Interview [en]

Reproduction of the e-mail interview I gave Muris Bajrica for the NZZ.

[fr] Reproduction d'une interview donnée par e-mail à Muris Bajrica pour la NZZ. En français, filez voir celle que j'ai accordée à Tarik Essaadi de Emarrakech.

Some time back, I was interviewed by the Austrian journalist Muris Bajrica, who was preparing an article for the NZZ, a widely-read German-language newspaper.

Muris interviewed me by e-mail, and as his questions gave me a chance to say quite a lot of things, I’m reproducing it here. The questions are in German, and as I’m feeling a bit too lazy to translate them, you’ll have to brush up Goethe’s language a little. Thanks to Matthias, the questions have been translated from the original German into English.

Do you want to influence people with your blog?
Möchtest du mit deinem Blog Einfluss üben?

Well, I’m one of those people who hope they will change the world. I mean, I’ve always been like that. When I was a kid, I knew I’d write a book someday (I haven’t done it yet, but I’m still certain that I will). So, of course, my blog fits in with the rest of my life. I’d like to contribute to the world, and I hope to leave a trace in the people around me. I didn’t become a teacher by chance 😉

When I started my website in 1999, I was hoping to bring information to few people who read it. With the blog, over a year later, I had already slipped into a “publishing online and being read is fun” frame of mind. I like writing. I like having readers. Do I hope to change the world with my blog? No, I’ve come down to much more realistic expectations as the years have gone by. But obviously, people who read my blog find some interest in it, and I’m happy with that.

I’m happy when people link to me, or respond to what I’ve written. It means that as a blogger, I have a certain influence. But it’s not that big an influence. Most of what I write goes totally unnoticed by the community at large, and that’s not a problem.

I’m happy to see that the number of visitors to my blog gradually goes up with the years. Of course. But all that is not my sole purpose in blogging — it’s a pleasant side-effect of an activity which has a much more existential meaning to me.

What influence have your postings had on other users or media (Switzerland or Europe)?
Welchen Einfluss hatten deine Eintragungen auf andere Nutzer oder Medien (CH od. Europa)?

It’s hard to tell what influence what I write has on others. I get feedback, of course, sometimes. I know I have an international audience. I know how many visitors I have. But what influence does my writing have? I think that is a question which cannot be answered now, if we’re thinking of influence in a historical way.

I’m clearly not a squad leader — I can’t post something and hope it’s going to be all over the internet just because I’m the one who posted it (and I wouldn’t want things to be like that, either).

Why do you blog?
Warum schreibst du Blogs?

I’ve answered a bit above: I like writing, always have written, and probably always will write. If I were not writing online, I would be writing more offline. My blog is a great place to store (almost) all the stuff I write, and have it handy when I want to find it again.

Writing online is a great occasion to be read. I treasure that. In some way, it changes a lot to be writing stuff which is actually read, rather than stuff that stays in a note-book. When I do something, and I’m proud of what I’ve done, I want other people to see it too.

But more than just a medium for writing and being read, I think blogs are a medium for social interaction. My blog is the nexus of my social life online. It helps me attract people who have ideas and values similar to mine and get in touch with them.

Aside from these personal motivations of mine, I think blogs and blogging are an important social phenomenon. A blogger can suddenly have an important impact on what happens in the world (think Dan Rather, think WEF blog and Eason Jordan) — but I’m not sure it can be planned. One can’t really decide to have an impact. It happens, or it doesn’t.

I think blogs are changing the way certain corporations and institutions communicate, and in a good way. I think it’s fascinating to watch, and I’m glad to be (a small) part of it.

When is a blog relevant for the general public?
Wann ist ein Blog für die Allgemeinheit relevant?

For me, this question is already biaised. I don’t think blogs are there to be relevant for the general public — that isn’t their purpose. They are not mass media. They are about expression, recognition, individual networking, communicating with individuals.

The strength of a blog (as I remember saying, but I’m not exactly sure when or where) is the strength of the relationship it creates with its readership. It’s not whether the “general public” find what you write interesting — apart a very small number of exceptions, they won’t. It’s about how what you have to say has meaning for those who read you, and how your personal voice gives colour and personality to your writing.

I tend to think that to be very popular, a blog has to tone down its originality to some extent. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s not possible to please everyone, is it? The blogosphere is composed by a myriad of little micro-communities, and that’s what makes it what it is. A mosaic.

In other words, what makes a blog relevant?
Oder, was macht einen relevanten Blog aus?

This is a more interesting question. What makes a blog relevant is what makes it relevant to its readers. And in particular, I’d say that it’s personality, originality, a sense of humour, intelligence, or good connections which bring about hard-to-find information.

