The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) hosted a highly successful first ever Australian Blogging Conference today at its Kelvin Grove campus in Brisbane. The conference brought together some of Australia’s most prominent bloggers as discussion leaders and almost a hundred participants to the day-long event. Conference convenor Peter Black (QUT law lecturer and ardent blogger) put together a superb event with help from sponsors Microsoft, Getup! and Kwoff.
Professor Michael Lavarch opened the first session. Lavarch is a former federal attorney-general in the Paul Keating administration and is now Professor of Law and Executive Dean of the QUT faculty of law. Lavarch believed today’s conference was the first of its type in Australia. He said blogging was a remarkable phenomenon. The word blog is barely a decade old and was first coined around 1997. By 2004 Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary declared it the word of the year. The number of bloggers is estimated to rise to 100 million in the next few years.
Lavarch said his team at QUT led by Professor Bryan Fitzgerald were at the forefront of the information revolution with its open access and information exchange. He confessed he was not a blogger but was a consumer of blogs. In particular Lavarch praised possum pollytics as the ‘most incisive’ of the Australian political blogs. Lavarch held out great hopes for the future of political, legal and citizen journalism.
Fellow QUT professor of law Bryan Fitzgerald spoke next. His brief speech covered off two points. Firstly he thanked Peter Black for organising the event and praised him as ‘one of our bright up and coming academics’ and a tremendous ambassador for the law school. Secondly he thanked the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) who were fellow hosts of the conference. Established in 2005, the centre of excellence is geared to support creative innovation, innovation policy and creative human capital.
Peter Black then introduced a three man panel who led the debate, John Quiggin, Senator Andrew Bartlett and Duncan Riley. John Quiggin began the discussion. Quiggin is an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow in Economics and Political Science at the University of Queensland. Quiggin was an early adopter of blogs, starting in 2002. He began by admitting he always wanted a blog. He said it was a technology waiting to happen and appeal to the desire of people who wanted to diarise.
Quiggin said that when he started there was barely 50 Australians who blogged and it was possible ‘to read them all in one sitting’. But as the blogosphere grew, the diary element became much less dominant. Issues now motivate people to blog, he said. Blogging has removed barriers to access and the format is now being copied by the mainstream media. Comments gave people a chance to have their say and broke down the distinction between writers and readers. Quiggin thought that group blogs (Quiggin himself is a member of Crooked Timber) were the way of the future but said his only disappointment was that ‘the technology hasn’t got any easier to use’.
Senator Andrew Bartlett then took the floor. Bartlett has been a senator for Queensland since 1997 and is running for re-election again this time round. He is one of the few politicians who actively blogs. Bartlett said he focussed on the political side of blogging but admitted that knitting blogs were ten times more popular and food blogs probably ten times more popular again. The senator said he follows the wider nature of social networks and finds the ‘viral aspect’ fascinating about how information spreads through communities and sub-communities. He said it was ‘another way for people to connect when traditional methods have broken down’.
Bartlett believes that the real value of blogs is their ability to encourage wider discussion of issues. He gently mocked the mainstream media press gallery who see themselves as the custodians of ‘received wisdom’. They are feeling threatened by blogs who are making an impression because of their quality. He said it was becoming “almost an alternative commentariat – but with more diversity”. Bartlett also liked the nature of comments and the cross-fertilisation of commenters’ material. He finished by saying the best thing about blogs was that they were simply there. “The blogosphere is authentic,” he said. “Unvarnished, not going through a filter, warts and all”.
Duncan Riley spoke last. Riley is a writer, developer and self-confessed ‘blogging evangelist’. He began by disagreeing with Professor Quiggin about group blogs being the way of the future. He did see a bright future for very large 24 by 7 news cycle blogs speaking to an ‘always on, always connected’ audience. But he said the single author blog was the medium’s ‘bread and butter’. He pointed out that the best news sources coming out of Burma at the moment are bloggers. He agreed with Bartlett that the Australian media have a “terrible phobia” about blogs. They have them but are not doing a very good job with them.
Riley predicted a coming ‘tipping point’ in the evolution of the Australian blogosphere. He said there were somewhere between half a million and 700,000 bloggers in the country. Beyond that there were 2 million people in Myspace and 250,000 on Facebook plus a growing presence from Bebo. In all Riley calculated that there were “three or four million” people in Australia with blogs or access to a blogging platform via their social network. But he said there was no site like the American Daily Kos to “capture our imagination”. Riley said that collectively we have done so little together. He said there was a “dog eat dog” mentality that hampered growth. He finished by saying there were great photoblogs out there “doing wonderful things but haven’t got the audience."