Perhaps the weirdest thing about Say Everything (2009) is that its author, Scott Rosenberg, conducted meticulous research spanning nearly 400 pages (paper pages), yet stayed current on today’s ephemeral technology. The book is a survey of blogging – its roots, key players, and implications. For all the countless interviews, facts and curation, Rosenberg is refreshingly conversational, his prose energetic and, well, snarky. As a beginner blogger, I found the text extremely important for avoiding the pitfalls of an uneducated, “publish-happy” finger. The principles that guided the first bloggers are still very much present today.
According to Rosenberg, blogging started in the 1990s by software developers who wanted to talk about code, exchange links to news and other websites, and share personal details in a distinct voice. One such character is Justin Hall, who started the first popular online diary. He delineated every aspect of his life, compiled links, and even posted his nude photographs.
Called a narcissist, Hall had a difficult time disengaging from his own narrative and couldn’t even follow his bosses’ editorial assignments. Hall predicted the explosion of citizen journalism and multimedia journalism. After more than ten years, he quit his blog when a woman he met gave him an ultimatum: it’s me or them (the readers).
Another pioneer is David Winer, who developed software, then tested and discussed it with other techies online. At the same time, his strong personality started creeping in. He defined a blog as “the unedited voice of a person.” He developed many free blog platforms and popularized the RSS feed, empowering others to speak freely.
Links were crucial to sharing information and increasing traffic. Others, not just the techies, jumped on the bandwagon and started blogging about their careers. While people wrote about their passions and professions, they also engaged in underhanded PR, like an English tailor dispensing fashion advise and promoting his fancy suits.
An early publisher of Wired magazine’s blog “quickly saw what each novice Web publisher would learn in turn: people flocked to a website only when they knew they were going to find something new. If you published a new issue on Monday, traffic spiked, then dipped for the rest of the week…[the Web] would work not through regularly spaced issues, but through as fast a stream of updates as you were capable of creating…an addiction (26-27).
An example of a successful corporate blog was Microsoft during the antitrust case, whereupon an unthorized blogger humanized the company and made people realize that Microsoft was made up of real people.
Early bloggers weren’t concerned with traffic or profitability, but with sharing and community. Rosenberg underscores this with an example of John Barger, another developer who coined the term “weblog.” Barger’s writing became anti-semitic, whereupon people stopped linking and ostracized him.
Blogging for free and for the love of the craft was challenged by the founder of Gawker, Nick Denton, in 2002. He started a gadget review blog, which made revenue through links to Amazon, and Gawker, a gossip site, which kept people addicted and exposed to potential advertising constantly. He hired bloggers and paid them per post, setting a minimum.
“Immediacy is more important than accuracy, and humor is more important than accuracy, Denton said (178).
Monetization came into play with flashy banner ads, then Google targeted ads, then selling ad space. If a blog didn’t meet the readership quota or get enough advertisers, Denton would shutter that column.
Blogging for money had its pitfalls (and still does, I’d say!), including companies that tried to pay writers to push products, and by forcing bloggers to meet traffic and post quotas, resulting in “bottom-feeding” and a bunch of useless info.
Another chapter explores the strained relationship between journalists and bloggers. Journalists resent the fact that bloggers have a no-barrier entry, do not conform to editorial procedures of the boss, and often don’t even check facts. However, as Rosenberg goes to show, we all make mistakes. The New York Times made a mistake with reporting on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, sending us off to war. And Dan Rather of CBS, too, wrongly cited unverified evidence about Bush shierking service in the Texas Air National Guard.
Bloggers have the freedom to provide readers with information lacking in traditional publications. Furthermore, bloggers do not consider themselves journalists; they are just a part of a “complex informational ecosystem, in which their relationship with the traditional media [is] essentially symbiotic (293).
So, linking, engaging with community, personal voice and feeding our addictions with frequent updates is my takeaway.