Book Review: Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters

Scott Rosenberg wrote a terrific book (on the whole) with Say Everything. It is a history of blogging told through the stories of individuals who helped create this social phenomenon. His storytelling style (particularly in the first two sections) traces the rise of blogging through the interesting people involved with the growth of blogging. It is like an ink drawing where distance and importance are manifest through thicker or thinner lines, but the picture that emerges is coherent and elegant. You learn a lot about individuals (Justin Hall, Dave Winer, Ev Williams, Josh Williams, Kathy Sierra), but also about trends like the post 9-11 warbloggers or the netroots emerging in the 2004 presidential primaries. You also learn juicy tidbits about confessional, tell-it-all bloggers and hoaxes and crudeness and threats. But like with all good history or sociology the details create the contours and fullness of the entire phenomenon.

With the rise of the next big thing, “Social Networking”, it is sometimes easy to forget how spectacular the rise of blogging really was. Technorati (a blog tracking service) charted the growth like this according to Rosenberg:

March 2003 = 100,000 blogs
October 2003 = 1,000,000 blogs
October 2004 = 4,000,000 blogs
October 2005 = 20,000,000 blogs
October 2006 = 67,000,000 blogs

Web DNA

One thing that I was struck by was how “blogging” was, in a way, always part of the internet, web technology and culture. The earliest pages that listed links to “What’s New” in reverse chronological order seemed to be part of the nascent tendencies of “blogging” as part of the very essence of the web. As the web grew and access to the internet exploded, its “genetic programming” fully formed into the phenomenon we now know as blogging. Blogging was always there, but it just needed time to evolve and more fully realize itself.

Web DNA or “genetic programming” is probably a weak metaphor if pushed too far. I don’t mean to posit deterministic or inevitable view technology or technical evolution. But I think it is useful to think about the tendencies and propensities that are small and even embryonic within the social and technical environment that we find ourselves in.

Two ideas come to mind:

Collaboration. Collaboration has a deep-seated place on the web. The early designers of browsers thought that the browser would be a reading tool, as well as, a writing tool. (Blogging software did making writing on the web easier that is for sure.) The early tools like usenet newsgroups also point to collaboration. Wikis pushed that concept even further. But I don’t think collaboration has fully realized itself on the web, the way that personal publishing did through blogging. I think that services like Google Docs, Zoho Docs, Google Wave, group spaces like ning, basecamp, even Second Life, among others are just now starting to evolve into something that comes closer to realizing the web’s innate potential. I don’t think we are there yet, but I think the history is actually now being written.

Learning. Informal and self-directed learning are deeply coded into the DNA of the web. Formal online learning (University programs wholly on-line) is part of the story, but only part of it. I think we could see value of informal and self-directed learning be recognized and accepted as valuable in the not-too-distance future. The web environment will help shape this too — just as the tools did for personal publishing through blogs

In any case, Say Everything is the kind of book that makes one feel smart. Those are the kinds of books I like!

PS: In a post this weekend, I will talk about my personal experience with blogging.  Stay Tuned!

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