Mathew Lowry

Dear Ronny,

Your comment to my comment to your post criticising my post was long enough – rather than adding an even longer comment to the end, I thought I’d offer myself a little more space and formatting by posting my reply here. I know you won’t mind because you don’t want me to stop blogging 😉

You write:

… I found is that – to my surprise – the bubble was actually not a bubble of hyperlinked blogs but at best a group or community of “Eurogeeks” that talked about Europe without noticing much what was going left and right to them, neither in the bubble nor beyond.

This is exactly what a bubble is: a bunch of people not noticing anything going on outside their little world.

The fact that bloggers in the bubble don’t even link to each other properly is simply a sign of its (and their) immaturity:

  • Some ‘bloggers’ in the brussels bubble don’t allow comments, and many don’t know what pingbacks are (see long ago rant).
  • For my part, I am/have been personally involved in three different spaces within the Brussels Bubble (IABC’s Ning Community, and,), and have tried and failed (as you may remember) to get each spaces’ inhabitants to take much notice of the other two.

I’ve always seen this lack of conversation problematic, albeit probably inevitable. But you write:

This finding kind of destroys the idea that it needs bridges or active (hyper)links to define a common sphere.

So the lack of links and conversation isn’t an impediment to a common sphere? I don’t follow your logic. Later, we’ll see that we probably have different conceptions on what a common sphere consists of – or, at least, what a useful sphere would be.

… this blog post on the unlinked EU blogosphere actually provoked a blog debate about European blogging, involving Eurogeeks but also a bunch of blogs (including German and Finnish blogs) which clearly did not belong the Eurogeek category that you define in your presentation. This proved that the bridges you want to build are already there, you just do not notice them until they become walked in such a way that makes you (and me) notice them. The fact that we do not notice them most of the time does however not imply they do not exist.

You choose here a good example of the sort of pan-EU conversation I want to see more of. I never said there were no such conversations (remember my point about exaggeration and simplification?) – what I was saying is that this doesn’t happen enough.

For proof of this admittedly subjective judgement (who decides how much is enough?), look to my second comment to your post. For those who cannot be bothered: in the first 5 posts you cite as examples of conversations on EU affairs involving both Brussels bubble and national conversations, I found no such links between the two.

1 out of 6 examples doesn’t exactly indicate a thriving ecosystem. As I’ve said before, however, what we need are unambiguous metrics, not just personal impressions. This would be an excellent project for BloggingPortal – what would a BloggingPortal Index measure? More problematically, who would do it?

Yes, it is true, these discussions are not hyperlinked and it would be kind of nice if they were. However, the fact that they don’t hyperlink doesn’t say they are not part of a European sphere.

Not ‘kind of nice’. Required for them to be part of a pan-EU conversation. For me, a bunch of people talking about EU issues where each remains in his/her corner, not exchanging with (or learning from) others across Europe, is not a EU public sphere. Or at least, not a very useful one. So our disagreement could simply be about how we define it.

However, the Eurogeekosphere is also not very well linked, because most tend to mostly link to themselves.

Perhaps because it is a self-absorbed Bubble? See above.

you told them that (almost) no one did [talk about Europe] and that you therefore needed to create specialist discussions.

If that’s what I said, I wasn’t clear. Remember, anyone discussing the details of EU policy in social media is – by (my) definition – a eurogeek. You don’t need to be in Brussels to be in the Brussels Bubble. So there can be plenty of eurogeeks, distributed widely. However, if they are only talking to other eurogeeks, it’s simply an extension of ‘Europe As Usual’ into the online world.

My point was that if my audience wanted to engage the vast majority of people not intimate with EU arcana, they need to think about engaging in conversations about what they’re interested in, rather than the latest procedural outcomes of the EESC (or the transparency of EU Fisheries Council meetings, for that matter).

