The Origins of BLOGWARS, part 1

I got a chance on my DAILY SHOW appearance to mention when I first started working on my book, BLOGWARS. Here are more details–partly drawn from BLOGWARS itself. In my mind there were three points of origin of the book.

1. In 1996, a colleague and I conducted one of the first studies of presidential campaign Web sites. Our main finding was that they were mostly online “tackboards,” posting information rather than developing content that exploited the hyperlinking and interactive qualities of the Internet. We stated, however, in the conclusions that: “It is currently possible, though no candidate has done this, to host an online talk show where the candidate fields questions from users throughout the nation.” Then, as an afterthought, I began looking at “personal political Web sites” created not by the campaign apparatus—political consultants, managers, advisers, or parties—but by individuals who supported the candidate or some cause. Many were raucous and crude, but it did seem that personalized mass political communication was finally possible. Here were ordinary folks—dry cleaners, cops, high school juniors—grabbing a bullhorn and insisting, “Listen to me, I have something to say!” about presidential politics, terrorism, the Supreme Court, and so on. If you had Web access, you could read and interact with them for your own enrichment or bemusement.

2. In 1999, I first noticed something called a “we-blog” (pronounced wee-blog) and then a “blog.” In January 1999, Jesse James Garrett (Infosift) uploaded the names and URLs of the then twenty-three known weblogs. In the spring of 1999, Peter Merholz, host of and an Internet analyst, announced, “For What It’s Worth I’ve decided to pronounce the word ‘weblog’ as wee’-blog. Or ‘blog’ for short.” He recalled that he “enjoyed [the word’s] crudeness . . . its dissonance. I like that it’s roughly onomatopoeic of vomiting. These sites (mine included!) tend to be a kind of information upchucking.” His readers and correspondents adopted the term.

3. Taking summer off to study pre-Caucus votes in Iowa in 2003–I was then teaching at LSU–from the vantage point of Ames, Iowa, I gauged the impact of blogs on the campaign of Howard Dean for president. (To clarify: I was researching, not working for Dean). I appreciated that something innovative and exciting was changing political communication as I knew and taught it. People were (a) bypassing regular big media, (b) creating mass communication messages without formal training (like, say, attending my journalism school), (c) reaching, in some cases, large audiences, (d) inviting others to “wiki” or coauthor accretive knowledge, and (e) producing a range of effects on contemporary public opinion, political campaigns, public affairs argumentation, and even governmental policymaking.

And so the real investigation that became BLOGWARS began…(more to come)…

Originally posted May 11, 2008 at PolicyByBlog

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