There is no general rule. I think that one thing that we can observe in the blogosphere (and which is true outside too) is that trying to set absolute scales for comparison and evaluation is a very tricky task, and that it does not necessarily yield useful or interesting results. I mean, how far do popularity contests (the “best blog” thing), link counts, googlerank, and number of visitors take us?

Are your postings being read?
Werden deine Postings gelesen?

Yes 🙂

And by whom?
Und von wem?

All sorts of people. Lots of geeky people, I suppose. Geeky people with a taste for arts and human sciences, hopefully. As I said above, it’s a pretty international crowd. My blog is bilingual, and I’m happy to say my readership reflects this. I try to act as a bridge between the francoblogosphere and the angloblogosphere at times, and some people appreciate my blog for that.

In your opinion, what makes a star blogger? Are there star bloggers in Switzerland?
Was ist für dich ein Star-Blogger? Gibt es so einen in der CH?

Stardom is no different in blogland than in the offline world. I think stars are first and foremost a media construction. Journalists like having “stars” or “specialists” to talk about. So I’d say stars, in general, are defined by media coverage. But from my point of view, media coverage is just media coverage. You can be very good at what you do and not get any media coverage. You can be very average at what you do, and because you have media attention, you get more media attention. Well, I guess you know better than me how the world of journalism works…

Stars also have a (positive, when it is not perverted) role to play for the general public, as a kind of ideal image of humanity, or of themselves, or role-models. You know, I have this total identification thing going on with Jennifer Garner in Alias 😉

So, I guess the answer depends on who is looking for the star blogger. You can be a star in your community and unknown outside it. What is most relevant? The way your community sees you, or the way the general public sees you? Or the way the media see you, the part they have you play?

Do you want to be one?
Möchtest du einer sein?

Ah… well. That’s a very personal question. This last couple of years, I’ve realised that there is a part of me who would have wanted to be a famous actress, or a singer, or a well-known writer (oh wait… what did I say earlier about wanting to write books?) I know that this desire stems from my very big thirst of recognition, and I know that even though the spotlight can be nice, it is not there that I will quench my thirst.

So, as far as blogging goes, I enjoy the recognition I get, and I enjoy the media attention too. But I’m very wary of starification. As I said in Basel, I think it’s much more fit to call me the “Dinosaur of Swiss blogging” (though there are some who started before me!) than the “Queen of Swiss blogging”, or whatever the silly joke was 🙂

So to answer your question, yes, of course, a part of me would like to be a blog star, like I would like to be a famous actress or singer. But it’s not a desire I take seriously. There are many much more important things in life, and fame has its downsides, too.

What’s your opinion on advertising and pay-pal buttons on blogs?
Was hältst du von Werbung und Pay-pal Buttons auf Blog-Seiten?

I don’t mind the PayPal buttons, or Google AdWords if they are discreet. I don’t like graphical ads, though, or anything that pops up in my face or moves — it totally puts me off.

What I’m more sensitive to is the attitude of the blogger about this. Does the blogger tell his readers to make donations every two days to show him they like him? Or is it there just in case somebody felt like it? I think it’s possible to be very childish about asking money from readers, but it’s also possible to do it in a mature way.

Would you donate money to a blogger?Sind sie sinnvoll? Wärst du bereit, einem Blogger eine Spende zukommen zu lassen?

I think it can make sense. I haven’t done it on my blog, and I haven’t planned on doing it, but it’s not something I’ve completely ruled out. I’ve never donated money to a blogger, but I have done so for software and to support an online comics artist. I think I’m more likely to give money to people who are doing stuff I’m not doing myself. As a blogger, I’d find it a bit weird to be donating money to another blogger (and if I was asking for donations myself, imagine!)

What do you expect of yourself and your blog?
Welchen Anspruch stellst du an dich und dein Blog?

I’m not sure how to answer this question. I like my blog as it is! I’m always tinkering with it to improve it, but I’m happy as things are.

Do you think bloggers in Switzerland would hesitate to write critically about politics?
Hast du das Gefühl, dass Blogger in der CH Hemmungen hätten, über kritisch über Politik zu schreiben?

Gosh, not the faintest idea about that. I’m not very interested in politics (not enough, actually, my bad), and so I wouldn’t really read any politically-oriented weblogs. But well, swiss people having cold feet easily, I can imagine they might be a bit “cautious” about being overly critical in their writings about politics.

If any of my German-speaking readers has the courage to translate the questions (I understand them enough to answer them, but maybe not to translate them correctly), I’ll put them in the post.

While I’m in the chapter of interviews, you might want to head over to Morocco and read the interview I gave Tarik Essaadi for — if you understand French.

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