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Bloggers Take Action

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Monday was Blog Action Day, when bloggers worldwide were called to post something to raise consciousness about the environment. Peter Hirshberg, chief marketing officer of Technorati, considers whether it worked.


Okay, everybody, do you know what yesterday was? First person who says October 15th gets a smack.

Yesterday, was the first ever Blog Action Day. An activist group asked bloggers around the world to post at least one specific topic on this one specific topic: making the plea on their Web site and through YouTube videos like this.

(Soundbite of video clip)

Unidentified Man: What will you be doing on October 15th?

Unidentified Woman: What will you be doing on October 15th?

Unidentified Man: For over 6,000 bloggers from all around the world, October 15th is Blog Action Day.

STEWART: So what did you do? Did you know this, Luke?



(Soundbite of laughter)


BURBANK: Riveted to my blog.

STEWART: Well, here's the deal. All these bloggers wanted everybody to write about one topic: the environment. So you have Lifehacker putting out a call to its readers for tips on simple things people could do to tread more lightly on the earth. On Unclutterer, another blog, there was advice on cleaning your refrigerator coils. And the big question is did this work? Did this call to action lead to sending a mass message?

The Technorati is a search engine and a blog aggregator. Its chief marketing officer, Peter Hirshberg, joins us on the phone.

Hey, Peter.

Mr. PETER HIRSHBERG (Chief Marketing Officer, Technorati): Good morning.

STEWART: So how big a presence was Blog Action Day on Technorati?

Mr. HIRSHBERG: Well, yesterday, the term Blog Action Day itself shot up from kind of a background of, say, 400 posts a day talking about it in the week leading up to it and maybe just 30 a day before that. On the 15th, there were about 1,500 posts specifically calling out, and about 5,500 that used that term. So that's a pretty big rise over the background.

But then if you simply look at posts that were using the word environment, they were hanging in there around 6,000 posts a day in the days leading up to this. So it looked like leading into the Blog Action Day, an awful lot of awareness had been created.

STEWART: You know, it's pretty amazing. We actually got a post on our blog about Blog Action Day. Someone wrote: I invented a new word, blogact, for blogging plus activism. I've given an example of it on my blog. I would love to hear from all you blogactors.

So do you think this actually worked in terms of getting the word out, or at least getting the word out about that you can create these sort of mass events?

Mr. HIRSHBERG: I think, you know, Blog Action Day is the number one search on Technorati at this hour. So clearly, in terms of what's on people's minds and looking for something, it rolls over the noise. And since it's the number one search, that means word got out and people got curious.

On the other hand, people blog about the environment so much and so often. If you simply look at the word environment against the background of, kind of, the word environment over the last few months, there wasn't that much of a change. Because on any given day, politics, the environment and technology are such popular topics in technology.

So I think what this did was within an awful lot of focus on the environment, it probably got an awful lot of those people talking about it because if you do a search on Blog Action Day, it just goes on and on and on because, you know, there were tens of thousands of people who actually wrote about that term. There's 97,000 blog posts about the term Blog Action Day, you know, going back over the last few months.

STEWART: Yeah. Probably a better control group to see if this thing kind of thing would actually work would be like to blog - everybody blog about peanut butter tomorrow - or just some odd term.

BURBANK: Actually, tomorrow is peanut butter action day, so it's coincidental you would bring that up.

Mr. HIRSHBERG: You know, the blogger Snowball, one day, actually wanted to do that experiment. And he made up a word that did not exist. The word so unique, it could have not been in the search engine. And he basically told bloggers, start using this as a tag in your blog. Everybody started using it. And, indeed, all of the world's search engines realized whatever this was, it was important.

So it isn't that difficult for a number of bloggers to actually create a change of attention in the blogosphere because things can move quickly. But in this case, it really wasn't so much gaming as, you know, bloggers picked up the concept we should talk about this.

