I started writing a blog around four years ago. It was actually this very site, Syntagma, when it was a participant in the American tech blogosphere, probably the most developed and literate part of the blog scene.
Later, I moved away from a precise blog format and began concentrating on finance worldwide, then British politics.
In the early days, the tech blogosphere was dominated by techmeme.com, an aggregator site that pushes posts up the ladder of a river of news depending on the number and importance of the links coming into them.
Techmeme monitored 1000 sites then, including Syntagma, so we often appeared in the list.
Occasionally a massive squabble broke out involving A-list tech bloggers, like Robert Scoble, Jason Calacanis, Dave Winer and others. I quickly learnt that this was deliberate “link baiting”, a process that drags in links, and traffic, from everyone trying to jump on the bandwagon. The idea was to get Google-juice, which pushed up your PageRank and thus earned you more search traffic.
These blogs could not charge for their often high-quality material, so they depended on Google’s Adsense “pay-per-click” advertising system, and some affiliate programs, to finance the work. It explains the rather shrill tone of the blogosphere, compared with the stately progress of broadsheet newspapers.
As I’ve only joined the British political website scene in the past year or so, I’m aware of how small it is compared to the US tech and political blogospheres.
The left is waywardly adrift in the bracing, freedom-loving air of the blog frontier. The likes of Derek Draper perceive it as an opportunity to smear, close down, and generally harry anyone who disagrees with them. They are totally out of kilter with both the potential and the netiquette of the medium.
John Prescott’s humour, and ability to laugh at himself, stands him out as a possible survivor. A few others on the left “get it”, but not many.
Some blogs are read because they are snarky and rude, but the material reflects the readership. The best are cool, informative and as accurate as it’s possible to be writing from a small office or bedroom outside Westminster. Some bloggers have journalistic or other writing backgrounds — they tend to be the best.
Is small beautiful? It’s different, and if done with a deft touch, makes a good contribution to politics in Britain.
I’m not one of those people who thinks blogs will destroy national newspapers — they are all online in any case. Nor do I think the nationals are so superior they will easily swat away the gadflies of small-time blogs.
I have enough tree-rings in the trunk to view the predicted loss of national newspapers with dismay. I couldn’t imagine waking up without the morning papers. Besides, reading everything online is bad for the eyesight. I’ve known a few bloggers who have developed serious eye problems.
Blogs are getting better all the time. Some academic, business and technical blogs provide sober, accurate material of a quality and relevance not found elsewhere. Like choosing your daily paper, it’s a matter of personal selection.
My guess is that as news migrates online, it will become terser and briefer, mobile oriented. Twitter is a sign of the times. Commentary, op-eds and personal opinions are ideal for high-quality blogs, which need to establish an audience through relevance and readability. Most of them will also need to make money, which is not easy.
The question at the top of this piece is: Will bloggers bring down Gordon Brown? Guido’s emails were sent to Sunday papers where they made a much bigger splash than on his blog.
They triggered an almost unprecedented tide of disgust from commentators on the left. Senior Labour people are also weighing in.
Brown must feel beleaguered in his Downing Street bunker. One can imagine even Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell silently going to ground as Brown has done on many occasions in the past.
The weight of all this approbrium will surely convince him of two things: one, he can’t win the next election and, two, waiting around for it to happen is not worth the strain to himself and his family.
If he does go, the history books will record that Paul Staines, the blogger at Guido Fawkes website, set the ball rolling. It will be a major scalp for blogging and online writers in the field.
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Midweek Politics: Gordon Brown will resign soon
Midweek Politics: Will the Tories be any better?
This is the first in a new feature in which our team of roving blog hunters will prowl the UK political blogosphere in search of juicy tit-bits, gossip, breaking news and unbelievable bloopers.
Please let us know if you would like your blog put on our Watch List. Incidentally, we do correct obvious typos.
This is our first selection:
Peter Hoskin, Coffee House
A 20-point lead for the Tories
Here are the headline numbers from the latest Ipsos-MORI poll:
Conservatives — 48 percent (up 4 percentage points)
Labour — 28 percent (down 2)
Lib Dems — 17 percent (no change)
Aside from the hefty Tory lead, the unchanged Lib Dem position is worth noting – especially in view of the astonishing gains they’ve been making in other recent polls.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph Blogs
I will never come back to Davos
The incensed leaders then walked out passed packed ranks of trembling Davos enthusiasts — all believers in civilized comity, and all horrified by this display of raw and visceral feeling — into a hall where a light-hearted Strauss Waltz was being played with shocking insouciance.
The mood of the blogs may be the mood of the nation
Most are appalled by public profligacy and waste, by the gross unfairness of job losses and more rules for the private sector, and better expenses and bonuses for the public sector.
