Hal Royaltey (hal) Wed 2 Nov 05 14:11
Please welcome our next guest, David Kline. David is a journalist and author whose most recent book is "Blog! how the newest media revolution is changing politics, business, and culture" (CDS Books, October 2005), co-written with Daniel Burstein. In his earlier days, he reported on the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, the famine in Ethiopia, and "Coca Nostra" drug wars in Bolivia. Finally realizing he was too chicken for such work, he turned to business and technology as more suitable subjects. Kline is the author of two previous books on technology and business strategy: "Road Warriors: Dreams and Nightmares Along the Information Highway" (Dutton, 1995), and "Rembrandts in the Attic: Unlocking the Hidden Value of Patents" (Harvard Business School Press, 2000). Former Inkwell host Jon Lebkowsky leads the conversation. Jon is an evangelist for the Internet, the World Wide Web, and digital media, has been involved in diverse online initiatives since 1990, focusing on practical, legal, and ethical issues of emerging technologies and leading teams of information architects and developers creating the infrastructure for innovative web systems. He is currently CEO of Polycot Consulting in Austin, Texas; President of EFF-Austin, Vice-President of Austin Wireless, and a contributor to Central Texas' Digital Convergence Inititiative.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 2 Nov 05 20:07
Thanks, Hal! David, there's quite a few books about blogs by now... why did you decide to do another one? How is yours different from the others?
David Kline (dkline) Thu 3 Nov 05 07:36
Well, at the time we conceived of this book, the only blog-related titles were either technical in nature or aimed at other bloggers. Two were slated for publication, Dan Gillmor's "We the Media" and Hugh Hewitt's "Blog!", but those were both focused solely on the media industry. So I wanted to do something broader that would at least take an early snapshot in time of this evolving phenomenon and how it was reshaping politics, business and culture. Also, I thought there'd be interest in aggregating the voices of more than 30 influential bloggers and other observers of the scene and letting them speak about what they think is so important about blogging.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 3 Nov 05 15:40
Can you say a bit about the structure of the book, and why you set it up that way?
David Kline (dkline) Thu 3 Nov 05 16:15
Yeah, the structure is weird, perhaps not very effective. One section each for politics, business and culture, with an essay by me, Q&A interviews with influencers and some media commentary for each section.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 3 Nov 05 22:09
I thought it worked pretty well, but I think the interviews are pretty interesting however they're structured. Did you hear anything from any of the interviewees that really surprised you?
David Kline (dkline) Fri 4 Nov 05 08:29
Many things surprised me. Wonkette was evevn more flip than even I expected. But she said some very funny things. Jason Calacanis was so eager to downplay the hype over blogging that it almost made me suspicious of his motives. Joe Trippi and Roger L. Simon and Jeff Jarvis believed more deeply in what they were doing -- and in the revolutionary impact of blogging -- than I would have expected from jaded guys in their 40s-50s. They had the passion I recall from the counter-culture days of the 60s. Michael Cader of Publisher's Lunch gave me a lot of new ideas about an industry-specific blog and its power to alter industry dynamics. And novelist Ayalet Waldman and actor Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: Next Generation) were far more open about the traumas of their personal lives and how blogging helped them deal with those than I would have ever imagined from people I had not met before. My favorite interview is Wil Wheaton's. I just love how he turned failure into a new life and built a huge audience out of nothing more than being a truly nice guy and a bit of a geek.
David Kline (dkline) Fri 4 Nov 05 13:04
In a feeble attempt to kickstart some discussion here, I offer a (possibly equally feeble) set of 6 predictions for the future of political blogging: 1] Blogs have broken the monopoly of the mainstream media over political discourse and recast the traditional political agenda to include long-ignored voices and issues. Moreover, by challenging the historic media pose of "objectivity," blogs are leading America "back to the future" of a much more diverse and openly-partisan media -- to a revival of the 19th Century "broadside" and "penny press." 2] Blogs are to politics today what TV was to the Nixon-Kennedy campaign of 1960 -- the midwife of a new paradigm in campaign strategy. From now on, victory will go not just to the master of the television "sound bite," but also to the candidate best able to mobilize and direct what author Hugh Hewitt calls blog-fueled "opinion storms" around key issues. 3] "Sound bite" politics, of course, was an artifact of media "scarcity" -- most especially the limits of the 90 second TV story format. But in the new era of media "abundance," in which any citizen can broadcast and publish at will, blogs will very likely result in more substantive issues-oriented political campaigning. 4] Although some worry that blogs are deepening the polarization and divisions already present in American politics, their participatory and popular character cannot help but engender a significant resurgence in citizen involvement in the political process and in voting. The days are over when only 50 percent of eligible voters will show up at the polls on presidential election day. 5] Blogs are not simply political persuaders, however. They are also "collective organizers" of grassroots political action that are already beginning to weaken top-down party control of the political process, erode Big Money's absolute domination over the selection of candidates, and enhance the ability of insurgent candidates of all political hues to emerge and compete effectively. 6] Indeed, bloggers' unique and unprecedented ability to mobilize the "long tail" of electoral politics -- i.e., the myriad streams of independent political opinion in America whose collective vote-getting ability, if only harnessed and directed, could potentially rival that of the two main parties -- could very well fuel the emergence of viable 3rd party candidates by the end of this decade. Your thoughts?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Nov 05 13:15
I can play devil's advocate with #1, where you say "...to include long-ignored voices and issues." Why should we believe that the conversation will be more inclusive? And even if it's more inclusive, won't many still be excluded?
