Aaron Brazell  is doing some research on the evolution of blogging in recent years and has asked for my input. I started OTB in January 2003 and have seen a lot of change. I should note at the outset that my experience is almost entirely with the political blogosphere, a tiny fraction of the whole enterprise, and that my observations mostly apply in that realm.
I’ll advise you to go and read James interesting and rather complete read of the sphere, as it has evolved. HIs comments, all of them, are valid. I add these comments:
It should be noted that only a relative handful of the millions of blogs out there are making serious income.
No particular quibble, here, just using this as the springboard. I’ve been at it for somewhat longer than you, and personally, I’m not making piles of cash, though I am making more than enough to keep my ISP and my webserver hosts’ bills covered with perhaps enough left over to buy myself lunch, so I’m content. As a result of that modest income, it’s a hobby that doesn’t cost me all that much, that I’d not be spending anyway.
I wonder, though about the point of optimizing content for added dollars. Personally, I’ve been working on that from the standpoint of bringing in additional people. Everyone, even if they’re not about making money, tries to make their site the biggest success if can be. The dollars are a secondary concern, if that. They do go hand in hand, though, so again, I have no major quibble with your point.
Now, most regular readers are keeping up with blogs through some sort of feed reader and clicking in to the site itself only to participate in the comments section discussion or (in the case of partial feeds) to finish reading entries that interest them.
I find about 25% of my traffic coming in for single hits from such sources.
A more recent phenomenon is the rise of “splogs,” auto-generated blogs that are created by stealing material off of RSS feeds for popular blogs. The splogs make money from unearned page impressions generated by search engines, drawing traffic and money away from sites that actually created the content. Even worse, the splogs often wind up ranked higher in the search engines than the original sites, since the splogs tend to micro-focus on a handful of keywords, and the original sites actually get penalized in the rankings because of “duplicate content.”
A real problem, this. I recently, as you, added a copyright notice to my RSS feeds to clamp down on that kind of nonsense. Trouble was, that feeds I’d signed on for…(Blogburst, for example) had some problems running those feeds with the copyrights in them, and that was costing me serious traffic. (One blogburst in the Chicago Sun-Times… a place I appear with some regularity… generated several thousand hits for me a few weeks ago)
I ended up removing the copyright notice. I don’t really know what can be done, with this problem.
Just about every presidential, congressional, or gubernatorial candidate now has an effort to court bloggers for favorable coverage.
I do get a lot of that kind of thing in my feedback bin. So far, I’ve been mostly ignoring it. You state yourself, my exact reason for ignoring most of them:
Bloggers who work briefly for a campaign, especially for a controversial candidate, tend to be forever tarred with that association and readers naturally wonder whether they’re getting unvarnished views.
I’ve seen it happen with Henke, for example. He’s still catching hell for work he did years ago. It comes, at the end, down to long term credibility.
While there are more thoughtful, moderate tone blogs now than ever, the trend has been toward harsh polemics. Many of the top political bloggers have come on to the scene since I started and almost all who have risen to the top have been more Ann Coulter or Michael Moore than George Will or David Broder.
This is reflective, not a driver, of what’s already out there, James. People are beginning to understand, possibly for the first time in decades, that, as a friend says, ideas have real consequences in real lives, particularly when set out as policy. This is not a matter of intellectual gamesmanship, this is not the Harvard debate society… These things affect real people. This increase in anger is a reflection of the anger already out there, and is why often the ones who shout louder get more traffic.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic as things occur to me, and as the discussion over there, (and at Aaron’s) develops.