Mathew Lowry

Time for my 3rd, and perhaps last, annual review.

The idea of an Annual Review is to look back over the preceding 12 months of posts every May and to reflect on if and how my thinking on the European online public space had evolved to “ensure I develop new ideas, rather than repeating myself in the year to come”, as I said in 2010 when I started.

Overall, the past 12 months yielded 22 posts and only 169 comments (including my responses, pingbacks, etc.) – significantly fewer comments/post than in 2011, but that was a year where one post generated almost 70 comments, so my recently formed impression that comments are falling away doesn’t actually hold water that well.

There were two main themes this year: exploring the difference between the Brussels Bubble and the EU Online Public Space (or at least, what the latter could be), and recycling ideas from previous years, which is why I’m considering closing this blog.

Seeing Bubbles

The last year saw the Bubble meme get taken up quite a bit – I even heard my first policy-specific Bubble: the “Bologna Bubble”, although that may have been a new sort of pasta. Or maybe my eyes are just tuned to see Bubbles wherever I read.

Whatever, I guess it was inevitable that I:

  • review “The Filter Bubble” by foreign policy director Eli Pariser, and what it means for the Brussels Bubble. I strongly recommend Pariser’s book – it sets out some credible and genuinely worrying issues for society as a whole;
  • found Umair Haque’s findings (The Social Media Bubble, Harvard Business Review) about thin relationships particularly interesting (see Some stuff I should have read when it came out). The same post looks at some of the more spectacular failures of social media experts across the Pond.

The appearance of yet another ‘EU Web2 platform’ created by a Brussels Bubble organisation, meanwhile, kicked off a bit of a diatribe against publicly-funded ‘edemocracy’ projects with zero clear user demand beyond the Brussels Ring (Do we need more EU platforms, or sustainable EU media?), as opposed to sustainable media operations covering the EU.

This was a theme I returned to in An alternative overarching EU communication strategy?, where I developed a gardening metaphor for the Sphere, and the idea that the best thing the EU Institutions could do would be to create the conditions in which the garden thrives, rather than flooding the web with brochureware and propaganda.

Content strategies

Propaganda was a theme I returned to after seeing a stream of Simon Anholt dissing propaganda at EuropCom and a gripping article from Flanders News.

I guess it’s inevitable that we’ll see even more of this for the EP elections, which would be a shame because a citizens’ agenda would be better.

Other posts looking at content strategies explored the potential role of storytelling and the importance of transparency, and compared the use of social media by the EC and the US military .


This was also a year when I used a couple of public presentations to experiment with more variations of slidecasts: first a PreziCast of a Prezi I presented to some Marie-Curie students, and then a Slidecast of a short presentation at the EESC (Introducing the Brussels Bubble to some of its denizens), created using Slideshare’s mp3 synchronisation interface.

This lead to a conversation which got so long I posted a follow up to answer Ron Patz. As its title (Defining the Bubble from different perspectives) suggested, however, it ended up as just another discussion focused on defining what we actually mean by the EU Online Public space.

As such, it is strikingly similar to something I described earlier:

“What was worrying (to me at least) about the latest discussion was the navel-gazing: is it a Euroblogosphere, a European blogosphere or a EU GeekoSphere? Is Julien a Euroblogger while Nicole is not?…”
– How many eurobloggers can dance on the head of a pin?
, December 2009

Repeating myself

That’s right. 2009. 30 months later, we’re still arguing over definitions.

And some people wonder why I was feeling a little impatient by the time BloggingPortal’s third birthday hove into view, where I struck what I think was the only false note among the general sense of self-congratulation.

BloggingPortal is the nearest thing the EU Online Public Sphere has to a map – it is the only conversation hub which could bring together those discussing the EU in social media from both the Brussels Bubble and more national contexts, and allow a conversation to develop between them.

However, its stats show no growth in what is undeniably a growing media landscape (the EU discussed in social media) and almost nobody in the Brussels Bubble has even heard of it. Both phenomena can be explained through one idea: most denizens of the Brussels Bubble are more interested in talking to each other than venturing out into national conversations. The navelgazing I mocked in 2009, in other words, has become the norm as the Brussels Bubble moved online.

I also vented my sense of frustration in 10 things the EU should probably know about social media, which got a lot of excellent comments, and Key question 1 for panel X today/tonight/tomorrow, which got hardly any comments but did get enormous traffic, which shows that black humour at the expense of PA agencies can work wonders, not least for my spleen.

Getting real

I’ve been moaning about the inward-looking nature of the Bubble for years now, but this was the year when my ire turned mainly upon myself.

After all, as I pointed out at the EESC, the Brussels Bubble has been a Community of Interest long before the Web, and it’s perfectly normal for members of a CoI to talk to each other, rather than those who don’t share the same interests.

While some in the Brussels Bubble play lip-service to the idea of trying to reach outside Brussels, most are here precisely because they need and want to talk to others just like them.

BloggingPortal, in other words, meets a need almost none of them have. Moaning about it won’t change human nature.

Neither will publishing self-referential blogs: the EESC post was subtitled “RTFB!, part 2” because it came after RTFB!, part 1, the latest in a series of self-referential blogs, which is kind of ironic given my irritation with inward-looking Bubbles! In fact, 5 of the past 6 posts have mainly rehashed and rephrased previous posts, rather than developing anything much new. Even the Prezicast was based on the 2nd Annual Review. Small wonder I’m considering stopping.

Finally, there were a few posts which didn’t fit into the above, including my small but enjoyable part in the Robert Schuman Foundation plagiarism storm-in-a-teacup, and me having a go at Klout and Sony’s figleaf use of their .eu domain.

So, will I close this blog, just as nosemonkey returns?

Perhaps. Let’s say for now that it’s closed for refurbishment, while I ponder where I want to go from here.


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  1. Guess it’s just as well I’m starting up again, then – otherwise euroblogland would be without a resident cynical optimist…

    More on topic: The thing that amazes me about the whole Brussels bubble thing is how its inhabitants don’t seem to realise just how irrelevant everyone else involved in European politics thinks they are – despite all the evidence over the last few years… They exist primarily to take the blame for national-level politicos while achieving little of worth that anyone notices, as far as I can tell. Your various posts about EU communications strategy (or lack thereof) give ample illustrations of the reasons why. The EU is *terrible* at public relations.

  2. Thanks for dropping by. The groupthink you refer to is a source of boundless amazement to me. Perhaps because, unlike most people in the Bubble, I have a wife, kids, extended family and many friends who are not in the Bubble at all, despite all living here. They go for entire months without thinking about the EU … or they did until it started looking like it was falling apart.

    To the Bubble denizens in the office blocks surrounding mine, the very existence of such people is unimaginable. The idea that 99.9% of the population is not interested in the EU – when everyone they know is – is simply unthinkable.

    OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit … but not much. Groupthink – perhaps ‘bunker syndrome’ will become more apt over the coming months – is a well-established phenomenon, and it’s here in spades.

  3. “The thing that amazes me about the whole Brussels bubble thing is how its inhabitants don’t seem to realise just how irrelevant everyone else involved in European politics thinks they are – despite all the evidence over the last few years… ” Maybe it would be too depressing to acknowledge openly? :-/

  4. I just googled “groupthink blindness wilful” and clicked on the first link, of all things a biblically-oriented site.

    Anyway, it opens with:

    ‘Willful blindness’ is a legal term, referring to someone who has intentionally chosen to be unaware of the facts. The term featured prominently in the Enron scandal and the banking crises where the CEO’s had surrounded themselves with likeminded people, thus shielding them from awkward questions and critical views”

    And continues:

    “A biblical account of willful blindness … the king has surrounded himself with 400 prophets who promise him victory in battle. ‘Groupthink’ of biblical proportions. It’s easily confused with ‘unity’. Groupthink is the mode of thinking that happens when the desire for harmony overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives.”

    And concludes

    “It takes courage to invite people to crash your party, to include unlikely people in your orbit, to listen to unharmonious sounds and to go to unlikely places. It’s hard to see the ‘unity’ being disturbed. It’s much easier to sanitise yourself from critical voices.”

    So there you are. Wisdom for the Bubble, in the Bible. Don’t tell Jon!

  5. And all these social media things, today and yesteryear, are a huge waste of time. Only birds twitter and tweet for useful purpose.Nothing on facebook or other media sites is trustworthy, and gossip – whether over the back fence or the internet – is of NO VALUE, and keeps people from doing more useful things! is usefull 😉

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