Mathew Lowry

This post started out as a comment to Blogging, content discovery and the European public sphere, Kosmopolito’s post marking Bloggingportal’s 5th birthday (all posts and more). However Kosmo, one of the old guard of EU bloggers (and currently jobhunting, btw) raised more than a couple of good questions, so my comment needed a larger home.

The basic question is whether the huge evolution in online media over the past 5 years has rendered Bloggingportal unnecessary.

And I’d agree that Bloggingportal as it is today is probably not that much use, as borne out by the flatt-ish traffic it gets in a growing media landscape. But Europe does need a demos, a public sphere, if it is to (re)gain democratic legitimacy.

A rebooted BloggingPortal could make a differenc, but only of its mission pivots, and the technology returns to the cutting edge, where it was 5 years ago.

Should we bother with blogs?

The first question is always the same – why even bother with blogs? After all,

blogs have become part of the the mainstream… all mainstream media outlets followed the concept – either by opening a “blog platform” or simply by creating a comment box under each article – or by adopting a blogging style in journalism

So why aggregate it?

As I pointed out in the FAQAO: Why bother? Blogging’s dead!, a rebooted BloggingPortal should not be about aggregating blogs on EU policy, it should be about aggregating, classifying and filtering all longform content on EU policy.

Basically, if it’s about EU policy, and it has a stream that we can curate and process, it should go into Bloggingportal. I don’t really care whether it’s technically a blog or not.
– FAQAO: Why call it bloggingportal?

The purpose, after all, is to help knit together ideas about the EU – and the people who have them – across the national and linguistic barriers currently separating them.

However, as Kosmo points out, this is a change of tack. The original BloggingPortal was

about “alternative” or “non-mainstream content” … Because there are interesting things out there that go beyond the rather narrow interests of mainstream media.

That remains true, but a true ‘aggrefilter‘ helps discover all content of value.

As such it will be more useful, and so will get more traffic. And that, in turn, will help alternative voices find an audience much better than one that is self-consciously “alternative”.

Which neatly answers Kosmo’s observation that

there are hardly any new [EU focused blogs] that stay active for more than a few months. A lack of interest? A problem of incentives?

Noone writes for long when they can’t find an audience. A rebooted BloggingPortal will help new voices find an audience and help good ideas circulate, stimulating an EU-wide conversation on Europe and the EU.

Puncturing filter bubbles in the European public sphere

The other main question, as always, is whether a website is needed at all.

Is anyone still using RSS readers … or [do] most people “discover” new content only on their facebook or twitter feed?

The answer, of course, is “mostly, yes”. So why build a website?

As Kosmo himself references, content discovery via social media tends to create filter bubbles, where you see content only from people you like, who you agree with, who are somehow like you.

The rise of the social media giants made it also more difficult for individual alternative voices to break into the mainstream.

Filter Bubbles have huge implications for the EU online public sphere. Thanks to web personalisation algorithms:

… eurosceptics will see only content negative about the EU, and those within the Brussels Bubble crowd won’t see anything to disturb their worldview, either. You can argue that this is already the case, but its disheartening to think that Web Personalisation will make things even worse.
What “The Filter Bubble” means for the Brussels Bubble

By combining machine translation, automated semantic analysis and faceted search, a rebooted Bloggingportal will counter this trend.

To take a specific and simple example: it could bring together content about CAP reform from all political views in all countries, from eurosceptics and eurofiles, from Greens and Reds, from farmers’ lobbies, development activists and agrifood industries, in a single menu, feed and enewsletter. Widgets could distribute these feeds further, allowing website owners to display, alongside their content, a diversity range of relevant views from across Europe.

This promotes content discovery and punctures, rather than reinforcing, filter bubbles.

But it’s still a website. It still needs to be built and then promoted. I’m still discussing options with developers, and welcome more interest. If you know any developers interested in semantic analysis, send them to Hashtag Europe: the Developers’ Cut.

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