I received my copy of Hugh Hewitt's new book, Blog. It's a book that's having a significant impact in the blogsphere, particularly among Evangelical bloggers. What's the fuss?
I'm afraid I don't have a great answer to that question. I liked the book -- I really wanted to like it -- but I didn't love it.
Here's what I liked: Hewitt does a good job of demonstrating how the blogsphere has grown to rival, and in some celebrated recent examples such as "Rathergate," to supplant or at least upstage, traditional print and broadcast media. And, he makes some cogent, although not revolutionary, observations about how business organizations should utilize blogs and bloggers. He also refers to some useful blogs that newbies in the blogsphere will want to visit, although at times he seems mostly to be shilling for his blogging friends and promoting his own site.
Here's what I didn't like. The book reads like it was cranked out over a few long weekends. If you're looking for serious analysis of blogging as a social or political phenomenon, this isn't it. There are many breathless sections about how the blogsphere has "shattered" the "MSM" (Main Stream Media), interrupted with long block quotes and padded with filler such as an "Appendix" comprised of Hewitt's "early writings on blogging" and a second "Appendix" comprised of e-mails from visitors to Hewitt's website. Any 220 page book with nearly 70 pages of appendices from old, disjointed writings suggests, to me, that the book's main themes perhaps aren't that well developed. It also lacks an index, which again suggests perhaps some haste in getting to press.
The book's brevity might be understandable if it were a monograph on one or two tightly argued points. It isn't. In fact, it's difficult to tease out the book's main focus. Is it primarily a call to arms for conservative bloggers, or more of a business blogger's how-to? Is this book in the tradition of Sean Hannity or Stephen Covey? It seems to want to be both, and as a result does strike oil with either.
In addition to problems of style and organization, I think the book includes several important substantive missteps. It seems to me that Hewitt suffers from myopia when he compares blogging to the information revolution that followed Guttenberg's invention of the printing press. Blogging isn't the revolution -- the Internet is the revolution. Blogging is just the latest tool made possible by the Internet. The sorts of discussions now happening in blogs once happened (and still do happen) on bulletin boards and chat rooms. Years ago they happened mostly on the Usenet and on proprietary boards such as The Well and Delphi.
I would agree that blogging has accelerated this trend by making this sort of informal information exchange easier. Yet it's important to place blogging in context. Blogging may persist, or it may go the way of the Usenet as new tools arise. The Internet, though, is here to stay. A truly strategic vision for communication will embrace this new tool while recognizing its possibly transitory nature. At the very least, Hewitt should explain why blogging is here to stay.
Hewitt also spends little time on the potential dangers of the blogsphere. He does recognize that jihadist groups have taken to the Internet and blogging, which he seems to employ as a call to arms for good people to occupy the space. Yet, he seems so enchanted by the blogsphere's potential to correct perceived bias in the traditional print and broadcast media that he never addresses the way network effects can magnify the impact of false information. A case in point, which Hewitt ignores, is the post-election blogswarm about vote fraud started by a blogger whose statistical analysis of the exit polls was inaccurate. Hewitt even briefly refers to the concept of memes, without acknowledging that memes are often bits of false information that replicate virulently over a network. (I'd give a cite to Hewitt's book where he references memes, but the lack of an index makes the job of searching too difficult).
Finally, Hewitt seems too sanguine about the commercialization of blogging. He goes so far as to suggest pricing models for blog banner ads. Call me a purist, but the last thing I want to see is the extensive commoditization of blogs. In fact, there's a real danger that the commercialization of blogs will signal the decline of the blogsphere. Public relations professionals have already recognized the importance of the blogsphere and are becoming adept at "seeding" stories in influential blogs, just as they seed stories through "leaks" to the traditional news media. A commercialized, coopted blogsphere will lose its authenticity. Surprisingly, Hewitt doesn't seem concerned about this. In my view, what we need in the blogsphere is writers who say what they think regardless of the consequences. Once you begin eating from the hands of sponsors, advertisers, and public relations flackers, you become the MSM.
So, if you're new to blogging or just curious about it and want to learn more, get Biz Stone's Blogging, which contains much more nuts and bolts information about blog culture and tools. If you're an active blogger, read Hewitt's book, but blog about how much more interesting a book it could have been if it had been a more thorough analysis of the blogsphere's place in the Internet and the culture at large.