I recently finished Hugh Hewitt’s book Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World and there is nothing more natural then for a blogger to blog about Blog. Overall I found the book to be excellent and contained much to think about. This is not some dry technical book about blogging or purely just a history of the technical advances that lead to the blogosphere. Hugh’s weakness in one area is actually a strength for this book. He jokes about his inept technical abilities and is definitely not one who played the movie projector in the classroom. He has managed to write a book about blogging without even managing to mention the acronym HTML. His history of blogging starts not with who really published in the weblog format but to the priests of ancient Sumer around 3000 B.C. since the history of blogging is really the history of text.
His books is in fact about about ideas and what he calls the competition for mindspace that blogging provides. He makes a clarion call for businesses to not only make themselves aware of the blogosphere but to participate in it. To be ready when what he describes as a blog swarm might possibly criticize some product of theirs. Since his book is about understanding the information reformation and responding to it; it is good that it does not become mired in publishing systems and other minutiae which would turn off those very people who need to become aware of the blogosphere. Blogs can be a business’s friend or their enemy. Recently with the new Apple computer bargain product line I have seen many bloggers favorably mention this product. This is free publicity which they should want to encourage. Yet Apple also recently sued some blogs that published some information about this new product ahead of time. This I think reflects Apples misunderstanding of what the blogosphere can do for them good or ill and they need to have their management read Hugh’s book.
Hugh goes on to explain the difference between static web pages and blogs information wise and puts the number one characteristic as a matter of trust. This I believe is a good observation and the reason I believe that this is so is that blogs are a more human form of communication then columns and static web sites. Blogger’s personalities with their likes and dislikes bleed through more in a blog then in other forms of writing. Because often bloggers posts on other subjects then their main focus you get more of an idea of what that person is like. When I read a regular column I don’t think all that much about the person behind it. With blogs I feel that I have more idea of the person behind it and this helps me to evaluate the information presented as to it trustworthiness.
The book provides four case studies of how blogging is affecting the world. He outlines the history of Trent Lott’s comment that lead to his downfall as the Senate Majority Leader, how Howard Raines ended up stepping down over the Jayson Blair debacle, Kerry’s imaginary Christmas in Cambodia, and finally the history of RatherGate. He chronicles how blog storms took hold of stories that would have otherwise have been ignored and downplayed by the Main Stream Media and how they were forced to react to the writings on the stories in the blogosphere. This chapter alone would show people in positions of authority why they can not afford to ignore blogs.
He also recommends that not only corporations get involved in blogging but that they look into issues of employee blogging and setting procedures to how this could happen effectively in a company. I am a simulation engineer which is a fancy title for a programmer that writes code to develop software simulators. When I moved into using the C# programming language to develop a 3D maintenance training simulator for the Apache helicopter I started to build a collection of RSS feeds to other C# programmers that were also doing 3D programming. By reading their blog entries I gained much knowledge about good 3D coding but also where to look for needed resources. Without having this valuable resource it would have probably doubled or tripled my project time to finish the project. The way programmer wrote on their blog was much different than normal web sites with coding samples. There was a true effort by them to pass on information they had learned the hard way to save others time. I think Hugh is dead on that many organizations can benefit by employee blogging whether they have these blogs open to the general public or on a company basis only. Even Microsoft which had initially been resistant to this has embraced the concept and there is now even a feed for all Microsoft employee posts. In companies many times there are many people reinventing the same wheel everyday and employee blogging is one way for others to get ideas on new ways to do things.
He gives some good advice to organizations getting in to the blogosphere that they should start reading blogs and then contact some bloggers to hire as consultants to get their companies feet into the blogosphere. This avoids having them get bogged down in technical aspects of blogging and to let those consultants figure out for example what publishing system and other needs best fit their circumstance. Some organizations who lack this information make the mistake of hiring some web consultant to design a site and a blog for them. This leads to an expensive system that is not easily updated as blogging technology changes. For example I believe that this is the situation of NRO’s The Corner and Hugh Hewitt’s own site. That while they provide a standard blog they get left behind when improvements such as RSS feeds and technology such as trackbacks get introduced. Another blogger has already taken Hugh to task for his lack of an RSS feed so I will drop the subject.
This book was an enjoyable and informative read and made me think deeper about information and how it can be used to influence opinion. There are only a few minor quibbles I have with the book. For example he introduced the term fisking without giving a definition for it. One of the few times he talked about a technical aspect such as paying for bandwidth would leave people to believe that having a blog required having a web site and paying for bandwidth. This would be true for organizations that get into blogging but not for individuals who can start up a blog through any of the numerous free services such as blogspot. Though he does recommend Joe Carter’s excellent series on starting and maintaining a blog and anybody who read this would find out in much more detail those issues.
The last critique I have falls more in the area of apologetics then in the area of blogging. The theme of the book uses the advent of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation as a parallel to blogging. There is much in this comparison that rings true and this is an apt comparison on how access to information by the masses will change opinions and get institutions resistant to correcting their problems to change. The problem I have is that he presents it as if the Catholic Church had prevented Bibles from being translated into the vernacular and that it was only first through the efforts of Tyndale and later Martin Luther that we finally had a Bible translation that could be read by the masses. That Tyndale was supposedly martyred by the Catholic Church for daring to translate the Bible is just pure myth. There were multiple translations of the Bible before the Protestant Reformation. Obviously the Vulgate (the vulgar tongue) was one of the first translations of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the common tongue at the time. Later translations were made in Arabic (717 A.C), Saxon, French, Slavonian, Dutch, Syrian, Ethiopian and later English and multiple translations in German. The above information should be easily accepted by Protestants since it is actually part of the translations notes included in the first printings of the King James version.
Enough apologetics though and Hugh was not intentionally bashing Catholics but only repeating what is accepted as "common knowledge" by many Protestants. He also made many very positive statements about Catholics when doing the comparison using the Reformation. It is quite accurate to equate much of the Church’s bureaucrats at the time with the Main Stream Media. Corruption had set in and relatively few people were willing to say or do anything to stop it. They did not respond to the new media at the time and in most cases the response only made matters worse.
The bottom line is buy this book and you will not be disappointed. Now I admit I am slightly biased since I Listen to all of Hugh Hewitt’s radio show daily and would highly recommend it. He takes the blogosphere seriously and also has as guests many bloggers along with others. I started listening to his radio show because of his blog and the content that include more than just political punditry kept me coming back.