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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Blogging futures

Leighton Andrews has already referred to the article on blogging in Wales in the latest issue of Agenda, the house magazine of the Institute of Welsh Affairs. Having now read it I must confess to being a tad disappointed with its content.

Well over half of the article is actually about the impact of the Internet on the Welsh Language. We learn that Wikipedia for example, has the first Welsh language encyclopedia to be published in over a hundred years. We also learn that the internet is building and sustaining Welsh communities by facilitating communication for those Welsh people living outside Wales.

It is only near the end that we learn that Welsh language blogs provide evidence of the potential of political blogs such as those in the USA. Tomos Grace argues that these benefit from greater cohesion than their English language, Welsh-based counterparts: at least 50 exist and virtually all are linked to each other and maes-e, thus reinforcing the community effect. Several offer punchy commentary on subjects ranging from the Middle East peace process to the future of ITV Wales.

By contrast the Welsh blogs that exist in English are often personal journals and have little to say about the weightier subjects facing Wales. "But even they can provide interesting insights into the character of the nation. The blog Badly Dubbed Boy for example, recounts the difficulties of a Welshman of Asian origin in affirming his Welshness on rugby day, whilst A Life in Wales describes the blogger's enjoyment in simply watching the Welsh rain."

The author is rightly critical of the limited leadership offered by our political representatives in Wales. He believes that given the example set by the Welsh media, a niche exists for political and satirical blogs on Welsh life and politics. The three AMs who have blogs - myself, Leighton Andrews and David Davies - do our best but I think all of us would be happy if others followed our example.

As Tomos Grace says, blogging "is an easy way to communicate with local and national constituencies, to react to news stories and to generate feedback from the electorate. Representatives of the Assembly, an institution which prides itself on having the most open government in the western world, are missing a trick by denying constituents the opportunity to get to know their AMs and develop a dialogue with them through their blogs."

I know, having discussed this with my colleagues, that there is deep suspicion of blogs amongst many politicians. They see it as a medium that they cannot control, where gaffs occur and where hostages to fortune are created. That can happen in any medium as was illustrated by Ed Matt's fake photo in his Dorset South election leaflet. The lesson, as Stuart Bruce draws it in his useful article on 'Why blogs are intrinsic to the democratic process' is not that politicians shouldn't blog but that just like anything else they should take care.

Update: No sooner do I bemoan the lack of blogs from politicians in Wales than another one appears. This time from Julie Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff North.
I notice that there are fewer political blogs in Wales (in either language) compared to Scotland and England, both proportionly and numerically.

I also agree with the observation that political Welsh language blogs than English language ones from Wales. I put this down to the fact that even the least politicl Welsh speaker faces an almost daily battle to use his/her language in all kinds of situations and this will inevitably shape the way they view the world.

I've often thought about the lack of cohesion among Welsh blogs written in English. There are aggregators such as Irish Blogs (www.irishblogs.ie) and Scottish Blogs (www.scottishblogs.co.uk), but as far as I can see there is no such thing as Welsh Blogs as a home for blogs by Welsh people. There is of course a Welsh section of Britblog, and we Welsh seem happy to be in a 'sub-group' on there rather than have an aggragator of our own - a sad reflecton maybe of our political situation ;-).

At the moment there are a few prototypes of aggregators for Welsh language blogs:
The original was by Nic Dafis of morfablog, which was simply a list (www.morfablog.com/rhithfro) which you could it's script into your blog's template and the list would appear in your sidebar. The problem with this is that it became out-of-date with nearly half the blogs abandoned and tens of others unable to add themselves. This list was then used to create an aggregator (http://slebog.net/rhithfro/) which shows new posts by blogs from the original list.

In a way I'd like an all-Wales aggregator and not one for Welsh language blogs as it would raise the profile of these blogs and of the language itself - especially among non-Welsh speaking Welshmen/women who maybe don't realise that a vibrant Welsh language sub-culture exists. On the other hand there's a school of thought that argues that the only way that the Welsh language can be normalised is by having more independent websites/blogs which are in Welsh only, which I can also understand.

I'm slighly torn on the issue and have 3 blogs to my name; 1 is bilingual and is aimed at learners, my personal blog is in Welsh, but I've also set up an English language blog onto which I duplicate posting from the Welsh one (when I remember).
"The lesson ... is not that politicians shouldn't blog but that just like anything else they should take care."

Would this be why you have removed your link to Francesca Montemaggi's blog where she describes your constituents as "not all bad, there are nutters as well", "care only about themselves" and "are moved by fear of change and greed".
by any chance, Peter?
Your last paragraph's interesting, Peter, and I think you're right. Politicians will miss out in a big way if they don't use the web to communicate. The conversations will happen with or without them and there's only one way they'll have a significant say - by taking part.

Ever read the cluetrain manifesto? It's a bit breathless 90's bubble-speak but nevertheless...

The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media

networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge

Elvis said it best: "We can't go on together with suspicious minds.

The community of discourse is the market

We'd like it if you got what's going on here. That'd be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we're holding our breath

There's nothing to stop you setting up a Welsh blog aggregator if you think it's a good idea. There are several Wordpress RSS aggregator plugins - or you could use Drupal, possibly better suited to multiple blogs-and-aggregators. Or you could use the Eyebeam's reblog stuff (PHP, Perl, MySQL). Just as long as we don't let the Welsh Assembly or the laughingly-titled 'Wales on the Web, the All Wales Portal' get their sticky, ineffective hands on it.

I don't see why you would expect cohesion amongst Welsh blogs anymore than you'd expect it with, say, US blogs.

I'm not sure about Welsh language blogs remaining Welsh-only language blogs. That'll lead to the problem that's caused the French to complain about Google and to propose their own alternative (quelle idée idiotique, Mr. Chirac...).
David, I have removed the reference to Francesca's blog because she has effectively discontinued it and I like to keep my links up to date. If she resumes it then I will out the link back. As for the comments you refer to these are no longer on her blog.
I did't say anything about Francesca's blog, Peter. Someone else.
Different David. Grangetown Labour is David Collins!
I can see they are no longer on Francesca's blog, but they were there before the South Wales Echo brought them to light. Fortuntely they have been saved & reproduced here ...
Dave Collins
(for once we appear to have a Welsh christian names crisis to approach the surnames one!)
I'm not sure about Welsh language blogs remaining Welsh-only language blogs. That'll lead to the problem that's caused the French to complain about Google and to propose their own alternative (quelle idée idiotique, Mr. Chirac...).

Sorry to be idiotique, but how so? I've been blogging in Welsh for 4 years, and it hasn't stopped me from using Google (yn y Gymraeg, wrth gwrs).
Without meaning to cause a furore, it could be pointed out that the English-language blogs in Wales don't talk much about Wales because most of the authors are more concerned about their immediate world than the "weighty" issues surrounding Wales. Which by and large they're not remotely concerned with.

A smaller symptom of a bigger problem. IF you ask me.

btw, last time I checked, I wasn't Asian ;-)
btw, last time I checked, I wasn't Asian ;-)

Couldn't disagree with this. I just quoted the article which I assumed knew what it was talking about. Clearly they didn't!!
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