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Discussing EU blogging and the unlinked EU blogosphere

My post on “The unlinked EU blogosphere” that I wrote as a complement to my post “On the state of EU blogging” has seen some follow-up in the last 9 days, so let’s take stock.

First, the new Bruegel blog used the occasion to proclaim that Europeans can’t blog. To make their point a little stronger, they overinterpreted (on purpose, I assume…) my ad hoc findings that among the last 50 blog posts highlighted on Bloggingportal.eu only 20% were linking other blogs stating that:

“In brief, Europe has bloggers, but no blogosphere: it lacks a living ecosystem to exchange and debate. Of most leading European blogs, only 1 in 5 were linked to other online content.”

First, I did not choose “leading” blogs but a set of blog posts from a mix of smaller and larger EU-focused blogs. Second, I only said they were not linking to other blogs, not that they were not linking any other online content. The point I wanted to raise was that I found there was a lack of an inter-blog debate represented through links.

The first one to react to the Bruegel post was Martinned in “Europeans can’t jump“. While disagreeing with some of the arguments put forward by the Bruegels – especially to their claim that the lack of debate in European blogs was a general cultural problem – he still confirmed the general tendency of the lack of a genuine European blogosphere. He argues that the problem was that national topics would be more interesting.

What this ignores is the strange situation that I had only chosen blogs writing about EU affairs to make my claim. What I found and still find surprising is that even blogs who are very much EU-focussed (or EU-aware) do not really enter into debate.

Today, the Free Exchange blog of the Economist continued the argument from the Bruegel blog in “It’s easier to be heard in a crowd“. An important point is raise there:

“The trouble is, if you take the interactivity out of the blogosphere, you essentially eliminate most of its potential value. The interconnectedness of the blogosphere allows it to take advantage of increasing returns to scale—the more participation in the conversation there is, the more value there is to everyone to participating in the conversation.”

The post is closed with the claim that “given the worldwide interest in and debate over the crisis in Europe, now would be an opportune time for European bloggers to deepen their interactivity“. Now while I think this is a hopeful wish, I doubt that the economic crisis as such is the moment for a more interactive blogosphere.

The crisis definitely has helped to strengthen the European Public Sphere because more and more we all become aware how interconnected our politics are, how relevant it is to discuss votes in the German parliament in Greece or French presidential elections in Germany. But that is not really a sufficient condition for blogs to interconnect, not least because I do not have the feeling that there are so many economy-focussed blogs in the national spheres that could now start interacting. But this is just a feeling, maybe I’m wrong.

The solution proposed by Kantoos Economics is that the European blogosphere needs a “nucleus of bloggers with outstanding credentials” like Krugman in the US around which economic and other debates could develop. Maybe that is indeed true, but my guess would be that this again is not enough. What was needed would be a nucleus of well-read bloggers who would actually make the effort of linking other bloggers around the Union, thereby spreading readership and debates across blogs, across borders and even across subjects.

There could be such blogs even for EU topics – like Charlemagne or Quatremer – but they do not or almost never link other blogs. Which brings me back to the unlinked EU blogosphere.

Update (last 223March 2012): More follow-ups on the unlinked EU blogosphere by Kevin Drum, German JoysSpanishwalker (who is writing his MA thesis on the subject!), Beyond Brussels, The Parisian Sketches, the Social Europe JournalProtesilaos Stavrou & Steffen Möller. In French: La Com européenne. In Spanish: Passaporte Europa, Politikon.



27 Responses to Discussing EU blogging and the unlinked EU blogosphere

  1. avatar mathew says:

    I feel pretty validated by a lot of what the Economist article says, particularly “the more participation in the conversation there is, the more value there is to everyone to participating … the audience becomes larger, which encourages writers to write more and better … [leading to] more opportunities for specialisation — investment in narrow areas of expertise that make the blogosphere a richer and deeper place

    The fact that this is not happening is that there’s a chicken-and-egg problem keeping the EU blogosphere in a vicious cycle (briefly: “there’s no point blogging about Europe because noone’s reading about it; noone’s reading about it because noone’s blogging about it”).

    The questions is how to break out into the virtuous cycle described above. I totally agree that this needs “a nucleus of well-read bloggers … linking other bloggers around the Union, thereby spreading readership and debates across blogs, across borders and even across subjects”.

