January 25, 2012
Apparently tomorrow – apart from being Australia Day – is BloggingPortal’s 3rd birthday. What does it’s state tell us about the EU Online Public Space? How many more friends can I lose anyway?
[Update: read a blogtour of 11 other posts celebrating this auspicious occasion]
BloggingPortal’s USP is deceptively simple: if you want to know what people are saying about the EU in blogs, BloggingPortal is the best – in fact, the only – place to find out.
It is a good example of machine-aided human curation: EU-oriented blogs are fed into it’s CMS, presenting their posts to BP’s volunteer editors, who tag them by category and make the best ones “Editors’ Choice”, pushing them to the home page. Users can thus browse EU-oriented posts from across Europe by category, filtering by 1+ languages.
There are also automated daily and weekly enewsletters, a manually written ‘Week in BloggingPortal‘ best-of, the inevitable Twitter account and probably a few other platform accounts I can’t keep up with. There have also been a few ad hoc projects, resulting in various meetups and a few high-profile campaigns (e.g., highlighting the Hungarian media law, opening up the Council to bloggers).
I’d guesstimate that at least a third of my posts will have mentioned BloggingPortal.eu in some way, and some (e.g., Bloggingportal2: What, Why, How … and When?) have focused exclusively on it. The reason is not hard to find:
BloggingPortal is essential for the
future of the EU online public space
A structuring effect
BloggingPortal (should) offer something important to practically everyone who wants to contribute to debates on EU policy.
To use my gardening analogy, it provides those wanting to do outreach – and indeed everyone who wants to take part in the conversation – with a map of the garden, allowing them to find, reach out to and join conversations.
This, in turn, then allows them to join those conversations together, across national borders. It’s thus a major source of pollination.
Finally, it also (should) provide those who want to contribute views with the visibility they need, motivating more people to pick up a spade.
In other words, it (should) have a structuring effect, flipping the EU Online public space out of its current chicken-and-egg situation into a virtuous spiral, where the network effect kicks in and makes growth exponential.
This is a very short summary – such a platform is also vital for overcoming linguistic barriers in the EU online public space, for example, and should play a major role in bringing specialists on board to bridge national barriers (see Specialists required to build bridges).
There’s only one problem with this theory:
It hasn’t happened
The amount of EU-oriented content running through blogs and social media has massively increased over the past few years. Almost exactly 4 years ago, for example, when I left Blogactiv, there were perhaps 5 bloggers worth putting on the front page, blogging maybe once a week. Last time I looked, the quality and breadth startled me.
And Blogactiv is just one place – there are many blog platforms, and even more individual bloggers. According to Ron Patz, almost 250 of the 900 blogs tracked by BloggingPortal published at least one post over the past seven days (source).
Yet while BloggingPortal is the only player in this growing market, its traffic is remarkably flat. This seems to show that BP is not meeting its potential, nor fulfilling its role.
The reason is unchanged since I wrote that Bloggingportal2 post in mid-2010: there are no resources (BP editors are all volunteers), and we are absolutely unstructured, with no internal process for moving forward. Back then I made some suggestions to turn it into a social business, and was accused of wanting to ‘take it over to make money’ – the second time, incidentally, that I’ve been accused of having secret, evil plans vis a vis the Euroblogosphere (here’s the first).
The accusation was unfounded (it was said, for example, that I would manipulate the market research to make it look more positive than it was, thus ensuring that I would lose money!), but it was a nasty experience which convinced me to stop trying. I hadn’t enjoyed being called a liar by foaming-at-the-mouth Eurosceptics, but when it came from my fellow Eurobloggers…
Since then, bugger-all has really happened. We have lots of fun email conversations, I’ve continued to carp and grouch while others do the day-to-day work, and there’s been the odd ad hoc project.
Let’s get technical
But what BloggingPortal needs is a major revamp to integrate the following technologies:
- add federated search to human curation: allow users to search everything it tracks, across Europe
- machine translation: search, browse and read across language barriers
- semantic web: auto-categorise all content for search and browse, publish the resulting source in RDF format, and unleash the geeks
- section-specific editorial spaces: reward those willing to put in the effort some proper visibility in their field (see Specialists required to build bridges)
- country-specific editorial spaces: reward those willing to become a ‘bridging blogger’ serious visibility in both the Brussels Bubble and their country (watch the PreziCast)
- more social media integration: because while blogs are where the in-depth conversations are, there’s more to the EU online public space
- customisable enewsletters and RSS streams
Plus, of course, marketing.
All this takes money – more than EP’s Charlemagne Prize, which BP (incredibly) failed to win anyway.
In any case, as I said in mid-2010, public funding for BP (favoured by many editors) would be the kiss of death, not the way forward, for reasons I set out in subsequent posts (e.g., Do we need more EU platforms, or sustainable EU media?): basically, the EU Online Public Space needs to be a living ecosystem, with vital structures like BP run by organisations independent from the Institutions.
That means BP – or its replacement – needs to be an independent media, run along the lines of social business. Once it gets serious, it will trigger competition, growing the space further. But right now, it’s more like the personal RSS feed of the European Mutual Admiration Society of Eurogeeks.
Which is a shame. The guys who got it together did a brilliant job in their own time, for no financial reward and precious little glory. Every week a bunch of editors put in their own time to keep it ticking it over. But it needs to go to an entirely new level if it is to help kickstart the EU online public space, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen before its fourth birthday.Mathew Lowry