My gut feeling is there are more people interested in non-EU topics than there are people interested in such Brussels minutiae. This may be difficult to understand for someone so entirely in the Bubble as you, but there you are 😉

And I said that this was one of a variety of methods (chosen for the audience in front of me) – there’s no one solution, so noone ‘needs’ to do anything. Particularly if you are not interested in stimulating discussions with people who don’t know the difference between the various Presidents of the various EU Institutions. It all boils down to what you’re interested in.

people were actually talking about their and other topics from a European perspective but they were too blind to notice them because they never made the effort to even look for them properly

That’s exactly what I said. Hence the slide I fitted in on Bloggingportal: “here’s the map – check it out”.

So why do you think noone looks? Because they are not interested in doing so! They are writing for other members of their community of interest, as do we all. Human nature.

I think platforms that overcome linguistic gaps or actively linking discussions that are already ongoing can be useful.

Glad you agree. These are the bridges I want to see more of. So what, exactly, is your problem?

these bridging activities are also needed in within thematic bubbles like the Eurogeekosphere were people write alongside each other in English without ever entering into any substantive discussions.

Agree, as mentioned above. It’s actually a fractal problem (you see the same problems at different scales). Here I quote myself, from two years ago:

The point I wanted to make here will recur again and again in this post – the overlaps between these and the other spaces like it are minimal. Most people inhabit one tiny bubble. And as many don’t seem to have gotten to grips with RSS readers yet, the only people they interact with are members of their own community, at best.
2010 annual Review

Some things I want to make clear in conclusion:

  • one cannot force people to reach outside the Bubble, and you cannot force them to link to or comment on each others’ posts.
  • in other areas, people do. But people in EU affairs don’t, because its not (yet) in their interests. I’m interested in seeing whether the economics of the environment can be shifted so that it does become worthwhile.
  • I am as bad an offender as anyone else – for example, I haven’t yet absorbed all of Ronny’s research. But at least I link to it 😉
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  1. I don’t think linking is all that good a measure of the validity or “bubbleness” of the EU blogosphere. I think the situation can be summarized thus:

    1) There are well-read national blogs who sometimes talk about the EU (Olivier Berruyer, Kantoos Economics, Paul Krugman).
    2) There are well-read EU blogs with national, not EU, audiences (Jean Quatremer, Daniel Hannan).
    3) There are blogs who attempt to be multinational, almost always writing in English, and they tend to have small audiences and be very “bubblish”.

    This is problematic. Ultimately we need well-read multinational or pan-EU blogs if we’re going to fully reach are potential of living up to the idea of that “European public sphere”.

    Presseurop, which I can’t praise enough, has managed to be the first website to actually achieve this. Their translation of articles into 10 languages from EU media can reach all across Europe and those on the eurozone are beginning to get hundreds of comments (comparable to to articles on the Guardian or Telegraph), with multilingual debates from users from different countries.

    A similar translation service for top EU blogs would definitely be worthwhile. I note in passing that Presseurop (made by Courrier international and other foreign media weeklies) gets some EU funding. Definitely an idea worth pitching to somebody!

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Craig.

    For me – and remember this is just my definition – a useful EU online public space is one where people in different countries and the Brussels Bubble have a conversation about EU policy. Such conversations are pan-EU – involving different actors in different countries – which would seem to be the appropriate sign of an EU demos.

    Perhaps I am too demanding. What makes me laugh somewhat sourly is when I see EU social media experts and assorted eurogeeks talking about the finer points of Council regulations and HVR’s breakfast and declaring that they’re “reaching out to the citizen”.

    Whatever. Blog-based conversations are based on links and comments, hence my focus*. What metric would you suggest in their place?

    I like your list – please consider this one:
    – a blog post about EU policy by an EU insider in Brussels which links to noone outside the Brussels Bubble, and has no comments from anyone outside the Bubble, is part of the Brussels Bubble
    – a post in a national blog about EU policy which links to noone outside the nation concerned and has no comments from anyone outside that nation is part of a national conversation
    – a blog post which neither links to other posts nor has comments from other bloggers is not really part of any conversation, and IMHO is not really a blog

    Now not all blog posts on EU policy fall into one of the three cases above, but most do, which means that my version of the EU online public space isn’t developing that vigorously.