Janet Daley, Telegraph Blogs
Like John Major before him, Gordon Brown clings on
After a brief and rather surreal blip in which he appeared to be absolutely delighted by the economic crisis, Gordon Brown once again looks like a dead man walking.
Iain Dale’s Diary
David Cameron on State Funding and the Internet
In politics you’ve got to have a feel for what’s going on but you mustn’t allow yourself to get obsessed by any one thing. The BBC site is good, I look at Guido, your blog, and I think the Spectator Coffee House is bloody good. I also love Willem Buiter’s blog on the FT site. I tend to look at them on the Blackberry in the back of a car.
Iain Martin, Telegraph Blogs
£219 billion extra a year. How did Labour manage to spend so much so badly?
The Conservatives might hope secretly that the situation is so bad that Darling and Brown will have to go for emergency spending cuts and tax rises, meaning the worst news being delivered on Labour’s watch. But I suspect the PM would have to be dragged kicking and screaming from Number 10 rather than agree to it (incidentally, if his detachment from reality continues that may be the ultimate outcome).
No, the Tories are not going to be gifted an easy way out. They will inherit a house of horrors.
Benedict Brogan, Mail Blogs
Will Gordon take German leave?
My sense is we should ignore the idea itself (consider the questions: More short lived than Callaghan? Putting one of the guilty men in charge of the recovery? Do historians make good accountants? Alan Johnson?) and consider instead what it tells us about the mood in the upper reaches of the party.
And finally … Derek Draper, LabourList
Apology from our editor
In some of the comment on LabourList, our editor referred to critics as “windowlickers”‘ Absolutely no offence was intended by the use of this term, which Derek has explained and apologised for over on his personal blog.
Windowlickers? What can he mean?
Selected by John Evans
As it’s Sunday I’ve decided to give Gordon Brown a day off and continue with yesterday’s topic, “blogging”.
Doesn’t that sound old hat? Blogging is like last year’s newspapers — only of interest to historians and obsessives. Blogging, though, continues to get immense coverage on the “blogosphere,” mainly because lots of people invested money in it.
What I want to do here — very briefly — is to convince them they need to shift focus just a little to grasp the wider picture. Two years ago I wrote a rather silly piece on why I hated the “B” word in all its derivations. So I do have form here — I’m not just going off on one.
Blogs, or weblogs, began life as a new system of mass publishing. It made it easy for anyone interested in distributing their thoughts globally to do so at minimum cost. No wonder mainstream publishers felt threatened.
The problem for bloggers and blog-related businesses is that the word itself comes from a typical counter-culture and remains deeply embedded there. To say “blog” instead of “mass publishing technology” is to separate blogging from the world of publishing and lose its significance. Nowadays, “blogging” seems closer to politics than technology.
Typically, the mainstream has hoovered it up, adapted it to its own needs, and moved on. They have also raised the threshold of excellence by adding expensive new technologies.
When bloggers insist on standing aside, wearing their badge of defiance — blogging — they resemble the anti-capitalist mobs of the 1990s, the ragged-trousered international Marxists of the 1980s, and the newer “climuttchange” fanatics. They don’t seem part of the human race.
In the beginning blogging was a genuine topic of interest because it did have an immense releasing effect for many new voices. Now that it’s mainstream stuff, people should stop trying to create distinctions that are no longer there. They are not helping themselves if they want to earn a living online. Moving on is what successful people do, as Jason Calacanis has.
Blogging is not a movement, it’s lots of individuals doing their own thing.
Face it, blogging is boring. In the end, it’s what you publish, not how you published it that matters.
Another week, another blog network wraps itself up. This time it’s the business network, Know More Media, which was particularly hard hit by Google’s ranking penalties.
Like BlogNation, a UK-based outfit, they simply ran out of money. I can think of many others that suffered the same fate, but will spare you the litany.
Even the few networks that professionalized themselves by raising VC funding and bringing in experienced managers, are finding the going tough right now. Earlier predictions of another dotcom bust are not off the table yet.
I’ve written many pieces here over the past three years on the choices faced by network owners and the chances of success. Most warned of this present crisis. As a result, Syntagma was ahead of the pack in diversifying into specialist information products on subscription terms. We have not yet felt the full force of the U.S. recession-in-progress.
The coming steep downturn in the UK will have minimum effect on us, except if the pound sterling falls relative to the dollar, in which case we will see our income rise on a windfall.
In America, the startup industry is losing momentum fast, although there’s no shortage of brave souls willing to chance more than their arms.
So, what’s to be done if you have invested heavily in an internet business, whether content or blogging-based or not?
The answer is to spot the second bounce of the ball.
As the economies eventually begin to turn around and a slow recovery takes place, most people will be looking out for “little green shoots” to signify a return to economic growth. In the early 1990s those shoots were a long time coming, and when they did, they grew slowly like hardwood trees, not the swift pines we were hoping for. I suspect the little shoots will keep us waiting even longer this time.
