Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Live-Blogging "Blog"

Oh, what the heck. Seems appropriate to the material. Here I sit with my new copy of Hugh Hewitt's book, "Blog." I'm reading through it and finding great stuff. Why not share it real-time and blog-style. And so we get the live-blog of Blog!!!!

The preface has an interesting catch phrase: "Don't be a Leo!" He's not talking about astrology, it's a reference to the pope at the time of Martin Luther.


Now we're into the introduction.

Hugh gets $1000 per month for his blog ads?!! Wow!

Interesting advise for publishers: "There is a new New York Times Review of Books in blog form coming. It would be best to own it."

Hugh is nothing if not an evangelist. But that's no reason to dismiss his advice, as he's also frequently right on the money (provided you ignore his football predictions).

One little quibble so far. Hugh is wasting space giving the URL's for some of the blogs he mentions. As someone in the IT sector, I pay keen attention to the fact that these things change over time, so it's best not to "hard code" them.

But the commentary is right on target. Another great quote: "If people like Kerry, Raines, Rather, and Lott can be humbled by the blogosphere, so, too, can you, your company, your movie, your church, your anything."

Hugh introduces the trust theme: "The blogosphere is about trust ... If you can get this point, you will get the blogosphere."

From there he dives into the center-right perspective on why Rush, Fox, and the blogosphere all arose and succeeded, and where other media (he uses CNN as his bad example) went wrong.

On to chapter one ...

(Incidentally, my reading and blogging is interspersed with parenting, so it's not quite as rapid as it would otherwise be)

Chapter One: Blog Storms and Opinion Swarms. Love the title - clever word play and important topic.

Starts off talking about "Burying the lead."

Interesting new definition: "A blog swarm is an early indicator of an opinion storm brewing, which, when it breaks, will fundamentally alter the general public's understanding of a person, place, product, or thing." Hugh cites some well known examples. I'm thinking of Nick Coleman.

An analogy follows, referring to "netcentric" warfare. Cool article on the topic excerpted.

An amazingly strong plug for the Northern Alliance, describing them as an illustration of the building potential of the blogosphere emerging in compliment to its well known destructive potential.

The meat of this chapter is detailing what Hugh calls the "Four founding myths of the blogosphere." These are, "The Toppling of Trent," "Blowing up the Times," "Christmas-Eve-Not-In-Cambodia," and "Blog Breakout: Routing Rather."

Nice analysis on the role of blogs on election day, 2004, as well.


Chapter 2: The First Reformation and the Information Reformation

As a Catholic I am tempted to quibble over the wording of some of the Reformation era details Hugh lays out here, but doing so would be beside the point. His general thesis is solid as applied to his blogosphere analogy.

Money quote regarding the importance of the printing press to the Reformation: "Luther had been a 'nobody.' In an instant he was driving history itself."

A Reformation era Instapundit would have remarked, "Indeed."


Chapter 3: A Brief History of "Text."

Initial thought: Dan Rather could have used this chapter a few months ago. Anyway...

Leads off with a quote from Victor Keegan:

"There is no doubt that the tectonic plates of journalism are moving. There is awesome potential in the internet as a gatherer, distributor, and checker of news - not least through instant delivery channels such as mobile phones. This does not mean old media will die. But it will have to adapt quickly to what has so far been an asymmetrical relationship."


In fact it leads off with a series of interesting quotations from old media figures talking about old media and blogosphere in the post Rathergate days.

Interesting stylistic note here. Hugh uses bold typeface in situations where he would usually insert a hyperlink on his blog. Example: "But as Lileks would say: It. Was. All. Text."

Hugh goes through an occasionally whimsical history here, to conclude in the pre-Internet era:

"The relatively small number of people who composed [television] texts, and the texts of newspaper columns, and radio copy were the people who drove the world. They numbered in the tens of thousands, but they were still a very small pecentage of America, and their elite a smaller percentage still. "
The chapter follows with a (very) brief history of the internet and rise of the blogosphere. A little demographic info about blogs is related. But the point is to draw attention to the fact that the blogosphere takes control of information out of the hands of the few and puts it in the hands of the many.

(Was I the only one who thought the BCS College Football Championship game started at 8pm, instead of 7pm. Oops. It's on now. Short break from Hugh.)


Chapter 4: There is a New Sheriff in Town

Hugh makes a Monty Python reference (to the Black Knight scene in Holy Grail). This IS a new media age.

This chapter is essentially devoted to citing studies spelling out the decline of old media news formats - newspapers and (most) television - in favor of new ones - talk radio, FOX News, and the Internet.

Hugh promises to explain why this happened in the next chapter.


Chapter 5: The Meltdown of Mainstream Media [MSM] and Where Its Audience Went

Very intriguing lead here: "What has happened to journalism has happened to jihadism and is happening to investing and science and every other field."

Hugh does a nice job of decoupling "news" from "news reporting" here.

Interesting perspective on the reason for the nearly-monolithic leftist political leaning of the MSM here.

Another important point: " 'reliable information' has come to mean 'very recent reliable information'." The point to blogs after this is self-evident. Much more made of this fact in this chapter.

