want to "make it" even if on a small scale. If I were in my 20s, I wouldn't have this sense of urgency. I want a syndicated column and regular invitations to talks shows. And a book or two wouldn't hurt. I don't have a mentor in this business, so most of what I'm doing is instinctual and guesswork.

    Posted by: Anonymous at March 16, 2005 05:07 PM

    If you're a large mammal, you're way above my crawly amphibian carcass! I started blogging in August, 2004. I post LONG posts, on a variety of subjects that interest me. I would love to have 200 readers a day, but I'll settle for the 20 or so I get regularly. The reason I blog, however, is because there are things that interest, infuriate, frustrate, or anger me, and I want to release the tension I feel from all those emotions. Hopefully, too, somewhere along the way I'll say something someone else finds interesting, and I'll get another regular reader.

    Posted by: Old Patriot at March 16, 2005 06:17 PM

    On behalf of the vilified vanillafied I thank you for several good laughs. And, keep plugging, friend.


    Posted by: Thomas Hazlewood at March 16, 2005 06:33 PM

    On behalf of the vilified vanillafied, thanks for several good chuckles.


    Posted by: Anonymous at March 16, 2005 06:38 PM


    There's no call for pity here, really. I am simply calling attention to the fact that the right reference can make or break a blog, and I say so with the experience of having had the right references, for the right reasons. But, that does not change the fact that engagement with an A-List Blogger makes all the difference, and this nobody can deny.

    Instapundit is the Slashdot of the blogosphere. That's real.

    There's other stuff to say related to the fact that a lot of people do rely on TTLB. Every blogger that plays that game does so and there's a reason it's popular, because market share has real meaning. They can do better, and I thought about how. More later.

    Posted by: Cobb at March 16, 2005 08:55 PM

    Don't know why my name came up as Anonymous. I posted this one:

    You're right about one thing, Cobb. Perhaps you should advertise more. You should let people know who you are. And if it's not a problem for you, e-mail people every now and then with links to a post you think might interest them. For example, I had no idea you blogged about me until I saw the accumulated "mdcbowen.org" hits on my site meter.

    Posted by: La Shawn at March 17, 2005 06:37 AM

    If you're going to compare yourself to Lileks, you have to be able to find more of Louis Farrakhan's Calypso Music :D

    You bring up some interesting points. While I don't blog I do have a list of bloggers that I visit regularly and only go outside that list if the blogger links to others. For me it's just that there are so many out there and I have only so much time to read Blogs that I stay within the list of ones I enjoy and rarely go out side that list. My fault really but I bet I'm not the only one who does it. Now that I'm here I'll take a look around and maybe I'll stay :)

    Posted by: lplimac at March 17, 2005 11:27 AM

    Dude, how would anyone know what color your skin is, on a blog, unless you told them, or displayed a picture? Do you really think blog readers check for race in determining who they'll read? Maybe some on the left might, but Conservatives? Drawing lines based on skin color is not something we do, or respect. If you write stuff that grabs my attention, I'll be back.

    Posted by: Danny Carlton at March 17, 2005 01:53 PM

    Dude, how would anybody know your sexual orientation, unless you told them, or displayed a picture. Do you really think justices of the peace check orientation in determining who they'll marry? Maybe some on the right might, but Liberals? Drawing lines based on sexual orientation is not something we do.

    Yeah right.

    Your argument is essentially that difference makes no difference.

    Posted by: cobb at March 17, 2005 02:06 PM


    seriously, the whole dog and internet thing is true. when i first started reading blogs (when no news sites worked) i ended up reading lots written by people from south asia, as they had interest in relevant geographies and geo-politics, knew where to go to get information, and blogged passionately.

    you only find out as much about people as they want to let out, given that every name can be a nym and every picture a fake.

    you are right that the right connections are key. I found glenn because virginia postrel (love and adore, read her site religiously since start of 2001) had linked to him when he started his site, as she had previously led me to andrew sullivan. from there... kolkata libertarian, den beste, volokh, vodkapundit, instapunk, jeff jarvis, etc...

    its marketing, but where everyone has the same price (0) and place is irrelevant (your "closeness" doesn't really matter, especially with blogrolls being the unmanageable beasts that they are). so focus on the other 2 ps.. product and promotion.

    instapunk, how appealing, gay patriot, etc have shown (with varying degrees of success) how differentiation is key for the product. LaShawn is an excellent example of someone who has kicked ass on the promotion side.

    you've got the content, with some very interesting perspective. now just go and prostitute yourself and pester others and you'll see more traffic (i kid, i kid... but to move up in people's consciousness you do have to keep reminding them). Everyone in the world knows what you can get at McDs and what Coke tastes like (also that by consuming either makes you look exceptionally unlike anyone in their commercials), but they spend millions for mind share... email is cheap! and it can get you on national TV if you send it to the right people wrt the right subject.

    as for whether the 'sphere, especially the conservative 'sphere is bigoted... our number one dream prexy candidate is a single black female, one of the most prominent conservative bloggers is an exceptionally out HIV+ english dude from DC ish... its also equal opportunity, with lots of people hating OWillis and calling him out for his incivillity, his hostility to decent people like Sen. Lieberman, his inability to understand or make an argument, and his general obtuseness. He's treated just like Kos and Atrios, like the perverse individual that he is.

    cheers, good luck with the new job

    Posted by: hey at March 18, 2005 06:25 AM

    Is this meant to be a parody of the stereotypical whiny black, updated for the blogging age?

    The reason for your lack of traffic is clear enough. In order to judge you correctly, I read a few other of your posts here, and they were mostly about black issues. Maybe if you tried to be more than just a stereotypical race-obsessed black person and posted articles about the larger world, you might generate more traffic. The high stakes geopolitical game playing out in the Middle and Far East are of far greater import than the rehashed gripes of American blacks, whose ability to clean up their own messes has been questioned from within their own community by Bill Cosby and Jesse Peterson.

    White people are not endlessly fascinated by the black experience in America; and in the medium of blogging, readers are free to select according to their interests from a near limitless variety: however, you appeal only to the race-conscious. There is no use in whining about your limited appeal: your cries are a bit anachronistic, since the same thing had been said of the TV and the movie industries before, with good effect, but only because they were top-down structures. Once civil rights activists had leaned on enough executives, the shows were produced and fed to the passively viewing audience. But in this de-centralized medium of the modern age, you must try a new tack: write something that appeals to more people.

    Your claim to tokenism, while humorous, misses the trends in modern society. Blacks are no longer the focus of liberal angst in American society, having been surpassed as the largest minority by Hispanics. If we are to award token blog recognition to anyone based on group identity instead of merit, then out of fairness, we must select a Hispanic to represent the average American minority these days. Blacks just don't have the same cachet as tokens that they formerly had. Sorry.

    Posted by: N. Hicks at March 21, 2005 04:24 AM

    Hicks, you're blind. I know you'll only find what you want to see, but I wonder how it is you missed my 170 geopolitical posts. If 'more people' are like you, I'm not sure I want to appeal to them.

    Posted by: Cobb at March 21, 2005 05:59 AM

    I see the geopolitics category now. I didn't look at that particular section of the sidebar in my cursory inspection.

    Reviewing it, I'm not impressed enough to suppose that the material in that section competes with the analysis available in many other blogs. "If I ruled the world" is a pretty weak addition to geopolitical discourse, in my opinion. It is by no coincidence, nor by fluke of skin tone, that the more informative blogs that I have in mind are also much more trafficked than yours. I suggest to you that the general depression amongst readership of "black" blogs is that they may stress the "black" too much. Certainly, this racial-themed post has generated--by your own admission--the most traffic since Bill Cosby. This pattern indicates that your strength lies predominately in analyzing news from a uniquely black perspective, as perceived by other bloggers, at least. Such a specialization is unfortunately not in high demand these days. The nation is extroverted at this critical moment in time, much as the people huddled around radios in WWII were more interested in updates from Guadalcanal than in the latest baseball scores. Do you think that, if the push for civil rights had begun in 1942, it could have gained the attention of the whole nation? In the same way, appealing to the nation's white guilt in seeking a "solution" to low traffic among black blogs won't have much currency in these too interesting of times, as the Chinese curse runs.

    That is the main point. I and many other visitors surfing in from a link to this specific post had only this post by which to measure your merits. This post was not a good pitch to its viewers for the continued patronage of your blog. If you had been linked for an acute observation on politics, particularly world politics, rather than this trite subject matter, you might have found your spike in traffic more lasting. I just can't imagine people coming back for more tongue-in-cheek jokes about the subject of racism and tokenism. Even Chris Rock can pry no more than a rigor-mortis grin out of a white person with that material, which will inflict on conscientious white people more bellyaches than belly laughs.

    I could be wrong. Perhaps this post is the very thing that propels your bid for greater status in the blogosphere. I'm just saying that I doubt it, and why.

    Posted by: N. Hicks at March 21, 2005 01:20 PM


    I've been around less than a year, and while i don't make a big deal about being black, it is noticeable. I link personally (manual links not alliances) to about half a dozen black bloggers who i find consistently intersting. I've yet to see an actuall blogroll similar to things like the centrist alliance or blogs for bush, i would join one.


    Posted by: TheCO at March 29, 2005 11:45 AM