Blogs, politics and ethics: the case of Beppe Grillo

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Presented at ECAP2006, Trondheim, NO

Presented at ECAP2006, Trondheim, NO

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  • 1. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Blogs, politics and ethics the case of Beppe Brillo Federico Gobbo federico.gobbo@uninsubria.it Insubria University
  • 2. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion What is a blog? 1 The emergence of blogs as new media Blogs and citizen journalism Blogs and new texts 2 Push vs. pull media New texts as narrow casting and personal media An integrative framework Grillo’s blog 3 A political, ethical and glocal blog The keys of Grillo’s blog success Evaluation of Grillo’s experiment Conclusion 4 Power ‘Long Tail’ Law Blog evolution
  • 3. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Blogging as the last hype phenomenon in the web Every day there is someone in the world who is opening a blog. In June 2006 Technorati, a web hub, tracked 35 million blogs and the number still increases. Only 5% of these blogs is active, and only 13% is updated at least once a week (Powazek, 2006). One of the key factors of the widespread of blogs is their easiness of use, i.e. you don’t need to be a computer scientist to publish a blog, it is as easy as write an e-mail message.
  • 4. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion History of blogs in brief The first blogs, called ‘weblogs’, were simply updated collections of hyperlinks to Internet items. It was in the late 1990s that weblogs became blogs, thanks to Jorn Barger, Jesse James Garrett and Brigitte Eaton. In 1999 she created the Eatonweb Portal, the first blog index. What is the difference between a blog and a personal web site? This question lead us to analyse structural properties of blogs. One of my theses is that blogging should be treated along structure, not blog contents.
  • 5. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion What the other media tell about blogs In 2003 blogs entered the Oxford American English Dictionary, according to Wikipedia, with the following definition: a weblog : blogs run by twenty-something Americans with at least an unhealthy interest in computers”. In my opinion saying that a blog is a weblog is a tautology.
  • 6. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion The emergence of blogs as new media Blogs as vehicles of ethical and political issues Blogs are more than what is said in the Oxford American English Dictionary. They are not bond to specific topics as high-tech news, gossips or boyfriend problems. In particular, there is a social phenomenon worth of interest about blogs as self-made ethical and political journals, sometimes organized in groups, called blogospheres.
  • 7. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion The emergence of blogs as new media Blogs as typical web content media Internet and the web in particular were born as a space for freedom of speech. Ethical blogs – at least partially – realized what Berners-Lee (1999), the founder of the web, thought about it more than 20 years since the beginning. Some of the most popular blogs are focused on specific threads of discussions, in particular on ethical and political topics. In fact, blogs got the attention of the general public expecially after September 11, the Tsunami emergency in Asia or during the 2004 US elections – all global political issues.
  • 8. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Blogs and citizen journalism Blogosphere as the citizen journalism arena? Unlike blogs considered as personal diaries, ethical bloggers pay a great attention to spelling and grammar, as in the best journalism traditions. Is it true that “the former audience joined the party” (Gilmor)? Should we consider blogs as the media of citizen journalism?
  • 9. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Blogs and citizen journalism Myth and truth of citizen journalism ‘Citizen journalism’ is an expression invented by Gilmor (2004:137–140), and it has at least four different meanings: people send amateur photographs or small videos on a major 1 event – e.g. taken via a mobile – to a news organization; people participate in conversation about a specific topic, 2 sometimes along with professional journalists; people on site report daily life experience where mainstream 3 media cannot – e.g. Zeyad ‘Healing Iraq’ blog in 2003; people cover a specific topic or event under an unusual or 4 unique point of are. They are often actively engaged in the topic – e.g. Linux activists on the SCO Group claiming patent on the Linux kernel.
  • 10. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Blogs and citizen journalism Citizen journalism and new texts Citizen journalists use the following as their election media: wikis; 1 web forums; 2 blogs. 3 We should briefly examinate analogies and differences before analysing Grillo’s blog.
  • 11. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion “New” in respect of what? After the press revolution media could reproduce contents in identical copies. These “old texts” are broadcasted media: the modern book, newspapers (the press!) and television are all equal in this respect. Contents are pushed to users, considered as consumers.
  • 12. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Push vs. pull media The “push media” model content A John Smith content A Jack White push media content A Mario Rossi Pietro content A Bianchi
  • 13. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Push vs. pull media Pull media as the reverse of push media In the 1990s the web as a mass phenomenon reversed the push media model as the pull media model. Media publish off-the-shelf contents and people choose what they want or what they need. Nevertheless, this reverse does not capture the novelty of new texts: people no longer consume products but on the contrary produce new contents, as understood by the citizen journalism paradigm.
  • 14. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Push vs. pull media The “pull media” model pull media content A content B content C content D Pietro John Smith Jack White Mario Rossi Bianchi
  • 15. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion New texts as narrow casting and personal media New texts are different What wikis, web forums or blogs are in common is their environment: Internet and the web. Every net-connected computer is a node. Metcalfe’s Law says that the value of a communication network is the square of the number of nodes. Every node communicate with few (or many) nodes producing new contents. Communication is no longer one-to-many (push media model) or many-to-one (pull media model) but the narrow casting model: few-to-few.
