Blogs: the British backlash

Over the last few weeks, a number of articles have appeared in the mainstream media commenting on the attempt by Jimmy Wales and Tim O'Reilly to create a civility code of practice for bloggers. In the UK, this debate was sparked off late last year by Matthew Taylor, outgoing adviser to Number 10. Wales' and O'Reilly's well-meaning article has given it a new lease of life.

One of the things that surprises me about the framing of these articles is how so many of them begin from the assumption that the blog format is 'now a decade old', or how it's somehow 'ten years on' and we need to 'take stock' because blogging hasn't 'taken off'. Victor Keegan writes in The Guardian that Technorati finds that there are 'only' 70 million blogs. I find this incredible. First, Radio Userland was invented in 1997 but had a miniscule user base for the first five years. was founded in 1999 and it too did not take off until 2002-2003. The RSS standard, arguably one of the only things that really defines what a blog actually is, was not even settled on until late 1999. The most successful all-round blogging applications were founded well after the turn of the century: Moveable Type (2001), Wordpress and Typepad (2003). Second, that there are 70 million more people (or groups of people) publishing their thoughts in a globally accessible medium than there were ten years ago strikes me as quite a significant change.

I was presenting at the UK Political Studies Association last Friday in Bath, and Dr Scott Wright made the excellent point that this framing is occurring all over the place now. He brought up the example of the finding that 17 per cent of the british public have visited the Conservative Party's website. This, too, is usually framed as 'only 17 per cent'. But if you turn it around the other way, the very fact that 17 per cent of the British public have bothered to 'lean forward' and use this purposive medium to visit the site is pretty significant, don't you think?