Has the Chicago Tribune Heard of “Splogs”?

While some writers celebrate the explosion of the blogosphere, they don't seem to be in possession of all the facts.

Just when we thought journalists were finally getting tired of overhyping the expansion of the blogosphere, we read Steve Johnson’s credulous piece today in the Chicago Tribune, entitled “I blog, therefore I am.”

“On the one hand, blogs are sweeping the nation, growing exponentially, wielding an influence and power rarely held by such a blurt of a word,” writes Johnson. “At this rate, it’s not unreasonable to assume that soon we’ll have a blog in the White House.”

Elsewhere in the piece he asks David Sifry, founder of Technorati, to comment on Johnson’s observation that blogging has more or less become mainstream. “If it’s not mainstream, blogging is pretty darn close,” Sifry tells Johnson. “We’re seeing about 175,000 new Weblogs created every single day, about two every second of every day.”

That’s exactly the kind of bullish statement from someone in the industry that begs for some critical unpacking. And to his credit, Johnson provides a little.

“To be sure, not all of the 57 million blogs Technorati watches (one-third of them English-language) are active,” writes Johnson. “But about 55 percent are, with active defined as one new post in the last three months. And about one in eight of the bloggers post at least weekly.”

Putting aside for a moment that ludicrously lenient definition of “active,” there’s a serious problem with this column. Nowhere does Johnson mention the rise of spam blogs, aka “splogs.”

As various news organizations have previously reported, the recent proliferation of computer-generated junk blogs has begun to inundate the blogosphere — the expansion of which tends to be greatly exaggerated as a result.

In September (as we previously noted), Wired published an excellent article by Charles C. Mann about the burgeoning splog industry.

“Just as the proliferation of email spam constantly threatens to inundate email providers, the explosion of blog spam is a besetting problem for the blog industry,” wrote Mann. “Some 56 percent of active English-language blogs are spam, according to a study released in May by Tim Finin, a researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and two of his students.”

“The blogosphere is growing fast,” Finin told Mann. “But the splogosphere is now growing faster.”

Not that Johnson, as the Tribune’s Internet critic, would know anything about that.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.