Tomorrow at re:publica, the annual tech and politics gathering in Berlin, Tobias Schwarz (from Fistful of Euros) and I will talk about 12 years of blogging about European Politics and the EU. Fistful has been around a little longer than my own blog; I’ve been writing here since July 2005.
The biggest thing I’ve ever done – the Atheist Bus Campaign – brought me to re:publica in the first place, in 2009 (pic is from my speech that day). The Atheist Bus Campaign worked because it had edge, and we did it at the peak of Facebook hype. Facebook was booming back then. Meanwhile much of the networking for the early stages of the campaign took place among independent bloggers in the summer of 2008. Bloggers without editorial teams or production budgets still had a role; they do not to the same extent now.
Back in 2005 when I told people I wrote a blog about the European Union they asked what a blog was. Now the wonder why I am still doing it. The reason was that I wanted to bring some sort of alternative voice to EU politics, and I suppose that is still my hope, but I think I cannot do this any more.
My fear is that, like re:publica as a conference, I am just in denial. Just as re:publica has grown from a few hundred determined geeks wearing black, it now attracts 6000 people and is sponsored by Daimler, and Sascha Lobo thinks it’s too uncool to attend. It is not alternative any more – it is a sort of mainstream.
In EU politics pretty much everyone is producing content only online (Politico is still making a bit of a sop to the European paper industries). While my blog might be odd in terms of style (hell, I can still write blog entries like this one), and I have no money to support it, it’s nevertheless totally establisment in the new measure of that – Google – where 4 out of 5 of my most read blog entries every single month are things that are more than 2 years old. Reader numbers for what I write about the EU are strongly down – it’s only because I write about other topics like finding flats in Berlin that my blog stats are not lower overall.
In the early days of a technology – be that blogging, Twitter, Facebook or whatever else – those with good ideas and technical nimbleness can succeed. Then after a few years the establishment takes over. Those with the marketing teams, financial planners and establishment names win out.
I suppose that this marginalisation of what this blog is, was inevitable. I am not going to get the edge back, the readers back, and there is not going to be another equivalent of the Atheist Bus Campaign. As a bright young writer about the EU you’d be better off joining a media house these days (Kosmopolit reckons you’d be better just tweeting – I’m not sure about that either as Twitter has lost its edge in EU politics already). I’ve been lucky to have lived the heyday of independent commentary about the EU through 1800 blog entries and half a million words. It has been an extraordinary ride.
In the end this blog succeeded more because it was early in the game than thanks to anything else, and once the early mover advantage has worn off, critique of the establishment when you have no resources feels, well, rather futile.