Surely I’m not alone among Norwegian bloggers in regarding Jill Walker Rettberg as our local “mother blogger” – by her own account she started blogging in October 2000. For years she has been a leading researcher in the field of online social media, and she is frequently invited to comment on these issues in main-stream media. Therefore, I was looking forward to reading her recently published book Blogging, and pleasantly surprised when I received a review copy in the mail some time ago.
The aim of this book aims to give the reader a deep and wide overview of blogging as a genre, its history and relation to other genres and media, both on- and offline. Walker starts by defining the term, and then explains in detail how and why blogs such as Dooce.com and Kottke.org are typical examples of the genre. She puts the blog genre in its proper historical perspective, and goes on to show the similiarities and distinctions between blogs and other social networks.
Citizen journalism, as represented by Salam Pax and students who blogged their reactions to the Virginia Tech massacre, is well covered, as is commercial blogging in its various shapes and forms. There is also a very interesting (especially to someone with a background in the natural sciences) chapter on the narrative aspect of blogging, with subchapters on blogging a self-exploration and the distinction between fact and fiction.
The text is written in a light and engaging manner, with many fascinating tidbits of information. I did not know, for instance, that the playwright Bertolt Brecht described a vision of radio very similar to podcasting in 1932. And the concept of the The Gutenberg Parenthesis was a real eye-opener. The idea is that blogs and other social media are taking us back to the state that existed before the dominance of printed text, when teaching and entertainment was mainly oral and therefore dialogic.
All in all, Walker Rettberg covers an impressive amount of territory in a mere 176 pages. If there is one aspect of blogging I miss, it would be the connection between newspapers and blogs we find in Scandinavia. Here, a large segment of the blogging community uses the services provided by Verdens Gang, Norway’s largest newspaper and most popular website, at vgb.no. My impression is that this close relationship does influence the choice of subjects, as well as the comment and linking practices of many of the bloggers there.
Twingly, a commercial trackback service used by an increasing number of online newspapers, is part and parcel of the same phenomenon. The trackback pings are integrated with the newspaper story, allowing the blogger to give her or his perspective. When pinging newspapers with Twingly, I’ve also found that journalists use the service to engage in dialogue by commenting in my blog. Although local to Scandinavia, newspaper blogs and Twingly are interesting examples of mainstream media trying to connect with the blogging community.
This is only a minor complaint, however. “Blogging” puts a genre that is so often ignored or ridiculed as “pajama media”, on a firm academic footing without inundating the reader with academic terminology. I warmly recommend it to anyone affected by the explosive growth of web-based media, including parents, journalists and – perhaps most importantly – teachers. From now on, this book should be on the reading list of every teacher’s training academy.