Our beloved communication minister has launched a blog. The only problem? He appears to completely misunderstand how blogs work.
Check out Senator Conroy's new blog.
1. It looks like a government department website
People expect blogs to have a certain look and feel. They present short updates, have a clean, simple and uncluttered navigation system, and invite reader comments. They also have features to help readers dig up useful content, such as 'most read' and 'most commented' posts.
Senator Conroy's 'blog' is little more than articles on the department's cumbersome, formally designed website, with the ability for people to post comments underneath them. It is, in other words, just like any other government public consultation, except you can post your submission in a comment form rather than emailing or posting it.
Oh, and the easy-to-remember URL for his blog?
Evidently the people running KevinPM.com had nothing to do with the development of this sad effort.
2. It reads like a government department website
The first post on the blog is titled "Welcome from Minister Tanner". This demonstrates how completely clueless Senator Conroy's 'blogging' team is when it comes to publishing content people will want to read.
Our bet is that future headlines will be along the lines of "Creating strategic synergies between departmental stakeholders". After all, the blog has links on the left hand side to such scintillating topics as "Strategic foresighting" (yes, that is a completely invented word) and "ICT in Australian manufacturing."
Here's some headlines we'd like to see on the blog:
- Internet filtering: is it the end of democracy and free speech?
- Why we won't be bullied over telco regulations
- Is "digital economy" meaningless government jargon?
They're serious suggestions: they'd give the minister a good starting point to argue from, and they'd attract some serious debate from readers/citizens/voters.
And we'd also like to see these headlines (but don't hold out much hope):
- How to fry your opponent in a debate like Julia Gillard (modeled on those "how to present like Steve Jobs" type webinars)
- How we got Telstra PR boss Phil Burgess to leave the country for good
- OK, we admit it, Telstra is going to build the NBN despite its non-compliant bid, we just have to go through the process of making it look like other companies have a chance
3. There's an uncomfortable distance between the bloggers and the readers
Blogging is very much about making yourself accessible to people. The first blog post on Senator Conroy's blog, ironically from another minister, Lindsay Tanner, has no photo of him, no link to email him, or any information about him.
Unlike Liberal Leader Malcolm Turnbull's Twitter feed or dog blog, the Conroy blog makes no attempt to share any personal details that might give you a sense of the man (or his guest bloggers, when he is in absentia).
Admittedly, I'm not suggesting knowing that Malcolm Turnbull has a soft spot for poodles is necessarily useful, but it's better than staring at a Commonwealth of Australia logo.
Speaking of the Commonwealth of Australia logo, it could do with a bit of sprucing up too. Here's a lickable web 2.0 version we prepared free of charge for them.)
Furthermore, it's transparently obvious that the 'spirit' of blogging -- quick updates genuinely written by the person whose byline is on the post -- is being completely ignored. "To help get you started, we have included some videos of the Minister on our YouTube channel addressing the Forum and hope to add more shortly (once we get the necessary consents signed off)," writes "The Digital Economy Blog Team". Did you catch that? They "hope" to put up some more videos, once they have "necessary consents". Does that sound like blogging to you?
Is anyone else reminded of Yes Minister?
4. Comments only during business hours
Senator Conroy, read my lips. --Blogs--Are--About--Discussion--. While it's fair enough that the government won't allow unmoderated posts to go live without review (after all, the government would be the juiciest target to sue for if someone posted something defamatory), it's ridiculous that the government will only approve comments during business hours.
Couldn't the Senator have paid someone in the public service graduate program to sit and watch the posts on the weekend? Two hours of training with a lawyer is enough to know how to spot potentially troublesome comments.
5. It's only open for two weeks
The press announcement for Senator Conroy's blog trumpets: "Running for 18 days, the Digital Economy Blog will canvass community views on a range of topics relevant to our digital future. Readers will be free to post their views."
Sorry boys: there's one thing that blogs ARE about: ongoing engagement and discussion. What they are not is the digital equivalent of a parliamentary committee of enquiry.
6. Will your words be twisted into a mandate?
The purpose of this "blog" is for the government to analyse feedback from members of the public and develop a "Future directions paper for the digital economy".
Put another way, there's every chance that your feedback will be twisted and paraphrased into a government document that supports internet censorship, with Senator Conroy waving it round the house in question time saying, "but it's based on feedback from the public… we have a mandate!"
Yeah, OK, that's a ludicrous extreme example. But we are talking about the government that thinks it's technically possible to filter the internet of baddies, and wants to impose this regime on every single Australian internet connection, hang the expense and impact on speed.
7. It has a "terms of service"
Senator, a blog is not a "service", just in the same way me listening to your address at a conference and then me getting up as a journalist and asking a question is not you delivering a "service".
You may think so, given you operate in a bureaucratic framework, but if you want to appear to have some understanding of the way the web works, by publishing a blog, you need to ditch the formal disclaimers, or at least call them something else.
What you should be doing is opening up a conversation with the public. Do you read a terms of service before every address you give at a conference?
8. It's only open to over 18s
Because under-18s don't have very good ideas on the digital economy…? Seriously, whatever the reason is, it's ridiculous to require under 18s to get "parent or guardian consent to participation in the DBCDE blog." WTF?
9. Readers must agree to pay all Australian government legal costs
Again, WTF!? The Australian government will bill you for any lawsuits it gets about the blog if you post a comment and the comment turns into a lawsuit. Even though the government is reviewing and approving all comments posted. Despite the fact that this ridiculous indemnity clause of the "Terms of Service" would never in a million years hold up in court, it's rather offensive that the government would slip it in there.
10. P.S. Please excuse any lies we may tell
The terms of service also points out that the government makes "no representations or warranties of any kind, expressed or implied, including warranties of accuracy, in regards to any material published on this blog."
In other words: Kevin Rudd may have made a commitment not to break any pre-election promises, but you've been given fair warning that anything said after the election, especially in the blog, might be complete bunkum.