I didn’t watch Obama’s inauguration this evening. Instead, I sat on the bus reading the coverage on Twitter. For some reason, reading all these excited 140-character messages about Obama bigging up the atheists and getting down with the gays (or possibly not) – interspersed with irrelevancies – reminded me quite a lot of this:
Partly, admittedly, because I set up a Google Alert of his name earlier this year during the Presidential election, Lembit Opik never stops getting in my face. His latest interview was in Wales On Sunday yesterday (odd since just a week ago Lembit was dismissing the same paper as “poor use of [his] time“). Regarding the presidential election, to the surprise of no-one, he is utterly unrepentent:
â€œIâ€™ve been thinking about why the party establishment did not support me for the presidency. I put forward a new agenda, painting politics in primary colours, and perhaps theyâ€™re just not ready for it.
â€œI do politics in quite a distinctive way, and maybe theyâ€™re not comfortable with that kind of approach.
â€œI want us to be a party where we can express a strong corporate personality and strong individual personalities.
â€œPerhaps I frighten the horses, but the point is that, if you donâ€™t, youâ€™ll never create a political stampede.
â€œI do my best to reach out to the kind of people who donâ€™t watch Question Time and Newsnight, and I think it would help politics if more politicians did so.â€
But it wasn’t just the party establishment that didn’t support Lembit – it was 70+% of the party. Chris Huhne wasn’t supported by the establishment in either leadership contest he stood in, yet managed to leapfrog Simon Hughes in the first and came within 500 votes of winning the second. Are we all supposed to be mindless automatons?
What genuinely perplexes me about all this is that if Lembit could point to a single tangible fact which proved his hypothesis that appearing on Have I Got News For You was actually beneficial to the party, much of the criticism would be muted. The counter hypothesis is that a) most of the programmes he appears on either ignore politics altogether or advance an anti-politics agenda which Lembit himself does nothing to address and that b) while no-one can dispute the rise of Boris “LOL!!1!! LOOK AT HIS FUNNEE HAIR!!?!!” Johnson, Johnson never went within a million miles of half the paper-bag-opening-level programmes that are Lembit’s meat and drink and, frankly, when it comes to personality, Lembit is no Bozza. Have you ever seen a more polite, well-spoken individual on HIGNFY, Big Brother’s Little Brother or Celebrity Apprentice? The fundamental problem with Lembit’s celebrity appearances is that he doesn’t even make the most of them. In that respect, those who compare him to the Cyril Smiths and Clement Freuds of the past are missing the point.
But go on Lembit, prove me wrong in 2009. It is put up or shut up time. Because I can see how his grand master plan might work, I just don’t see it actually working.
If he is to do that however, he will have to embrace technology – something he has thus far managed to avoid in the way that 8 year old boys avoid baths. Oh, he bragged about his supporters on Facebook, many of whom appeared to be of the “LOL!!!1! LOOK AT HIS WONKEE CHIN!!!?!?!” variety, but that is a dead giveaway of someone who just doesn’t get technology. He doesn’t even have a website, or rather, he has *snigger* an ePolitix one, which is almost even worse. Even his Daily Sport column isn’t published online. So where do all these people who see Lembit on the television have to go? If they Google him, they’ll find a Wikipedia Page, a bland profile on the official party website, his defunct Presidential campaign website and a couple of videos. After that, it’s girls of a weathered and Cheeky variety all the way down. Lembit’s online “narrative” is written almost entirely by other people.
Iain Dale boasted 65,000 absolute unique visitors in November and 578,000 unique visitors in 2008. Given that only a fraction of Daily Sport readers will read Lembit’s column whereas almost all of Dale’s visitors are there because they want to be, those are figures that should give him pause for thought. If Lembit’s media appearances really do help him to reach out to people who would otherwise be unengaged, then he ought to be able to match and even beat Iain Dale’s readership in very little time at all.
It isn’t as if his target audience are somehow not online. Indeed, the people who Lembit claims to be reaching out to are over-represented on the web.
