Can Europeans blog after all?

by Shahin Vallée, Jérémie Cohen-Setton, Emmanuel Letouzé and Martin Kessler on 23rd March 2012

Last week, we wrote a post arguing that the European economic blogosphere was trailing by far its American counterpart. It had been our impression for a long time, and a post by Ronny Patz put a nice quantitative finger on it (which we distorted somewhat as he later pointed out). As Kantoos put it, we made “an eye-catching claim and try to outrage the blogosphere” but our key message (that there were too few interactions between European economic blogs) certainly received echoes. Our ambition was modest; we didn’t aim to write anything with a normative approach. But others are working on this more seriously (see Spanishwalker who is writing his thesis on the matter).

Our assessment was widely shared, although bloggers often put forward alternative explanations than the ones we outlined.

We didn’t buy the claim by Henning Meyer that Europeans don’t lack aggregators. Our experience is that it’s a nightmare to follow what is being said by European economists. Take two big names (since Kantoos argued that the main problem was the lack of them on the European blogosphere): Thomas Piketty and Pierre-Cyrille Hautcoeur. They both write regular OpEds in prominent French newspapers, but their comments never make it to the blogosphere. Since these two have webpages that are updated on a regular basis, it wouldn’t be hard to bring these views on the blogosphere, but it is labour intensive. Doing for all European economists that write OpEds on their site and/or on National media is a nightmare. Aggregators are useful, but imperfect precisely because they don’t do the job outlined above. Ryan Avent at the Economist and Kantoos were nice to point that we’re already trying to do this at Bruegel with our weekly blogs review. But this is clearly not a perfect substitute for that since we tend to focus on blogs and research papers rather than newspapers.

Otherwise we agree with the other points that were raised: Ryan Avent points at network effects to explain the absence of a critical mass that would allow the returns to blogging to outweigh the costs. Kantoos thinks that we miss the Europeans “heavyweights” in the economic field to give a visibility to others and thinks that a reason for this absence is the general scepticism towards new forms of communication coming from the difficulty of Europeans to overcome a sense of status. Martinned explains that clearly and states that the problem is not that Europeans don't debate, it is that European blogs don't debate, at least not with each other (read the whole thing, it is quite funny actually).

But probably the best thing that happened with our post is the smack down that we received from our readers on the (absence) of comments function on our own blog.

Ronny emailed us that it was ironic for a blog that did not allow comments to write such a post. He was not the only one to make this point. Andrew Watt did the same and many others on twitter.

This is a fair criticism. As blog readers, our experience led us to underestimate the importance of comments. In fact, we never post comments on other blogs and rarely read them. The good ones usually get lost amongst the hysterical ones and this led us to the conclusion that it would be too time consuming to sort them out and that it was better and simpler to look out for comments on other blogs (which is actually what happened this time around). But we were probably wrong and we are working to change this. In the meantime, please keep on commenting on twitter and on others blogs while linking us.

Thank you all for the lively debate, which proved us wrong! In fact, Europeans can probably blog…

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