    Hence the idea ‘bridging bloggers’ mooted a while ago. There are a number of axes along which these bridges can be built: specialisation, communities of interest and practice, the EU’s ‘yellow card’ procedure, old fashoned blogger outreach, etc.

    The fact remains, however, that it’s pretty difficult to see many people showing an interest while the EU Institutions themselves remain so intransparent and complicated, and see social media as a broadcast medium only.

  2. Starting from the ‘interconnectedness of the blogosphere’ I think we can also look at the reason for making your opinion known or not in the circle of EU bloggers.
    For me for example it would be to share my ideas/research in a more relaxed why that allows for greater interaction. However, we have to consider that EU subjects are very complex and involve a lot work just in getting your facts straight. Because of this it might be that intimidation could play an important role in the interaction. It might be a superficial reason for some, but being wrong in public is a scary thought for others. So, why would the ‘unlinked’ bloggers connect with other posts/blogs and risk having their opinion destroyed, or worse risk humiliation?
    I read numerous blog posts from highly regarded EU bloggers in which they decimate hordes of other bloggers that do not have their facts straight, make stupid assumptions, etc. Also, there is a habit of the blog authors to ‘forget’ or select not to respond to comments, which is not really encouraging for the pubic or other bloggers trying to interact. Add to this the ‘elitist’ way in which people dealing with EU affairs are perceived, and you reach the conclusion that you better shut up and stay in your corner.

    As a practical example I take my spatial planning/policy/development areas of interest. There isn’t a single blog dealing with European spatial planning, regional planning, or the implementation of Cohesion Policy in member states? Why? Because it’s such a complicated and vague area that regardless of how much you study you might get it wrong. This makes an unfriendly subject for unspecialised, European citizens, leaving the academics to do specialised research, which they could publish in peer-reviewed journals or blogs. But publishing your academic opinions online, without a peer-review is a dangerous thing, as being wrong could damage your reputation, so why risk it? Hope you can see where I am going with this.

    Sorry for the long post, and hope it makes sense!

    Take care!
    – Alex

  3. avatar Eric B. says:

    Strange discussion. Of course it is much easier to have a discussion and to create a blogosphere if you speak one language, like in the US, and not 23 and something, like in the EU. The EU blogs are confronted with the same problem as the news media: there is no common public space in Europe. This said, I do not understand why you claim that the blogs are not interlinked. They are, and many of them quote other blogs (so do I, by the way).

  4. avatar Craig Willy says:

    There are quite a few popular national blogs that discuss EU-economics: Krugman (admittedly not in the EU), les-crises.fr, Quatremer, Kantoos, all the FT/WSJ/Economist blogs.. I’m sure there are equivalents in Germany, Italy or Spain that I’m not familiar with.

    The issue I don’t think is “linking” to other euroblogs per se. (Which sounds like asking “Is the euro-blogosphere self-referential enough?” To which the answer I think is clearly a rather depressing yes.) The issue is that these are national blogs about EU issues talking to national audiences with no cross-border discussion. Usually there’d be nothing wrong with that as such, except where political power has shifted away from the national sphere and is independent of any individual nation, as it has so completely in the eurozone.

    “What was needed would be a nucleus of well-read bloggers who would actually make the effort of linking other bloggers around the Union, thereby spreading readership and debates across blogs, across borders and even across subjects.” I think this is true and could actually be something workable.

  5. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @Alex

    I wouldn’t say that EU politics is generally more complex than national politics, we are just not used to telling the story as easily as we would for national or local politics. And getting criticised or corrected is part of the debate; it’s part of any debate. So I think that should not be a problem, it’s in fact what makes blogging fun (both criticising and being criticised). :)

    @Eric

    I’m not saying EU blogs aren’t linking at all, but that many of the EU-focussed blogs are not really huge debating blogs that follow-up on other EU blogs when writing. As I have said in the respective blog post, this is not backed by intensive research, but a non-representative sample of 50 blog posts at least did not contradict this gut feeling.

    It is rare that a discussion spans over 4-5 blogs as has happened in this case that led me to write this post.

