Sharon Meraz‘s study – published in the form of an article in this book – is a project quite similar to my own: it deals with the assessment of the democratic potential of social news sites. She put Digg, Reddit, Newsvine and Netscape under her magnifying glass, and she studied their full output (excluding discussions and commentary on articles), not just particular segments dealing with certain topics.
According to the study, a power law distribution of stories/users can be observed on all of these four sites (although somewhat surprisingly, Digg produced the flattest of the distribution curves). As for the sources used by the sites: “traditional media barely outnumber citizen media citations.” Across the board, politics turned out to be the most popular topic – but there were substantial differences between the sites themselves, suggesting marked differences between their (active) audiences. And finally, stories on the front pages of the observed sites turned out to be extremely varied and having a short life span (i.e. the contents of the front pages changed quickly).
The findings of the study seem to fall in line with the – limited – results that I’ve come up with so far. On the other hand, reading the article felt a bit like reading precise answers to vague questions. For instance- Meraz is after the democratic potential of social news sites, but she doesn’t specify how, and on what level, she understands democracy. And about the sources used, she makes the plausible claim cited above – but the categories of sources lack an explicit definition (e.g. why is YouTube filed under “citizen media,” and why “web forums” isn’t?; or where should the Huffington Post be put?).
In any case, the article got me thinking more on the possible problematization of understanding the idea of politics as a topic. Meraz’s approach could certainly be justified: let’s look at the overall contents of such sites, and see how much of it is what we (the coders!) see as politics. In contrast, one could also look at the contents and sort it according to the sites’ own categorization; and one could, as I have tried so far, to focus on one of the categories, and forget about the rest. I think a case could be made for all of these options.
Meraz, Sharon (2009): “The Many Faced ‘You’ of Social Media,” in: Zizi Papacharissi (ed): Journalism and Citizenship – New Agendas in Communication. New York, Routledge.