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April 8, 2016

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April 8, 2016

Blogging’s getting a bit old – what’s next? Plus, my first pitiful attempt at a vlog.

April 8, 2016
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It’s quiet in the blogosphere. Too quiet. (In Westerns, saying that invariably means you’re about to get an arrow in

Caution: existential crisis looming

Caution: existential crisis imminent

the head). I’ve been blogging on FP2P for 8 years now and for the last few of them, have been wondering what comes next. There are few new entrants to the blog world, and some of the original development bloggers have fallen by the wayside (looking at you, Bill Easterly). Otherwise it’s a lot of the same old names chuntering away. That feels like a technology that’s ripe for disruption, so my question is – where do new arrivals go to write and exchange views, instead of starting a blog? Or as Jed Bartlett (still the best contender for US president, IMO) would say, what’s next?

I asked a few of my tech literate friends and colleagues and they came up with a few options:

Multipliers and Aggregators

One view is that blogging will not die, but will increasingly just be raw content – people won’t find their way to your website. Whether anyone reads your stuff will depend on how you feed it into an expanding superstructure of aggregators and multipliers, including:

Medium: Tech guru and MySociety founder Tom Steinberg has adopted it, which must mean something. Tom says it ‘has swallowed up a lot of the energy for Thinking Persons who want to write online. It feels like if you write there you get basically free readers and a higher chance of breaking out.’ Oxfam International is already there, and I may sign up. It seems to be more interactive and open access than sites like Huffpo – e.g. readers highlight their favourite quotes as well as like articles to move them up the pecking order.

women bloggers 2Facebook Instant Articles. Up to now (confession) I have avoided Facebook, so don’t really know how this works, but I gather people are pushing content through instant articles and getting lots of hits – like Medium, that feels more like a multiplier than an alternative to blogging.

Q&A formats

Blogging is really pretty top down – guy (usually) on a soap box, with people allowed to comment. More democratic, horizontal fora might be encourage more conversational exchange.

Quora.com: This from Oxfam tech guru Eddy Lambert: If you ever saw Yahoo answers etc. it’s a bit like that but way better and growing quickly.   People ask questions (under categories and themes or to particular individuals/groups of experts) and other users respond.  Discussions are the heart of it but also simpler ‘like’ voting for people to reward good answers or responses.  Lots of algorithmic magic happens to then push ‘interesting’ content at you on-site, on-app and via email.  Very vibrant communities form around themes or people. Why relevant?:  because it rewards expertise and knowledge but everything starts with a question

Go retro – personal listservs

In a slightly back to the future vein, people are setting up personal email list serves to avoid all the adverts and just dog_blog_cartoontalk to their mates – that seems like a bit of a backward step. Can people recommend any good development-related ones?

Forget text, it’s all about video

Finally, what’s with the text obsession? I am reliably informed (i.e. by a journo friend in a pub) that text is dying, video is the future, provided it’s 90 seconds or less. Alice Evans at Cambridge is doing video abstracts for academic papers. Matt Andrews at Harvard has been doing video summaries of lectures for a while. The Guardian is getting loads of hits by just putting chunks of text on top of video footage. This is seriously bad news for old guys like me with the perfect face for radio. So if you don’t want to see the future, please look away now. My first vlog.

Think this should be my last one as well? I welcome all tips/suggestions to ensure FP2P doesn’t go the way of the fax machine…….

 

35 comments

  1. Duncan,

    There is a surfeit of offers. At the same time, Gresham’s Law is devastating the field. the quality of blogs is declining rapidly. Bloggers are like SME: they have difficulty producing, selling, and redefining themselves all at the same time. 90% of SMEs are dead within a few years.

    Mind you, the loss of quality is a general phenomenon: only 61% of economics paper could be reproduced. This on top of poor conceptual models and lousy experimental set-ups. One despairs.

    Your dog cartoon may hold the best answer: less is more.

    aldo

  2. Duncan – have you seen what comes up at the end of the Vlog?! You probably need to get rid of those women!!!

    Duncan – have you seen the women that come on at the end of your vlog???? Best get rid of them!
    Love the dog cartoon – and well done for trying it out. Maybe start something along the line of Ted Talks, and invite people to upload short videos/talking heads on themes of the day?

    1. Security won’t let me read the first link, and the second is an outrageous promo for yr offspring, Chris!

  3. Is there not a danger of a restless pursuit of change merely for its own sake? If something works, why not stick with it until it doesn’t?

    With the options you describe, I am left wondering not so much what the added value might be but how one might derive it. I rather like taking five minutes out of the day and reading your opinions over coffee, either agreeing fervently (and therefore justifying my own biases and world view) or disagreeing wildly (and kidding myself that I am therefore capable of cutting edge thought).

    So don’t change just because there is a new teenager on the block. But do change if the means by which the debate is disseminated is no longer working – for you or others.