So what I’d really like to see in 2009 is a Lembit Opik blog to put us all in our places. If Lembit is right, then such a blog would climb to prominence quite quickly. What’s more, it would bridge the gap between the programmes he appears on and his politics. He’d win, his critics would be proven wrong but wouldn’t mind and the party would gain a major new asset. So how about it?
You’ll have noticed that I’ve got rather carried away with social bookmarking “vote” buttons (to the right if you are reading the blog at source). Why? Well, LibDig has been a small success but I’m keen to explore how to what extent I can use these things to widen my blogs’ reach. I started experimenting with Politigg and I’ve brought that back. But I’ve also added buttons for Wikio and Digg.
What’s interesting with the other two is that although I’ve been aware of both for some time, I’ve never used them in the same way that I take LibDig for granted. The reason is that they seem like too big a pool to dip into. Unless you are already established, you sink in them like a stone (this is more true of Digg, but then Digg appears to get used far more). My question is, can a good rating on one website lead to popularity on another? It remains to be seen.
Another thing I’ve done is to automatically not include Politigg and LibDig buttons for my non-political posts, which is why neither appear to the side of this post!
It’s interesting how there appears to be a Digg divide, incidentally. I can’t find a single post by either Iain Dale or Guido Fawkes on the site, despite their popularity in the UK political blogosphere and despite the former, at least, having Digg buttons on his posts. How does one break into it, I wonder?
It seems a milestone has been passed. Just three months ago, Rory Cellan-Jones and – it seemed – half the professional journalists out there who were aware of teh internets (both of them) were upbraiding me for my “pompous” invasion of poor Rory’s privacy by quoting one of his tweets on my blog. Yet last week, Rory himself thought nothing about “invading the privacy” of Stephen Fry and his 20,000 close personal friends on Twitter by doing the exact same thing.
Suddenly, everything seems to be happening at once with Twitter, with Stephen Fry’s genitalia coming in for some exposure in the Metro. Meanwhile, Greg “Parkman from Heroes” Grunberg, arguably ill-advisedly, semi-offered Wil “Wesley Crusher from Star Trek (and let’s not forget the whole leeches thing)” Wheaton a part in Heroes, which Tim Kring later went on to semi-endorse. Not surprisingly, Wil Wheaton is now trying to dampen speculation about this serious departure from the usual let-my-people-talk-to-your-people convention.
All this brouhaha appears to have caught the attention on one Tony Benn (a keen Heroes fan, I’m sure), who this evening started tweeting himself. It seems, somehow, that the tool has finally reached another level in terms of public awareness. I expect it to explode in popularity now. Mark my words; if you don’t already have a twitter account, there’s a pretty high chance you’ll have one in six months. Remember back when you used to assure people you would never set up a Facebook account?
Ironically, many (including myself) would have predicted Twitter’s death, at least in the UK, back in August when they suddenly stopped offering their free SMS service (in the US, as I understand it, phone owners pay to receive, rather than send, SMS, which means the service was always more sustainable there). The opposite appears to have happened. Looking at my own experience with the benefit of hindsight though, it is perfectly understandable. I walked away from Twitter on two seperate occasions because I found the barrage of SMS was getting too much, yet using it via an app such as TwitterFox and TwitterBerry gives you the best of both worlds – all the brevity of SMS but without the obtrusiveness. Using it as a social bookmarking tool was also not obvious in the early days, but this has become ubiquitous (to some people’s dismay). Finally, I started to see its true potential as a communications tool.
So where does it go from here? Well, it sort of all depends on whether the lynchmob mentality which predominates comments on YouTube starts to take hold. If the celebs find themselves having to wade through thousands of comments about their parentage each morning, they are likely to walk away. Thus far, this doesn’t seem to be happening, although there have been some grumblings amongst the golden people. At some point it has to pay its way and there is already talk of Twitter adding ads to the service. Will that kill it? A lot of people seem to think so but I doubt it. Once the excitement dies down though I suspect it will mature into a system for chatting with friends and accessing newswires, helped along by third party services like FeedBlitz.
