Over the past decade or so, blogging has gone from something of a niche activity to arguably the defacto way to publish content online, with millions of posts believed to be made every day.
This level of popularity creates something of a double edged sword. On one hand, the ease with which people can now publish content online has made it easier for previously silenced opinions to be heard.
What about the flipside however? Does the intense competition for eyeballs encourage us to produce great content (as standard competition theory would suggest), or does it bring out the worst in us?
With such competition, achieving a degree of fame is crucial if you want your opinions to reach a reasonable audience.
In that kind of environment, the unknown blogger has much more to gain than they have to lose, so does this make us a little less hard and fast with the facts? Does it prompt us to push instead for swift publishing, even if the facts are not fully known?
How accurate are blogs?
The topic has been explored in some depth by a recent paper that explores how competition distorts the accuracy of information in favor of rapid discovery.
The paper delves into the world of the finance blogger, and looked specifically at blogs covering the S&P Composite 1500 stocks over a five year period from 2006 to 2011.
During that time, the number of blogs on the topic rose by around 230,000. The data from these blogs was cross referenced with professional news articles and analyst information to compare both the tone of each blog and the content.
Interestingly, it emerged that bloggers were generally great at providing a wider and deeper coverage of the subject matter than the news media. They were found, however, to also exaggerate their content in an overly negative way.The impact of competition
Interestingly, competition also appeared to influence the tone of content produced. When the relationship between tone and competition was analyzed, it emerged that the biggest relationship was found in blogs that covered highly scrutinized companies.
In other words, as competition for attention increases, bloggers were more likely to sensationalize events with a more extreme perspective offered.
The bloggers frame the argument in terms of game theory. Whilst a failed blogger can simply shut down their site (and therefore not really lose much), a successful blogger potential has a huge upside.
Therefore, for those who want to make a living out of their blog, it can be tempting to forgo accurate information in favor of sensational coverage that will attract a high audience.
The role of competition in content creation
Traditionally, it’s believed that increased competition is generally a good thing. This research suggests that may not actually be the case.
It chimes with a similar study that I wrote about earlier this year that explored how ease of content creation effected the volume of content creation.
It found that as it became easier to produce content, less people actually did. The rationale was that as barriers to entry fell, there was a much higher level of competition, which in turn dissuaded many from bothering in the first place.
Whilst there are clear advantages of having such a vast blogosphere therefore, it is not without risks too.
As we’re gaining greater insight not just into the economics of social media but also in the way (mis)information spreads throughout society, studies such as these provide an interesting new perspective through which to view the issue.