Note: this blog post was dictated, so if you see things that don’t make sense, try reading them out loud and let me know.
I left quite a few comments here and there on the issue of the Swiss blog awards. For those of you checking in now, the fact that aside from one English language blog, only German-speaking language blogs were nominated for this award is creating quite a stir around here. It is a touchy issue, and people on both sides are getting angry and/or taking things personally — me included, to some extent. Over the last couple of days, I have seen my position on this issue misrepresented, and I would like to set the record straight and clarify some of my opinions on what is going on.
I’ve kept my comments public
First of all, let’s say it loud and clear:
In addition to that, I would like to stress that I have not held any private conversations about all this since the stir began, aside from forwarding Bruno‘s suggestion that the Bloggy Friday be held in Biel to Anne Dominique, who is taking over Bloggy Friday for this month as I cannot be there, and a chat this morning with one of the organisers. Everything I had to say was said in public. In particular, since I was asked that precise question, I am not the one who reminded Bruno about the unfortunate LIFT episode.
The closest I got to expressing an opinion on what was going on in private was in the response I sent to Bruno last night, still on the topic of encouraging French-speaking Swiss bloggers to be present in Biel on Friday. For the sake of transparency, I’m reproducing my response here. It also pretty much sums up where I stand.
Yes, as I commented on AD’s post (no hyphen for her, btw), I also think it would be good for Romands to be there.
As I expressed in my last comments on the subjects, I do feel that [[some organisers] are mainly blaming the bloggers for not having been nominated. I guess I’m taking it a bit personally because I was approached about
SBAW and (a) didn’t have the time for it and (b) didn’t really feel totally comfortable about the event (can’t pinpoint why, which is why I haven’t said this in public yet).
Now that this is out of the way, here are a few things I’d like to say about these awards and the whole mess.
Some background information about me
As I — along with other French-speaking bloggers here in Switzerland — am being blamed for not having publicised the awards enough and not having encouraged my readers to go on and nominate me, here is a little information about my personality that I think is relevant to the issue.
I talk about things that I’m excited about. (Or that anger me…) This is especially true when it comes to promotion. It is not my habit to promote an event or a service just because a friend asked me to. So blaming me because I didn’t put a button on my site for the Swiss blog awards is beside the point: it’s blaming my personality.
Then, I don’t like awards. For me, they are inevitably flawed to some extent. Some less than others, but still. In 2003, I won an award for “Best Swiss blog” in the French-speaking blogosphere. Why? Because I was pretty much the only Swiss blogger to hang out in the community gravitating around some of the organisers.
When an award puts out a title like “Best Swiss blog”, it creates a certain number of expectations. For example, that more than one Swiss blog will be entering the contest. That the contestants will be more or less representative of Swiss blogs in general. That the award will be given with a certain degree of fairness. That the “best blog” is in a way “better” than the others in the same category, which translates into “better quality” for most people, unless clearly specified otherwise.
I find that this is not often the case. First of all, the pool of contestants is always in some way related to the people who organised the awards. Blogging functions like word-of-mouth, but with greater reach. Inevitably, the first people to know about it will be the organisers’ networks, and then in the networks of these people, etc. Then, what is being rewarded is not always quality. I agree with what Pascal Rossini says: quality and “bestness” is somewhere in the eye of the beholder. In the case of the Swiss Blog Awards, what is very explicitly being rewarded is the ability to campaign and get as many people as possible to nominate you.
I was approached to be part of SBAW
Here are some details about the last comment of mine in the e-mail reproduced above. I had known about the Swiss blog awards for some time, if my memory serves me right because Matt had talked to me about it. I was officially approached in February. Even though there were perfectly good reasons for which no French-speaking blogger was yet involved, the fact that it became a crucial problem so late, when the date for the awards was set, and most of the organisation was already done, did make it appear bit like an afterthought. I know it was not an afterthought, but still, the fact that organisation had got so far underway did make me feel like my presence in the organisation was desired only to promote the event over here and make it appear like it was not just a ” Swiss German thing”.
I should have raised the issue and clarified with the organisers at the time, and for that I plead guilty. However, I was in any case not available on the date of the awards, and my personal life was a mess (it often is), so I declined and left it at that.
A Swiss blogosphere?
One of the goals behind the Swiss blog awards is to increase visibility of blogs and blogging in Switzerland, and also improve communication and networking inside the Swiss blogosphere. Improving communication inside the Swiss blogosphere is also one of the goals of the blogerbosse list. I approve of the goal, but I wouldn’t personally have chosen an award for that. A LIFT-like conference, but more Swiss-oriented than international-oriented, would have suited me better to adresse those issues.
I have my doubts about the viability of such a thing as the “Swiss blogosphere”. The borders on the Internet are linguistic. I learnt German at school, but are not comfortable enough with it to read German-language blogs. I stick to my mother tongues (plural, as I’m a strange bilingual animal), English and French. I have a foot in the French-speaking blogosphere, and the other one in the English-speaking blogosphere, but I really don’t have many clues as to what’s going on in all these German-speaking blogs. The Swiss-German blogosphere is almost as much a mystery to me as a Spanish-speaking blogosphere.
