A few days ago, we got a chance to talk about the state of blogging and social media in Germany with Marcel Weiß, the editor of Netzwertig.com – one of Germany’s most popular blogs. In the interview, Weiß told us that Germany is at least five years behind the U.S. when it comes to social media and its adoption by a larger part of society. Blogs are still considered to be suspect by a large part of the German public and have very little influence, and social news sites and aggregators attract very little attention. With regards to Germany’s Internet startup scene, Weiß argues that, with very few exceptions, most companies are also years behind the U.S. and just aren’t innovative enough to compete.
Blogging in Germany: Five Years Behind
Weiß argues that blogging and social media adoption in Germany is far behind similar trends in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Blogs are still considered suspect and have almost no influence over local or national politics. The mainstream media still likes to describe the Internet as a dangerous place, full of malware, porn, and scammers. While regular newspapers in Germany have also started to feel the pressure from the Internet (and every major German paper has a web site), the absence of a successful Craigslist-type site in the country has given the newspapers a longer lease on life than in America.
Unlike the U.S., no political blog has the influence of American sites like DailyKos or Talking Points Memo, though a recent (and misguided) move by German politicians to censor the Internet in Germany in order to combat child pornography led over 130,000 German Internet users to sign a petition against this plan and galvanized the German Internet community in an unprecedented way. It remains to be seen, though, if this sudden rise in Internet activism in Germany will have legs, or if it will just fizzle out quickly.
While political blogs in the U.S. also got a push during the Bush years when mainstream media outlets were generally seen as too close to the administration, German news outlets did not suffer from a similar pushback and most Germans still generally trust the mainstream media’s reporting and equate blogging with excessive over-sharers who write Internet diaries about their German Shepherds.
In a post that created quite a stir in the German blogosphere (with a focus on blogging about economics), Felix Salmon argued that Germany’s culture was basically the antithesis of what blogging is all about. If this is true, then maybe there is really little hope for blogging in Germany in the near future, but at the same time, there are also a number of news blogs that are doing quite well (Netzwertig is one of them), and there are a lot of passionate German bloggers who are trying to change the current negative perception of blogs.
The Absence of Social News
Unlike in the U.S., the German blogosphere also doesn’t have large social news sites like Digg or Reddit to bring readers to blogs. With Yigg.de Germany has its own Digg clone, but it’s not only hampered by a rather unpleasant design, but even the top stories there hardly get more than 20 votes. In addition, a headline on Yigg or similar services like Webnews.de barely drives any traffic to a site.
With regards, to blog monetization, things obviously also look equally bleak. Weiß told us that most companies still don’t quite get that they could find a very targeted audience on blogs – but of course, the fact that blogs are still struggling to find a large enough readership doesn’t exactly help matters here.
To some degree, the same is also true for the German startup scene, where, as Weiß argued, too many companies simply try to copy popular concepts that were developed elsewhere. The prime example for this is obviously StudiVZ, a blatant Facebook clone. Yet, while StudiVZ was able to quickly grow in Germany while Facebook was still ignoring most of the market outside of America, development of the site has now mostly come to a standstill and while Facebook is turning itself into a platform, the team behind StudiVZ has no interest in making any platform play whatsoever. Indeed, as Weiß told us, very few German startups are actually interested in the platform business and providing APIs for developers is still seen as unnecessary.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some interesting and successful German startups, of course. Xing is a good example for a service that gets things right, and SoundCloud, a very cool music service based in Berlin is another one (though the founders are actually from Sweden). It’s important to note, though, that Germany never really had much of a startup scene and that there are a lot of cultural and bureaucratic barriers that would hold even some of the most determined founders from starting their own businesses.
Outlook: Bleak – But With a Silver Lining
There are multiple reasons why blogging in Germany just isn’t taking off, but there is a chance that things might turn around this year. The upcoming election in Germany, for example, will give political blogs a chance to shine, especially if they manage to capitalize on the current discussion around Internet censorship. And while Twitter isn’t quite a mainstream phenomenon yet, the discussion around its use in Iran during the current controversy around the elections there, also brought Twitter into the spotlight in Germany.
A number of Germany newspapers have also started to run blogs on their own sites, and with Rivva.de, the German blogosphere also has a very interesting meme-tracker that looks and feels similar to Techmeme and Memeorandum, and which provides a central focal point for the German blogosphere.
Of course, in a piece like this, we can only touch upon a small number of examples and have to rely on some sweeping generalizations. Feel free to take issue with our (and Marcel’s) assessment of the German Internet scene and leave a comment.
CC-Licensed image used courtesy of Flickr user Will Palmer.