A reader recently suggested some improvements to the blog, and we listened:
- Recent posts and recent comments widgets are now on the sidebar
- Retweet button on all posts – so please spread the word on Twitter
- The search now covers comments and comment authors – try typing your name in the search box to find blog posts containing your comments.
Feel free to suggest anything else to help improve this blog.
When you hear someone say ‘there are several reasons’ or ‘there is a number of factors’, do you respond pragmatically or with suspicion? I tend to assume the speaker actually has one reason and several rationalisations or that no factor is strong enough on its own so he’s hoping if he throws a kitchen sink of dodgy arguments together, they will make the case. To be honest, I’m talking about myself. As a master of rationalisation I am always suspicious of my ability to stack up the arguments to justify doing whatever I want. I am very fond of the exchange between Jeff Goldblum and William Hurt in the Big Chill:
Hurt: ‘isn’t that a bit of a ratioanlisation’
Goldblum: ‘Don’t knock rationalisations – they’re more important than sex’
Hurt (disbelieving): ‘More important that sex?’
Goldblum: ‘Sure, have you ever gone a week without a rationalisation?’
All this is by way of excusing the fact that I have just gone a longer period without a post than at any time since I began blogging over three years ago. There are several reasons and a number of factors:
• I am on holiday
• I have had other things to write: a piece in the FT today (in my own name not my RSA role), and a lecture on the sixties for the BBC
• My computer internet link is very erratic
• I can’t think of anything interesting to write about
• I feel increasingly uneasy about writing a blog when I read so few of the excellent posts produced daily by other bloggers (sadly Bloggers’ Circle – my idea for a peer reviewed amateur bloggers digest – has joined the list of internet site tumbleweed).
The problem with taking a break is I miss all the people who comment on my site (including those who clearly disapprove of me). I am worried you will forget about me while I’m away and that when I return to regular posting I will be shouting into an abyss of indifference.
So, there was only one thing to do. Choose a subject which I know people enjoy and then let my readers do the work. My most successful subject over the years has been jokes. So this week’s competition – for which the winner will receive an excellent bottle of wine (a gift after doing a talk to some public affairs types) – is for holiday puns. But, perhaps ill-advisedly, I’m setting the bar high with my own corker:
‘ I find that when I have visited one 13th century tower in Majorca I just have to visit another one. They are just so Moorish’.
Today is the first day of the Bloggers’ Circle. As a member I am required at least twice a month to write about a post from another circle member.
Just to show willing, I have chosen one from the interesting first set of eight links which members submitted for peer review.
I chose it because it is positive, short and clever with a good combination of a national issue and personal anecdote. As someone who writes posts that tend to be too long and too clunky, this, I know, is how blog posting should be.
Monday sees the launch of ‘bloggers’ circle’. This was an idea first developed by my old chum Matt Cain following up comments on this site. The RSA has given a small amount of money for the limited start up costs.
Bloggers’ circle is inspired by three reflections on the blogosphere:
• There are too many writers chasing too few readers. Most bloggers have only their own site as a platform. This means it is hard for them to compete with bloggers who have a mass media outlet, like a national newspaper or broadcaster. ‘Amateur’ bloggers need to collaborate to provide each other with a platform for their content.
• Bloggers are day to day scribblers but, like any writer, there are times when they feel they have hit the spot – a post that really deserves to be more widely read and discussed. But what can a blogger do to get these posts through to a wider audience than usual?
• Bloggers come in all shapes and sizes and with a million and one perspectives on the world. But blogging isn’t just self indulgent rambling. It is a particular form of expression with its own conventions and qualities. To promote their art, bloggers should be able to put aside differences of opinion and recognise what makes a great blog post. Bloggers’ circle is a way to develop and celebrate the art of the great post.
The collaborative rules of bloggers’ circle involve members submitting up to five posts a month which they think deserve wider consumption. In return members are required at least twice a month to mention and link to one of the posts recommended by their peers. To provide an extra incentive there will be a post of the month for the most cross referenced post, and there is even a cash prize for the first month.
Matt has an initial group of thirty or so bloggers signed up, including yours truly, but I know he would welcome other people. At this first stage, the task of the circle members is to make it work. Like most web-based innovations the idea is bound to metamorphose into something slightly, or even radically, different to the vision of its initial architects.
We are starting small and maybe we won’t succeed but it’s always worth having a dream. Imagine if there were hundreds or even thousands of amateur bloggers signed up so that the best content we produce gained the kind of impact and recognition that is now generally restricted to professional journalists. Also think about what impact this could have in promoting those parts of the blogosphere which are collaborative, respectful and creative.
I have posted before on the highs and lows of blogging. A few readers have kindly offered me reassurance that they enjoy my musings. I am really not fishing for compliments today. A fascinating seminar we held here yesterday (find out more and join the debate here) got me thinking again about on-line content. I have asked in the past about how we can build ‘content ladders’ encouraging people – especially young people- to move on to more participative and challenging content.
An issue raised yesterday, and which I intend to address more fully in the future, concerns ‘bridging’; how can we build content which brings people together across class, ethnic or other social divides? David Halpern, who never seems to speak without sharing some fascinating new research, told us yesterday of American data suggesting music based content is the best for bridging social divides.
But today I am focussing on a more parochial concern.
I must admit this comes, in part, from personal frustration. My daily blog readership averages about four or five hundred, rising occasionally to over a thousand if I have a provocative title or manage to get some good links from other sites. Generally, we bloggers are happy to accept the judgement of our readers; it’s they who decide whether to pass on or link to a post. But just as I am sometimes surprised at the amount of comment a post I dashed off generates, there are other occasions I am disappointed when a post I think deserves wider discussion fails to take off.
There are too many bloggers and not enough readers so genuinely good posts can fall between the cracks. I often come across brilliant posts that were written weeks or months ago but have taken that time to wend their way to my inbox. And many amateur bloggers (those for whom it is not a core part of their paid work) have guiltily to admit that they don’t find the time they should to surf (excuse the retro terminology) the offerings of their peers.
There is also the problem of building and maintaining a readership. Several of my colleagues here at the RSA write fascinating blogs but they are busy with their projects. They don’t all have the time to cultivate a readership or to achieve the breakthrough when a particular post gets taken up in the blogosphere. As I know, it can be disheartening when the stats show only tens of readers and few if any comments.
Here are the links to those RSA blogs – they are well worth checking out:
To address some of these challenges and to help raise the general standing of blogging after the McBride affair I am developing an idea with my old friend Matt Cain.
The idea of the project – working title ‘Bloggers circle’ – is that part time bloggers (who focus on politics, policy and society) join a club with the following simple rules. Every month you are asked to submit to the other members of the club up to two or three posts you would particularly like more widely discussed. As a club member you will receive links every morning to these referred blogs along with a one line content summary. You will then be required at least twice a month to select one of these blogs and write about it yourself. Every few weeks the post that has got the most take up will be awarded blog of the month.
Along with some basic expectations of decency, club members will be encouraged to link to posts not necessarily because they agree with them but because they are provocative, clever and well-written. This goes towards strengthening the idea of the blogosphere as a place where people engage with other points of view and where writers develop their skills of argumentation and communication.
What do people think of the idea? And are there any volunteers for the launch of the club?