David Kline (dkline) Fri 4 Nov 05 13:41
Because it already is much more inclusive and nuanced since blogs appeared and ended the monopoly of MSM coverage of what constitutes the approved agenda. It's not just left and right now, but everything in between. And no, it'll never include everyone. But it can include almost everyone who has something to say and wants to say.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 4 Nov 05 14:27
(Note: If you have a question or comment and are not a member of The WELL, you can send email to <email@example.com> and we'll add your comments to this conversation)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Nov 05 15:31
How do blogs lead to greater citizen involvement? Even if there are more people expressing opinions, don't they have a significant echo chamber effect? Don't blog readers pretty much stick to blogs that echo their opinions?
David Kline (dkline) Fri 4 Nov 05 16:07
We've already seen blogs transform the political fundraising landscape, and serve as potent collective organizers of grassroots action in the last election (the GOP was better at this than the Dems were, but whatever). I think we're going back to 19th- and early 20th century style partisan media, during which we had much higher electoral participation rates. There's been good social and media research showing that partisan media encourages citizen participation in the process. Information without debates that citizens take part in leads to passivity.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Nov 05 17:55
I assume you're referring to the fundraising by the Dean campaign - was that really blog-driven? Or was it driven more by email campaigns and regular meetups?
David Kline (dkline) Fri 4 Nov 05 18:10
I look at all online citizen participation as part of a whole process. Blogs get people involved and voicing their opinions. DailyKos raised hundreds of thousands of dollars just from his blog alone, by highlighting critical campaigns. Email followups then continue the process of getting people involved. I mean, you have to look at results. 10 years ago, citizens really motivated by political issues either whined on the WELL or gathered together at some local Marriott meeting room to organize. Now we've got these political motivators and organizers caslled blogs that have made a difference in certain local elections, or changed the running paradigm for fundraising (a la the Democrats in 2004) or even brought down certain powerful figures like Trent Lott and Dan Rather. The citizen voice just didn't have that kind of clout 10 years ago. Who knows what the next few years will bring?
David Kline (dkline) Fri 4 Nov 05 18:11
At the risk of repeating myself, I really believe that blogs represent the revolt of the voiceless against the heedless. Good has got to come from that.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Nov 05 18:42
Were you a blogger when you started working on the book?
David Kline (dkline) Fri 4 Nov 05 19:12
Nope. I didn't start blogging until after I finished the book. That has something to do with who I wanted the audience to be for the book, and also something to do with the way I work. Plus it also has something to do with the fact that had I started blogging right away, I probably would have never finished the book.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Nov 05 19:19
I bet that's right! Following up on that, what audience did you expect to reach?
Nancy White (choco) Sat 5 Nov 05 07:14
Jumping in late here, David. I'm not done reading the book - I'm jumping around, reading interviews in my own sequence because I'm looking to understand blogs as a slightly different mechanism: as a team tool. From what I have read so far, your perspective is mostly from people who blog to communicate out. In your conversations, did you hear any examples around internal blogging for team work?
David Kline (dkline) Sat 5 Nov 05 09:30
In my essay in the business section, Nancy, I talk about the use of blogs as enterprise management and collaboration tools, and predict that they will become much more common. Since I finished the book back in the spring, I have since heard of many companies (or at least departments within companies) that are using them as team tools. Is that what you're talking about? On more point about the above: I was shocked to realize how poor current document and enterprise management systems really are. For one thing, most are email dependent, and email is neither searchable nor particularly persistent (aside from email's many other faults). Once someone leaves the firm, usually all his email is erased and all those contacts and all that learning is gone. Plus, if the head of a business unit wants to know what's going on with sales, marketing, R&D or whatever, he or she has to go searching for it -- sometimes in a backup tape somewhere. HTML (and blog) based management systems, in contrast, never lose information and managers can simply subscribe via RSS to whatever relevant reports they want. As for my audience, Jon, I aimed the book at non-bloggers -- people who had heard of the word and maybe knew what it was all about in general, or maybe who didn't know anything about it but wanted to learn more. Basically you can describe these people as "book buyers" but not afficianados of blogging.
