Last Friday I let everyone know of my intent to shut up shop and close Think Defence. I also said I would pen a more considered farewell by way of an explanation and look forward.
The reason I started Think Defence was simply to provide a forum for (hopefully) sensible conversations about UK defence and security.
I actually received the inspiration to ‘do something’ from Dr Richard North at EU Referendum who at the time was campaigning on the Snatch Land Rover issue against a great deal of negativity. Richard was thoroughly vindicated and eventually spun Defence of the Realm out from the main blog and so one might consider DOTR as the ‘granddaddy’ of UK Defence Blogs although I think Tony McNally has been blogging at Rogue Gunner since 2006. Richard Beedall’s site, Navy Matters, was also an early inspiration, I owe them all a debt of gratitude for showing the way.
With a broader subject spread, Think Defence was born in February 2009 with a post about the A400M.
The format and publishing platform has changed a number of times, first Joomla (painful) and then on to WordPress. I wanted total control so decided against Blogger or Typepad. With increasing traffic, the demands of a high volume site dictated the need for much more robust hosting arrangements.
WordPress is a great platform for content creators but don’t underestimate the learning curve.
On hosting, after going through several, the adage that you get what you pay for is apt, if you want security and reliability that is. Advertising through Google and several contributions from the TD community has enabled this high quality hosting and a number of additional enhancements to the basic platform.
The Road to Today
A few nerdy stats…
- 2009; 105 posts, 1 page and 93,091 words
- 2010; 400 posts, 0 pages and 326,059 words
- 2011; 336 posts, 0 pages and 487,964 words
- 2012; 401 posts, 3 pages and 584,272 words
- 2013; 724 posts, 5 pages and 603,584 words
- 2014; 712 posts, 4 pages and 507,100 words
- 2015; 665 posts, 50 pages and 571,040 words
- 2016; 463 posts, 47 pages and 285,271 words
Totting up, that is approximately 3.5 million words across over just under four thousand posts or pages.
When I live blogged the 2015 SDSR, traffic went through the roof, about 45,000 page views that day. Otherwise, traffic has grown steadily with an average of about 10,000 page views per day until fairly recently when I slowed things down. Current traffic is about 6,000 page views per day.
In total, Think Defence has garnered approximately 13 million page views.
There has been a few a few shenanigans; others stealing content and passing it off as their own, legal threats from a certain mythical think tank, a constant battle against spammers and the odd intemperate bitchfest in comments, but despite these, it’s been a hoot!
A collection of great guest writers have also added enormous value.
The real strength of Think Defence however, is not the content, it is the comments, all 164 odd thousand of them.
On Twitter, as you may know, I also kept an active presence, over 8,000 followers now, although not quite in Justin Bieber territory!
The reason for my decision, which has been coming for some time, is simply one of time. To keep things going at a level of quality that I set myself means a lot of time. Whilst it has been possible to slow the post rate down, time spent researching and collating information from different sources still means a large commitment.
It is also much harder than one might imagine to ‘slow down’, the temptation is always there. Better to remove the temptation altogether.
The three things I have taken most pride from are;
Keeping a loyal and hugely knowledgeable gang of commenters who continually invest their own time to join the conversation and make Think Defence a friendly and interesting place.
Being able to attract guest authors and provide them with a platform to say what they want, Think Defence would be much the poorer without its guest authors or contributors.
Finally, inspiring a few guest authors to go on and start their own blogs, Thin Pinstriped Line and Defence with a C for example.
A Few Thoughts on Military Blogging
What started out fairly low key has turned into a bit of a monster because I think there was a ‘market need’ for it.
Let’s be clear, typing words into a computer is in no way comparable to the problems that defence professionals face in the real world, or indeed, former server service personnel.
I have also tried, not always successfully, to avoid being too judgemental from a position of comfort, people in the MoD and industry don’t get up in morning and decide to make poor decisions. They are working within the bounds of a larger system with financial, political and operational constraints we cannot know. FRES or Type 26 problems are not the result of one pivotal decision made by a single malignant person.
That said, problems can sometimes be seen from outside with a clarity not possible when dealing with the day to day, so defence blogging (and defence journalism of course) is a valuable means by which decisions can be examined and those in power held to some form of account.
Hopefully, other and future defence bloggers looking outside in will try and keep that in mind.
Where I think defence blogging can have significant value is to link current decisions to past decisions. We know the MoD has a predilection to change project names in order to compartmentalise previous problems, the FLAV >> FFLAV >> MRAV/TRACER >> FRES >> SV/UV >> Ajax/MIV journey being a case in point.
I feel privileged to know the authors of blogs such as Jedibeeftrix, Chuck Hills Coast Guard Blog, Mental Crumble, PsyWar, Quill or Capture, Bring the Heat, Defense and Freedom, Military History Now, Defence in Depth, Weapons Man, Save the Royal Navy, Eagle Speak, Steeljaw Scribe, Angry Staff Officer, Snafu, Thin Pinstriped Line, Defence with a C, Fall When Hit, CDR Salamander, Defence of the Realm, Kings of War, War on the Rocks and many more, even if only virtually.
There is a fantastic community of defence writers outside of Think Defence.
When it comes to UK defence blogging specifically, MoD policy, whether written or unwritten, puts many constraints on serving personnel or civil servants putting their thoughts online. In 2016, the British Army Review is still closed from the public and those serving personnel that have contributed to Think Defence and other blogs have generally done so under a nom de plume. This is stark contrast to US forces where writing and public debate seems (at least from this perspective) to be positively encouraged.
The MoD’s social media policy will change as times change, slower than many want, but it will change. Hopefully, the forces culture will follow.
Over the years a few things have remained constant at Think Defence;
- People, training and thinking must always come before shiny new toys
- High-end equipment spending will be wasted without adequate support, spares and consumable stocks
- Civilian industry can offer many solutions to defence problems
- Technology risk taking is to be encouraged
- UK defence industry must be nurtured and protected
- Bridges are rather cool and metals boxes, likewise
My hope is that these themes remain as defence writing evolves, especially the last one, obvs!
From this point…
Think Defence will not disappear overnight, this is the current plan…
First, I will start to thin out the database and remove content that has not aged well, was topical to a specific time point, or frankly, a bit rubbish.
Second, the Parliamentary Questions and Answers will be deleted, these are held in Hansard and easily accessed with keyword searches etc.
Third, I have a Flickr Pro account that I will maintain, all the media from the site will be migrated. If anyone is looking for an opportunity to help, tagging and grouping would benefit from ‘many hands makes light work’. Please let me know if you are interested.
Finally, I intend to migrate the long form content into downloadable PDF’s. This will mean losing the YouTube videos but I will link to those as appropriate from within the document. The PDF’s will be fully indexed, with a tables of content and all the media. Whether these remain hosted at www.thinkdefence.co.uk or somewhere else remains to be decided, am having a number of conversations about this. Other options include migrating to a WordPress.com site as a means of archiving older content.
As this processes progresses, I will keep you all posted, it might take a while.
A Final Word