Hugh makes the interesting and accurate point that talk-radio pioneer Rush Limbaugh is NOT "far right," something sure to get prominence from those who want to discredit this book. But that's likely a symptom of why those folks are losing. Despite their fanatic belief, Rush isn't an extremist just because the left extremely hates his guts.

Hugh also notes the adoption of this same medium to spread Jihadism. Disturbing, but interesting.

After some damning anecdotes about the MSM, Hugh give the "faith bloggers" serious mention for the first time.

In concluding the chapter, Hugh suggests a kind of pre-emptive blogging, where interested parties (in Hugh's example, the president) engage three or four key bloggers for vetting of their choices before announcing them. Once again an intruiging idea.


Chapter 6: Why Do Bloggers Blog? And Why It Matters To You

This chapter keenly interests me; the topic having even intruded upon my New Years Toast.

First reason: "To persuade. "

Okay, guilty on that count. Let's see where Hugh goes from here.

Second reason: "...to leave a record of having been there."

Hmm... This one requires more commentary than a live-blog allows. Short response: close enough to agree.

Great words about James Lileks in this chapter, which make me glad. He was my personal introduction to the blogosphere. I would likely not be posting this had I not discovered The Bleat.

Love this line: "Bloggers are the same people they were a few years ago. But now they don't have to persuade anyone to be allowed to persuade anyone." I was writing in other venues before I blogged too.

The "power of the tail," is introduced here. And Hugh must have been reading my mind when he wrote this. Thoe power of the "tail," that is, the low to medium traffic blogs, is that their readers have great trust in them. So bigger bloggers need to establish trust with the "tail" bloggers, because that's where the majority of influence in the blogosphere lies. Instapundit may get over three hundred thousand visitors a day. But blog readers number in (at least) the tens of millions. How does Glenn reach those? By winning the trust of the low to medium trafficked bloggers.

Why is this important? From Hugh:

"...the impact will be higher than if a stranger visits, say, Infinite Monkeys on a lark link. "

Hugh also reveals his evil-scheme behind his Vox Blogoli symposia: "... to get a great number of smaller bloggers ... hopefully influencing their low to moderate levels of readers."

Dastardly! And, as a participant, may I also offer they have also been fun and rewarding. This stuff isn't really all that tricky. Convincing folks who blog and agree with you to blog about why they agree with you on something particular is more about broadcasting the request than persuasion.


(Yeah, yeah... I'm still here. Handling something that came in e-mail for a moment. I am a multitasker by mindset, but the clock occasionally disagrees. The kids are now in bed though, so it's just Hugh versus the BCS football game. )


Chapter 7: Establishing A Defense

Hugh is provocative here in very appropriate ways, challenging those who don't think they need to care about blogs whether they care about media in general. And if they do, blogs MUST concern them.

After some solid examples of folks who should be concerned and how they should approach the topic, Hugh lays out three key elements of a defensive startegy against the blogosphere. And his choices are thought provoking.

  1. Chain of command (in response to a blogstorm)
  2. Organization policy on employee blogs
  3. Transparency
In my opinion these themes are not really expounded enough in this book, but what is said about them is on target,


Chapter 8: Exploiting The New Medium

I like Hugh's concept here: "If you are a leader you ought to be blogging, and the folks you lead ought to be reading that blog."

As a student of IT methodology, that would make HUGE in impact on performance in most shops. Hugh does a nice job elaborating on this theme.

No offense to Hugh, but his advice to managers and employees re: blogging is pretty simplistic.


Chapter 9: Bloggling You, Your Product, Or Your Organization To The World

Hugh rips on Barbra Streisand here - and she ought to be fair game, considering her own web evangelization.

Much of the rest is devoted to generating buzz on the Internet,

Hugh also reveals he follow's Glenn Reynold's blogad pricing, though only with a derivitavive scheme in mind.

More plugs for some Christian bloggers in here.

An Oprah reference (Oh, Hugh)

(and after a lengthy children's intervention, now nighttime. More in the morning...)


(Back. Coffee is brewing. We're in the middle of Chapter 9 now...)

Hugh distinguishes paid media versus earned media here. This seems like a crucial and very overlooked point when most people try to leverage blogs for their own purposes.

An interesting analysis of blogger motivation (and, yes, vanity) follows. "...understand that bloggers love traffic, and they are sensitive about their reputations as bloggers. There is one more thing: they are very easily co-opted." Interesting to see where he goes with that last one.

By "co-opting" Hugh basically means, "win them over to your side." Less Machiavellian than it sounded initially. He offers a few suggestions from the practical (write them e-mail,) to the rather over-blown (a huge Oscar-like "Insty" ceremony in Vegas).


Chapter 10: Finding a Blogger for your Organization's Blog

"One of the reasons new media hates old media so much is that new media is so much more productive than old media." Interesting point. Must be frustrating too. The medium itself is partly to blame. No word-count or air-time restrictions here.

Wow. Short chapter. Hugh offers a few ideas for corporations (and other organizations) about how to recruit bloggers to their cause.


Chapter 11: There is Plenty of Time to Start

I had no idea Professor Bainbridge had to be talked into blogging because he thought it was too late to start.