nape fest (zorca) Sat 5 Nov 05 13:41
hi, david. i'm finding the book really very compelling. so many smart viewpoints and not all telling the same story. so like the blog world! it's really this point that leads me to agree with your premise that "blogs will very likely result in more substantive issues-oriented political campaigning." the number of blogs is increasing at an almost exponential rate. technorati reports a steady doubling in the number of active blogs every five months over the past three years. blogs are obviously tapping some innate urge. we were taught that one of the primary arguments for democracy is that Truth emerges from the healthy clash of ideas. We're seeing a whole new level of engagement, both in the number of blog authors and in the number of individuals choosing to comment on blog posts. actual dialogue is growing up. individuals are being forced to defend their viewpoints, refine their thinking, sometimes admit error. it's telling that the more conservative blogs block comments, but this doesn't stop their critics from making noise on their own blogs and, at least so far, blog search engines are blind to political bent and so searches on topics expose readers to at least the headlines for all points of view. it used to be that an individual's best bet for sharing a viewpoint or attempting to shine a light on some malfeasance was to send a letter to an editor and hope that you were among the few given momentary voice. blogs are in their infancy and will no doubt grow into something else altogether over time, but the fact that self-publishing has never been easier would seem to signal a positive cultural development. noisy, messy, but overall, i'd argue, positive.
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sat 5 Nov 05 13:47
I am really enjoying the book, David. I did a bit of bouncing around, like Nancy, and then started at the beginning -- I've now just started the section that speaks to the kind of blogging I do. I was, for some time after I discovered blogs & jumped into it myself, one of the 'blogging will change the world!' believers. I've settled down a bit since, but I do still believe that the ability for regular folks all over the world to quickly and easily read and publish has to be a revolutionary force. And I believe that personal and literary blogging is just as revolutionary political blogging. I also think that the Well spellchecker should recognize "blog".
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sat 5 Nov 05 15:54
Partly due to this book, I've been spending more time than usual reading political blogs. It seems to me that they generally fail the ideal of "conversation" -- some (usually conservative) don't even allow comments. Those that do have comments, often have hundreds -- far too many for someone like me to dig through. And I feel crotchety about this, but I miss civility. Comments on many of these blogs seem to be narrow, hostile, and rude. From both sides -- and there seem to be only two sides. It's almost like watching cable television news. There must be a better way.
Public persona (jmcarlin) Sat 5 Nov 05 17:48
After a number of emails storms at work where ideas kept bouncing around, we started a group blog for discussion. It's not so much the one to many that blogs can be, but more of a place for group discussion of topics as well as a place to hold key information such as who is getting the duty pager when and how to deal with the lastest update on bureacratic form filling. In this role, it's not revolutionary but has made an evolutionary difference. Not having read your book (yet!), I'm wondering if you looked at the use of blogs inside corporations?
David Kline (dkline) Sat 5 Nov 05 18:46
Blogs won't change human nature. But to my mind, a world in which millions of people now have voices that can be heard is better than a world in which only the chosen few "experts" or "pundits" or media do. True democracy is messy. And it's true, there's still a lot of narcissistic "talking at" rather than "discussing with" going on. But I liken that to the ego-centric stage that early toddlers go through. Ordinary people -- people who have no special access or reach -- are learning what it means to now have a voice. As we mature and become more confident that what we say is valuable, if only to ourselves and to perhaps a few dozen of our readers, then I really truly believe the "noise" will be pierced by ever-increasing dialogoue and meaning. Civility comes from confidence and self-assurance that you do, in fact, have the right to speak. Early practitioners of the new social invention of democracy a couple of hundred years ago were not very civil at all. Per capita, there were probably as many nutcases and angry narcissists as there are now. But by the mid-19th century, the average citizen could think of no better form of entertainment and enlightenment than to spend 12 hours listening to a Lincoln-Douglass debate. These were common men and women who attended these events, who eagerly read partisan newspapers, and who lived peacefully with their neighbors who read entirely opposing partisan newspapers. Does this save the world? Usher in a permanent era of peace? End war? No. But at least the world increasingly becomes *our* world, a world that reflects the voices and concerns of many millions rather than thousands. If you believe in people's capacity to eventually sort through their crap and come to deeper and wiser understanding -- and given that we no longer live in caves or tolerate witch burning and slavery, it seems reasonable to believe that generally-speaking people do have that capacity -- than I think you have to look at this phenomenon as overall a very good thing. One other point I might make: I am so NOT a new-age kind of person. I think we spend far too much time whining about our "bad" childhoods. But I do believe that the more mindfully we live our lives and document our struggles and thge things we care about -- and this is probably what most bloggers do when they blog -- the more valuable our lives will be. In fact, a recent study showed a large proportion of bloggers feel that the process has a therapeutic and anti-depressive effect. Still, I don't think we should throw out pharmaceuticals just yet.
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