Blogging about a book about blogging

Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters begins with profiles of pioneer webloggers—a rag-tag group of idealistic programmers who believed that “one day millions of people would pour their writing onto the Web, if the software developers and designers and Web companies would just give them good simple tools and then get out of the way.”

Blogs have exploded in popularity in the past five years. In March of 2003, a company called Technorati tracked the “blogosphere” and reported 100,000 blogs; by October the number had reached 1 million. In October 2004 the number of blogs had risen to 4 million, and, a year later, 20 million. By October 2006 there were 67 million blogs, and the last report (September 2008) indexed 133 million blogs started since 2002—“7.4 million of those blogs had posts within the four months previous to the survey, but that’s still enough bloggers to produce close to a million posts a day.”

Rosenberg, like many publishing insiders, did not see the full potential of the Web until amateur enthusiasts and kids unencumbered by tradition paved the way. In the traditional model, the ability to publish was a hard-won privilege, and filtering happened on the production end—“making choices based on relevance or quality before committing words to our limited stock of paper, our costly fleet of trucks, [and] our scarce radio and TV frequencies. The Web inverts this sequence. We publish, then filter. Say everything first; ask questions later.”

One of Rosenberg’s most convincing examples of the power of blogging is the case of Josh Marshall, who made money on the side by designing websites while pursuing a graduate degree in history at Brown. A week after the 2000 election, Marshall (who had published in the The New Republic and Salon.com, among other venues) started a new blog called Talking Points Memo (TPM). “There was little indication that within a few short years its posts would help drive a Senate majority leader from his position, derail the central item on a president’s legislative agenda, and force the resignation of a U. S. attorney general.”

In the end, Rosenberg dismisses the main negative reactions to blogging: the death of journalism, the erosion of literary culture, and information glut. “Whatever the drawbacks and limitations of blogging, it serves, today, as our culture’s indispensable public square. Rather than one tidy ‘unifying narrative,’ it provides a noisy arena, open to everyone, for the collective working out of old conflicts and new ideas. As the profession of journalism tries to rescue itself from the wreckage of print and rethink its digital future, this is where its most knowledgeable practitioners and most creative students are doing their hardest thinking.”

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