In April, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society announced a major research release: “A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and Right.” The study, based on research by HLS Professor Yochai Benkler ’94 and Berkman Research Fellow Aaron Shaw, examines the discursive practices of major U.S. political blogs on the left, right, and center during the summer of 2008.

Observing and qualitatively coding 155 of the top political blogs in the U.S., the researchers examined the distinctive features of blogs ascribed to specific political parties.

In particular, Benkler and Shaw found evidence of an association between ideological affiliation and the technologies, institutions, and practices of participation across political blogs. Sites on the left adopt more participatory technical platforms; are comprised of significantly fewer sole-authored sites; include user blogs; maintain more fluid boundaries between secondary and primary content; include longer narrative and discussion posts; and the top half of the blogs were used as platforms for mobilization as well as discursive production.

The study addresses two major debates within the context of technology’s effects on politics. First, it finds that the variations in technology and social practices used by both sides of the political spectrum reflect different patterns of how the Internet might affect democracy and the public sphere. Second, the project demonstrates the potential limitations of pure reliance on link analysis to study online political discourse. It suggests that such techniques may obscure the mechanism through which technological and organizational disparities across blogs influence democratic participation.

Benkler is the Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies and the faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Shaw is a research fellow with the Cooperation Research Group at the Berkman Center and a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley.

Read the Berkman Center’s report “A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and Right.

—Marc Steinberg