Saturday, February 19, 2005

UK Blogging: officially a pointless waste of everyone's time

The other day, over at The Yorkshire Ranter, there was a piece about how Americans seem to think the British bloggosphere is effectively nonexistent. It was a prescient post, it seems...

Hell, I mean if abject failure Iain Duncan Smith says blogging's got potential (especially for the Conservative party's revival), it must be dead, right? This is coming from the man who said he'd lead the Tories to victory in the forthcoming General Election, but who is now a balding nonentity on the backbenches. This is also coming from a politician so on the cutting edge of technological change that his own website doesn't appear on the first three pages of Google after a search for his name. Hardly the soothsayer UK political bloggers were after...

Judging by my own experiences of the UK bloggosphere, the whole thing is indeed largely pointless. A determined few, led primarily by Manic over at Bloggerheads via campaigns such as his latest Backing Blair lark are genuinely trying to make a difference. Around 80% of the rest seem to be either single-issue obsessives, vindictive arseholes or nowhere near as educated or clever as they think they are. The remaining 20% is made up of people - like me - who really just want to be columnists on a national newspaper. Why the hell do our opinions matter? Precisely.

As for this blog, despite having built up a respectable amount of traffic since I started updating it regularly at the end of August last year, it has thus far achieved precisely bugger all - beyond wasting my time and causing me a lot of irritation. Although I know that several thousand people read the bloody thing each week, the majority of the interaction via the comments section and emails etc. seems to come from fellow bloggers - many of whom are never going to agree with me about anything.

I seem neither to have convinced anyone about my point of view on anything nor to have provoked any real thought, as most comments seem utterly to have missed the point. The only thing which is nice is the occasional word of praise from someone who agrees with me entirely. There is, apparently, no middle ground - even though I'd count myself as a political centrist and support no single party, so should be able to find common cause with people from across the political spectrum.

It could, however, be different with other political bloggers. As I have no agenda (despite what some may think) beyond wanting to think about the issues a bit and work out where I stand, coming high up the Google rankings for various search terms is merely a minor ego-boost (after all, I'm writing this under a pseudonym - it's hard to be overly impressed that my "Nosemonkey" persona is doing well, and Nosemonkey's success is unlikely to get me any work under my own name). For political parties and MPs blogs may be useful for promoting their policies and profiles online, but I doubt they will ever win fresh converts.

Unfortunately, for politicians to blog presupposes that any normal member of the public can actually be arsed to look up anything political on the interwebnet, rather than merely buggering about downloading movies and hunting for free porn. Most people interested in politics (who make their presence known online) seem to be committed to one particular party and one particular world view. They are frequently dogmatic and vehement in their support for their chosen ethos, and either contemptuous of those who disagree or unwilling to actually pay sufficient attention to alternative arguments before responding with a stock answer which is only vaguely related to the initial topic. These people are not likely to be won over by reasoned argument, or even to visit sites written by people with whom they disagree other than to look for a fight.

The blog of EU Commissioner Margot Wallstrom is a prime case in point. Her comments section has thus far seen two kinds of response, and two kinds of response alone: (1) Uncritical support from random passing EU citizens who think what she's doing is an interesting new approach, and (2) General attacks (rarely, if ever, confined to the topic of her postings) on both her personally and the EU in general from strongly anti-EU bloggers and their loyalist readers.

The ratio between positive and negative comments is approximately 1:10 - the anti-EU lot are there in their droves, apparently determined to make the poor woman so fed up with the whole thing that she simply gives in. Exactly the scame scenario can be seen over at the Yes Campaign Blog's comments section, and - on and off - in the comments sections of most UK politicians' blogs (bar that of the widely popular Boris).

The damage that these attacks by people who disagree can do was especially apparent during the Hartlepool by-election, where the rabid tactics of anonymous posters trying to undermine the chances of Lib Dem candidate Jody Dunn were quite possibly a factor in her losing the election. There was also some unpleasantness (some of which could have resulted in libel writs were it to have taken place in traditional print media) revolving around online campaigners against Lib Dem MP Sandra Gidley - and the ongoing Gidley Watch blog is another example of the pitfalls for politicians if your opponents decide to get obsessive. The experiences of Dunn and Gidley prove amply that blogging is just as likely to be a curse for politicians - the benefits do not necessarily outweigh the potential pitfalls.