    One upside of the blog and all its apparent successors is that increasingly one has to get the key idea into a crisp, short statement in plain English. I find myself intimidated by very clever, very long documents requiring much deep thought. My daily life is generally full of trying to work out what to do next, and the timeframe is usually today. The answer is very rarely to settle down to read a handy 40 pages from institute or school of development. I find more practitioner advice that works from your blog. And if I screw up on duty, that’s my problem – and what I get paid for.

    JAB

    1. Thanks for the endorsement jeremy, but of course comments on this blog suffer from a monumental selection bias, as only text-loving people read it!

  4. I enjoy your texts so please don’t stop! And an important thing to remember is that in many countries the internet signal is not strong (particularly in developing countries, but I’m afraid to say that even in Australia and NZ this can be problematic!!). Even reading the text on the blog may be difficult but playing video – and a vlog – is totally impossible. So you will cut out a lot of potential users if you do that.

  5. The girls at the end of your blog are my 8-year old’s favourite youtube sensation – Jacy and Kacy! But I suspect your target audience isn’t 8 years old…
    From a soon-to-be 44 year old, I love your blog. You have a good mix of your stuff and interesting guest bloggers (ahem…). It’s one of the places where anyone can go to be kept up with interesting debates and the latest research or policy debates. I like your writing style. I like writing full stop. Vlogging etc doesn’t convey nuance in the same way that good words do.
    Having said that, what I’ve noticed in the non-work blogs I follow is the importance of multiple platforms. So one woman I follow has her blog but also instagram, youtube, pinterest, periscope, facebook, twitter, storify and other things that I don’t really care about. I suspect the future still involves blogging/text but for ‘meatier’ subjects, probably on an institutional platform that hosts several writers (The Conversation is a great example, or Oxfam, Guardian Development etc), rather than ‘here’s my own personal ramblings on a subject I’m kinda interested in’. That’s probably better left to youtube (not vlogging, according to my 12 year old, who was horrified at the term…). And blogs should link to the rest of the platform, with bloggers planning out platform-wide content on single topics.
    Sounds bloody exhausting, frankly! But it is the present, and not the future, as all the cool kids in year 3 can tell you…

  6. My issue with video blogging is That I go “from power to poverty” (sorry). I feel enslaved By having to follow your train of thought exactly as you dictate it. With your regular blog I have more choice. Shall I read the whole thing, the headline, dive into an interesting link. Before coffee I just look at the cartoons. You get my point.

    1. So now I know you only look at the cartoons. Ha! Is ‘Paul O’Bien’ your new nod to well-being and Latin America, Paul?

  7. Agree with the recommendation on Quora. Though I find it to be pretty poorly curated, so I rarely venture around there unless I’m pulled in by one of their emails. (Though their emails seem to be pretty well targeted – I end up on there once a week at least)

    Recent (re)discovery would be the email newsletter. Something a bit more sophisticated than a “personal listserv”, more of a link curation and vehicle for modest personal promotion. I get a Friday one produced by a lovely American feminist called Ann Friedman….which is really a slightly nicer formatted version of the kind of ‘Friday links’ posts we see uploaded by development types. (Got to love animated GIFs)

  8. Don’t think the vlogging is a bad idea at all.
    Kudos on your first try!

    Although personally I prefer reading.

  9. At the risk of repeating an earlier comment – the availability of a good enough internet connection in countries like mine (Zambia) is very limited. So the challenge of trying to watch a VLOG is just too depressing to contemplate. Too much of this sort of discussion is in the north already – so I suggest that you remain accessible to those of us who have less opportunity to engage in some of the events and discussions that you report on / comment on / share etc. Thanks!

    1. OK, thanks Charlotte (and others). I’ll make sure any videos will always be an optional extra, rather than replacing the text blogs

  10. Oh this is superb. Decent first attempt; I like the casual domestic setting. I think vlogging can add more texture and personality, so is a bit of extra fun.

    It could also be better clickbait. Videos and images usually get more clicks than text on Twitter. Insert the youtube link onto your next tweet so it can play on twitter. You might then get more traffic?

    Also, surely you have the perfect face for it? White, male, middle-aged, middle-class equals gravitas, serious person etc. I’m not sure my femininity or youth (29) do me any favours in this respect.

    That all said, people can read faster than you can speak. So reading a blog is more time-efficient, which is why I prefer it. Charlotte’s point is also really important, I think.

    Finally, did you ever see my Research Memes? Inserting text onto an image, linked to research. Never caught on. I’m literally the most unsuccessful social media pioneer ever.

  11. I think personal blogs can be useful for exploring ideas, but typically with a niche audience. Then those who develop their ideas and style well can publish elsewhere (Medium etc). I think most people (I.e. Not odd people with Feedly accounts) prefer to only actively check a few websites and there’s only room for very few blogs in there. Fortunately for you, one of those is often yours so you’re in a lucky position.

