I’ve been tracking the decline of Andrew Sullivan’s once-popular[blog] over the past few months. Using the ranking system at [Technorati], I’ve watched him fall from his once-stable seat in the top 10 to his present place well below the top 100. The way Technorati rates a blog’s popularity is by tracking the number of other sites that link into it. Around last summer, Sullivan was getting about 2,500 other sites linking to his. Today, that has dropped to a little less than 2,000. Granted, not a huge drop — but the key is that there has been a real decline in a period when blog readership has exploded. For example, the most popular political blog, Daily Kos, has almost 11,000 sites linking to it. Today, Sullivan’s site is less popular than sites like “Stuff on My Cat”, wherein a guy posts pictures of his cat with things placed on it and “Yarn Harlot”, a site that explores the intricacies of knitting. Why has this happened?
My theory (I’ve got a theory for everything…) is that Sullivan never really had a large constituency he could rely on. He straddled two very divergent worlds — that of liberal inverts and their supporters, and set-in-stone conservatives. While it made him, as a person, a very interesting sociological lab specimen (a role dear to my own heart) in the atomized, niche-oriented media world we increasingly live in he was a freak. Openly loathed by the lavender mob for his hypocritical criticism of the excesses of gay men and (though they’d never admit it) for his Christian faith, he was also held suspect by the Neanderthal social conservatives for being a shirt-lifter who promotes gay marriage. But he was tolerated more on the right because he, at least, identified as a conservative and, for the most part, supported their agenda.
All that changed when he pulled his support for Bush. As the Iraq war spiraled downward, he had second thoughts and started criticising the administration openly, joining the chorus of people raising questions about Bush’s competence. Of course, when you raise the issue of whether Bush is competent you are also raising the issue of whether the people who elected and support him are competent and that, it seems was the final straw — the conservatives looked away from his blog and its ranking started falling.
It’s too bad, really. Another piece of evidence — if we needed it — that the web offers no guarantee of plurality of voices. On the contrary, the same tribal tendencies that are exploited so effectively in the marketplace by niche marketers and mercenary political consultants are working to diminish the influence of people like Sullivan. In a world of niche communications, no one has to be exposed to anything that challenges their world-view. This is deadly for a democracy — but the amoral market forces that drive it are ascendant. That’s really too bad.