I like Hugh's angle here. He encourages people with all sorts of different motivations to define their own terms of success in blogging; to decide for themselves how much success is "enough" for them.

Another short chapter.


Chapter 12: A Dozen Blogs I Would Launch If I Were...

Nice intro: "...everything that has entusiasts can have blogs... Every niche is an opportunity to become a blog entrepreneur..."

Everything that has enthusiasts? Apparently so. Back to Hugh...

Some interesting potentially lucrative ideas tossed out for the low-low price of buying the book here.

Hugh's idea about "Fishermanblog.com" sounds eerily similar to our own beloved Captain Fishsticks.


Chapter 13: Getting Started: The Technology

"I am so unqualified to write about technology that anyone who knows me is laughing as he or she reads this chapter heading." So one assumes we're not going to be getting deep into geek-speak here.

I think Hugh offers a little bad advice here incidentally. Ignore crappy design and lack of basic technological functions. "It's all about the content." Well, yes and no. Good design and extra functions will push an audience in the direction of your blog over another when you're competing for a reader's attention space. If you've blown the competition away already, yes poor design can be dismissed. But when people are just giving your blog a "test drive," the more reasons you give them to remember you and the happier you make their experience the better. Content is the most important thing. But it's not the only thing. End of sermon.

On the other hand, Hugh more than makes up for this with his key rules of blogging success and significance.

The only controversial rule here is to avoid comments sections. I would say you can go with a published blog e-mail address, or comments sections. But you really need one or the other. (Perhaps both - and I will eventually get around to that blog e-mail account). The "nuts" Hugh mentions aren't nearly as big a problem as he assumes. Captain's Quarters, Roger L. Simon, and Little Green Footballs get plenty of nuts, and the other commenters handle them just fine. On new/low-traffic blogs, it's rather simple to handle them yourself.

A plug for our friend Rick at the end of this chapter.


Conclusion: The Inevitablility of Dominance.

Here is where Hugh introduces the money phrase: "Blogs are built on speed and trust, and MSM is very slow and very distrusted."

Interesting thought related to that. You hear MSM journalists talk about trust all the time in regards to themselves and their own work. Bloggers use the term in a kind of generalized sense, but very seldom assume they have earned it. In blogosphere perspective trust is more like a consumable item than a non-perishable good. The MSM assumes the opposite. Perhaps this is another source of antagonism between the two.

More Hugh: "It used to be that the brand made the byline. Now the byline makes the brand."

He concludes with this excellent advice:

"The key is to keep in mind that trust drives everything. To build and maintain trust is a tremendously difficult thing, requiring patient attention to detail and discipline over long periods of time."
This seems very related to the point I made above about the difference between bloggers and the MSM.


Hugh also offers a pretty thick appendix here.

Appendix A is: Early Writings on Blogging

Some old WorldNetDaily, and Daily Standard columns here. He also includes chapter 4 of his book, "In But Not Of," and chapter 32 from his book "If It's Not Close They Can't Cheat."

Appendix B is: What the Blogosphere has Wrought

Some interesting submissions from Hugh Hewitt's readers on their own blog reading behavior here.


And that is the book. I'll put together some thoughts more like a proper review in another post. The short version - I give this book a great big thumbs up.


Blogger Drew said...

Hey, me too! That is, Lileks was also my introduction to the blogosphere. My first attempt at blogging -- which was back in 1997, before I knew what a blog was -- was more of a Bleat-style online journal. I did it as a writing exercise, forcing myself to churn out a substantial piece each evening.

I gave up after three months. Started up again the following year, and gave it about six months before I burned out.

Took me until this year to get going again, but blogging is a lot different than bleating.

So many bloggers I know credit Hugh for inspiring them. I guess I'd have to credit James.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No offense to Hugh, but his advice to managers and employees re: blogging is pretty simplistic."

Hey, there's your niche!

I personally think that if everyone in an engineering organization had their own blog it would massively improve performance -- especially of new engineers -- within 2 years. Unfortunately, getting most engineers to write daily is likely to be a BIG task. (Background: elect. eng., have worked at a large company for 5+ years, and since I started blogging I have been greatly frustrated by the need to dig for information that would have been easily available if even simple weekly status reports were blogged and available via an intranet web search.)

Steve Gigl(One of these days I really should sign up with Blogger for commenting...)

12:33 PM  
Blogger pinkmonkeybird said...

Sometimes there is an illusion that a blogger must be an expert on all things. Why would we wish to read someone who knows as much or less than we do about any given subject?
That's a mirage.
A blog can be as interesting as the author's writing style, sense of humor, approach. The language, the written word, the occasional picture or sound file, are the elements of the blog. An engaging and creative usage of these elements are key.
one of the most difficult and important skills a blogger should observe is to admit when he or she is wrong.
For some reason, I've never had to employ that skill yet. Oh well, guess there's plenty of room for my own personal improvement.

RE: Avoiding the Comments section.
Hugh cautions against Comments? The Comments section is one of the main reasons I read Shot In The Dark. It's like a party in there.

Thanks for the review of Hugh's book. Nice job.

12:57 PM  

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