Mathew Lowry

That’s right – curation. Now officially Web2.0-buzzword-of-the-month (not quite sure which one).

And here was me thinking that curation was something knowledge workers have been doing ever since there was knowledge to work with.

So stand by for a totally gratuitous use of the c-word later on in this post. Maybe even two. But first, here are some cats and a bowl of milk.

Pixie & Sprite, by [niv] - more on them later
Pixie & Sprite, by niv (more on them later).

This post was originally prompted by two quite unrelated posts by Julien Frisch – one setting out the details of the proposed system under the Lisbon Treaty by which national parliaments will review EU decision-making on grounds of subsidiarity, and another on the EU institutions use of Web2.0, where he commented:

What we need and what the institutions need are brokers who explain what is really going on inside the institutions, and who can explain inside the institutions what society (parts of the society) thinks about what is going on within the institution or about what is coming out of the institution.

This almost exactly mirrors the definition of Online Community Management (OCM) by Connie Bensen, one my favourite exponents of the idea:

“A community manager is the voice of the company externally and the voice of the customers internally”

[Note that this is not a question of people being managed – the ‘management’ is of the community as a whole, to make it more useful to its members.]

Herding cats in the Euroblogosphere

The reason for linking these two issues together can be found in the recent discussions on the Euroblogospere, which has quietened down since Joe published the full minutes of the podcast. Unlike the last time, however, one gets the sense this is a lull, not a full stop.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that this is pretty much a volunteer effort, with people contributing what they can from around the edges of their day jobs and other obligations. There have been some progress on, and I think we all agree that while we won’t need dazzling new projects, we will need a consistent, long-term effort by a great number of people: summarising, tagging, translating, (micro)blogging and maybe rebutting Eurocr*p.

However, as Jon Worth pointed out in the podcast, trying to organise volunteer bloggers is like herding cats.

The point being that cats cannot be herded. But they can be motivated. So we need to find a bowl of milk that can only be reached by a group effort – a model that rewards such a long-term, unpaid collaboration.

I’m wondering whether the Lisbon Subsidiarity Procedure (does it have a name?) may provide that bowl of milk.

Subsidiarity and bridging national debates

Under this procedure (can we call it LiSP?), remember, national parliaments are consulted on proposed EU legislation. It thus may provide a huge opportunity for social media discussions which bridge national and EU spheres – after all, the whole point of LiSP is to have national discussions on proposed EU actions, focusing on whether and how (much) the proposed actions would bring EU Added Value.

Perhaps what we need, then, is a network of EU-focused bloggers (OK, I’ll call them “Eurobloggers”, if I must) in each country to:

  • alert nationally-focused fora about the arrival of proposed EU legislation under this procedure, and facilitate the wider national online debate (i.e., national OCM on EU issues);
  • curate (bingo!) the national discussion using a common language (English, Esperanto, whatever – see multilingualism), for use by the Eurobloggers in other countries;
  • translate the most interesting outcomes from the other national debates (supplied via the curation by Eurobloggers in the other countries) into their own national debates (e.g., ‘In Germany, they’re focusing on this (see link and link), but in Sweden it’s that (see link) …”).

This would bridge national debates and break online EU discussions out of their English-only ghetto. I keep saying that I need to make a picture of this. Unfortunately I’m rubbish graphically.

PS The same Euroblogger network may also be an excellent launchpad for Citizens’ Petitions, by I’ll leave that topic to another post. This one’s too long already.

Where’s the milk?

So much for what, what about why? Where’s the motivation for all this effort? Can it be supported?

Some during the Euroblog meetup and subsequent podcast believed the answer is EU funding. Others mentioned corporate sponsorship. I see problems with both approaches, but I’ll cover them in another post.

The key motivation for many bloggers, as I think Jon Worth also pointed out, is visibility. It seems to me that being perceived – from both within and outside a country – as that country’s pre-eminent blogger in EU affairs may provide quite good branding and visibility. Obviously, all members in the network will cite each others’ work, sending their national communities to other network members. But is that enough?

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  1. Hi Mathew,

    I agree with the general tasks of the Europe focused network. One might add a few subtasks without which the network would have problems generating rich content, though.

    You say: “Obviously, all members in the network will cite each others’ work, sending their national communities to other network members. But is that enough?”

