The History of the UK Blogosphere

There’s a great post on A Very Public Sociologist reflecting on how the political blogosphere in the UK has changed since the author began blogging. It strengthens my conviction that the blogosphere would be an extremely conducive object for a field analysis looking at how, say, the ‘political blogosphere’ elaborated itself through interaction at the border between itself and the print media (and their attendant digital offshoots):

The ‘function’ of blogging and blogging culture itself is a many-legged beast transformed. Whereas blogs were once an alternative to and upstart challenger against traditional media commentary, it has effortlessly segwayed into the commentariat. It’s as home in established outlets as your Toynbees and Heffers. The press has essentially colonised and co-opted cadres of writers who came up through the blogs. The top tier bloggers – you know who you are – lead existences virtually indistinguishable from ‘professionals’ who got into the papers the old way. Media-branded blogs like Comment is Free, Telegraph Blogs, The Staggers, andThe Spectator have effectively hoovered up last decade’s explosion in creative political writing and have successfully used them to forge successful online brands. Time and again, their house bloggers tend to provide the most interesting (and infuriating) comment, which is why I and tens of thousands of others read them.

This professionalisation, for want of a better word, is best exemplified by Iain Dale’s passage from blogging to mainstream punditry to publishing (and back again). Whether you love him, loathe him, or don’t have a clue who he is, when Iain Dale’s Diary was up and running between 2005 and 2010 Iain did play an important role in getting bloggers and blogging into the mainstream, if only as a by-product of his own self-promotion. But his blog commanded an audience that crossed party loyalties, and that was pretty big. Getting featured if you were a newbie, getting a slot in the ‘Daley Dozen’ picks of best writing from around the blogs, and/or securing a respectable position in the annual Total Politics poll was a very useful way of getting noticed. Also, to Iain’s credit, I found him to be as even handed as you can expect a solid Tory to be. Compare, for instance, his regular picks with the overly partisan boilerplate Guido stamps his/their approval on every day. There are now few (if any) blogs that now fill the cross-partisan market Iain’s used to. Certainly where the most-read sites are concerned anyway. It is now very rare a piece written on a left blog would receive wide circulation among conservatives, and vice versa. Blogging has always been partisan, but the division of lefties only reading lefties, and rightwingers only reading rightwingers is more pronounced than it once was.

The entry of blogging into the echo chamber was probably always going to happen. Some of it may be left at the feet of the papers and magazine who’ve muscled in on blogging. After all, they have their political allegiances. But the bigger part has been played by social media, particularly Twitter. When I started tweeting in 2009 it was to promote this here blog and have a bit of banter. Question Time and PMQs running commentary were definitely not things I had in mind. But over the last few years, the relationship between micro-blogging and blogging have found the terms reversed. I can’t help thinking that for large numbers blogging is an adjunct of tweeting. That is blog audience, while nice, is subordinated to the insatiable drive to accumulate more Twitter followers.

It has restructured how blogging works too. Leave a comment? Why not tweet the blogger instead? Twitter killed the comments box star. Twitter’s immediacy has made redundant certain little traditions too. When was the last time you tagged someone in a post? Who posts memes any more? They’re not really needed now. It’s a shame because “the old ways”, like themed blog carnivals (like the Carnival of Socialism) were excellent for hawking your wares round other blogs, introducing new writers and ensuring marginalised/ignored voices were given a wider airing.

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