Three questions for the future of the blogospherePosted on December 12, 2010
It’s a measure of Iain Dale’s huge success as a blogger that his departure from the blogosphere has led people to question the very future of political blogging itself.
A blog is dead, but blogging will live on – there is no reason inherent to blogging why the medium itself should die out, unless Government sets out to destroy it. Twitter is a complementary not competing medium, offering an outlet for snap reaction, jokes and debate but not providing space for longer analysis.
The real questions over the future of blogging are about its form and freedom. To my mind there are three essential issues about what may lie ahead.
There is a natural churn in any industry or hobby – but to have churn, new must come in as old departs. This blog is still a relatively new arrival on the scene, but I confess I can only think of a couple of other new political bloggers. Of course that may be because i haven’t found them yet, not because they don’t exist. Which brings us on to the second question:
How will the blogosphere function? The right wing blogosphere has developed – utterly organically – an infrastructure. Three main hubs (Iain Dale, ConservativeHome and Guido Fawkes) pull together the blogging that’s out there and transmit traffic to blogs further down the food chain.
One of those hubs has been removed, though I know Iain has expressed an interest in keeping the Daley Dozen feature going.
It’s not particularly healthy for any sector to be so reliant on so few hubs. The Big Three didn’t set out to build a monopoly – nor could they if they wished, given the way the Internet works. All three have in fact gone out of their way to provide a ladder for smaller blogs to garner extra readership through regular linking.
Really it’s down to the rest of us to work harder to build a new infrastructure in Iain’s place – either through a scrap that results in the emergence of another big beast or, more likely, through greater cooperation and linking between a number of medium-sized beasts.
The third and final question is the long-term and ultimately fundamental one. Who will control the blogs?
Iain’s departure is at least in part because his blogging has generated other work, such as his LBC show, which has ended up taking over his time. The ConHome team have long been able to work as essentially full time bloggers, while Guido seems to be taking the middle road of overseeing the blog while Harry Cole becomes News Editor. In the States, the professionalisation of blogging is best seen in the growth of the Gawker Media network.
This an understandable shift. Iain felt he had the choice between blogging and making a living in his dream job. Guido has strengthened his position enough to be able to afford to employ Harry but as a result has a business that consumes much of his time.
My concern is what this means for smaller blogs. On the plus side it means there is hope that at least some people can make a living from blogging.
On the down side, I fear this professionalisation may have unintended and perhaps inevitable consequences.
Look at the history of newspapers. When printing first became relatively cheap and widely feasible, in the 17th Century, it was an anarchic, free speaking and hugely popular industry that leant itself naturally to scepticism of power and authority.
The pamphlets produced were of varying accuracy and quality, but the public were free to decide what they liked. Ultimately, the pamphleteers’ radicalism was one of the driving factors in the English Civil War and the birth of the libertarian movement in England. The parallels with the recent history of blogging are obvious.
But the pamphlets eventually changed. Essentially, they became modern newspapers. Writers were able to become professionals, and quality improved – but regulation tightened its grip, and eventually a turgid morbidity set in. 300 years on, those weaknesses led blogs to become appealing, necessary and successful.
So maybe we’re seeing a similar shift taking place online (only faster, given the speed of modern technology). Professionalisation of the blogosphere is market-driven, so there’s little we can do about that. What we can and must do to escape the eventual fate of the pamphleteers is resist regulation. Hazel Blears has already led calls for the regulation of blogs, and I’m sure more such voices will follow – keen to stamp out a source of uncomfortable criticism and scrutiny.
There is a danger that as leading bloggers become professionals, Government will use the shift as an excuse to regulate what they can portray as an industry. Only by nipping that in the bud will hobbyists, spare-time bloggers and potential stars of the future be able to keep going. As with any market, to ensure competition and innovation the barriers to entry must be kept low.
If some bloggers are able to become professionals, then good luck to them – but to keep the medium relevant and therefore alive it must remain open, cheap to do and above all free to speak as it wishes.