Weblog Handbook review
July 9, 2002
A quick review of RCB's Weblog Handbook, as I have a tendency to let these things linger if I don't post them right away. A disclaimer: RCB is a good friend. But those of you who are my friends know that usually just means I won't pull my punches.
I just finished re-reading The Weblog Handbook after having first read through it in depth this weekend. It's a great book, and the greatest compliment I can pay it is that it does an excellent job of keeping its author's voice. I focused on the presence of RCB's voice because I thought that no book could do justice to the topic of weblogs without being true to one of their defining characteristics, a strong personal perspective.
As the book is clearly targeted at an audience that is already at least familiar with, and most likely patrons of, weblogs, I was a bit hesitant of the tone being too boosterish. Most of the "For Dummies" books (not that this is one) spend time trying to convince their audience to be enthused about a topic that they've already (1) bought a book about and (2) accepted their "dummy" status regarding. This book assumes you're already sold. While there is undoubtedly enthusiasm, there's a healthy dose of reality about what it takes to start and maintain a decent blog. ("If, after spending your workday at the computer, the last thing you want to do when you get home is turn on your PC, you should probably take up knitting or join a film club instead.")
There is a deliberate aversion to getting too in-depth with any of the weblogging tools, which isn't surprising given the fact that Rebecca's Pocket is maintained with manually created HTML and FTP. I'd suggest that this is one area (the only area, actually) where the author's proclivities diverged from the interests many readers would have, as the cursory mentions of the tools as being essentially fungible ignore the reality that the overwhelming majority of webloggers use one of the handful of prominent tools like Blogger, Radio, LiveJournal and Movable Type. I'm willing to cede the argument that a discussion of those tools might have taken the book from Handbook territory into the Technical Guide realm.
The most cogent and important thoughts in The Weblog Handbook have nothing to do with "Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining" a weblog, they have to do with understanding the social context and media implications of weblogs, both as readers and writers/editors. The first chapter details how weblogs promote social literacy, and the motif recurs throughout the book, prompting some thought-provoking sections on weblog ethics and responsible methods of promoting one's own site.
I was concerned, on my first reading, with the few mentions of specific URLs and events like the World Trade Center attacks as points of reference. Another trip through the text removes a lot of my concern, as the points probably stood out more to me due to my perspective, and they're only used as context, and any worries that they might seem dated are silly in the context of a book that's about a phenomenon that's only a few years old. The whole book will, hopefully, seem dated in a relatively short time. The fact that Weblog Madness is mentioned a few times during the text and has since shut down only underscores the inherently transient nature of the web, and doesn't negate the value of the ideas expressed. It might serve the book well to have the book site list all of the referenced URLs for each chapter, along with (perhaps) updated links.
Most of the audience will also probably be concerned about a preponderance of "a-list" mentions or inside jokes, and there are, honestly, none. Fortunately absent, also, is any significant attention to the loud but worthless in-fighting that plagues a few small clusters of the weblog community. There's a healthy respect for the fact that these never affect the other 99% of the weblog world. I'd raise a bit of contention over the book being labelled a "handbook", as my perception of that format is a little more structured and textbookish. That's a small hair to split, though, as the narrative tone suits the topics perfectly.
So, was there anything revelatory in the book for me? Not really. But I've been doing this for, well... about as long as RCB. I didn't expect to have some "A-ha!" moment, especially since I've had the privilege of discussing a lot of these topics with her in person. For the book's intended audience, however, I think there's a great deal of insight, ideas that I know I didn't stumble across until I'd been doing this for a year or two. Considering the book's cheaper than a single CD, it seems likely that a lot of people who either just jumped into the blog world, or are just about to, might spring for it to give them a leg up. I hope they do; They'll be better webloggers for having read it.
Update: RCB had made a page of all the book's links, I just hadn't seen it yet.