Say Everything is not only a delightful history of the form but a surprisingly broad account that touches on a number of major issues of the past decade, quietly making a case that blogs now play an indispensable role. This for a format that was once (and in many quarters, still is) dismissed as the time-wasting, unreliable, and often antisocial rantings of “guys in pajamas.” The book begins with descriptions of how blogging provided some of the best, and certainly the timeliest, accounts of the September 11, 2001, attacks. We revisit the role blogging played in unseating a senator, dislodging an anchorman, and giving a face to the Iraqi population in the days before the U.S. invasion began. In every case, the digital soapbox provided by a blog empowered an unheralded citizen (or group of citizens) to affect the world. Bloggers may not have elected the current U.S. president, but every candidate in the 2008 election certainly regarded bloggers as a constituency to be taken seriously.
Rosenberg’s approach is to tell the stories of the storytellers, constructing his brief history of blogging by way of the bloggers themselves. He does this so well that it appears almost serendipitous that each aspect of his subject is almost perfectly embodied by the story of one or two individuals. To illustrate how blogging provides a megaphone to one’s personal life, we meet Justin Hall, a nudity-loving college student whose compulsive candor made him a harbinger of the reckless sharing that would follow on blogs and social networks. And to show how a blog can make an impact on a professional community, there is Dave Winer. A well-known software developer who helped create some of the technology behind blogging, Winer became captivated by the ultimate soapbox, leading him to a series of endless feuds and a basic truth: “As long as the voice of a person comes through, it’s a weblog.”
Blogging also turns out to be an excellent lens for viewing some of the commercial dilemmas of the Internet age. (Maybe blog networks will provide some examples of that elusive hybrid economy that Lessig envisions.) Rosenberg is particularly vivid in talking about the commercialization of blogs by entrepreneurs like Nick Denton, who pays journalists by the post to write the snarky contents of Gawker, Wonkette, and Valleywag, and Jason Calacanis, who lured away Denton’s talent and made a bundle selling his blog network to AOL. Clearly, the essence of blogging — the authenticity that arises from directly addressing the audience in one’s own, unedited voice — can be a powerful marketing force (even if you’re creating a hothouse form of authenticity by dressing up traditional models in edgier blog attire).
Rosenberg is a mensch, resisting cheap shots even when his subjects behave badly. But he is quick to puncture pretense, whether it comes from the self-importance of bloggers suddenly thrust into the public eye, or the snobbery of mainstream media dismissing citizen postings because their authors lack the training or credentials to participate in a national discussion. As one would expect, he is at his best in the inevitable chapter “Journalists vs. Bloggers,” in which he sympathetically regards the defensiveness of mainstream media while building a strong case that blogging is an essential part of the journalistic ecosystem. As proof, he notes that many of the harshest criticisms of blogs from members of the mainstream media come in the form of blog postings hosted by the authors’ publications.
Rosenberg does engage in some last-minute scrambling to accommodate the more recent rumblings that the era of the blog is passing, rendered moot by the shorter, more insistent postings on Twitter. But he’s got the numbers to prove that although some of the buzz is gone from blogging, more people than ever are actually doing it. And, he writes, this is a very good thing: