11 January 2009

Bloggers' Association again

A whie back, I floated the idea of a Scottish Blogging Association, a suggestion got a couple of comments, but not all that much interest, unless people were thinking "Yes! When are you going to take it forward?", in which case, this would be a good time for me to answer, "Oh, bugger."

Anyway, the reason I've opted to revisit it now is this post by Welsh Tory Eurocandidate Evan Price, via Iain Dale (the Tory one, that is), which notes the threat bloggers face from more litigious readers, and suggests almost a sort of Trade Union (Tory sacrilege, surely!) to act as a mutual defence fund against malicious lawsuits. Dale himself is sceptical, on the grounds that bloggers are just too individualistic.

Personally, I think the reason that Evan Price comes up with is worryingly defensive, but in the wake of the Alex Hilton row, it's also rather prescient. However, even that wasn't a black-and-white issue, as the comments I received on the matter show. I envisioned an association being more capable of driving forward and securing an almost mainstream-status for bloggers (and it's interesting how I view mainstream as something to aim for, while Iain Dale, the blogger who has crossed into the mainstream more than any other on this side of the Atlantic, uses the term in a less positive light). I still think it could work, but I've considered a number of obstacles that we'd have to address.

Firstly, in terms of the Price proposals, on what level would an association be formed? A UK-wide one? I know that given my politics, I'd have trouble signing up to that. It sounds petty, but what would you expect? I've posted time and again in support of independence, and my view of British identity as a myth, so it would be slightly ridiculous (and hypocritical) on my part to sign up to a newly created British institution. I suspect that would be the case for a fair chunk of the SNP blogosphere and given what a significant chunk of the Scottish political blogosphere is formed by SNP voices, that would weaken a UK organisation right from the start: a group that SNP bloggers had trouble with wouldn't be as effective at supporting and defending the Scottish blogosphere as one that included them from the start; a UK-wide organisation that had only a very weak Scottish arm which didn't reflect the full range of opinions in Scotland - or Wales, for that matter - wouldn't really be a "British" organisation either, but an English one with a few addenda. That could even exasperate Unionist voices.

So that would leave us with an association for each of the nations. Now, I could go with that, and the four bodies could still co-operate on an informal basis, but then, the associaitons would inevitably adopt different approaches - which defeats the object of collectivity do a degree - and what's the point in setting up formal structures, if at another level, we revert to informality?

And on that point, that another look at the Alex Hilton case. Individual bloggers signed up to support him, and publicise the case. He got a body of people out there, on his side, without a formal structure. The same is true during the Usmanov affair. And of course, let's not forget the Scottish and BritBlog Roundups. While these are clearly collective works, they're not formal associations but they are very much important, successful parts of the blogosphere (though, interestingly, the Scottish one may arguably be evolving into that and the way it's happening is only serving to enhance the Roundup). So the status quo can work - though the Roundup may end up showing that a change can work better.

But the point that does worry me is that of the team dynamic. A couple of commenters over at Iain Dale ask what'll happen if one strong personality or group of bloggers takes control. Frankly, that's the least of my worries (though being the minority voice in the wilderness is never fun. For me, the bigger trouble is what happens if you have two or more strong personalities: sooner or later, they'll enter a state of clash, and whoever wins, the association would lose. If this can be avoided, we have a way of making things work.

There's also another couple of random questions: firstly, what of expats? From a strictly Scottish perspective, I'm one of those: I'm blogging from an address in England but this blog is unashamedly Scottish and focuses on Scottish politics, with occasional meanderings into European politics, and Scottish football. Now there's always a part of me that would happily turn the blog into a Wigan Athletic fanzine, but that's another story. But what would be the criteria for membership of an association, on either a Scottish or UK level?

Finally, what happens if membership requires firm commitments of time and/or money? I've delayed the EuroCountdown to write about another few things that have turned my head (I'm going to start doing that feature as and when, rather than just on a Sunday - keep looking out for it!). I know from my perspective that one bad week, and everything would get dropped, and I suspect it's the same for many bloggers.

Plus which, I bear the scars from working with the Socttish Students' Debating Council when I was at Uni, and that asked for firm commitments, which various institutions - especially my own - would piss all over at the drop of a hat. Not out of malice, but out of the fact that everyone was either busy or skint. But still, we faced rows from various quarters, with people asking how hard it was to get four people on a bus to University X for their competition. Of course, when we held ours, a number of institutions couldn't make it, and I remarked that I was sorry for them that they were missing a good weeking, only for the same voice that insisted how easy it was to find four willing people to travel on any weekend of the year to grumble that it was our fault for holding the tournament on a date they couldn't make. At that point I felt that for such breath-taking hypocrisy, the individual in question might be better off in the Let's Bitch At Edinburgh Association, but there you go.

But I digress. The point I'm making is that when you put commitments into the equation, some may struggle to meet them - and start to resent them - while those who tick every box will end up resenting the ones that don't. We have to think about that.

So those are the issues that I see standing in the way of an association. How do we beat them? On what level do we organise? It is even worth it? Would you join if we did?

Answers, as always, on a postcard. Or better yet, a comment.


Bill said...

Is this satire? I thought I knew where you were heading with your post (even if I felt it was petty-fogging in the extreme), but the more I read of it the more confused I became until, by the time I reached the end, I had almost lost the plot completely as perhaps had you? Perhaps also I had ceased to care.

Sorry, I don't mean to sound totally negative, really I'm not (no, really!), but I've always found a certain type of 'club' to focus rather too much on narcissistic navel-gazing rather than on real-world matters. This seems as if what you might, perhaps inadvertently, be aiming for.

Assuming a future UK (sorry, dirty word here I know - lol) Conservative government means what it says when, for example, it promises to reverse the present government's plans to introduce ID Cards and the whole database state that goes with it, one imagines that at least some of the worst aspects of what is being planned now will not happen. Isn't this more important than worrying about whether bloggers try to cooperate on a UK-wide, or a Scottish/English/Welsh/Northern Irish basis? Is the form more important than the substance?

Jeff said...

Not for me Will I'm afraid, I find ID cards a more palatable concept and that's saying something.

It's perhaps telling that until today you were the only blog linking in to Iain Dale's suggestion of a week ago. I am now the second and as my blog testifies, Iäm dead against.

Even with the obstacles you mention in your piece, I just think it flies in the face of what blogging is about. 'This is what I think now, no holds barred' is a bit different to 'This is what I think now and if you don't like it I have 5,000 buddies backing me up so screw you'.

Worthy of a cracking debate though I'm sure. That Labour crew will be all over it and will have the membership cards all printed up already no doubt....!

Scott @ loveandgarbage said...

The problems that are faced stem from a fear of defamation and the application to ISPs. English defamation law in particular goes to extremes especially in relation to jurisdiction), and ISPs panic when it's mentioned - even when as in one case I referred to on my blog last year there is no reason to. In that example, describing a person convicted in a country for fraud as a convicted fraudster is not defamation - although the removal of this story from various blogs, newspaper and magazine websites suggests that when a lawyer shouts some people panic. I have had people look at my site from the relevant legal firm (according to sitemeter) but no correspondence received. Is this because I worded my post carefully, or because I indicated within my post a context within the law of defamation?

Even the Hilton case that seems to have triggered the current fuss is an odd example. As Tim Ireland pointed out, one writer of the story (a journo, well versed in libel law down south) simply posted that he had evidence to support his side of the story, and was happy to test it. That Hilton immediately called for a variety of mechanisms of support - seemed, to me, an over-reaction . And I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing completely with CAlum Cashley's comment to your earlier post.

I'm pretty careful about what I write, as most of us in the Scottish blogosphere are. And in one high profile case (you know which) there was some stuff I was sent that I didn't use, and if stuff was published I would link but tried to balance things up. That's just being sensible. Even those perceived to be at one extreme (the swearie blogs ;-) ) don't tend to make comments that could be perceived as defamatory - given that it's often either satire or "fair comment" (some think Mr E sails close to the wind, but I don't see that at all - famous last words, of course...).

And if people are posting stuff which is defamatory they should be more careful.

Perhaps what is needed is a handy guide to defamation hosted by the ISPs.

I am happy to informally connect with others in the blogosphere - and think that in Scotland there is a nice community, even though I have not knowingly met anyone whose blogs I regularly read.

However, to formalise this would would I think be counter-productive, removing the key element that underpins why the current system is effective. Plus, I imagine a few would resent having to fork out cash to support someone that wasn't as careful as they were.

polaris said...

I undertook a bit of navel gazing recently on my blog as to why I do it, and the only conclusion I could come to is that I am a "Grumpy Old Woman" and I need somewhere to tell it how I see it; get it off my chest if you will, no holds barred. My experience of "clubs/gangs/associations" is that they attract those dominant personality types who we all too often rail against when they become involved in SIGs or Politics. I do not see how an organised association could provide any kind of protection against libel, and in fact may provide a high profile target for the litigious. My natural inclination is to continue to use the blogosphere as the collaborative platform for expression and discussion it is, and rally to support those individuals who may find themselves in trouble - if we see fit and depending where our sympathies lie, on a case-by-case basis.

I like the anarchy of the blogosphere.

Just my tuppence worth...