    Where you and I may differ is in terms of the solution. You see “well-read multinational or pan-EU blogs” as the solution, and suggest EU funding. I would prefer something that didn’t rely on the caprices of EU bureaucrats, and suggest that anything EU-funded will have a hard time being taken as editorially independent.

    Moreover, well-read multinational or pan-EU blogs – which are, of course, absolutely desirable – would emerge spontaneously within the EU online public sphere as the audience grows… as long as EU-funded media don’t outcompete them. It’s not easy building a media business when you have publicly funded competitors with close links inside the government.

    Hence the idea of stimulating those links, rather than an ‘Engulf and Devour’ approach.

    None of this, btw, detracts from presseurop, which rocks.

    * PS As I said above, until we have some unambiguous metrics, properly collected, all we will have is our own opinions. Before agreeing on the metric, however, we’d first better agree on what the EU online public space would look like. Which we probably won’t.

  3. I wholly agree blogs cannot be institutionalized (yuck). But makes me think a part-subsidized aggregation/translation blogging service could work and still be independent/critical.

    As to “well-read multinational or pan-EU blogs,” that is not the ‘solution’ for me but the ‘aim’ 😉 These are my metrics: A truly ‘European’ blogosphere would have both relatively high traffic/comments (like national political blogs) and a multinational audience.

    I agree that more detailed and popular EU blogs will “naturally” appear (and are in fact appearing). What won’t emerge spontaneously is the multinational aspect. Not even the most motivated/cultivated individual blogger can write in more than 2-3 languages. That means that at best we will get either nationally-popular EU blogs or semi-read English-language blogs with poor penetration in FR/DE/IT/ES, etc.

    The language/audience problem in EU blogging presents a really big challenge and difference with national political blogging. IMO there needs to be a platform which would aggregate/translate posts for particular audiences or there needs to be more collaborative/multiauthor/multilingual EU blogs.

  4. Glad to see we share the same metrics, then, although I still also vote for the ‘linking’ metric too: a healthy amount of cross-linking between posts is generally sign of a good online conversation.

    When it comes to “a platform which would aggregate/translate posts for particular audiences”, look no further than what Bloggingportal should become (but probably will never be).

    As you may know I build websites for the EU for a living, so I sincerely hope I don’t offend anyone when I doubt that an EU contract officer is going to understand that they cannot dictate if and how ‘their’ website covers an issue, when they help support it – they’re not media buyers from the private sector sponsoring a section in a daily broadsheet or weekly magazine.

    However, my point remains valid even if I’m totally wrong. Maybe you could establish arms-length subsidy for such a project, but there would be the perception of bias. And that’s a death-knell for credibility.

    Another factor is that publicly-supported sites are rarely as laser-focused on results a privately-run media concerns – see Do we need more EU platforms, or sustainable EU media? for an analysis of a well-meaning but pretty-much-impactless effort which, like many, was conceived as a project, not a business.

    Hence I’d prefer to see more private-sector initiatives in the EU online public space: less (perception of) editorial interference, and a sharper focus on results, rather than project management minutes.

  5. Hi You,

    Just catching up with where you were up to, or not, after trying to figure out why whoever’s responsible for this didn’t give you a design job.

    I’d certainly miss your reports from your EC bubble as it helps to illustrate the common situation in all governments. They are alll self-absorbed. But tht’s changing as the (global) recession cuts into a few entrenched beliefs, habits and pay checks.

    So far as different approaches are concerned, I think this one’s got legs. The idea seems to be to open up one silo in one country to another, so an ongoing Euro GovCamp might be a good idea.

    So far as”sustainable media” is concerned, I thought that something like this would quite natural. I’m pointing the forums primarily because it illustrates the size of the community. It need a decent team though.

    But I think there’s a natural relationship between public and private. The public part is the mentors from different agencies, and maybe geographies . The private part is the deisgn and infrastructure. Not sure about the contractual arrangements

    I’m not saying that blogs have had their day. But they are just one species of f(l)ora.
    i.e. blogs are like mini broadcast stations, which, if you want to track an ongoing conversation means bouncing from one person’s station to another, as you’ve illustrated in your first line.

