The left and the web

Some issues about the Left use of the web were explored in a wide ranging debate on Sydney Indymedia earlier this year after Green Left Weekly topped the poll on IMC as the preferred site for news and views from a radical perspective.The same debate has arisen again at LeftWrites .

There, Jeff Sparrow makes some short comments about the left's underuse of the web.But I think he protesteth too much.

How can he say what he says when the most popular political web site in the country is the GLW one? More popular than the Greens or the ALP or what have you by a very large margin.I mean, this is surely the Left’s greatest asset wouldn’t you say and a major example of how the web can be utilized?

I’ve been through this debate in the Socialist Alliance and I fear that many on the left simply cannot accept that reality and will almost consciously try to ignore it.The Australian doesn’t –even this week it has polemicised twice against GLW.

That said, I suppose my habits aren’t general ones as I’ve become a dedicated web crawler viasyndication– so I often point out that the future of this discussion has to be decided by how well the left is going to harness the power of syndication and RSS feeds which almost forces us, as an imperative, into generating daily exchanges of information, comment and news.

Nonetheless, Jeff Sparrow, in his review, completely ignores the role of e-lists fulfil on the left.Over the past 4-8 years these have served as a major organising tool by dint of any number of campaign groups.In fact, as the GLW discussion list proves, we on the left have been very effective at exploiting the potential of egroups.

So the GLW list is not alone by dint of either numbers or the value of the information shared and debates they house.As an example I think I’m on something like 13 egroups that focus on ‘left’ issues. Yep, I’m an email junkie.But there’s so much activity being organised that way on the left that email has completely replaced our past reliance on snail mail and even telephoning to some degree.

Then there’s the promise of blogging…or not.I’ve been blogging for two years — at the Life of Riley –now and I’ve not been so enamoured with the medium primarily because I find that there is a paucity of good left blogs (and estimates have it that there are maybe 20-30 million blogs on the web).At the moment I’ve got 47 blogs registered on my aggregator that I visit regularly, some daily –and I think it is reasonable to suggest that political blogs survive or become relevant primarily through a daily schedule of posts. Less frequently, and they lose some of their relevance. This is why the GLW list, while not a blog(although it offers syndication feeds), has survived and prospered — because it generates daily exchanges and dredges up daily information. It’s also an information clearing house.

But when you review the left sites very few are currently offering syndication the British Socialist Worker I think has only begun to offer a feed over the last year. The US ISO paper still doesn’t.I know most people don’t read these sites as feeds but this oversight does suggest how far behind left uptake of technological promise is.

But there are a few excellent left blogs out there that warrant studying.

Eli Stephen’s Left I on the News averages 650 visits a day for his sharp twist commentary on the media. In the UK, Lenin’s Tomb has excelled itself on this Lebanon issue and is pulling in over 2,000 visitors per day and sometimes generates discussion threads per post of over 150 comments.

However, such exciting numbers need to be balanced by the actual uptake of web news more generally as I pointed out in this article in GLW last week.

"Television, newspapers and radio are still the main source of domestic news and current affairs for more than 95% of the population. Of the roughly 25% that access the internet on a reasonably regular basis for domestic news and current affairs, approximately 90% rely on a small collection of websites that have a close association with traditional mediaproviders."

And the numbers fall sharply from there.So a sense of proportion needs to be held in regard to the web –as it isn’t the magic left bullet some have been promising.

The move is very much afoot to force left and political progressives of all shades out of all other media(eg: street sales, community TV and radio) with the excuse that the web is open to all views...etc --so go and beat your drum there! The whole push to get us onto the web that is being generated by the federal government and the media monopolies is a sham.

This brings me to the subject of multimedia. That’s way open to the left as a medium to make our presence felt and I’ve been actively engaged in podcasting for the past 8 months.(There are about 60,00 podcast channels world wide).

What I do is experimental and as much as anything is happening anywhere I think I’ve almost linked up with most of it.This is a very broad topic which I cannot explore fully here(although I blog about it often at Life of Riley ) except to say that web media, especially audio, and video more recently — is an opening akin to some of the possibilities offered by community radio inthe seventies and early eighties.

But, and this is the most important aspect, without the overheads. As one slogan goes "We don’t need no friggin transmitters…!".On site I’ve put together a lot of media stuff that has been generated on Lebanon and I think it’s very indicative of what can be done more generally with this stuff.

Jeff Sparrow's overview also failed to mention Indymedia. I find IMC interesting at the moment because while I relate to it and engage with its international facilities, IMC is being bypassd by these new media options such as blogging, vlogging and podcasting.

In fact IMC’s major handicap in this regard is that is primarily a web enterprise with little direct resonance offline.So a sense of the importance of generating an offline political existence as well as whatever web happenings we do, needs to be emphasised. That really, it’s not good business to put all your media eggs in the one basket(yes, as the WSWS has done).

As for the future — well I’m keen to be part of it and I’ve been every evangelical in regard to what I’d like to see occur. And I guess this comment is part of that…

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