Thoughts on the Brussels blogosphere debate
March 23, 2012
The debate around the Brussels’ blogosphere has tended to centre on the relative lack of good quality blogs, especially within the policy realm. Over the last couple of weeks, the debate, spearheaded by Ron Patz and elaborated by others such as Bruegel, has been about the shortage of interaction within the Brussels blogosphere, especially the paltry number of links that eurobloggers seem to include to each other in their posts.
My (very belated) two pence worth:
Obviously, the premise is correct: when a blogger engages on subject matter that is being debated more widely, they should aim to reference and respond as far as possible. However, at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, looking at the Bloggingportal.eu Editor’s Choice posts, it appears that a fair number of the bloggers in question wrote in isolation i.e. on topics which were not being debated very widely in other euroblogs at that moment in time. Not always, but often.
In a sense, the “Brussels” or “EU” blogosphere is irrelevent to many eurobloggers. Given the nature of the beast, people’s core area of interest is often a specific issue or policy area, say energy, ICT, financial services and so forth. Generalists who work across various sectors or even just regular citizens interested in the EU, but not a specific issue or policy area per se, are relatively limited. So rather than the Brussels blogosphere, their real interest is a niche e.g. the EU energy stakeholders’ blogoshere, the EU ICT stakeholders’ blogoshere etc.
Ideally, this is where the national-EU factor should come into play: creating communities that connect national and EU-level niches on specific issues or policies is where we want to go, but it’s fair to say we’re not quite there yet. The language conundrum and the splendid isolation which the Brussels bubble has grown accustomed to play a part and I for one admit candidly that I should make more of an effort to connect Brussels based clients looking to engage online with players in the national sphere.
Ultimately, although many bloggers should no doubt make more of an effort to avoid operating in splendid isolation, the issue of critical mass is no doubt rearing its head. Sure, there are a fair few euroblogs in absolute terms (+900 on Blogginportal) but within each niche, there may only be a handful that hit the sweet-spot i.e. regular, relevant, good quality posts (and in a language others understand!) I’d candidly admit that as a blogger I don’t link enough, but arguably I fall into a niche as well i.e. Brussels, the practice of Public Affairs and digital comms is an odd mix and not widely debated (an excuse on par with “my dog ate my homework..?”)
Is this state of affairs indicative of the failure of the EU blogosphere? Hardly. I know purists will disagree vehemently, but there’s still room for well written blogs even if they don’t connect to a wider blogosphere especially well: if the relevance and quality of content in a blog means it is read and appreciated by lots of people who matter, then that’s a good first step. “Then it’s just a website,” I hear. Not really, the nature of the blog allows for greater flexibility of style and formats i.e. short post vs. long post, reference vs. original content, more personal vs. less personal and so forth.
Where will we be ten years from now? My somewhat rosy vision is as follows. The EU blogosphere for generalists will probably still be whinging about the lack of an EU blogosphere for generalists, as the EU as a general construct will still not have captured the public imagination. More critical mass overall will have resulted in niches interested in EU related stuff, such as specific policy areas, accruing critical mass too: the EU blogosphere will be larger, but it will be made up of lots of smaller communities i.e. the EU energy stakeholders’ blogosphere etc. that are more connected than at present, and yes, link to each other more so than at present.
And the EU itself? It’ll be part of the mix, but at niche level i.e. Commission officials who work on energy related stuff will be part of the EU energy stakeholders’ blogosphere and so forth. Communications generalists at the EU will no longer communicate on behalf of the EU, but will merely act as evangelists and advisers to the subject matter experts, who themselves will be doing the communicating.