Extracting the “Public Opinion” from Blogs

I apologize for not being able to write a lot these last few weeks. I’ve been mostly busy working on a chapter about the theory of public opinion for my final thesis. This was a very enlightening experience, since it opened my eyes on the different ways one can take when measuring the “voix publique” and the corresponding problems. The question I raised at the end of the chapter in my thesis is the one I ask here: do blogs represent the public opinion? This is indeed a very tricky question, but if one takes a look at what the public opinion actually is, there is hope still, that the question can be answered!

The concept of a public opinion comes from the 18th century France, where it was represented by a group of similarly educated, well-read intellectuals. Due to the similarity in the education and the philosophy of the members of the group, the critique they expressed tended to come in unison, hence the initial singular in “public opinion”. Later on, as more differently educated social groups appeared, the “one” public opinion dispersed into the opinions of these groups. By the 20th century, every person was considered bright enough to think on his own, so the notion of an “opinion expressed in social groups” was dropped for a more “public” definition of the term.

However, ever since the public opinion was considered to be a sum of all the personal opinions in the public, no one has been really able to grasp it anymore. Multiple institutions for research of public opinion exist all over the world, but all they do is question the people on the street (at home, on the Web, whatever.. keyword is “at random”). The biggest problem with this approach is that though not every person has an opinion to every subject, they’re still browbeaten by the interviewers to say something..

On the other hand, most people have opinions to certain subjects. And most of us wouldn’t mind sharing them, provided that our anonymity is guaranteed. These are thus exactly the thoughts and opinions that one should gather in order to get an idea of the so called “public opinion”. How do we find these people? Look on the Web! Find all posts that deal with a topic that you want to examine and see what people are saying. This is being done already by specialized brand-monitoring companies like Trackur, which was just recently reviewed on ReadWriteWeb. Unfortunately, however, such services still run for a fee and not for all the random subjects around us.

Thus I would argue that a service that gives its’ users an overview of the “hot” topics and the opinions about these should be of great value and interest to everyone from a common man to a scheming politician. It’s time to put a stop to the “A”-blogs dominating the agenda like the social groups of the 19th century. There is much more information out there that is just as exciting and valuable, we just tend to underestimate the long tail. To get an impression of the matter just click over to this post over at the Data Mining blog and take a look at the odds for a “normal” blogger getting a headline at a site like TechMeme compared to those of an “A”-blogger. Impressive huh? Now just try to imagine the diversity of the topics and opinions in the public blogs.. it’s IMMENSE!

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