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On Blogging

John Rentoul

norman geras 140x140 On BloggingThat nagging feeling that there is something missing? The internet is not the same without Normblog.

Since the death of Norman Geras last month a few people have said things about blogs and blogging that I thought were notable.

Paul Evans’s comments on why Normblog was so good were perceptive. He pointed out the significance of Norm’s not allowing comments, which meant that, to “challenge or develop Norm’s thinking, you had to set up your own site or comment on the sites of others who linked to him”. Thus Normblog “went viral” in that it encouraged others to set up their own blogs, and “Norm’s politics had some of the properties we find in an Internet meme”.

Even if you were not involved in the Euston Manifesto (and I was not, though I was sympathetic to it), Paul is right that Norm “improved the way we think and talk about politics”.

The point about no comments reinforced Chris Dillow’s observation about blogging for its own sake, not for what people think of it (Dillow does allow comments, but he doesn’t often comment on them). Dillow wasn’t writing about Norm – his post was prompted by another significant change in the blogworld last month, namely Sunny Hundal’s decision to stop blogging – but he could have been.

And I liked Dillow’s afterthought, with which I am sure Norm would have agreed:

I’m mystified by people who claim not to have time to blog. Blogging takes only around an hour a day of my time, and much of that is time I’d spend thinking about the things I blog anyway.

Finally, Stephen Tall, also commenting on Hundal’s retirement, had some sharp observations about how blogs have changed since the early days (six years ago). One big change has been the invasion of the blogworld by employed journalists such as me using their mainstream media websites as platforms. Another has been the rise of what Stephen calls the “trollemic”:

Deliberately OTT arguments with the specific aim of generating controversy (see Julie Burchill or Rod Liddle) and in the process making rational debate of the subject almost impossible.*

But I think he is too pessimistic about the “crowding out of the amateurs”. Blogs are a particular form. They can be written to provide “content” (if I had a grave I’d spin in it) or to generate traffic, but at their best they are written, and will go on being written, because someone wants to write something: someone who would be very pleased if other people thought it was good or important, but who is primarily writing it for themselves.

Thank you, Norm.

*If you spot any particularly preposterous examples of the genre, let me know, because I am collecting a Top 10 Trollemics for The New Review, The Independent on Sunday magazine.

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  • newfriendofed

    I was unfamiliar with Norm until he died and I then read tributes by J. R. and others. My main impression is that J. R. could be truer to the spirit of his mentor if he could be less the single-minded ideologue.

  • greggf

    Seriously JR, the Indy blogs could have been a contender (for top blogs) if it were not for that silly usurper Voices with all its tricky links and limitations!
    Can’t it be put down?

  • porkfright

    I could do without blogs, period-except for Boulezian, which is brilliant.

  • Western Independent

    We amateur bloggers do write write primarily for ourselves – it wouldn’t be realistic to think we are going to do much more than that most of the time! But it would be difficult to maintain enthusiasm in the long run unless the occasional post takes off and attracts more than a few hundred hits. Just what will take people’s interest (or Google’s), I’ve found hard to predict.


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