  • 16. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion New texts as narrow casting and personal media The narrow casting model: new texts as personal media People browse, cut, copy, paste, comment, mix and publish hand-made contents. But how to get important in a connected environment? Usually, this emphasis to personalization implies a need to be part of a (virtual) community (Levy 1999:116–129). Every form of new texts group around a specific model of community. What really change between a grouping of wikis, web forums and blogs is authoriality.
  • 17. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion An integrative framework The “wiki way” The “wiki wiki concept” (wiki means ‘fast, informal’ in Hawaiian) was invented by Ward Cunningham, an extreme programmer. He started from an analysis of groupware systems, since Engelbart’s Augment (Leuf-Cunningham 2001). The most famous and popular wiki system is Wikipedia.
  • 18. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion An integrative framework How a wiki system works Multiple editors but no authorship: “write many, read many.” wiki content edit A edit C edit B edit D Pietro John Smith Jack White Mario Rossi Bianchi
  • 19. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion An integrative framework Thread systems Wikis were explicitely created as an alternative to thread systems, as the old BBS, most mailing lists, or web forums and web groups as those by Yahoo Groups or Gmail “conversations”. Every thread is recognized by the topic. The root message is not special in any way. They typically have a tree structure. Every node is a message or a comment and it’s signed. Unlike wikis, they are seldom modified or edited.
  • 20. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion An integrative framework How a thread system works Multiple editors and authorship: “write once, read many.” thread content Pietro Jack White Bianchi root msg comment A comment B spin-off topic comment C comment D John Smith Mario Rossi
  • 21. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion An integrative framework Blogospheres are authored, commented and/or annotated In blogs there is clearly an author – maybe collective – who writes posts. Posts are ordered chronologically. Sometimes authors let people comment in their blogs, sometimes people prefer to post a comment in their own blog (annotation). Blogs taken singularly are similar to threads, but the root message is the most important. On the other hand, taken as a whole, i.e. blogospheres, blogs are similar to wikis, but they still retain authorship. This model is the most suitable for citizen journalism, more than wikis and thread systems.
  • 22. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion An integrative framework How blogs work Single author and freedom to comment: “write yours, read and comment the others.” 's blog 's blog John Smith Mario Rossi Monday post A post C a comment Thursday post B Wednsday a comment post D annotates B Pietro Jack White Bianchi
  • 23. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion An integrative framework An integrative framework authoriality thread blogs systems single user multi-user wikis anonymity
  • 24. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion An experiment of direct democracy in Italy How Beppe Grillo explains his blog during the shows Today I consider commercials as one of the worst things, economics as the padrone of politics and Internet as one of the few possibilities to defend themselves and to give to politics back the space economics have stolen. January, the 26th , 2005, I opened a blog, www. beppegrillo. it . I didn’t know exactly what a blog really is when I started. I begin to understand it only now. I don’t know where this experience may lead, but I feel that it may lead us very far. If we use it well, Internet may help us throw away this world, governed by managers of multinational corporations and their commercials and governors. Vitaliano (2006:211)
  • 25. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Grillo’s blog history in numbers opened 26 January 2005; in June 2005, Technorati rated Grillo’s one of the most read worldwide; in 2005 Time elected Grillo ‘European hero’; 8 June 2006 the Italian president of the Council Romano Prodi received the political proposals discussed in the blog. Today the blog has about 150,000 contacts per day, about 40,000 downloads of La Settimana (The Week), i.e. the paper version, and tens of meetups (spontaneous real-world groups) worldwide with about 18,000 people joining.
  • 26. Beppe Grillo’s Blog, 8 June 2006
  • 27. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion A political, ethical and glocal blog A blog very easy to use Grillo writes his posts in Italian, and a professional translator put them in English. Posts are published simultaneously in both languages, even comics. You may change language by click on the flag on the right of the navigation bar (6 buttons and the flag as language switcher).
  • 28. A parallel corpus of texts...
  • 29. ...leads to an asymmetry By now, “best comment” and “the Week” are in Italian only
  • 30. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion A political, ethical and glocal blog The very base is rooted in the Italian speech community Compared with Powazek’s blog, who shares the same degree of popularity, Grillo’s blog is far less linked. Comments in English are rare and few. Meetups are mostly Italian-based. But the “always bilingual posting” policy raised the attention of media hubs as Time (out of the net) or Technorati.com (in the net). Similarly, the use of syndications and a CreativeCommons (cc) licence put the blog in a wider network of attention. Maybe afterwards this situation will change, i.e. a lot of attention by the English-speaking community.
