Monday, September 21, 2015

When blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars

Blogging, it seems, is in decline - no one has offered me an expenses-paid trip to New York in years.

Even so, I think it a shame that the Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year award has died without even an announcement of its demise.

I have done my own small bit to try to encourage Lib Dem blogging by picking up the welcome to the new bloggers feature that used to appear on Lib Dem Voice. Maybe I should start giving awards too?

A unique insight into how the web has changed since the heyday of blogging can be found in an article by Hossein Derakhshan.

He was a leading Iranian blogger, imprisoned by the government in 2008 for spreading propaganda against the ruling establishment, promoting counter-revolutionary groups and insulting Islamic thought and religious figures. He was pardoned and released last November.

Derakhshan remembers the glory days of blogging:
Blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars back in 2008 when I was arrested. At that point, and despite the fact the state was blocking access to my blog from inside Iran, I had an audience of around 20,000 people every day. Everybody I linked to would face a sudden and serious jump in traffic: I could empower or embarrass anyone I wanted. 
People used to carefully read my posts and leave lots of relevant comments, and even many of those who strongly disagreed with me still came to read. Other blogs linked to mine to discuss what I was saying. I felt like a king.
Emerging from prison, he found a very different web:
The Stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex –and secretive — algorithms.
The Stream means you don’t need to open so many websites any more. You don’t need numerous tabs. You don’t even need a web browser. You open Twitter or Facebook on your smartphone and dive deep in. The mountain has come to you. 
Algorithms have picked everything for you. According to what you or your friends have read or seen before, they predict what you might like to see. It feels great not to waste time in finding interesting things on so many websites.
This worries Derakhshan. He fears it makes us more dependent on big corporations and more open to government surveillance.
We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies. The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking. 
When I log on to Facebook, my personal television starts. All I need to do is to scroll: New profile pictures by friends, short bits of opinion on current affairs, links to new stories with short captions, advertising, and of course self-playing videos. 
I occasionally click on like or share button, read peoples’ comments or leave one, or open an article. But I remain inside Facebook, and it continues to broadcast what I might like. This is not the web I knew when I went to jail.
Bloggers used to be scrupulous in acknowledging their sources, so... h/t Thomas Jones on the London Review of Books blog.

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