It would be interesting to have statistics describing which language blogs people read. I suspect that most people only read blogs in their mother tongue. A fair amount of people probably read blogs in English in addition to that. And then, I suspect we find a small number of brave or a bilingual people who go around reading blogs in other languages.
Language barriers are even stronger online than offline
Language is an issue in Switzerland. French speakers are a linguistic minority here, and often have the feeling that the German-speaking part of the country ignores them. Funnily, we often forget that are part of this country speaks Italian, and yet another Romansch. I personally often wonder if French-speaking Switzerland isn’t culturally closer to neighbouring France then to more distant, German-speaking parts of the country, which are nevertheless part of the same political entity.
I know where this can make me sound as if I’m promoting the Röstigraben. I don’t want to encourage or promoted. But I think it’s there. Trying to pretend it isn’t there will not make the problem go away. Offline, Switzerland makes sense. We are held together by institutions and politics. We travel from one part of the country to another. We do our best to communicate with fellow citizens who have a different mother tongue, often using English in the process.
But online? What is there to “hold Switzerland together” in cyberspace? These are real questions. The “Swiss blogosphere” must exist because everybody wants it to. The media want to know things about “blogging in Switzerland”. Swiss bloggers want to feel they’re still Swiss when they’re in cyberspace. But how real is it? I think the “Swiss blogosphere” is a pretty artificial concept. That doesn’t mean I think it’s bad. On the contrary. But it means that we must not underestimate the difficulties we will face when we try to make something out of it.
Publicizing via blogs still requires you to be active
The Swiss blog awards were supposed to be a bottom-up, grassroots event. I don’t think you can create that. Grassroots movements are unpredictable. If you want something to go in one direction, even if you are using the power of blogs to spread the word, you need to be active. In my opinion, letting the word spread on its own and then blaming people for not having picked it up when they complain is unfair.
In the case of the Swiss blog awards, hoping the word would spread through the French and Italian speaking parts of Switzerland with an all Swiss-German team communicating in English was wishful thinking. I know there was no evil the intent on the part of the organisers. I know they tried to get French-speaking people on board. But in my opinion, given the context I described above, having motivated and enthusiastic people from various parts of the country on the committee should have been a requirement before starting to design the awards.
If that is not how things happened, (and again, I’m aware there are valid reasons why it did not happen this way), then a massive communication effort was needed to get the word out another linguistic regions. It’s too easy to just say that popular bloggers this side of the Sarine ignored the SBAW, while Swiss German A-listers promoted the event, and that therefore French or Italian speaking bloggers can just blame themselves for not being represented. Making sure the word spreads in the whole of Switzerland is the burden of the organisers of the Swiss blog awards.
Why am I writing all this?
The main reason I’m writing this is that I’m annoyed. (I know this might not be the best reason to write on a topic, but here we are…) I’m annoyed that we the bloggers (the “candidates”) are being blamed that there are no French-speaking blogs among the nominees. I’m annoyed that I’m being suspected of trying to create trouble, of saying things behind people’s backs, of deliberately trying to make the awards fail, of encouraging people to boycott, and of wanting people to step down. None of this is true.
I’m annoyed that an event that was supposed to bring Swiss bloggers together is dividing them. If the organisers were willing to admit that the nomination design was flawed, and that the communication was badly handled, or that maybe including language-specific awards would have been a better idea, I think it could go a long way towards placating angry French-speaking bloggers. But no, if we are unhappy about not being present in the nominations, it’s our own fault. This kind of attitude is not helping keep the peace.
I’m also annoyed at myself, because from the beginning I had a vague feeling that this event was “too Swiss German”, and I had trouble seeing how it would be accepted and endorsed in this part of the country, but the feeling was too vague, I had other worries, and I didn’t say anything. Would it have changed anything if I had?
I don’t have a miracle solution. I think bloggers who do not feel represented in the nominations should by no means boycott the award. Their displeasure has been heard, and there is an occasion in Biel to “meet the others”. Be there. Go to Biel on Friday. It’s much more important to be there now than it was before this whole mess broke out.
As for the organisers… I don’t really know what to suggest. I would have suggestions for things that could have been done earlier on, but I’m not sure they’re very useful to give now. What can still be done now, though, is what I suggested above. Accept your part of responsibility in how things turned out instead of blaming the bloggers for it. Start asking for suggestions now for how bloggers from linguistic minorities would organise the nominations so that everybody has an equal chance of being represented. Start prospecting now for French and Italian speaking bloggers who would like to be part of organising better Swiss blog awards for next year.
This will show angry bloggers that you already had to do things differently from the start next time, and that they have been heard. There is nothing worse for somebody who is angry than to hear: “let’s just sweep this under the carpet for the moment, and get on with the party, it’s your fault anyway.”