  • 31. A professional use of syndications
  • 32. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion The keys of Grillo’s blog success A blog on glocal issues with original posts Posts are organized in topics such as Information, Technology/Internet, Energy, Health/Medicine and so on. Sometimes posts are relevant to the Italian speech community (local issues), sometimes they are relevant to everyone (global issues), but they are always ethical in character. Political posts are mostly of local – i.e. Italian – interest. Every post is written in plain, clear language, in order to be easily understood, as in Grillo’s shows. The principle behind is clear: Grillo says (1) either what everyone knows but nobody has the courage to say, or (2) something glocally relevant that mainstream media – i.e. tv news and the press – don’t say.
  • 33. The GrilloNews page along the Google News model GrilloNews may be reached by syndication too
  • 34. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion The keys of Grillo’s blog success Preserve your freedom to change the message We are overload by news that let us understand nothing about what happens. We should act by night. I went out by night with a big pencil and I wrote over a political poster... The day after people were coming and laughing: the poster message turned against itself. Write over, do not graffiti. Change the message. Vitaliano (2006:203)
  • 35. An example of creative message change: goolag Ref.: Grillo was censured by Google in China as e.g. Tienamen
  • 36. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion The keys of Grillo’s blog success Grillo’s success: professionality, popularity & credibility Beppe Grillo built his credibility in more than 20 years. He became popular in Italy in the 1980s thanks to comic shows in RAI (Italian state television), where he denounced the paradoxes of Italian society and governments. Then he was interdicted from appearing in television, and in 1990 he started sold-out tours in Italian theatres. He succeeded to appear in television thanks to Tele+ and TSI (Swiss-Italian Television) where he pronounced discourses to humankind (1999, 2000, 2001), always about global issues such as ecology or energy. Since 2004 Grillo is columnist at Internazionale (monthly international political magazine). Then it came the blog (January 2005), the meetups (July 2005) and La Settimana (January 2006).
  • 37. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Evaluation of Grillo’s experiment La Settimana, authoriality and the comments dilemma “La Settimana” is back to ancient times, to dazebaos and self-made xeroxing... Print and read, but without too wide publicity. “La Settimana” is a step back to go ahead: Net information again in the street. La Settimana 1(1), Jan 2006 The paper version of the blog is without comments. After the growing of the readership, most comments are off-topic: comments are on top chronologically.
  • 38. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Evaluation of Grillo’s experiment A blog explicitely thought to influence politics I have a blog that makes me work: people write, a discussion thread starts about a topic I choose. A person who can publish nothing may have 50,000 people reading with a blog. This is a new form of communication. Moveon.org follows the same principle: one million people send an e-mail message to the White House and they change a law. Vitaliano (2006:223-4)
  • 39. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Evaluation of Grillo’s experiment Beppe Grillo’s authoritativity and blogging This is the main difference with most bloggers: Grillo’s voice was authoritative before his blog. The structure of the blog was carefully planned at the end of 2004 by Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio, an Italian web analyst. The aim was to transfer Grillo’s style – quality and unusual news, and professionality – into the web. The team who works daily behind the blog is more than 10 people (personal communication by G. Casaleggio). Among them the English native-speaking translator and a man who clean the comments (even 1,000 comments per post) from obscenity and insults.
  • 40. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Evaluation of Grillo’s experiment Citizen journalism or journalism tout court? In the integrative framework of blogging, Grillo’s is very traditional: a single author writes professionally, he listen to readers but he doesn’t actually answer to them – quite impossible! Grillo’s experiment of direct democracy seems to me closer to the best traditional opinion journalism – like a columnis, more than to citizen journalism, i.e. self-made amateur news ` la Gilmor. a
  • 41. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Ethics and politics in ICT today: net and paper 12 June 2006 The Guardian announced that news are published following net time, not daily time as before. The trend is news media osmosis: the press go towards on line rules, and ICT blogging towards paper. Blogospheres follow the Power ‘Long Tail’ Law: without publication space boundaries, narrow or special interests may be represented unlike in the push media model, but the head may be reached only by few (20%) net hubs.
  • 42. Anatomy of the Long Tail source: Wired 2005
  • 43. Most popular English-language blogs source: Power Law 2003
  • 44. Most popular Italian-language blogs before Grillo source: Casaleggio Associati 2005
  • 45. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Blog evolution From the blog revolution to the blog evolution level 0: publication. A blog is started, even tracked by a net hub (e.g. Technorati) but not maintained – i.e. no posts. level 1: maintenance. A blog is started and kept alive – i.e. at least one post a week. level 2: active reading. A blog is commented and/or annotated by others – i.e. it enters the blogosphere. level 3: top blog. The blog reach the top levels of reading, entering the head of the long tail. level 4: blog gets real. The blog get the attention of push media, a print version is published and meetups are formed. Beppe Grillo’s is one of the few blog that reached level 4 evolution.
  • 46. Index What is a blog? Blogs and new texts Grillo’s blog Conclusion Blog evolution Thanks I want to acknowledge Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio. Attribuzione - Non Commerciale - Condividi allo stesso modo 2.0 Italia http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/it/ You may have this presentation and hand-out here: http://purl.org/net/fgobbo Questions?