    I also think you need to count the “views” as well as comments. Many views are ‘look ins’ from other conversations. it’s a problem that for good writers (like yourself) what s said is understood easily, so there’s not much reason to comment, especially when the blog post might be relevant to an ongoing conversation elsewhere. There’s always the concern of spreading oneself too far.

    Any, enough for now. Stay well. If you have some time, I’d still like to get a shorter, non glitchy version of this.

  6. Hi Simon,
    While I don’t normally discuss work directly here, I don’t mind saying that my team didn’t apply for the DAA gig, so you can’t really fault that part of DG INFSO for not giving us the work.

    FYI Axel Schultze, who launched the critical discussion about the DAA platform to linked to, seems to have set up an alternative site and Facebook Group. They are apparently “talented individuals … some of the most exceptional social media minds in Europe”. Just ask them! 😉

    I’ll check out your links later (two kids entering exam period), but do agree already that views is an important metric … however, its invisible to all but the blogger, and so unmeasurable by the outside world. I once suggested all eurobloggers publish their stats, and met with a chilly silence, can’t imagine why …

  7. Oh, Be nice.

    What would you expect from Paolo Alto? A European humbleness? At least he’s providing a bit of energy and direction, and bridging continents, even if ithe approach will get/has gotten a lot of euros off side. Bit more interesting than “and how’s YOUR Euro blog today” though. Crap daa environment though. I feel like I’m revisiting 2001.

    I hope you might feel comfortable enough, after the kids finish their exams, to at least taking his perspective. It is really hard to get a global team together. Things are starting to get a run on now. As I was saying to a friend in Oz, “i’ve been watching the (.au) recede in direct proportion to the nest eggs, especially in Europe”.

    The effect on the NRENs is that they now have no choice but to work together/share applications, etc. across borders. Gee i wish you had made it to terena’s conference, particularly to their ‘taskforce for Comms and PR”s meeting. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Mousetrap builders (toolmakers) trying to walk/talk like cheesemakers (or gardeners depending on your preferred analogy).

    It’s much easier pricking a .gov bubble if you walk in with a bunch of serious, unbiased, INTERnetwork guys from the research silos behind you. You do know that from their perspective, the web is just an interface to the serious stuff/layers below? They do need some sociable interface designers, as much as the ‘Internet scrapers’ (web designers) need some lessons in (inter)net)work science..

    Ah. Bridges to be built everywhere. Thank goodness I’m a “talented individual … with one of the most exceptional social media minds in Europe” (bugger that, “in the World”).

    … is that gun in your pocket or …?

  8. I could criticize a lot of things about Alex’s approach, from the idea of running an SM academy to putting an aggegation point toge as a means of validating a user’s account. Sure, in a lot of ways the approach(es) is a little naive.

    But the yanks have one thing that europeans seem incapable of replicating – the energy to actually “have a go” (in the Aussie sense). You rarely find a yank like Daniel who would be bother to go all the way over to a person’s house just to criticize it, rather than just ignoring it and letting the rules of media take its course.

    It’s quite funny the dufference in cultures, as different groups work their way through at their favourite bubbles. Ultimately, as you’ve pointed out in that video about “inter-institutional groups”, we’re/they’re all trying to share an idea of what approach might work as we move from the old representative government to the new participatory form. If they considered for a moment that they were inthe education industry rather than “the business of government”, we might stand half a chance of sharing a global learning.

  9. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss “all europeans” in a single, all-encompassing phrase. There are 500 million Europeans within the EU, from 27 countries and countless more cultures and other identities. After over 20 years in Europe, I can tell you that there are plenty of people willing to ‘have a go’.

    I think your perspective re: government as educators is interesting. I’ve never been able to take seriously the idea that there is a “business of government” – it sounds like the wishful thinking of some so-called “think tank” (which are actually marketing departments for political parties). When did you ever meet an entrepreneur with a civil service badge?

