At the beginning of this week, Paul raised the question of whether the writers at Though Cowards Flinch should move to the group blog The Third Estate. Many people replied – much to Paul and Carl’s surprise. Their comments are well worth reading.
I then felt obliged – by writing my thoughts out – to discover more clearly for myself why I wasn’t entirely happy with what was proposed. Let me hasten to add that this has absolutely nothing to do with the proposed destination but, rather, far more to do with the leaving behind of a primal soup of frame, original inspiration and particular voice which has meant that TCF writers, whatever their origin, provoke especially constructive commenters and dialogues to their always usefully erudite posts.
Reuben for The Third Estate then added a comment to the whole caboodle which, with his and TCF’s permission, I reproduce in full below:
I wasn’t sure whether in would be appropriate for me to comment, so feel free to delete this, but a fewthings caught my eye.
I wasn’t actually aware that we came across as *that* youthy – but the accumulating evidence suggests that we do. That’s not something I aspire to. The tendency amongst to associate left politics and social media with youthiness really grates on me – and if a joining up with TCF could partially rectify our apparent youthiness, that would be great from my perspective.
Mil’s post is incredibly interesting. I recommend everyone reads it. What he suggests is that a process of corporatisation is going on online, with the likes of facebook and google building their own empires, and that this proposal is in some way analogious to that ( I hope my summary hasn’t done too much violence to his argument). “There are” he says, “other ways to bring free voices together which don’t require a submission to common corporate image, tools and philosophies”.
What occurred to me as I read it is that some kinds of agglomeration are completely different from others. Take, for example, the coming together of many different organisations to form the original labour representation committee – this was analogious to the formation of a business conglomerate. That might seem like a glib comparison, but I think it is relevant particularly here. That’s because for most of the C20th Labour was very self consciously a composite organisation, comfortable with its identity as a coalition of potentially divergent interests and opinions. This I hope is very much how the third estate comes across, and how a TTE-TCF project would be. We are, as commenters have noted an underpredictable , pluralistic left blog – wherein, I think it would difficult to unproblematically distill a single “corporate image”. (oh shit I’ve just compared myself to Keir Hardie). I don’t think it is a place where the TCF voice would be “subsumed”, but where it would coexist.
What is awful about the emergence of corporate on line empires, is that content is pulled together and concentrated, but not on the basis of any actual commonalities. There is no coincidence values or ideas that bring me and my next door neighbour to pool our content on the same websites, like facebook or twitter. Much like the conglomeration of industry in the C20th was driven by the logic of the machine and not the agency of man/woman. This however is something different. This is about people with shared ideas, and similar aims, potentially making the concious decision to pool our efforts.
Along with this clarification:
correction! – meant to say the formation of the LRC WASN’t analogious to a business merger!
I then responded tonight with the following idea:
I think the idea of what we might call a federal structure along the lines I think you might be suggesting is better. A common homepage along the lines of:
could be set up.
This would allow individual personalities and thoughts as expressed in the physicality of the web to continue to exist in their own places behind such a page – each then could thus choose, as now, the software code, tools, permissions, infrastructures and image which most suited, and yet still collaborate in a common project with a common image as a starting point (perhaps gathering point would be better).
The best of both worlds perhaps? Question is, what to call it …
Now I guess I’m rather at an advantage here because, along with Andrew Regan as the brains, guiding light and software architect, and Paul Evans as editor-behind-the-scenes (which is where all of the very best editors choose to remain), we’ve spent the past few years trying – probably a little too half-heartedly – to push the virtues of blog aggregation over what was the traditional individual and now evermore popular group blogging. I suspect aggregation hasn’t really taken off as much as it could have done because, essentially, blogging almost always starts out as an ego trip – whilst the aggregation of the sort I suppose we have been proposing aims to deflect attention towards the quality of a wide range of content.
Not big names then – big ideas.
Anyhow. Whilst Andrew’s ambition is to create the best aggregation tools the world has ever seen (and it is my honest belief that most of what’s needed under the bonnet is now firmly in place), I in my ignorance of things technical was looking to focus on a much smaller idea: basically, do for political thought what the music site Last.fm has done for music.
Which is where Paul Evans comes in: at the end of last year, after a short conversation at an Edinburgh event which Mick Fealty and Paul had both hosted, and where, thankfully, the penny finally dropped, we managed between the two of us to pull together an essay on the subject of how best to bring together and share content – with the aim, that is, of widening people’s intellectual horizons and, essentially, encouraging readers to see the virtues of regularly reading outside their comfort zones.
Yes. I know. You may feel that the penny which finally dropped is actually that bad penny which never fails to return. But I still find myself enthused by its possibilities – ever since I went on two weekend political seminars in the heyday of New Labour Salford. And that, in some way, is exactly how I see it: an online academy of thought for everyone who cares enough about politics. An Everyman’s Library for the 21st century. But instead of publishing the classics, we would publish, connect and share the best of current thought as generated by existing blogs across the globe.
No need for people to up sticks and learn how to use new content management systems in order to achieve some kind of visibility.
No need to squeeze individual voices into common boxes in order to achieve some kind of communication.
No need to carve out Internet real estate and impose software constitutions on users in order to achieve some kind of user-friendly navigational coherence.
Rather, all that would be needed would be some conceptual nous (easily acquired, I can assure you) – and, far more importantly than money or material resources, an intellectual and emotional support, as well as an understanding of the implications long-term of what is being proposed.
Andrew wants to include the world’s entire political DNA in his box of tricks – and, in my dreams, I also imagine my Last.fm of thought leading us from the most progressive to the most regressive ideas at the click of a mouse and user tag. However, I am also quite a pragmatic person (though a superficial reading of this blog might not lead you very easily to such a conclusion) – as, I think, deep down, is Andrew.
His previous incarnation, Bloggers4Labour, worked so well precisely because it was partisan. So perhaps it is now time we moved back into the real world. Perhaps it is now time, in the light of everything everyone has said over at TCF this week, and in the light of some of the things I have published here on 21stCenturyFix.org, for us to bite the political bullet and say: “The battle before us is far too severe for us to want to choose to wallow in the luxury of non-partisan projects.”
Is it time then – on the back of Andrew’s marvellous tools, Paul Evans’ perspicacious editorship and that small but not insignificant inflection of my own which has dared to convert a wonderful music site into an aggregation community for and of thinkers – to nail our scarlet standard to the mast?
The United Federation of Lefty Group Blogging anyone?