Blogging, content discovery and the European public sphere

bloggingportal-5-years

This week we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of bloggingportal – our little EU blog aggregator. Obviously the tech is a bit dated by now, the design is – let’s say – suboptimal, and also the internet has changed dramatically since 2009. Five years ago twitter and facebook were not that ubiquitous, blogs were still considered to be “the future” and everyone seemed to be rather optimistic about the potential of social media for democracy, transparency and the development of a so-called European public sphere. Anyway, the underlying question here is whether we still need a service like bloggingportal? Are blogs still relevant? Do we still need a website dedicated to a form of niche blogging?

The changing nature of blogging

The “death of blogging” is obviously one of those topics every blogger loves to blog about.  But it is more complex than that: blogging may not be one of those online hypes anymore but blogs have not disappeared, they still exist. In a way, blogs have become part of the the mainstream. Blogging has been so successful that all mainstream media outlets followed the concept – either by opening  a “blog platform” or simply by creating a comment box under each article -  or by adopting a blogging style in journalism, you know, this sort of quick opinionated real-time journalism. In other words, online journalism is often like live blogging used to be. Nosemonkey has more on this.

The changing nature of journalism also had an impact on blogs and potential bloggers. If you are a young ambitious writer would you  start your own blog or would you go directly to the Huffington Post. Comment is free or medium  -  or is  writing for one of the various politically affiliated platforms a better bet (and a better career choice)? Another option would be a focus on google+, twitter and facebook. There are so many new online magazines and platforms that look for people that are interested in writing – why start a new blog and invest a lot of time in making a name for yourself?

But this quick (online) journalism is always a bit sloppy. As an audience we also  have developed a rather short attention span when it comes to political reporting. It seems that the number of clicks is more important than the quality of a story;  shitstorms replace political discourse and the new rule is: “If it is not on twitter it did not happen” (and whatever buzzfeed does is great).  And unfortunately the blogosphere loves it and many bloggers play along. But it could also provide the context for a blogging renaissance – with a focus on fact-checking,  long form and the sort of background stuff that the mainstream media is not doing anymore. But unfortunately the opposite is true – at least when it comes to EU focused blogs or even political blogs – there are hardly any new ones that stay active for more than a few months. A lack of interest? A problem of incentives?

Social media and the problem of content discovery in the European public sphere

This is not only about blogs anymore but generally about “alternative” or “non-mainstream content”. The idea of bloggingportal has always been simple: discover interesting blog content on EU affairs in different languages. Why? Because there are interesting things out there that go beyond the rather narrow interests of mainstream media. Alternative views, background stories, fact-checking and general EU geekery.

But any form of ‘content discovery’  is also a question of habits. The internet is an interesting case study of how people change their behaviour when it comes to news consumption, ‘content discovery’ and the subsequent interaction with any of the content. Is anyone still using RSS readers to scan more individual sources – or have we reached that point where most people “discover” new content only on their facebook or twitter feed?  Do we really consume news by using various sources or do we rely on one of the big news providers? And what about debates? They seemed to have moved from blog comments to twitter or facebook. We might have arrived in the filter bubble without noticing. The rise of the social media giants made it also more difficult for individual alternative voices to break into the mainstream. The early adopters have a clear advantage – more followers can mean more influence, early adopters could be seen as the new gatekeepers.

What does this mean for bloggingportal? The European public sphere seems to exist only through the lens of the various national discourses. It is a challenge for any pan-European media services to break into the national sphere. The end of presseurop was a powerful reminder how challenging  it is to make an impact – and how difficult it is to create a sustainable service.

So, this blog post included more questions than answers – feel free to use the old-fashioned blog comments to provide some answers. Is there still a need for a service like bloggingportal? Or more generally: How do you discover “new content” these days?

7 Comments

  1. Read my re-write of David Cameron’s speech showing that his arguments in favour of Scotland staying in the UK are the same for the UK staying in the European Union.

    http://www.cameronspeech.eu-rope.com

  2. Well, I for example use both RSS and Twitter – this is for example how I came across this post. I know people say that Twitter users tend to follow like-minded people and therefore encourage the creation of “filter bubbles”, but I often receive RTs from people I follow which lead me to new content.

    There is however a bigger problem in my view – the old question of “why Europe”? It’s obviously for people like us to consider the EU as highly relevant, but how about the local shop owner around the corner or even the average white-collar worker? They struggle enough with following national politics so why bother about the ever more complex Euro bubble?

    If you like, take a look at my blog, where I have just published an idea of how voter turnout in the EU elections in May could be increased – I’d appreciate your comments from the “Euro bubble”!

  3. Similar to Daniel, I also use RSS and Twitter to stay informed. I used Google Reader for a few years, but after it died, I relied solely on Twitter or local news. I’ve since begun using an RSS that I like, so hopefully it sticks around.

    As for the question of why blogs don’t stay active for more than a few months, I think one of the big factors is time. I started blogging two years ago (http://jasonlknoll.com/), but I average one piece a month due to time constraints (i.e teaching, taking grad classes, parenting, etc.). I think people also get frustrated when they see that they don’t immediately have a million followers. Along those lines, if nobody comments on a piece, one doesn’t know if readers agree/disagree, or even like the piece, which can be also be worrisome.

    I for one have appreciated being on Twitter and blogging for the connections I’ve made outside the US. Not too many people here care about, or are interested in Europe or the transatlantic relationship.

    Thanks.

  4. Bloggingportal does not only represent a valuable instrument to get timely and worth-noting insights on EU affairs, it’s also a project that shows how a voluntary initiative can be put at the service of the blogging community. I hope they will be able to continue their work for a long time. Congratulations and happy birthday.

    In relation to your comments about the evolution of blogging, there is one more challenge that is rarely discussed: the definition of blogs. Many social media like Facebook, G+, Tumblr are actually sort-of-blogging platforms and most media outlets online give readers the opportunity the leave comments making the definition of pure blogs blurrier and blurrier.

    However, blogging is more personal. Taking the time to write a blog post to your audience, shows that you have made the effort to craft a message to either offer them something or to better relate to them. You can still Tweet, and indeed you have to get the message out about your blog, but having your own platform lets you get more technical, more curious, to ask for input. If you want people to see you as an expert within your field, writing well-crafted blog posts is still incredibly valuable – and there is still strong potential for it to be widely shared.

    Here is why I think blogs are stil relevant http://bit.ly/NYjTpK

    Thanks for doing this!

  5. @Marco, as you may have seen in a post last October, the idea behind the Bloggingportal reboot is to enlarge the scope beyond ‘pure’ blogs, reflecting the way distinctions are blurring. We now aim to ‘aggrefilter’ all longform content on EU policy which we can access.

    Unfortunately most of the closed platforms you mention which allow some sort of longform content (G+ etc.) are generally walled gardens which won’t allow such access (you can grab RSS feeds out of G+, but they don’t make it easy and it’s unofficial, so it’ll probably close one day).

    I actually seriously considered closing my WordPress blog and adopting G+ wholescale, until I realised just how restrictive their approach was. While the results are often pretty, it’s the platform owner who decides how you will publish and who will see it, on the basis of their commercial strategy, not on the basis of what you want to say, or how you want to say it.

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