    Not only is that not enough, I’m afraid that’s a huge barrier for those not in the network to become involved. (Not the sending part of course, but the citing each other’s post.) In a way I think we Eurobloggers become increasingly exclusive without actually wanting it. That’s both natural in a network and dangerous for many reasons.

    (But I need to think about that a bit more thouroughly.)

  2. Thanks for your comment. I would hope that there would be no barriers for anyone to become involved, but you can’t regulate human nature. You’re right to be worried about an exclusive network of eurobloggers forming. That can happen anyway, of course.

    A thought experiment: let’s say a number of people commit to doing this in some sort of semi-coordinated way. As a result, they gain visibility both in their country (national OCM on EU issues) and elsewhere (by glossing national debates in a lingua franca, with their contributions piked up by the rest of the network).

    There’s no barrier facing anyone else doing the same thing, and plenty of motivation. Perhaps the question is how the rest of the network reacts? If a second (say) German blogger emerged alongside (say) Julien Frisch, would the others in the network ignore him because “he’s not one of us”, or integrate his comments alongside Julien’s?

    Hopefully the latter. But what happens when there are 5, or 10 bloggers reporting on the German LiSP debate on subject X – which ones do the rest of the network look at?

    I think the short-term answer is found in the question and it is this: We Should Be So Lucky To Have This Problem! 😉

    But it’s an illuminating discussion. We should perhaps think twice before creating any sort of ‘club badge’ for such a network.

  3. Hi, Matthew!

    Interesting post (and I’ve bumped it onto the front page of You are right – things have paused at the moment – and a lot of that is because of real-world issues coming up (it’s exam season for postgraduate students),

    But there is still a lot going on behind the scenes. I met up with Jon Worth, Nosemonkey, Kosmopolit and EULondonRep in London this month, and I hope there will be more real-world meet-ups across Europe over the course of 2010. The Chasing Brussels podcast is continuing (powered by volunteer-labour!) and we’ve been recording new episodes with Julien Frisch, The European Citizen, Eurosocialiste, Ralf Grahn, etc. Not only does this give us the chance to experiment with a new medium (audio) but it actually lets us talk to each other. It amazing the difference it makes when you can hear someone’s voice instead of just reading what they blog.

    The danger is, of course, that we become some exclusive little clique. Nobody wants that to happen, and I think we will avoid it. More and more EU-blogs are opening up all the time, and we should keep our eyes open and promote them when we get the chance. When I blogged about coming across Cosmetic Uprise‘s EU blog, she was immediately welcomed by all the usual suspects. Eurobloggers are only too happy to see new blood!

  4. Hi Joe, thanks for the comment and bloggingportal boost. Glad to hear you’ve been busy.

    I too think that the growing community EU-bloggers is far from a closed shop. It is, however, a self-selecting community.

    I think what the online European public debate needs more than anything else is connections between people-blogging-about-the-EU and people-blogging-about-national-stuff. At the moment these are generally 28 different worlds.

    So more people blogging about the EU is nice, but if it remains a self-selecting and self-referential group it’ll just be another small bubble (or echo chamber), floating off by itself, touching little else.

  5. Mathew,

    I appreciate your effort to envision new possibilities for interaction between Eurobloggers and national bloggers. Original thought is a scarce commodity, and I hope that your future posts will be able to outline future avenues.

    At this stage, I am not sure where it all could lead. The current Euroblogosphere is still too small to present and to discuss more than a small fraction of issues and proposals during a year in any detail.

    Discussion in depth often requires expertise (in a fairly narrow area).

    As keeps growing, more and more of the policy areas and proposals will be discussed by some active citizens (bloggers).

    Many questions are outside the scope of subsidiarity and proportionality scrutiny by national parliaments, and at least in principle this scrutiny concerns only aspects of the proposals (right level? only sufficient means?).

    Most ‘ordinary’ legislative proposals are probably seen as dull and uninteresting, hardly the stuff for lively debates.

    I wonder if it is enough to concentrate on promoting a European blogosphere which would be closer to discussing all policy areas in some depth and to let the national bloggers join spontaneously when the time is ripe(?)

    But I will try to keep an open mind.

  6. Sorry for being so sceptical. As much as I would love to see this kind of network evolving I’m reluctant.

    What we’re basically looking for is persons that have insight of the national blogospheres and the eurobubble that connect these. Like a moderators with way too much time. Probably persons that do that already for a living. But they should keep an open mind and stimulate the eurodebate. That’s where I see a barrier in terms of capacity. We might need a lot of geeks doing that.