The other interesting thing is an awful lot of the conversation was meta. That is to say an awful lot of this is about Blogger Action Day as oppose to say…

STEWART: About the environment?

Mr. HIRSHBERG: …my refrigerator, right.


Mr. HIRSHBERG: Because if we do a search on Blogger Action Day, most of them say yesterday was Blogger Action Day. Today is Blogger Action Day. We better talk about the environment. Of course, underneath that people are talking about the environment. It points out how easy it is to get people focused, motivated and able to do these things. And yet the blogosphere itself is so big that if you have a topic that's pretty popular, you know, you're almost focusing that energy, because, you know, the blogosphere cares deeply about the environment. You know, and that's been going on for a while, but certainly Al Gore's film began the long march of that was, you know, one of the top names.

BURBANK: I guess what I'm wondering, I can't help but think of Howard Dean when I hear about this kind of thing, which is a sort of online, you know, discussion of something or someone. And then I wonder if it ever jumps off the computer and into the real world. I mean, does it really do any good in terms of these environmental causes to have all these people talking about or it, or does it just stay in the world of binary code?

Mr. HIRSHBERG: The blogosphere can have huge impacts on the offline world. You know, if bloggers find out a story, whether it was the Swift Boat scandal or the stuff that, you know, unseated "60 Minutes" or bloggers finding out that a particular advertiser's doing something inauthentic. That stuff is picked up by mainstream media as, look, that's news, and it can have an enormous impact. You know, it had impacts on the composition of the Senate on the political races.

In this case, when the conversation is, hey, let's talk about the environment, you know, the blogosphere's forced us to suddenly get people to pay attention and do something. But the call of action here is basically talk about the environment. If the call to action was to expose some terrible environmental fraud or something like that, then the question is, you know, would you bring up actions?

So the blogosphere is really good on bringing about action. But if the event is to go talk about something, when it comes up in front of mainstream media to decide, hey, is this a page one item? They may look at this and say, well, this is more of an experiment and creating attention than in a particular change.

STEWART: Did you see any posts on any blog about the environment specifically linked to Blog Action Day which you thought was particularly effective?

Mr. HIRSHBERG: I mean, I think the most effective thing is - was the degree to which it was being used so much. And then if we actually zero down, the other interesting thing you saw was an awful lot of the most authoritative blogs, you know, the top ones we're talking about it. So since the top of the blogosphere commands so much attention from mainstream media, I think the very fact that that was, you know, that that was focused is something that really mattered.

STEWART: And, finally, who were these people who started Blog Action Day? Do we know who's behind the curtain?

Mr. HIRSHBERG: The people behind the curtain here?


Mr. HIRSHBERG: So - Blog Action Day was a group that was created - and, I'm, actually on the site right now to go tell you about them. They call themselves an international initiative of bloggers known as Blog Action Day, and they basically went off and signed up a lot of the top blogs, who signed up others. And it was co-founded by a guy named Collis Ta'eed, who was an Australian blogger from

So one of the other interesting points here is, you know, it's very easy in the blogosphere for an idea to start down under, pick up the support of people like Greenpeace and Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation and others, and then get the word out.

STEWART: And start from the top down.


STEWART: Start with your big blogs and let it trickle on down.

Mr. HIRSHBERG: Well, I think they got - I think once they got the word out, they got - you know, they knew that the word would get to everybody. And then what they wanted to do is make sure those big blogs are kind of spreading the word. But it looks like across the blogosphere, if you care about the environment, this was on your mind yesterday.

STEWART: Peter Hirshberg is a chief marketing officer of Technorati, the search engine and blog aggregator.

Thanks so much.

Mr. HIRSHBERG: Thank you.

STEWART: Sounds like Blog Action Day was a semi-success - for the first one, anyway.

BURBANK: I feel if you could look into that guy's head it would be a series of circuits and wires and moving numbers around. The guy's more about who's looking at what than anyone. Thanks to him.

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