Does the blogosphere matter?
Remember the blogosphere? In all the talk about Twitter, it's easy to forget that the political blogs were until recently seen as the place to go for breaking news, gossip and a different view of the Westminster village from that provided by the mainstream media. But are the bloggers - from Guido Fawkes to Labour List to Lib Dem Voice - going to make a mark on the campaign?
The Conservatives indeed believe that the blogosphere matters, if a row that's broken out this week is any indication. It's an argument between a Conservative-supporting newspaper and a blogger from the right about whether criticism of David Cameron's leadership is appropriate so soon before an election. But it's the man from the mainstream media, Damian Thompson of the Telegraph, who is the radical outsider here, while Tim Montgomerie of the influential Conservative Home blog is the one calling for unity and restraint.
He argues that it's madness for right-wing bloggers to lob grenades at their own side - "There is a time for debate on the Right and a time to either be silent or gun for Labour."
But Damian Thompson, who is blogs editor at the Telegraph, suggested that Mr Montgomerie had been "drinking the Kool-Aid". He went on to reveal that an un-named Conservative had been prevented by party officials from writing a blog post for the paper, claiming "the Tories were terrified that he or she might accidentally go off-message."
At every political party, no doubt, the high command is wondering nervously whether a few mis-spoken words on a blog could knock a whole campaign off course. But here's a question: is anybody actually listening?
I called a man at Nielsen Netratings, which compiles statistics on UK web audiences, and asked him to run his ruler over the political blogs. After having a look at the likes of www.order-order.com and www.labourlist.org he warned that, with unique user figures well below 50,000, they were really too small to measure with any accuracy (see update below).
But if the audience for the bloggers is tiny most of the time, their influence can still be huge. Here's an example: the Conservative blogger Iain Dale ran an exclusive this morning about a possible threat to a 6 May election. He reported that returning officers had written to the Electoral Commission threatening a strike over plans to make them count votes overnight.
Cue panicked phone-calls around Westminster as journalists - and, according to the blogger, ministers and senior civil servants - chased down the latter and tried to work out whether a delay in the election timetable was a realistic threat.
Then Iain Dale revealed that it had all been an April Fool stunt - though one that might struggle to raise a laugh even inside the Westminster village.
Political blogs serve many purposes: preaching to the respective choirs; watering-holes for commenters; commentary that's too serious, or too ribald (or both) for newspapers and TV. But among the more prominent bloggers, there's still a clear hunger to get hold of an old-fashioned big story before anyone else.
It seems to me - I may of course be mistaken - that it's a while now since any them has produced a real scoop. The next few weeks will give bloggers another chance to prove that they, rather than the boring old mainstream media, can change the weather in an election campaign.
Update 1748: Guido Fawkes of Order Order has been in touch to express his irritation with my use of Nielsen figures above.