Three Questions for Scott Rosenberg, author of Say Everything

Scott Rosenberg’s been observing the blog scene for 10 years. I’ve gotten to know him over the last few years, and recently he’s been talking about nothing but blogs, as he’s just written Say Everything, a history and exploration of the genre.

I haven’t finished the book, but in reading it, I realized I had questions for Scott about his relationship to the form, and his reasons behind writing the book. I sent them to him, and he was kind enough to respond:

What was your motivation for writing this book? What did you hope to impart to readers?

First off, I’m a writer, and this looked like a big absorbing subject for a book that, inexplicably to me, no one had yet tackled.

I also felt there were stories to be told about the experiences of bloggers, particularly early bloggers, that are not only fascinating in themselves but of urgent and practical value to the hordes of people who are putting chunks of their lives out in public today via social networking.

Finally, I believe that the tech world — and the rest of our culture, when it views the tech world — has the equivalent of historical amnesia. We’re always starting over at year one. We don’t have much of a collective memory. And I thought it might be good to capture the stories SAY EVERYTHING tells while they’re still fresh.

You’ve been active in blogging since before the practice had a name. What was the nature of the researching and reporting you had to do, versus simply writing about what you had seen happen over the past 10 or so years?

Not sure if “active in blogging since before the practice had a name” is accurate: I was reading/following the form quite early, and wrote about it for the first time in 1999, but started my own blog in 2002, at a point when, I thought, I was quite late to the party.

Anyway: it certainly helped me that I wasn’t starting from scratch. The research involved (a) as many interviews as I could fit into the limited time I had (less than one year) and (b) reading all the online posts and pages relevant to the stories I wanted to tell. In a lot of cases this was rereading, to make sure my recollections hadn’t gone astray. I also tried to read as much as I could of the existing secondary literature — books, coverage of blogging, etc. The result is inevitably incomplete; I knew it was going to be, and concentrated my efforts on keeping the part that I *was* covering as accurate as I could.

In writing this book, what did you learn about blogging that you hadn’t realized before?

That turns out to be a tough question. When you write books the way this one was written, with a lengthy proposal that a publisher accepts and then a limited time to turn in a manuscript, most of the heavy thinking and learning actually takes place in the proposal part of the process, not the writing.

One thing I learned: The book is in part an argument for the value of blogs that do not have, or aim at, big audiences — blogs that are written primarily for yourself or a small group of friends/acquaintances. And I found that, though I was able to make this argument, making generalizations about this group was incredibly difficult. To the eyes of a journalist/storyteller, each blogger’s story is unique. So generalizing really calls for the tools of a social scientist — hard data, well-designed surveys, and so on. That’s something I couldn’t do. It’s a great opportunity for someone else.