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Originally published Friday, July 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

"Say Everything": How blogging works and why it matters

Scott Rosenberg's new history of blogging, "Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming and Why It Matters" is a thorough, passionate and accessible treatment of the blogging explosion. Rosenberg discusses his book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Seattle's University Book Store.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Scott Rosenberg

The author of "Say Everything" will discuss his book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-3400 or www.bookstore.washington.edu).

Scott Rosenberg's history of blogging is a dense book — he says it is incomplete, but it feels exhaustive. "Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming and Why It Matters" (Crown, 359 pp., $26) comes across like something soon to be assigned in advanced university communications classes, albeit written more clearly and with better style than most academic textbooks.

Of course, the anatomy of a blog is simple: It's an authored Web page, organized in short entries as if on a scroll, chronologically ordered so new stuff goes on top. That's it. But "Say Everything" is all about blogging's significances and ramifications, even for people who don't blog. Awareness of blogs makes the Internet more obviously user-created, and its ease of entry fulfills an original democratic promise.

"Say Everything" is especially entertaining in its passages about how offbeat entertainment blog Boing Boing became massively popular, and also on the rise of news/gossip site Gawker. A sense of emergent history pervades when the realization hits that these blogs are part of a new common knowledge.

Rosenberg's Boing Boing history focuses on a particular situation involving a blogger, Xeni Jardin, deciding she'd given up too much of her sex life to the public and unpublishing some posts for personal reasons. Readers raged. She stuck by her guns, did what she felt was right and violated her audience's demand of transparency. There's drama where Boing Boing made a mess of professional/personal lines, but also seeds of an ongoing discussion: In the world of blogging, who's responsible for what?

The Gawker history focuses on the economics of what is now an empire, an empire that would never exist if it had followed the dot-com era models of "flipping" businesses (quickly fattening and harvesting them without regard to future survival). Gawker head Nick Denton is a businessman, but thought more like a blogger: Establishing a readership came before everything else. Resistance to rote moneymaking unites bloggers, Rosenberg argues; the stakes are higher, it seems, or higher-brow, even when a main export is snark.

Idealism in the blogosphere clearly excites Rosenberg. He loves dooce.com, an instrumental force in "mommyblogging" (mothers blogging about being mothers), and thinks the Web's "outpouring of human expression ... should delight us." He likes beer enthusiasts blogging about microbreweries. He enjoys that blogs help people, that they let nerds be nerds in sometimes really useful ways.

Communities of bloggers who argue about whether this blogger has the right to say X, or that blogger has the right to say Y, excite Rosenberg. "The timeline of blog history is studded with so many incidents of blog fraud unmasked and confidence betrayed," he writes. "The record is like that of financial panics or seismic activity: Although you can't predict the timing or severity of each occurrence, you can be certain they will keep coming around."

Rosenberg admires the pursuit of truth, enjoys tracking it online, and knows it won't go away. He cares that people stay media-literate, even about a medium so often marginalized as "trivial." Beyond how a blog affects its writer or readers, issues of accountability, sincerity and authenticity are always at play, waiting for a keen writer/researcher/observer to tease conclusions about how infovores like to consume, how bloggers like to present, and where their goals intersect.

The book gets deep into the animosity between bloggers and print journalists, and those passages are filled with insight. Rosenberg's description of newspaper "curmudgeons" is heartbreakingly accurate, as is his citing a Wired editor's quote that "A passionate amateur beats a bored professional." Rosenberg doesn't take sides, though, and brings an accessible newspaper style to the writing of his own book. He doesn't dance on any graves.

Andrew Matson is a music writer and blogger for The Seattle Times.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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