For the time being though, it is a pretty remarkable phenomenon to be witnessing in real time. Come and join us!
UPDATE: It turns out that the Tony Benn who started tweeting earlier this week was a fraud. Benn has apparently now started a twitter account himself, but it was all lies. Mea culpa – I shouldn’t have been so naive. But what is the point of impersonating someone when you aren’t even being satirical?
Over on Lib Dem Voice, I’ve started a new column called Lib Dig Pig.
Why Lib Dig Pig? Well, frankly it came from a old gag about “Lib Dig on a Pig” about having the section on the website dedicated to Sarah Palin and I just like the sound of it. But I do like the visual metaphor of snuffling around hunting for rich, smelly webpages lying there beneath the surface.
I think it is a karma thing. This is probably what I did in a past life (not that I believe in such things you understand – before the Boyce Thought Police descend on me).
I was rather irritated this morning to read this article on the Guardian website which, apart from ignoring whole aspects of the internet campaigning (about which I may blog later, but may not), included this sentence:
A more colourful Lib Dem, Lembit Opik, has been using Facebook in his bid for the party leadership.
Even leaving aside the fact that Lembit was standing for president, not leader, to even think of writing that sentence exposes you as a hack journalist who doesn’t really know what he is talking about. Because in this election, as with the Obama triumph, Facebook was a mere sideshow. The interesting stuff was what was happening elsewhere.
Lembit was not the Lib Dems’ answer to Barack Obama; in terms of campaigning style, Ros was. To go from nowhere to 72% of the vote is a victory earned only by reaching out to the grassroots and achieving what Obama achieved: killer word of mouth. In the final stages, Lembit liked to present himself as the anti-establishment candidate but as a Vice President, former front bencher and former Welsh leader, he was anything but: he was our Hillary. Ros only became the establishment’s chosen one because she had demonstrated skills during the campaign that the party’s establishment valued.
But it isn’t really fair to call Ros our Obama. No disrespect to her, but that comparison does not flatter her. But she may yet turn out to be our Howard Dean. Dean, if you recall, was briefly the grassroots-de-jeur during the 2004 primaries. He didn’t win, but he did go one to become the Chair of the Democratic National Congress, roughly equivalent to our own President. His understanding of Politics 2.0 was crucial to Obama’s success (not to mention 2006’s midterms); we can only hope that Ros will prove to be as much of a visionary in her new post.
This is the first Lib Dem election where the internet has played a crucial role in deciding the result, although it came pretty close in last year’s leadership contest. The world of political campaigning has changed; we need to respond to it.
In her speech, Ms Blears also complained about a “spreading corrosive cynicism” in political discussion.
She turned her fire on political “bloggers” – accusing them of fuelling disengagement by focusing on “unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy” and of being written by “people with disdain for the political system and politicians”.
“The most popular blogs are right-wing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes,” she said.
But she added: “Unless and until political blogging ‘adds value’ to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and pessimism.”
This on the day that a black man called Barack Hussein Obama won the presidency of the USA with the largest popular mandate anyone has ever achieved in the history in the world, fuelled significantly off the back of social media – of which blogging played a large part.
The more eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that I’ve replaced my Politigg buttons with LibDig buttons. Built by LibDem codebodger Ryan Cullen, LibDig has the potential, in my opinion anyway, to be the biggest thing to happen to the Lib Dem Blogosphere since LibDemBlogs (which Ryan also built).
The beauty of LibDemBlogs, unlike anything else out there, is it’s democracy. Anyone who is a party member can have their feed included in the aggregator and as such unknowns can become must reads literally over a couple of weeks. The downside is that it does not seperate the wheat from the chaff, or perhaps somewhat more positively, of highlighting the best of the Lib Dem blogs. That function has been done by Stephen Tall with his weekly Golden Dozen, but even that has its disadvantages as Stephen himself has ruminated about on more than one occasion. It only highlights the most read, which is not neccessarily the best (as someone who has gamed the system simply by using “EXCLUSIVE” in a blog post on more than one occasion, I can testify to that). LibDigs is designed to complement LibDemBlogs rather than replace it by making it easier to find the “best” but in an equally democratic way. I hope that if it proves to be a success, Stephen will start using it for the basis of his five “recommended” posts.