    And another vote in the ‘please don’t make people spend 20 minutes trying to watch a 90 second video on crappy internet’ column. Or at least only do it if the format adds something to the delivery (get a professional to help) land/or it’s being posted somewhere where it will help you get more hits.

  12. How about starting a podcast? Videos need to much editing for them to be any good, but podcasts are much easier technically. I have a long list of booked videos that I am never ever going to get around to watching, but I get through hours of podcasts on the daily commute.

    1. Yeah, podcasts are yet another blind spot for me, as I never listen to them – don’t commute, and the idea of listening to them while jogging, like Chris Blattman does, fills me with horror. But actually, the 90 second youtube videos I am going to try out are very little extra work and for the moment, I’m happy to leave the podcasts to Owen Barder (although he seems to have dropped off on Development Drums). Guess I should listen to a few though – any recommendations?

      1. Development Drums, In Our Time, Thinking Allowed, Late Night Life, Pacific Conversations (via the Development Policy Centre), The Law Report, The News Quiz. I listen to them in bed which means I’ve heard the first 10 minutes of all of them and don’t always hear the end. Stephen Howes listens to them while he’s cooking. I tried that once and ended up having stitches in my hand so I’ve given up cooking.

  13. This is interesting. I am another one saying please don’t put everything on video because some people live in countries where the internet is too slow to be able to watch them and it can also be a similar constraint on podcasts – I love podcasts though so it is tempting. I circulate items via email lists to get them to those people who don’t use social media to know what is going on in the world (this is called dark social apparently). Here in the Pacific a lot of conversations (drawing in politicians, private sector, bureaucrats, media) take place on Facebook, especially in specifically-focused groups so I am keen to learn more about the Facebook Instant articles option. Meanwhile, I have tried to incorporate a range of media into my new website which I would love you to check out and if you have any feedback, it’s very welcome: http://www.tncpac.com

    Of course, the best way to share your ideas about development and effecting change is to talk to people in kava bars 😉

  14. Podcast recommendation – Radiolab, from New York Public Radio. Nothing to do with development, but an auditory delight on a myriad of stimulation topics.

  15. Duncan, please don’t go….in this format!!! Endorsing what others in the developing world have said about the limits imposed by internet speeds and accessibility…..all too often trying to download anything with music and/or moving pictures is just too painfully, judderingly, jarringly slow and frustrating….I’m a multiplier and forward your contributions to many others….your blog is great…the links very useful and relevant……an e-newsletter would be good, too….I use FB to share and disseminate interesting items and would appreciate a FB-sharing function on your blog …

  16. Podcasts and blogs remain the best place for in depth, serious analysis and discussion of development (or other) issues. I think videos are good for people mindlessly surfing , which admittedly is sometimes a good target audience, but if your interest is real analysis and discussion I do not see the other formats outperforming these two.

  17. Duncan, please do not stop writing! I read your blog with such great pleasure. Everything else I wanted to say has been said by Monica two comments above.

  18. Hi Duncan, Traitor here!

    I think blogging will remain powerful because I don’t see alternatives catching on. I watched the Cambridge video link you posted and switched off after 40 seconds. Since podcasts and videos (if longer than 90 seconds) often demand far more attention than reading a blog, they need to be entertaining. Not enough contributors have the skills or the flair to make this happen. I thought LSE’s Gearty Grillings were excellent (right length, slightly sinister, provocative), but even they struggle to reach 1,000 views and YouTube is hardly the home for reasoned debate.

    However, I do believe that blogging could have been greater than it has been, and I understand why it’s slowing. The stupidly huge gap between the REF cycles (more-or-less the lifespan of your blog) has missed out all the major developments in social trending, meaning that blogging has failed to provide the profession recognition or the reward it’s deserved. Even though you don’t necessarily write here for that framework, it would have done a lot for the medium if the academic community had valued it more. You would have had more linking, more citations, and a more inclusive DOI structure.

    Will aggregators work? I don’t know. I normally find that newspapers are most efficient at that already, as they already pander to a browsing reader’s idea of quality or political agenda. There’s so much competing for our time and attention that someone like me will just whittle it down to the few sites they find informative and enjoy reading. Even though I have no background in development, yours is one of them. Like everything else, the voices of authority in a sector have more power than they realise, including over whether technology takes you forwards or backwards.

    My answer would be twofold: 1) keep doing what you’re doing well. Add video if you like, but only as a supplement. 2) keep pressing the academic community to put a proper recognition framework in place for blogging. That will spike it up again and keep it alive for a few years to come. Forward thinking doesn’t always mean changing what you do; quite often, it’s just getting the others to catch up.

    1. Good advice Keith, I’ve been thinking of getting more involved with teaching/encouraging LSE students to blog – let’s see if there’s interest!

  19. Kudos for dare to dare. In terms of social media and digital platforms, nothing is really set in stone and content remains key. So as long as you keep the focus on good content, keep vlogging. Better yet, keep innovating.

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