    Or do I get it wrong?

  7. Hi, Ralf and Martin, many thanks for your comments.

    The purpose of these posts is to float ideas and see which ones stick. I’m not married to them – rather, I’m interested in batting ideas around, which is the best way to have better ones.

    Certainly, both of you provide excellent reality checks on different grounds. For a start, Ralf rightly points out that most issues are not interesting. And Martin sees resource scarcity. He’s not alone.

    Interestingly, one problem is part of the solution for the other. Most people are only going to focus (blog, curate, report, etc.) on things which are interesting. If most are uninteresting, this reduces the workload.

    In the end, this will only happen in those areas where it’s an interesting thing to do, and the resource scarcity problem mentioned by Martin will never go away – what could be done in an ideal world will always be larger than what can be done with available resources.

    This is actually the main question of many of these posts – what model can make a lively, informative cross-border Euroblogosphere sustainable? In the self-funded model explored in this post, the main work is done by Eurobloggers, so my question was whether the added visibility – nationally and at EU level – would provide enough motivation. Other posts may explore other models, and/or different funding sources.

    Ralf’s point that one discussion in depth requires expertise in a narrow area is an excellent one. How can one Euroblogger cover and stimulate all discussions in his country if the issues become so technical? Thanks for that question, Ralph – will explore in a future post.

    It’s obvious that “national bloggers will join spontaneously when (they think) the time is ripe“. Each person decides for themselves when a conversation becomes interesting enough to join, and generally measure ‘interest’ in terms of both content (is this interesting, topical?), and visibility/traffic (how many other people are reading and writing here?).

    Personally, I prioritise the former completely over the latter, but everyone makes their own calculation. Despite this, it’s a fact that the more people join a conversation, the more interesting – measured in either term – it generally gets. It’s in the nature of social media to see this snowball effect – it’s just Metcalfe’s law in action.

    What we need to do is to get the conversations to that critical mass, which is why I’m exploring these models. Right now, however, I need to get to lunch.

  8. Mathew,

    I am happy to see that you take the comments to heart, and I hope that many more will join in order to improve on the ideas we currently hold; the critical mass you mentioned.

    I do think that people will start waking up to the fact that what happens at EU (and global) level will affect politics and policy making nationally, at regional level and locally.

    Once they make the connection – for instance in matters pertaining to the Web – interaction becomes a necessity across borders.

    But reality changes faster than perceptions (and administrative etc. structures).

  9. I think a lot of people already realise that what happens at EU (and global) level will affect politics and policy making nationally, at regional level and locally, so I find it quite surprising that policy debates remain so Balkanised.

    But they are, so the question remains: what are we going to do about it?

    My posts explore possible partial answers – there’ll never be one solution, and the reality will always be a lot messier than any theoretical model.

    What other solutions are out there? Bloggingportal will clearly be part of the infrastructure, but it’s not enough, at least not in its current form, as the audience is self-selecting.

  10. In some yet few fields people do realise the effect of the European Union in their daily lives. Take the matter of data protection (SWIFT) and net neutrality (Telecoms) together with intellectual property etc. These issues have reached the national blogospheres (at least for Germany I can tell) because people cared for it. But they haven’t yet crossed borders so much. I discovered only few interactions (mainly through the work of for instance) between the various national blogs and their European counterparts.

  11. No-one appears to have commented on your LISP idea.

    Surely this is an opportunity for each blogger (and blog-follower like me) to nudge their home communities to take an interest in whatever is being laid in front of their parliaments for discussion, etc?

    For sure, pan-EU comments can be edited into Bloggingportal, but it will be local discussion (if possible) that will raise the profile of the EU and what it is doing?

  12. @Martin, absolutely – we’re not starting from a completely empty landscape, and there are some subjects being discussed in some countries some of the time.

    One of the ideas in my post is simply to use LiSP to increase awareness and stimulate more of this national debate on EU actions. That would already make a difference. The other idea is to actually bridge these national debates, but that will take more unresoruced work – hence my search for motivating forces.

    @french derek, thanks for grokking this first time around! I’m glad there’s someone out there who sees that linking eurobloggers together will just create a projection of the EU bubble into the blogosphere. Useful, but falling far short of the potential social media offers the EU. Connections between this bubble and national discourses are the essence of what I’m exploring here.

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