So LibDig is about lauding the best of the Lib Dem blogosphere, but fundamentally it can also be used to recommend anything out there on the internet (Ryan has already built a bookmarklet to make this as simple as possible). And because its membership is restricted to party members (which – another plus – means you only need to use your login.libdems.org.uk login and don’t need to go through yet another registration process), what that means is that over time it can be used to build up a map of what Lib Dems consider to be the best of the internet.
For me, and I suspect many others, that is useful because I’m always looking for a good way to both find out what’s out there and to put things out myself. All social bookmarking websites are only as useful as who is using them. The problem I have with Digg is that its pool is so enormous I don’t get a look in. The problem with Politigg is that it is predominently used by rightwingers with their requisite obsessions about the beastliness of Gordon Brown, the EU and English Parliaments. I’d rather see what people with a similar political outlook to me consider to be important.
So thanks again to Ryan for building it, and I hope as many people as possible out there will begin bookmarking with it and adding LibDig buttons to their blogs (it has already been integrated with LibDemBlogs, LibDemVoice and FlockTogether which should give it a good kickstart). I’m just a little disappointed he didn’t use my suggestion of having a special section about the US Presidential Race called LibDigOnAPig.
I’ve been wondering all day whether to post this but, notwithstanding the possibility that I’m doing exactly what the bastards want me to do, I can’t resist.
In short: this Information Revolution malarky – just what are the fuckers trying to sell me? Having been infuriated by all the tube adverts over the past week, I finally went to their website after seeing it advertised on another site. I might as well have not bothered as I’m still in the dark.
What we do know, is that they have a thing about Google, making the stark claim that the fact that “75% of people in the UK access their online information through one source” is scary, Big Brother stuff, akin to watching just one TV channel for news, or relying on just one newspaper.
In fact, most people DO watch just one TV channel for news and read just one newspaper. I don’t personally do the latter, but that’s because I have Google News to help me (sinister, sinister…). I rarely rely watch TV news at all these days, but when I do I almost entirely watch Newsnight and News 24 for the simple fact that they tend to be on when I get home and the latter doesn’t have the annoying sensationalism of Sky News.
Clearly someone feels strongly about this though, and the website has a growing list of articles and films from ‘celebs’ and ‘ordinary people’. I use celebs in inverted commas because it boils down to John Bird, Peaches Geldof, a DJ and techy journalist I’m supposed to have heard of and some ugly band called The Scare, and I use ordinary people in inverted commas because, well, they seem just a little too well scripted. Fundamentally, all these people appear to have been locked in a darkened room and beaten strongly about the head until their vocabulary is limited to using the word ‘choice’ in every sentence. It’s like looking at a student disco circa 1995*.
So, who are these people? Well, the domain has been registered by Profero, a digital marketing agency. That doesn’t exactly tell me much. Presumably they are working on behalf of another search engine; either one of the existing ones, something new, or the one that Jacques Chirac wants to ram down our throats (I can’t recall what dreadful name they’re calling it, but Googaul sounds about right).
Or worse. Perhaps some gibbon has come up with a search engine that searches other search engines, and thinks this will now take the world by storm.
The bottom line is, Google has risen to its pre-eminent position because it works – simple as that. When someone comes up with something better, it will rise quickly. Faux-revolutionary marketing is, despite their faux-protestations, very un-web 2.0.
I really hate the sense of being manipulated though, and I’m aware that even getting this off my chest gives the bastards exactly the publicity they want. So can someone please tell me what it is about so I can begin work on the boycott?
* i.e. watching a bunch of zombies jumping in unison to the Levellers singing “there’s only one way of life – and that’s your own”.