In short, Duncan Smith is talking out of his arse. Again. And UK political bloggers really do have a long, long way to go. Maybe Tim Worsthall's idea of a UK political blog roundup may help change things and get us bloggers (of whatever political persuasion) acting a tad more constructively together to build up proper online networks and sensible debates, but it has to be said that from what I've seen so far I'm not too optimistic...

Sunday update: Think I'm a whinging cynic? Have a read of Martin Stabe's more considered analysis of the British bloggosphere.

16 Comments:

Blogger Marc said...

I think UK bloggers are having some effect, a small effect to be sure, on the BBC. As a direct result of bloggers, I have seen the BBC retract stories, reword some and delete articles off of BBC reporters blogs.

Sometimes it is done by stealth editing and sometimes openly.

I know for a fact that they read Biased BBC because we have had conversations with them.

I believe it was UK bloggers who exposed John Simpson's debacle over Iraqi civilian casualties and forced the BBC to retract the story.

It may be sometime before we are as successful as US bloggers but I for one am not giving up.

http://ussneverdock.blogspot.com/

Scott Burgess http://dailyablution.blogs.com/

has had some success with the BBC and the Guardian.

2/19/2005 06:08:00 pm  
Anonymous Toby said...

"I seem neither to have convinced anyone about my point of view on anything nor to have provoked any real thought, as most comments seem utterly to have missed the point. The only thing which is nice is the occasional word of praise from someone who agrees with me entirely."

Isn't this always the way? Not just with blogging, but with political debate in general? Anyone who already has an opinion is rarely going to have it changed by reading, or hearing, an opponent's. The only real point in the debate - in my view - is so that undecided people can watch and see to which side they gravitate. In that respect, I suspect blogging is as effective relative to its audience size as anything else.

2/19/2005 07:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Armin said...

I don't know, have the US bloggers really achieved that much more than UK bloggers?

Sure, they have lots of readers, but then the country is obviously much bigger and also more foreigners are interested in US politics simply because it impacts them more than UK politics.

Apart from that?

They claim they got a few people fired or demoted, e.g. Dan Rather. I doubt they convinced many (if any) people to vote for someone different, let alone vote in the first place.

Actually, over the last few days I've read the first critical and/or concerned voices among bloggers (e.g. Anil Dash) about how bloggers in a way portray themselves and are seen by non-bloggers: Bloggers are the people who get people fired, once the blog mob gets going you don't have a chance.

Bloggers too often react instead of bringing up new topics and issues. Which in turn could bring new opportunities: Start _new_ discussions, instead of just reacting and dissecting what the traditional press writes.

2/19/2005 07:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Armin said...

I don't know, have the US bloggers really achieved that much more than UK bloggers?

Sure, they have lots of readers, but then the country is obviously much bigger and also more foreigners are interested in US politics simply because it impacts them more than UK politics.

Apart from that?

They claim they got a few people fired or demoted, e.g. Dan Rather. I doubt they convinced many (if any) people to vote for someone different, let alone vote in the first place.

Actually, over the last few days I've read the first critical and/or concerned voices among bloggers (e.g. Anil Dash) about how bloggers in a way portray themselves and are seen by non-bloggers: Bloggers are the people who get people fired, once the blog mob gets going you don't have a chance.

Bloggers too often react instead of bringing up new topics and issues. Which in turn could bring new opportunities: Start _new_ discussions, instead of just reacting and dissecting what the traditional press writes.

2/19/2005 07:24:00 pm  
Blogger Anoneumouse said...

My name is Anoneumouse, I have a drink problem and I am a vindictive arsehole.

.

2/19/2005 08:17:00 pm  
Blogger Charlie Whitaker said...

I don't see any evidence for bloggers, UK or otherwise, "exposing" anything about the BBC's reporting of Iraqi casualties.

The history is this: someone at the Iraqi Ministry of Health supplied Panorama with a breakdown of fatalities. Panorama reported it. The Iraqi Ministry of Health then "clarified" the figures. The BBC reported the clarification. (The original figures, together with the ministry's decidedly unclear clarification, are still on the BBC's web site.) Then Reuters reported on the BBC updating their own story. Then some pro-war bloggers picked up on the Reuters story.

In all of this, whichever figures you want to believe, you only have reports emanating from the Iraqi Ministry of Health to go by.

If you want to establish hard facts about the killing of civilians in Iraq, write to the Foreign Office and ask them to sponsor an large scale epidemiological survey using accepted techniques: i.e. a more thorough version of the 'Lancet' survey. I understand there's a campaign to get them to do this. After all, if they have nothing to hide, they have no reason to refuse.

2/19/2005 10:03:00 pm  
Blogger AlanK said...