    But then, I don’t find bureaucrats as teachers a particularly inspiring idea, either, particularly as a parent of children in a state school which had to replace a brilliant teacher with one who is crap but has tenure. ;-(

  10. Hey,

    Notice I didn’t say ALL Europeans. It’s simply a (vast) generalization to indicate cultural differences.

    Re: Government as educators. Not quite. A little philosophy will have you concluding that the habits of governance and education must co-incide.(Montesquieu). If a Hitler is on the stage, you’ll find a lot of imitators in the classroom.

    As for the crap teacher replacing a good one, i guess that’s what I mean by the cultural differences. In the US, you’d have the students giving the crap one such a hard time, he’d/she’d retreat. In Europe, the Peter Principle seems to be a lot more entrenched.

    Anyhow, enough banter. You’re aware of the daa, which i’ve been spending some time on. We’ve got as far as the talk fest is on tomorrow. And I’m hoping I’m making myself clear.

    Sooner, hopefully more than later, the bureaucrats in the INFO department are gonna “get it”. And considering how poorly designed the daa platform is, it’ll need a complete overhaul. It’s much the same in OZ, and a few other places, where these kinds of conversations are coming to a head. At least as far as the govcamp stuff is concerned we have the archive of the streaming and the original schedule together. The social network stuff is scattered around a bunch of domains. But this is one domain down in Canberra, where the bubble is lot smaller than Brussels.

    At least the bureaucrats are asking questions of the great unwashed (citizenry) as well as there PLU’s. In Europe, “the staff” are still nervously hiding behind their institution. (with the way the southern dominos are lining up, “the staff” will have a role serving in a soup kitchen).

    So on the other side of this daa event, I’d be pretty sure the EC will start looking at how to do the “converged media platform” thingo. I’m not saying a lot more than you already have with that video I keep pointing at, although i have spent lots of time with the geeks in the NRENs, which are the guys who eventually have to cover the network stuff. i.e. security, cloud, etc. The thing they do need is someone like yourself to do the content stuff. Not sure where this will all come together, but I’ll keep flagging it, as long as i don’t bore the hell out of you. regards.

  11. Sorry for the delay in publishing your comment. Since closing the blog I don’t check the comment queue as often as I should.

    The daa platform is done for the EC by a competitor of mine, which puts me in an interesting position to comment on it. Maybe it isn’t world-class, but it is a step ahead of what a lot of the rest of the EC is doing (and is actually modelled on something I did for the EC 10 years ago, before we knew it was web2).

    My team does similar sites for the EC, but outside of the “europa” domain, where we are less restricted technically. People who don’t actually build websites for a living seem to believe sites like this can be taken “off the shelf”. The truth is a bit more complicated. The daa platform, in other words, is a good step in the right direction.

  12. Thanks Mathew,

    You do make one point wich is sooo relevant to me. “outside of the “europa” domain, where we are less restricted technically”. This really IS the crux of the “interface design problems” (as much in the edu domains as gov). I have these same discussion between different (NREN) network guys who define, what ‘the domain”, is and who can roam around the network on which the domain(s) sit. Massive gap in understanding.

    Your video about “groups between domains/networks” is spot on. But we do have the problem of conflating “the internet” with “the web”.

    As yu say these forums are not new. Let me just point to the post mortem.
    If yo are going to stop using this blog, it would be nice to have your feedback.

    Eventually, we are going to get the network guys and people like yu and David O together. They do approach the world from a very different perspective, but have the same ends in mind. That’s the only way we are going to get past this problem of (europeas. etc, etc) of each “bubble” believing they must keep “their communities” within their domain.

    It’s hard work building modern institutions isn’t it? Each believes the world must/does revolve around them.
    Now where’s my pin?

  13. Thanks, again, for your thoughts and links. I’m off on holiday in a weeks’ time, and have a predictably impressive mountain of work to get done before then, so I’ll take a look at them in more detail later on in what Europeans laughingly call “summer”.

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