That nice Mr Tall set we Lib Dem bloggers some homework over the weekend. I hope Sir won't mind me handing mine in a bit late. I could plead illness - which would be true, but if he will hand out assignments at short notice on a Formula 1 weekend, then he's just going to have to bloody well wait. So there!
Here are the questions that he wants us to answer:
What are the greatest successes of the Lib Dem blogosphere?
Firstly, I think its accessibility - any party member can get listed on Lib Dem Blogs without having to go through ideoligical purity tests. I think it's vital that the aggregator stays in its current form. Having said that, like James, I tend to look more to Twitter for interesting blog posts and to expand my horizons, although I do try to look at the aggregator at least once every couple of days. I think it's particularly encouraging that the number of individual blogs has increased so much and is continuing to do so. There's some good quality stuff out there.
It also works as a one stop shop to other blogs so the would-be or new blogger can have a wee look around and see how it all works and get ideas about the sort of things they might like to do with their template. Training at conference is a good thing, but not always accessible to everyone. I wonder if, and this is a random idea I've just had this second, so it might be nonsense, there could be a list of bloggers who were willing to give advice and support to any new people setting up. I know I wouldn't be where I am today without Stephen. I mean, there would be words on the page, but I wouldn't have the first clue how to do links or put up photos or stuff like that. Could we have a virtual bloggers' surgery, like the old ALDC Focus surgeries?
Secondly, Lib Dem Voice, which is run so well by a very hard working small team, all of whom have other jobs. No evil Derek Draper clones for us. From the geekery genius of Mark Pack, to the prescience and relevance of Alix Mortimer and the creativity and humour of Helen Duffett, the plain speaking incisiveness of Mr Tall and the honesty and able analysis of Alex Foster, there's something there to tick every box. It provides a forum for reporting news within the party, promoting party campaigns, inspiring debate and occasionally lighting the pantene 123 touchpaper and retiring.
What's good about them as well is that you don't have to be the great and the good, or their acolytes to write for them - anyone can submit an article. Heavens, they even let me write for them once - although it was a Sunday afternoon and they probably had space to fill, in fairness....
I like the fact that they don't shrink away when there's controversy or bad press or when we muck it up. It's not a vehicle for spin and bollocks.
They also do what they can to encourage the rest of us - their relatively new 2 x 2 feature gives prominence to 12 Lib Dem blogs a week, as does their Golden Dozen. Some of the blogs which have now become required daily reading for me, the likes of Mark and Darrell, for example.
Finally, there's been the obvious and deserved catapult of Mark to blogosphere superstardom after his analysis of MP's Expenses was picked up by Polly Toynbee.
What are we, collectively as bloggers, failing to achieve?
I'm not sure that we as bloggers should collectively be trying to achieve anything. That sounds a bit New Labour and therefore very scary to me. I think the strengths of the blogosphere is that we're all individuals and we all have our own style and we all appeal to different people.
I don't think that what I write on my blog, or even anything we could all write on our blogs simultaneously, is going to win elections. That's not to say they aren't a good medium for getting liberal ideas across to lots of different people, of course.
Maybe we are a bit too insular, though. We interact with other political types and don't necessarily engage with new people. Having said that, I've had people randomly find my blog and stick with it becaue they've liked some of the ideas in it.
I don't view my blog as some sort of extension of the party machinery. Certainly, I'm happy to promote what the party is doing and what its key figures are saying, but I'm equally happy to give the leadership a good kick up the arse if I think it needs it. I don't think there's any advantage in us all becoming like cyber-linked Stepford bloggers, even if such a thing were possible. I see myself as a Liberal Democrat who has a blog, rather than as a Liberal Democrat Blogger (TM). I don't just write about politics - I just go wherever takes my fancy.
How does the Lib Dem blogosphere compare with those of the Labour, Tories and other parties’?
To be honest, I don't know enough about this to give it a decent answer. I don't really read enough of the "opposition" blogs to give a view. I have examples I like from each party but I tend not to delve too much into their collective blogospheres. There just aren't enough hours in the day.
I like how the Scottish blogosphere interacts, though - I have "met" if not in person, through t'interwebby, good people from all persuasions and there's quite a community feel to it. There are times when we can be kicking seven bells out of each other on policy and then five minutes later being on Twitter or Facebook chatting about some trashy tv programme or the Formula One. In fact, I think I remember one occasion when someone left a comment slagging off a posting of mine and then saying in the last paragraph something along the lines of "wasn't it horrendous that so and so was kicked off Strictly?" Of course there's some tribal name calling, but we do tend to get on and there have been a few meet ups. In fact, one Labour blogger even ended up going to the bloggers' breakfast at the SNP conference and not only lived to tell the tale but I think actually enjoyed the experience. Now, there are times when Labour and the SNP can be really mean to each other on the street. I've witnessed some nasty scenes at counts in my time and some robust debates on blogs, but never really any major, catastrophic bust ups.
I don't get the sense that it's quite the same south of the border. Does anyone want to disabuse me of that notion?
How helpful is blogging as a campaigning tool (are there examples of it making a real impact)?
I think that Focus type local blogs are a great part of an election campaign - but only a part. The blogopshere is accessible but also very crowded. As Costigan pretty much said this morning, campaigns can not live by blog/Facebook/internet/Twitter alone.
I think that the Lib Dem blogosphere can become a useful part of the air war, too. We saw a bit of that in the Euro campaign. I think the role of Lib Dem Voice, and to a lesser extent Lib Dem Blogs, will be really important during the coming General Election in promoting the ideas that the party is trying to promote and that we all come up with.
We maybe also need to be looking at ways to be more in touch with our readers and find out what they want from us and what makes them tick. All of us will have readers who are not involved in politics even if they are only our families and friends.
We need as well to look at other ways of promoting our blogs - candidates should have their blog addresses on their leaflets, but what about those of us who aren't standing? I use Twitter a lot, but I also talk to people about my blog and tell them how to find it - usually putting my name into Google works.
What do you think the next year holds in store for the Lib Dem blogosphere?
It'll be all about the election, I guess. And then, the aftermath.