    @Craig

    It is quite natural in any social network – online and offline – that certain clusters of more densely interacting people emerge, depending on interests and other types of similarity. You wouldn’t call a national blogosphere self-referential if a real debate would happen in this sphere. If there was an overlap of national and EU-level spheres there would always be blogs that prefer to discuss about politics that happen at the regional level and those that only look to the European Parliament for their stories, but there would be those who build the bridges.

    What I am arguing is that there is not yet even a real EU-sphere of blogs beyond a small sub-set of all EU-focused bloggers that interact more frequently with each other.

  6. @Ronny

    Debate is good, but some people take it way to personal.

  7. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @Alex

    Yes, I know, but over time you get used to all parts of the debate, even the ones that seem stupid or useless. In a good blogosphere, there are some autocorrective mechanisms for that, and the real idiots can (or have to) be ignored. :)

    And I suppose that if there was a genuine wider European blogosphere in the making, we would not just face overly personal debates but also all sorts of misunderstandings due to different cultural references we tend to make. But that’s part of the development of a common sphere, I suppose.

  8. @Ronny

    I have no knowledge of any automated systems that allow idiot proofing, it is still a manual labour, but what that I for instance enjoy :D

    Cultural misunderstandings I can cope with and actually perceive as constructive when constructively addressed, but only as long as they do not become base for biased views or “intelligent” suppositions :)

  9. avatar jolyonwagg1 says:

    Firstly its interesting how the Bruegel blog discuss that Europeans cannot blog, when Europeans cannot even post comments on there lofty think tank blog? I personally don’t see euro blogs ever becoming that particularly popular, as most people see them as far too cerebral and academic. I would like to see a lightening up of the heavy EU blog diet so more people could find the topic’s far more mentally digestible, and attract a far wider audience. The whole subject of complex EU institutions bores most people to death, and thats not even taking into consideration the language problems, even with the aid of google translate.

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  11. avatar Craig Willy says:

    Joly – I thought the same thing re: Bruegel’s lack of comments.. It was a good post though.

  12. avatar mathew says:

    @jolyonwagg1, the reason most EU blogs are so dull are that they’re written by Eurogeeks about the EU itself. This is a subject that – by definition – fascinates those inside the Bubble, and very few others.

    But 99.9% of those reading and writing blogs are interested in something – intellectual property, organic farming, etc. These online conversations are frequently more multinational in nature, although they are inhibited by language.

    Once people blogging about these subjects integrate ‘what the EU is doing about it’ into their conversation, we’ll have an EU online public space.

    In other words, discussions on what the EU is doing (or should do, or should not do) in a subject area should be held inside the subject-specific conversations, not just the EU-specific conversations held within the Brussels Bubble.

    Hence Vacancies: Specialists required to build bridges.

    It’s one element among many, but I think it’s an important one.

  13. avatar Martinned says:

    Ron,

    I didn’t mean to provide a comprehensive answer to your question (or rather, Breughel’s, because I didn’t read your post before writing mine). I just took umbrage at the suggestion that Europeans don’t debate.

  14. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @ Martinned

    I didn’t interpret your post as a comprehensive answer, that’s why I said you followed up on Bruegel’s post. I was just saying that, taking the argument that national topics are more interesting and that this was the reason for a lack of interaction on EU topics, it was still surprising to see even those interested in EU topics interacting less intensively as one might find it in some other blogospheres.

  15. avatar mathew says:

    One thing I notice in the EUsphere is that it’s a rarity to see public servants in the European Commission or Parliament – even those supposed to be leading the Institutions’ adoption of social media – leaving a comment to a Eurobloggers’ post. It does happen, but it’s rarer than you’d expect, given that it’s their job to explore social media.

    They interact more on Twitter, however, so manybe this is just more evidence that comments as a whole have dropped with widespread Twitter adption.

    The reason I mention this is to ask whether this is also the case in national blogospheres. Do the public servants in Britain, France, Germany etc engage with the national blogospheres?

  16. Ronny, seems everybody wants to proof you wrong, by following up on other blogs, linking to your article and many comments from other EU bloggers :)

  17. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    @Brusselsblogger

    If only they would do the same on substantive policy issues and not just on topics we are discussing for years;)

  18. avatar David says:

    I was annoyed at the Bruegel blog, not because of what they said, but because they wouldn’t let readers leave comments. Bit blinkered in my view. Go Ronny!

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