Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blog-rolling

There are many kinds of blog. There are the twee, the trite and the trivial, the big the bold and bombastic. There is now a vast ocean of blogs in the blogosphere. Yet, like so many other things, there is emerging a pareto distribution of inequality in the blogosphere.

There are the powerhouse industrial blogs, like Political Betting and there are the cottage industry blogs, into which category this blog increasingly falls. There are those that can regularly get a thousand comments a day and whose readership is rather larger than such magazines as the New Statesmen, and those where readership is virtually nil. The difference is often simply one of frequency of posting rather than always the quality of the posts. Those that post consistently and frequently gradually obtain larger readership. This is a blog in the middle of a very long tail of popularity. I certainly notice on this blog that a couple of posts a day boosts my readership significantly.

Yet I rarely have the time or frankly the inspiration to be able to keep such production levels going. Although I tend to think of what I do here as a bit like a newspaper column, the fact is that most of the leading columnists only need to write a column perhaps once or twice a week. A blog, by contrast, is more like a newspaper itself: people only really read it if it comes out with several stories every day. On a good day I might get five hundred unique visitors, but usually it is under one hundred and fifty. The total number of visitors to this blog is inching up towards one hundred thousand, which is more like the monthly or even weekly number for the biggest blogs. Indeed Political Betting -a blog only a year or so older than this one- has recently recorded the one millionth comment.

Over the past few years the blogosphere has matured a little. I see significant changes in such leading sites as Iain Dale's, whose posts have been more varied- including using Twitter and other short message formats to increase his posting rate. Iain's site is more about the personal than ideological, whereas I am not one for the minutiae of political gossip and probably my stuff comes across as worthy but rather dull, which doesn't bother me overmuch- perhaps it is an accurate reflection of my own personality.

Of course in any group there are those who will break the rules. Some, like Chris Mounsey at Devils Kitchen enhance their ideological rants with as rich a recipe of inventive swearing as can be found anywhere on the 'net- probably including those X-rated sites. It reflects his genuine anger and incredulity at what he sees in the world, as well -of course- as being very funny.

Others are perhaps less sweary, but may end up a lot further outside the rules. In this category I would put Paul Staines at Guido Fawkes, who has been much in the news of late.

I hold no brief for the smearing of political opponents. Bluntly, even if it were true that Cameron had the clap at Uni, that all in George Osborne's marriage is not as it seems, or that other members of the Conservative or any other front bench have a variety of rather outre sexual peccadilloes, then any normal response would probably be: so what? I don't expect politicians to be any more pure than the next individual, and as our Sunday Tabloids are happy enough to point out, there are more things in heaven and earth than would certainly cross my mind.

Of course it was rather pathetic in a rather nasty way that Damian McBride was apparently trying to spread these stories, even while apparently not believing them. I am glad he was forced out. I am sceptical of his assertions that no-one in Downing Street knew anything of his activities. Unfortunately my response to the mock-outrage from everyone else outside the Downing street fuhrer bunker is much the same: So what? As usual Guido has fastened on the easy stuff: the petty and personal vendetta that makes politics so much fun as a spectator sport, but so much less important to most people's actual daily lives.

More to the point, if you are going to point the finger, perhaps you should be a bit less coy about how you gained your information. Guido, I think, would like to be taken seriously- a sort of PJ O'Rourke manque. So why the rather unlikely assertion that these e-mails were simply given to him? Surely it is far more likely that, after his previous spat with Dolly Draper, Paul simply planted a spider programme on Draper's computer to read incoming e-mails. Even if it is probably not legal, the effects have been so gratifying that, if so, he might as well admit it- unless of course he has other spiders on other people's computers elsewhere?

From the point of view of the blogosphere, Paul has become a superstar. From the point of view of politics, it strikes me that he is simply another variant of Damian McBride- and has fled the reservation towards some alternative anarcho-libertarian anti-universe. However the success he has had against the odious Labour spin-meisters means that, paradoxically, I think it pretty unlikely that Guido can be challenged while the Labour government is in office. Were the Tories alone or a coalition to come to power, then I would be quite surprised if he did not get his wings clipped.

Perhaps the success of Guido Fawkes might tell us a little about ourselves. Many specialist blogs on such things as the NHS crisis are ignored, but the scurrilous and the bitchy achieve the readership of millions. Am I being pompous about this? Well maybe, but disappointed also. There is so much incredible information in the real world But then life is full of strange ironies: that the final budget of the film of Apollo 13 was greater than the cost of the actual Apollo 13 launch for example, or that more people know the names Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo or Luke Skywalker than Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldin and Michael Collins.

As Humans we seem to prefer the easy fantasy to the difficult truth. Obi-Wan, Luke and the rest are simply fantasies and yet the actors that played them global idols, but Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins are the genuine heroes.

I don't, indeed can't, compare this blog with Guido or Iain Dale- it is what it is, what I can make it in the time I have- and nothing more. Yet out there in the blogosphere are other blogs of real worth and genuine power that get only fractional attention compared to the dubious morality of Guido Fawkes or the twittering inanities of various celebrities.

Of course, in the end though what is popular may not always have a genuine worth.

4 comments:

Newmania said...

Aside from your snipes at Guido I think you have a point

Kevin Boatang said...

I on the other hand think your snipes at Guido are entirely valid.

Gaining that break through into 'large' readerships is a difficult thing to do and what makes it frustrating is some of the rubbish that the really big sites put out.

Sounds bitter, but it is also true. Are they so very different to the establishment they attack? we try and put out longer, wishfully decent content and like you say, it takes its toll trying to do two or so a day.

Anyway, good blog Cicero, I should have picked up on you much earlier. I shall add you to our roll.

KB

jailhouselawyer said...

The so-called snipes at Guido are valid and he has a point. A worthy post.

Max Atkinson said...

As a newcomer to blogging (having started http://maxatkinson.blogspot.com about six months ago) I found this post both helpful and quite encouraging.

According to someone who knows about blogging, the challenge I'm up against is that my observations and comments on matters relating to speaking and communication - in which I try to maximise objectivity and minimise party-political rants - are catering to a niche market that may remain forever small.

One thing that's clear is that whenever I include words like 'Obama' and 'rhetoric' in the heading of a post, Google delivers huge numbers of hits.