Nosemonkey

time will tell whether UK bloggers will ever be successful, but judging from other countries bloggers do seem to be growing in numbers and some extent influence

eg Iran has actually started persecuting bloggers and Iraq bloggers, one group started a political party

keep hope I am sure some UK bloggers will be having influence, if not now then maybe in the future.

alan

2/20/2005 01:03:00 am  
Blogger Tim Worstall said...

I’ll plead guilty to hassling Margot...but I do think I address the points she makes, not just random insult. I most certainly do not want her to stop...much too good as a source of material. Might even make a little difference, my comments. She is threatening to explain REACH on her next posting, something I frothed over the first time she mentioned it....and she points out that she’s going to because of comments about it.
Are blogs ever going to be an important influence in the UK? Doubt it somehow, as Martin Stabe writes today. Doesn’t detract from what I regard as the fun of the thing, snapping at the ankles of the passing scene. In the end I think we’ll have exactly as much influence as all those small scale, 500 readers, home produced magazines, very little, but some.

2/20/2005 11:08:00 am  
Blogger snooo said...

there's an easy solution to abusive comments... switch the bloody comments off if you're campaigning.

2/20/2005 11:49:00 am  
Blogger Guy said...

"As for this blog, despite having built up a respectable amount of traffic since I started updating it regularly at the end of August last year, it has thus far achieved precisely bugger all - beyond wasting my time and causing me a lot of irritation."

You have not achieved precisely bugger all.

All your posts together form a database for future reference. You are a witness of your time.

The creative process is at least as important as any result. Modern society needs more thinkers and you clearly are one of them. In artistic terms, you are creating an 'oeuvre'.

I understand your frustration, but it has helped me a lot, especially on a personal level, to focus on the process and not on any results. Results may or may not materialize, you have very little control of that.

My blog sucks compared with yours but it is a beginning, an exercise in getting and staying active mentally. Do not underestimate the long-term effects of that.

And do not forget: "blogger" is not an identity, it is an extension of your creative self. And a blog is just a tool, not an end in itself (at least for me, that is).

I hate to get all preachy and metaphysical and stuff, but your blog IS worthwile. Some way or another.

From Martin Stabe:

"Rather than months of media mudslinging providing grist for the blogger mill, British general elections trigger strict impartiallity rules in broadcasting."

Do you really want to be one of those mudslingers? :-)

2/20/2005 01:05:00 pm  
Anonymous underblog said...

I think I rather prefer british blogging to the american version. "Political Blogging" over there seems too often to be simply be a campaign tool, rather than forum for real discussion. Also, the polarised nature of american politics tends to result in dull slanging matches between bush supporters and normal people ;-) which happens less often here, I think

2/20/2005 03:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't quit. You are beginning to acquire an American audience and you can provide an important avenue of communication across the pond. Americans very much want to know what is going on in the UK but we distrust most of the media and welcome comments on current events from individual Brits.

2/20/2005 07:06:00 pm  
Blogger bebynnag said...

I can understand where you are coming from mister. But it is nice to read people opinions on politics without going all 'Maria Hutchings' on us.

I am very sceptical about the power of political blogging. A lot of the American bloggers really talk themselves up as important. But in truth, they aren't really.

2/20/2005 11:21:00 pm  
Blogger Elaib said...

Starts small but builds. Surtely the way that a combination of EU Referendum (http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2005/02/myth-four-charter-of-fundamental_10.html) and North Sea Diaries (http://www.north-sea.net/archives/340) that manged to get the FCO to admit that they had tampered with the Constitution suggests some, admittedly small influence?

2/21/2005 08:09:00 am  
Blogger Shuggy said...

Someone sounds a bit pissed off. Maybe you shouldn't read too much into the comments; people tend to leave them if they either strongly disagree or support your point of view. Who's to say the innumerable thousands who don't leave a comment aren't reaading you with a more balanced attitude? Tip for the future: sell the EU with more nudity...

2/21/2005 09:43:00 am  
Anonymous Steve said...

I've no idea how effective blogging is but I do know that it has got me off my lazy arse. In the month since I started blogging I have written more than I have in the past five years. It has also re-awakened my interest in political campaigning and I have written to my MP for the first time in years.

I only discovered your site last week and I was encouraged to see a number of bloggers writing pro-EU stuff. Blogging might even act as a focus for the coming referendum campaign.

Keep up the good work. If blogging shook me out of my apathy, it might do the same for others.

2/21/2005 05:42:00 pm  

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