Green shoots may be interesting, but watching for the second bounce of the ball is usually more profitable. If the first bounce online for many of us was mass publishing technologies, what could the second be?
Providing content on your own platform as both writer and publisher makes sense because it cuts costs. Hiring other writers to do it for you made sense three years ago, but with advertisers shunning small-to-medium operations it’s probably easier to flip burgers.
Now we need a second bounce to reflate the whole business of working successfully online.
Forget social media. Maggie Jackson’s book Distracted: The Erosion Of Attention And The Coming Dark Age highlights the price we pay — including actual brain damage — for standard multi-tasking and trying to keep abreast of the information space.
As in my own book on the subject, Mediate Yourself, this is now becoming a common theme whose time is about to come. Finding ways not just of sifting and processing information but relating it to people’s essential requirements is a major path forward. Limiting individuals’ needs to interact with screens is probably more relevant still.
Simplifying the lives of knowledge workers is the big leap forward that will take us to the next level.
So far technology and software have complicated human life immeasurably. The constant pressure to upgrade and learn new tricks is mind-mashingly painful for most people — hence the brain damage.
The truth is, there may be no single second bounce this time, but a series of mini-bounces, with no one golden goose presenting itself for carving.
At Syntagma, we have our eyes on a variety of possibilities. To use a rugby term, all it needs is for someone to pick up a ball and run with it. As I write, there are not many runners out there.
Oh well, I’ll just have to do it myself, I suppose.
“It’s with a heavy heart, and much consideration, that today I would like to announce my retirement from blogging.”
Jason McCabe Calacanis
Hold the front page? Well, yes, maybe — at least of the Silicon Alley Reporter, the U.S. trade magazine he founded.
Jason Calacanis is more widely known as the man who sold a network of blogs for around $30m to AOL a few years back. He is one of Web 2.0′s highest flyers in the sense that he turned big thoughts into big bucks. He now runs his own hand-rolled search engine, Mahalo.
His resignation “post” (as purists still call them) is worthy of Victorian melodrama, leading to charges of link-baiting — a common way of driving traffic to blogs. Naturally, he denies this, claiming never to have soiled his hands with such practices. Perish the thought.
He will, he says, replace his blogging activities with a private email list comprising roughly 1000 subscribers, all drawn from a group he calls “insiders”. These are intelligent, tech and business types of the kind most often found in Silicon Valley, California. So if you’re an Albanian circus performer with limited English, don’t bother to apply.
Why this move, and why now? Obvious answers include:
1. blogging has had its day.
2. attention spans are getting shorter, hence Twitter.
3. good bloggers often work as hard as journalists for little pay.
4. blogging has failed to build a reputation for quality.
5. spam comments have brought the system to its knees.
6. blog comments have let in demons from the outer darkness.
And there are many more reasons than those.
For good writers with something original to say, blogging has become a downward-leveller, rather than an enabler, as originally intended by weblog pioneers like Dave Winer. If you are a serious blogger, most readers will assume your opinions are prejudices, and ranting your principal method of communication. Otherwise, why don’t you write for The Guardian or Scientific American?
Commenters will lead you to believe the worst of the human race, which is why the traffic lights at the top of this site read “Comments OFF, Email ON.” Signs like this are becoming more prevalent around the “blogosphere” as people start to audit their return on capital from blogging.
The email list system is more like a private forum in which selected subscribers discuss topics in a “thread,” in this case the leader of the group’s weekly email. As a method of publishing to a coterie of like-minded individuals who are able to develop the arguments and refine them in a civilized fashion, the list has much to commend it. It’s also very cheap — no paper, printing and postage costs, or time-overhead batting away the daft, stupid, nasty and positively evil intruders.
For an author writing a nonfiction book with closely-argued chapters, it would be an excellent way of fact-checking the material and the logic of its presentation bit by bit, without having to submit it to academic specialists for verification before publishing.
In Jason Calacanis’s case, I would suspect he just wants to express himself in writing without all the hassle from trolls and oddballs.
In the end, the wisdom of crowds is no such thing because the most reckless, outspoken elements inevitably rise to leadership positions, drowning out more measured voices.
Meritocracy — the spirit of excellence, with decisions taken at points of maximum competence — always needs nurturing in cell-like establishments.
Let’s face it, the world is too big for any one individual to make much of an impact without vast wealth or political power. The blogosphere has become so enormous, comprised of multitudes of tiny, discrete pieces that it takes on the laws of quantum physics rather than the world of direct contact with our peers that humans crave.
There’s no worse tragedy than to have communicated widely for years only to discover that the throng out there still doesn’t know what you’ve been talking about.