Monday, 7 July 2014

Northern Ireland blogging nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

I spent a little while over the weekend slimming down the ‘blog roll’ of websites on the right hand side of this page.  The majority of links were either defunct or more or less disused.  It made me think, if the ‘weblog’ is not dying, its best days are certainly behind it. 

Of course, my own site has become a fitful affair.  There are times when a visitor might expect to see tumbleweed blow across their screen, rather than a fresh new article, and when I do post, the number of hits is negligible. 

I’ve never had an enormous interest in theoretical discussions about blogging as a medium.  Personally, if I hadn’t written blog-posts, I would have written something else.  I would have pitched my material to newspapers, or offered articles to magazines, or squirreled them away in notebooks.

I didn’t start a blog because I wanted to be a blogger.  I started a blog because I enjoyed writing.

Still, all those dead and dismembered links caused more than a twinge of nostalgia.  Five years ago, when Three Thousand Versts was short-listed for the Orwell Prize, there was a rich network of blogs writing about politics in Northern Ireland.  Most of them are no longer active. 

On the pro-Union side, A Pint of Unionist Lite is gone, but not forgotten.  O’Neill’s informative and interesting posts remain available online, although the site is disused.  The same is true of Everything Ulster, although beano’s ‘EU hiatus’ has lasted now for over six years.  Burke’s Corner, which tackled philosophy and politics from a Burkean perspective, has attracted a squatter, while Redemption’s Son left behind few traces.  Its writer, Richard Cairns, like Lee Reynolds, the author of Ultonia, has moved on to bigger and better things.  Nothing remains of the hilarious Bobballs either, so far as I can see.

There were many others too.  It took quite a deal of virtual pruning to get rid of them all.  Some were good, lively sites but others were fairly boring party political blogs - little more than adverts for aspiring politicians.

On the nationalist side there is a similar pattern.  El Blogador has disappeared.  Splintered Sunrise, once very regularly updated, has remained dormant since 2012.  O’Conall Street didn’t outlive the political career of its writer, Conall McDevitt. 

Nationally, the picture is not much different.  Even the ‘blogfather’, Iain Dale, closed down his celebrated Iain Dale’s Diary, in 2011, although he does have a very slick site elsewhere which includes blogposts, but is more of a shop window for his media empire.

I’m not sure the closure of so many blogs indicates a lack of interest in the topics they cover.  It has more to do with social media and the trajectory of debate online.  Many websites and discussion forums have struggled or closed down altogether because the focus of readers and posters has switched to Twitter.  That’s unfortunate, because blogs allow for longer and more thoughtful writing.

Before the internet, to make a contribution to a debate, usually through a newspaper, magazine or journal, the writer had to order and present his or her thoughts so that an editor would deem them publishable.  The web ensured that anyone could contribute, but, with blogs and, to a lesser extent, forums, to attract readers and to get them to read your post, it had to be more or less readable.

Twitter, by contrast, allows people to spill their guts, instantly, about any topic.  There’s no price whatsoever to offering up your opinion to the masses.  You don’t need any knowledge, you don’t need to write especially coherently and you certainly don’t need to have anything worth saying.  It takes next to no mental effort - just two working fingers and an electronic device.

I suppose we should celebrate the ‘democratisation’ of debate, or some similar mumbo-jumbo.  After all, on Twitter and Facebook, one person’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s, irrespective of expertise, knowledge or intellectual capacity.   

There was, however, an element of excitement about being among the first wave of weblogs to capture attention in Northern Ireland, which it would be a pity to forget.  Those blogs formed something of a network of ideas, with bloggers bouncing off each other’s posts, debates taking place across multiple sites and playing out over many thousands of words.         

What it all amounted to, who knows?  But it was fun, while it lasted.

To the retired bloggers; wouldn’t it be great if it could all happen again someday?  To the survivors who keep plugging away, fair play, but it’s just not the same as it used to be.

Disclaimer: Just because I didn't mention your blog, doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it!  Either you're still blogging or it slipped my mind!  


Rick Cairns said...

I enjoyed the blogging and I think everyone has/had their reasons for engaging in it. At that time I liked the variety of unionist contributors, and that there wasn't an obvious party political undertone to it.

For myself it was a way to get my thoughts in order on a particular issue and open that up to scrutiny. It was also a chance (as I did it under a pseudonym) not to follow the sheep and just say what I thought. I think that benefited me a great deal in terms of political direction and knowing what I wanted to see achieved.

My regret is that I didn't save the site and it disappeared, and that I stopped blogging rather abruptly!

Chekov said...

You could always make a comeback Rick.