OpenTech talk (extract): #Outpost

This entry was posted on
Saturday, May 21st, 2011
6:40 pm and is filed
under The Political Weblog Movement.

The following is an extract from a talk I have just given at OpenTech. I’ll put some audio and vision of the complete talk together shortly. The tag for discussion on twitter is #outpost.

… Some MPs get up to a lot of questionable stuff that simply isn’t recorded or reported anywhere. In fact, a significant information vacuum exists around many serving members of Parliament.

In the current Parliament there are 650 MPs, many of them are not adequately covered in the Information Universe, and some of them are actually sources of poor if not entirely false information.

I propose that a group of like-minded publishers research, evaluate and then selectively populate this information vacuum using a series of purpose-built MP-specific websites – or “space stations” – supported by a loosely networked group of independent publishers, in small teams of two or more.

I further propose that we use as a foundation for each project a bi-monthly report on that MP’s expenses; data that is available through the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority website, but not widely or reliably visible in the Information Universe. These screen captures display how this published expenses data is invisible to search engines; a search for one MP by name on the one site that IS partly indexable only turns up single passing mention, and no expenses data.

It would be foolish to expect anything but a handful of visitors to most sites of this type, but once you publish this particular data and make it more visible, the website only really needs an audience of one person to be of any relevance; the MP themselves.

There will be no need to chase or capture a constant audience by populating the sites with churnalism and/or mere opinion, but they can easily expand into some occasional fact-checking about what is reported about or published by that MP; crucially, only when there is a need. In this way, the demands of the individual sites are kept to a minimum, and speciality skills (writing, analysis, research, data crunching) can be shared across the network according to demand.

And, ultimately, you will be competing for relevance for a single name, not a series of names or a party name or politics generally. For most backbenchers, the only time you are likely to be crowded out of the top ten is when your adopted MP is finally getting some mainstream coverage. Here, we see The Nadine Dorries Project displaced to 8th place by all of the fuss about her latest poorly disguised campaign on behalf of religious fundamentalists. Normally it ticks along in third place, just as it is doing in Yahoo today.

Also, over time, because each publishing body attracts traffic specific to a single MP, people with an interest in this MP will eventually begin to feed it new information based on their own experiences, research etc., and this process remains entirely sustainable long before you approach anything like some of the sillier visitor claims that people have been throwing around. So long as that site is accumulating sufficient relevance to command high search results for that MP’s name and associated queries, starting with expenses, it is playing a valuable role, and requires minimum upkeep.

That said, if you do plan to confront your own MP with anything of substance, please be warned that it can lead to a situation where you are effectively cut off from local politics as a result, and not in a position where you can lobby your MP. The project I describe shouldn’t cost any money, but this can be a hell of a price to pay. I’m not just talking about myself here; the organisers of a certain hustings at Flit-ick were accused by Dorries of being part of a conspiracy against her, and she refused to engage with their group as a result.

For this reason I think potential participants should seriously consider targeting an MP other than their own, even if it does leads to cries of “they’re not even a CONSTITUENT!’

On that note, I would wish to remind you good people that taking on liars is not for the faint-hearted. You often get lied about as a result. You may even get smeared as a stalker. I Am Not A Lawyer, but I can tell you from experience that the law does not regard scrutinising an MP to be stalking or even harassment. However, you will appreciate having team-mates and a wider support network should this false accusation or any other be used against you in response to valid and fair scrutiny.

Also, if you have any interest in media watching at all, you will have noticed by now that MPs with an agenda often serve as hot spots for bullshit, as they are often the origin of lies, if not the source of ill-informed opinions used to sell or perpetuate them.

This information vacuum is a largely unexplored and poorly exploited region on the frontier, it is in the public interest that we have someone manning it, and it has a glorious sweet spot for those in the know; a place where many small publishers can have a significant impact on politics with very little effort, without surrendering their independence, and without falling into the old pattern of surrendering to gas giants and the passing garbage they attract.

In my opinion, pursuit of a mass audience is a fallacy, a false ideal for bloggers that discourages many talented publishers from fulfilling their true potential. If you are reaching any of your target audience, you shouldn’t have to worry about your audience size any more than boys should worry about penis size, PLUS I have just given you a short manual on knowing how to use it.

There it is. That’s my thought. It’s for you to determine how relevant it is.

If you’d like to chat about it on Twitter in coming days, the call to action from this talk will be live on my blog shortly and the tag for discussion is #outpost.

I look forward to manning the frontier with you. Thanks for your time.

Related link: Dave Cross – Watching the Press – Notes

About Tim Ireland

Tim is the sole author of Bloggerheads.
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