Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blogs and blogging - 2008 in perspective

Up very early again this morning. I have happily spent the last few hours browsing around, catching up on some of the blogs around me.

As in previous years, 2008 saw a number of my favourite blogs go into effective suspended animation including View Italy (March), the Legal Soapbox (May), the blonde canadian (August) and Demography Matters (September).

In the case of the Legal Soapbox, the suspension was due to LE's decision to transfer her writing to the new scepticslawyer blog, so we still have the benefit of her writing. In other cases, I think that progressive weariness set in.

This type of loss is inevitable, with newcomers taking their place. Winton Bates began blogging in March, Tikno July, Niar in September. The pattern of loss and gain among our respective favourites not only changes what we read, but also what we write about.

In my case, I increased my focus on India and Indonesia, the first because of Ramana, the second because of Tikno and Niar. By the way, I have not been able to access Ramana's blog and was going to email him to find out the problem. However, it seems that he has been moving to a new platform.

In addition to these changes, the global financial crisis drew me back into writing on economics, adding new economics blogs to my reading list.

I was already reading John Quiggin (yes, I know that I still have an outstanding article obligation) for an alternative view. Now I added other blogs including Michael Pettis's China Financial Markets, Harry Clarke and John Taplin.

One thing that I have found helpful with the economists' blogs are their blog rolls. I use these from time to time to find other views.

2008 saw the further rise of social networking tools. I became involved to some degree with some (Facebook), not others (Twitter).

Some fellow bloggers have suggested that these tools mean the end of blogging. I don't think that this is in anyway true. However, the new tools have certainly affected blogging - activities more suited to the tools have migrated to them, while the time devoted to blogging has been reduced, in some cases to zero. There are only so many hours in the day.

2008 also saw the further rise of what I think of as platform, syndicated or sponsored blogs. This is a messy way of putting it, because it mixes together several very different things.

scepticslawyer is one example. This blog combines the efforts of Helen Dale (scepticlawyer) and LE as writers, with Jacques Chester providing platform support. This allows the authors to concentrate on writing. I am not sure of the economics of the blog, although it does carry specific advertising that I assume is paid for. scepticslawyer was an immediate success because of the high quality of the writing.

A related but very different example is the Crikey blogs. In this case, Crikey gathered a number of individual blogs together under the one banner.

I find this quite useful because I had been following several of the blogs individually, including The Poll Bludger, Andrew Bartlett and Bob Gosford's Northern Myth, so I can now check content in one place. As a consequence, I also check some of the others.

2008 also saw the further rise of "blogs" in the mainstream media. I am using this term loosely to include the addition of comment sections to on-line stories.

In audience terms, this is quite an effective fight-back mechanism against the blogging world because it attracts certain groups of readers that might otherwise spend the time following blogs.

The progressive penetration of the mainstream media into the blogging world not only takes away readers from other and especially independent blogs, but also adds to what I now think of as the battle for content. There is only so much writing time to go round.

You can see this in my own case, given that in December I started a newspaper column as well as writing an article for a magazine. I am not unique, just the latest in a long line of people who have broadened from blogging into other forms of writing.

The time pressures faced by independents, together with alternative content demands, gives the multi-author blog an advantage. We independents all struggle to find writing time. You can see this in fact with the crikey blogs - posting is not always regular.

Catallaxy and Club Troppo are, I think, the oldest multi-author Australian blogs, although I have noticed that recently Catallaxy authorship seems to have largely shrunk to Jason Soon. Rafe himself now seems to be mainly writing for Club Troppo.

Both Catallaxy and Club Troppo occupy very particular spots in the Australian blogosphere, attracting their own audiences. Both are to be found on the blog lists of some of Australia's major independent bloggers. Lavartus Prodeo is another example on the Labor side.

Club Troppo itself has become something of a blogging establishment in Australia.

Outside specialist bloggers - Media Hunter is one example that has acquired a large audience from its Newcastle base - the number of very regular Australian bloggers writing broadly on economic, social and political issues is actually quite small. I haven't undertaken a proper study, but a remarkable number link and overlap in some way with Club Troppo.

Where does our own little blogging community fit within this evolving blogging scene?

In some ways we are, I think, a bit unusual.

To begin with, we are actually quite diverse, more so I think than most communities. We also span age groups in a way that is a little unusual.

Each regular blog has its own focus and readership, creating a series of overlapping circles.

Neil has, I think, the biggest and most diverse community and plays a role in keeping things together and creating overlaps. For my part, I am very happy with and grateful for my regular readers and commentators. They have given me value that I did not and could not have expected when I started blogging.

The peripheries of each circle, each community within our community, are very remote from each other in terms of attitudes and approach, so remote as to have nothing in common. Just as well, perhaps, that they remain separate or we might all end up in fights!

It is the constantly evolving overlaps between blogs that provide a central unity. Here there is also a sense of inclusiveness, of courtesy, that builds links. Our Indonesian friends are the most recent addition.

The community includes some very good writers, Marcellous and Thomas are examples. While content varies according to purpose, the content level is remarkably high by blogging standards.

As a collective community, we sit on the periphery of what I referred to in the context of Club Troppo as the Australian blogging establishment. Sometimes read by, but not part of. I do not think that this could be otherwise, given the diversity in views and indeed country among us.

From a blogging perspective, I am looking forward to 2009 just to see how things evolve.

The death of Alex Buzo in August 2006 established the link between Neil and myself. It is from this date just over two years ago that I mark in my mind as the establishment of our blogging community as I see it.

I accept that this is a very egocentric position, Neil already had an established place, so I am just looking from my perspective. Since then people have come and gone, but the community has continued to evolve. I have a feeling that 2009 is going to be another remarkable year.


Niar said...

Dear Jim,
I think that blog is a something that boomings in the lattest year. Perhaps there will be something new in 2009, but I hope that it wouldnt decrease to be followed.
I think that blogs is quite different with others, as someone must be active to create a new though and inspiratiom for their writing. The bloggers also spend their particular time to visit other blogs so they can find some things new.
I like to read your posting so far Jim, perhaps one day you can write more about the actual things around the world. I think write something which different with Australia, Indonesia, or India, will be great.
keep writing for 2009.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Niar. I have been cautious about writing on some international issues because I do not feel that I can add value. But I have heard your message and will respond.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your continued acknowledgement and interest in Media Hunter. I am placing a link on the site back to you.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Craig, good to hear from you and thanks for the link. You keep writing, I keep promoting. Sounds afair deal to me!