Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Wednesday April 04 2012

A comment on this at Samizdata, from “Fred”.  Harsh, but containing much truth:

This used to be a great blog, but it’s dying. Not that the contributors still on it aren’t doing a decent job, but there’s not enough of them, with not enough time and energy. You need some new blood. The country needs Samizdata to come back revitalized. (I’d offer my services, but I’m also a burnt-out case).

I doubt that’ll be discussed very much on Samizdata itself.

For me, the key figure is Perry de Havilland.  Samizdata is indeed now a shadow of what it once was.  But when Perry writes for it, the shadow seems to go away and the thing itself returns.  But he is now, it would seem, blogged out, and Samizdata is hugely the worse for it.  Groups in general and group blogs in particular don’t function properly if not properly lead, and Samizdata used to be lead by example.  Perry did a superb job setting Samizdata up, and the momentum has been extraordinary.  But “Fred” is right.  That momentum is no longer there.

I am entirely aware that I myself am a part of this problem.  I too find that I can only say and do so much.  I look back on the last decade of my life with a feeling that I could have done a whole lot better.  All I did for Samizdata was join in, and contribute well and often, for a while.  Perry de Havilland did massively better than that.

Personally I’m not sure that Samizdata itself “needs” to revive.  The country may “need Samizdata”, but the country may just have to make other arrangements.  But the attitude Samizdata embodied when it was started, and still tries to embody, needs to stick around, if not at Samizdata itself then somewhere.

The sight of a bunch of old guys casting about for “new blood” can be rather undignified, and the process usually fails anyway.  Can ageing firebrands find younger replacements, to do the same old jobs?  This is just about the hardest thing there is when it comes to institution making.  Personally, I have always concentrated on putting the ideas out there, and relying on the next generation to stay with them and express them in their own way, with their own enterprises and communicational techniques, not as junior members of Old Guy Institutions.  I tend to doubt the excellence of younger people who attach themselves to ancient institutions, rather than creating their own.  I mean, what’s stopping them doing their own thing?  It’s not like it takes a revolution to set up a new libertarian drumbeating machine.  And there are a couple out there that I can think of.  But maybe the fact that those operations are even on my radar means that they are not where the real libertarian action is right now, and the Real Thing is happening entirely elsewhere.

I often find that simply stating a problem out loud can make it go away.  The answer, that had seemed impossible, becomes obvious.  Maybe this posting will do that for me now.

Hey Brian, hope you can make it to our monthly pub meetup tomorrow- should be a good one as have a special guest speaker

Posted by Andy Janes on 04 April 2012

Brian

I’m very happy my website is on your radar, and wish you all the best whatever occurs. I’m very fond of Samizdata and still tune in, though the frequency of output seems to be lower and I have also missed Perry de Havilland’s writing.

Ironically, the speaker which Andy Janes mentions is one of your fellow Samizdatistas. It’s a testiment to the importance of what you’ve done that groups like ours are inviting members of groups like yours to play a key role in what we’re up to.

Like Andy, I’d be honoured to have a pair of Samizdatistas along tonight and am certainly not worried about being attached to the old guard. I hope to learn as much as possible and I hope it helps me to achieve a fraction of what you have.

Simon Gibbs

Posted by Simon Gibbs on 05 April 2012

Andy, Simon: I certainly enjoyed last night. Good meeting (and, importantly, you have chosen a good venue). I think having a break as you did between the talk and the questions so that people can top up their refreshments is a good thing, too.

Back to Samizdata, I think another issue is that the website looks old. If feels like a somewhat clunky site from 2002, and web design has really moved on since then. I think a redesign and a streamlining of the software would help us all feel rather refreshed, which would be good.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 06 April 2012

I was partly in the mood to respond to this “Fred” character and suggest that he set up a blog of his own or join as a commenter, but did not want to sound like I was being peevish. The truth is that Samizdata is over a decade old and the blogging format is not that young, hip and happening thing it used to be. It has matured; there are now many more places for people to check into.

I am sure the site could and should have a makeover; we also need some fresh commentators. Without being falsely modest, I have been one of the three or four mainstays over the past 10 years; for about two years, it seemed I was about the only person writing there. It is tiring and difficult to come up with inspiration for a new post every day when you also have a busy life. And I do rather enjoy my life.

The comment threads are also less busy than they used to be. Some have just moved to other blogs, and from time to time we have culled various trolls and bores. But there are many readers who rarely leave a comment.

Posted by Johnathan Pearce on 10 April 2012

Idea I just had, possibly not well thought through, but take a look at this site: http://lesswrong.com

Not the content (though I am enjoying that) but the setup.

There’s a blog section and a discussion section. Anyone can post to the discussion section. If your discussion post gets up-voted enough it gets promoted to the blog section.

This could be a way to recruit new blood without appearing to be a bunch of old guys casting about for it.

Posted by Rob Fisher on 10 April 2012

Oh by the way, what gave me that idea was this bit from this article about the costs of trivial inconveniences:

He mentioned how surprised he was that so many people were posting so much stuff on Less Wrong, when very few people had ever taken advantage of Overcoming Bias’ policy of accepting contributions if you emailed them to a moderator and the moderator approved. Apparently all us folk brimming with ideas for posts didn’t want to deal with the aggravation.

Samizdata has the same policy - email an article, it might get posted. No-one does. Make it trivially easy for anyone to post anything, scoring system to filter… What could possibly go wrong?

Posted by Rob Fisher on 10 April 2012

Brian,

You know what needs to be done at Samizdata - and nobody wants to do it - it needs to be archived properly.

The problem is that the archive is set up for searching only the postings themselves with a boolean search, yet it was often the comments section that contained the most valuable discussions (e.g. Midwesterner’s contribution was always far more in the comments than in any mere postings he did).

Figuring out a way to facilitate recall of the best discussions and arguments is the job that is crying out to be done at Samizdata. But otherwise Fred is right - it’s just Jonathan strolling around the libertarian perimeter fence again and again and again.

Posted by mike on 14 April 2012

mike

Strongly agree about the archiving.

Speaking as a writer of the occasional quite good post, in among shorter chatty ones (where, you’re right, the good comments are what matter), I dislike that there are not even any author archives.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 15 April 2012

One of the reasons there are so few commenters is that Perry drives them away - as in when he threw a tantrum and barred Ian B (not me, the other one!). Couple that with Paul Marks’ interminable conspiracy ridden posts and you don’t have much to stay for.

Posted by Ian on 19 April 2012

I too wish that Samizdata had (what I consider!) proper searching capability--for instance, Micklethwait AND ("Sean Gabb” OR “David Davis") NOT 1901” .  And archives by month.  Also, as an example, I tried to find the much-praised reviews by Findlay Dunachie, but, alas....

But other than that I LOVE the look and style of the site.  It’s clean, it’s no-nonsense, no silly advertisements, banners, heaven help you if you mouse over a trigger phrase, etc.  And (as said on-site one time) I REALLY like the white on darkish-blue.  I find that so restful to the eyes!

As to content, I find a good deal there that’s of interest, from both the featured writers and commenters.  And I very much appreciate the general tone of civility.

Posted by Julie near Chicago on 25 April 2012

Samizdata is one of the all-time great blogs, and long may it prosper. Perhaps it is being affected mainly by the reader migration to newer social media that seems to be reducing traffic on other blogs, network colossi such as Instapundit excepted.

Posted by Jonathan on 30 April 2012
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