Review and commentary: Blog Wars by David D. Perlmutter


The changes of media and communication theory inherent in the adoption of new technologies is not without some risk. Whether considering the technologically disenfranchised or the possible empowered individual technology has it’s impacts. Perlmutter quickly lays out a case for the differing aspects of blogging and considers the differing aspects of how blogging impacts society.

First a criticism of the content. As an individual who has had an active ego website since 1993 and owned my own domain since 1997 I am an early adopter of technology and as such I admit to glossing over historical examples that I found weak. In later chapter Perlmutter identifies network news as “alt” and woefully misunderstands the original purpose of the Internet. The original purpose of the Internet was to allow for collaboration and sharing of ideas between government and Universities. Blogging is the actual realization of that original idea.

Enough with criticism. In general I enjoyed the book and found myself reading sections and reflecting on how I have either operationalized or identified with what the author presents. I was trying to identify myself as a blogger and what would this book illuminate about myself. I found quite a bit.

Perlmutter identifies in the Preface the reasons for writing a book about blogs. Whether it be the fact we are in the infancy of online societies (page XXI) or that the presentation of the book will be linear and easier to consider in the long term there is some good reason to write something that might be considered a long blog post elsewhere (page XXIII). I do think that he makes the best case for writing a book about blogs in the fact a blog is never done whereas a book has an ending (page XXII). In the end this book though about blogging is about blogwars and the political necessities and thoughts that go into the online society of political bloggers.

Remembering that I am reading the book to find out where I fit I thought it was interesting that Blogads had four metagroups of blogs identified as politics, gossip, celebrity news, and motherhood or family issues and music (page 12).  Dang if I don’t fit into any of those categories. He does lay out a much longer list of topical categories 27 items long for the Weblog awards. So blogs have identities but who are bloggers? Perlmutter identifies some of the traits but asks the question are bloggers the people (page 22)? The unfortunate answer appears to be no. Bloggers seem to be male, young adult, well educated, and technologically sophisticated. I won’t look in the mirror to soon. There are obviously some high profile examples that go against that description and Perlmutter makes a pretty good case that the early adoption technology cycle may be the reason for the blogger demographic description. Then again his discussion is fairly good on why that is and is not a problem (page 29).

I was interested in the media polarization aspects that could only be explained as strident between adversaries such as Little Green Footballs and Daily KOS. I found the discussion on the realities of free expression and the aspects of this freedom of expression and the repercussions of that expression to be highly valuable. Remembering myself how the Dixie Chicks were treated for basically behaving like young mothers would be expected to behave. Remembering aspects of radical polarization in the 1960s and 1970s in America Perlmutter makes an excellent case for the value of the blogosphere as a mechanism for identification and ideological transference of message (Page 39, 46-47).  The complaints of Balkanization of the blog world is fairly well trounced in a fairly significant way. While illuminating the issues that do exist. This has given me some things to reflect upon as I consider other work in the area that talks about radicalization of terrorists through the aspects to be found online.

The blogosphere is a community of rancorous individuals who find and adopt central aspects to their self forming anomalous groups. Blog rolls are one aspect to that as identified by Perlmutter. People blog and read blogs for other reasons as centrist as information seeking and as politicized as social or political surveillance (page 49). There are other reasons identified such as entertainment or because they are looking for information from another point of view.  In Chapter 2 Perlmutter delivers an outstanding discussion of the cyber community and the blogland.  Whether this is looking at the aspects of the blog world such as voluntary association (page 53) or Cyber democracy (page 55) the relative issues of each are handled in a tactful and insightful manner.

Within chapter 3 the aspects of how blogs have become well known and “blogged through” to become another aspect of the main stream media is discussed. Though I disagree on the relative worth of some of the early bloggers the discussion of political blogging appears to be excellent (page 66). Providing the background does assist in understanding how much mind share blogging has gathered despite failure of the main stream media to understand the communication mechanism.  The different political campaigns failures at blogging are examined in detail while the rather obvious Howard Dean blogging effort is the central case study. With exceptional access Perlmutter disabuses several myths and opens the actual activies to examination. The book is worth buying for this chapter alone.

On Page 170 Perlmutter has prepared a chart that examines each United States senator and the blogging mechanism and secondary technology that they are using. Ted Stevens from Alaska obviously has nothing (tubes anybody?), but the list of podcasts and blogs is impressive. I haven’t had time to chase down the different urls but if it is as appears I am impressed by the collection of the data. House representatives like Ed Culberson of recent “franking fame” should take notice and examine the depth of “other” media being used widely within the senate.

Perlmutter provides an excellent discussion of the different types of bloggers in Chaper 4. I started out reading Blog Wars because I wanted to understand my place in the blogosphere if that is where I belong. Perhaps I am not what would be called a blogger and if that is the case I’d be fine with that.  I have a blog roll, I use Word Press, I link to other blogs when I write, but I don’t do political commentary but rarely. In the past I used to be a “Blogger as compiler of information” some of the time as I tried to make a daily digest of different stories, but to me it seemed lame. I should publish my google search string and let everybody else get it for themselves.

Perlmutter has a fairly long list of the types of bloggers; Blogger as informant in a political marketplace; Bloggers as correspondents; Blogger as collector and collator; Blogger as a reviser and extender of big media; Blogger as investigative reporter; Blogger as political analyst and critic; Non-traditional experts who blog ; Blogger as political watchdog. Looking through my blogroll I realized that I could use those titles and find myself categorizing the many fine bloggers on my blogroll. The descriptions of each blogger type and how they interact is spot on. Another good reason to buy the book.

There was another blogger type and I finally found who I am according to Perlmutter. I am the “Nonmediafit expert who blogs”. As an academic who has a wealth of experience in technology and security I won’t be a talking head ever in the main stream media. I am to ugly, to fat, to bald, and to much of  a curmudgeon to respond in bullet points to giddy on air talent.  I finally understand why I don’t do media commentary while enjoying it by so many of the people on my blog roll. I find so much value in what they do that comparing myself to them I always fell wanting. Yet there in the book I finally find a reasonable explanation and validation for basically writing academic journal type articles for my blog. Fame is fleeting and I’ll always be fat so there is a silver lining to my little corner of blogger heaven.

The book is good. Buy it.

3 comments for “Review and commentary: Blog Wars by David D. Perlmutter

  1. August 13, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Sam, You’ve been on a tear lately! Good post, though I’m not sure I’ll buy the book. Did Perlmutter also include a category for “Exhibitionists” who like to blog for no reason other than to expose a hapless world to their ideas? (Sometimes I think that’s where I fit…. 🙂

  2. dperlmutter
    August 16, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Hi: In BLOGWARS I do talk about the longstanding critique (from Samuel Johnson to Cyril Connolly) of those who have not “earned” their credentials to speak to the many through traditional means (like say a degree or writing books) but do so anyway. I also quote in a famous panel of Calvin & Hobbes, where Bill Watterson has his iconic “small boy” protagonist proclaim: “I feel I have an obligation to keep a journal of my thoughts. . . . Being a genius, my ideas are naturally more important and interesting than other people’s. So I figure the world would benefit from a record of my mental activities.”

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