on July 15, 2002
Rebecca Blood doesn't waste her time -- or yours -- with tips and tricks relating to a piece of software which is probably out-of-date before it is delivered to your door. She doesn't assume that her readers are "Dummies." She isn't interested in nudges and winks to the blogging community. Instead, she presents a passionate, lucid guide to the essence of blogging.
In the 190 pages of text, Blood demonstrates over and again that blogging is all about self-discovery. You will most likely not find a huge audience, she tells us, but you will find that you are a better writer than you were before you started blogging. You probably won't be a huge influence on public policy, but you will hone your reasoning and filtering skills by engaging the topics you care about. You may not ever make a penny from your blog, but you can improve your reputation and your standing in your industry by becoming a resource and a reference point.
For the most part, bloggers seem to be thoughtful people and I cannot imagine any weblog writer -- or any online diarist or creative writer, for that matter -- fiinishing this book without a renewed belief in the purpose and value of their endeavor.
on July 9, 2002
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 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.
on September 19, 2002
Long-time weblogger Rebecca Blood's The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog is an excellent introduction to the currently white-hot world of weblogs. Blood covers all the bases, from a history of the weblog form, through starting a blog of your own, and finally onto finding (and retaining) readers for your site. The book doesn't offer as much for the veteran blogger, but even the bloggeratti won't go away completely empty-handed -- Blood's weblog history provides a valuable common vocabulary for debating what is and isn't a weblog, and her discussion of weblog ethics should be required reading for anybody who claims to be serious about their weblogging.
Blood begins the book in the obvious place, with a discussion of the history of the weblog format, and a functional definition of what a weblog is (and isn't). One issue with the word "weblog" as it is currently used is that it means little more than "website with time-stamped entries arranged in reverse chronological order". Blood attempts to expand on that definition by pointing out that the other thing weblogs have in common, in addition to chronological formatting convention, is "the primacy of the link":
It is the link that gives weblogs their credibility by
creating a transparency that is impossible in any other
medium. It is the link that creates the community in which
weblogs exist. It is the link the distinguishes the weblog --
or any other piece of online writing -- from old-media
writing that has merely been transplanted to the Web.
One of my primary objections to this section of the book was the contradiction between the above position and Blood's inclusion, earlier in the same chapter, of "blog"- and "notebook"-style sites under the weblogs banner. "Blog"-style sites, in the book's taxonomy, are the nano-journals that showed up in the wake of easy-to-use tools like Pitas and Blogger. These web-based weblogging applications made it easy to let the world know when you were getting up from your desk to go pee -- and thousands of people jumped at the chance to do just that. "Notebook"-style web sites, on the other hand, are characterized by longer chunks of content; they tend to resemble essay collections more than anything else. Both types of sites are markedly different in content and authorial intent from the traditional "filter" style weblogs -- collections of links, annotated with short (or sometimes not so short) descriptions, reviews, or reactions.
The former two styles of sites seem to be to be fundamentally different than the latter style, primarily in the extent to which they're inwardly versus externally focused. "Filter" weblogs link almost exclusively to other sites, and they link heavily -- usually averaging at least one link per entry, if not more. "Blogs" and "notebooks", on the other hand, have a much lower frequency of external linking, and are much more self-referential and insular than "filter" style sites. The three sorts of sites share similar formats and are produced with similar tools, but I would argue that referring to all of them as "weblogs" makes the word so generic as to render it useless as a description.
Quibbles over these taxonomic issues aside, The Weblog Handbook's introduction and definition of the "blog", "notebook", and "filter" terms to refer to the various sorts of sites that are collectively known as "weblogs" is a valuable contribution. Hopefully these words will be adopted by other writers in subsequent discussions of weblog history and form.
Blood moves on from the initial historical overview to a discussion of why someone would want to take the time and make the effort to start and maintain a weblog. She covers all the main bases: improving writing skills, improving thinking skills, and networking for personal or business reasons. This chapter might help you think of some new way to leverage your weblog to your advantage, but otherwise it struck me as somewhat redundant -- presumably, if you're interested enough to undertake reading a 200 page book about weblogs, you're interested enough to try running one for a week or a month and see what benefits you get from the exercise.
The next pair of chapters cover setting up a weblog. The target here is the new blogger, and depending on your level of technical sophistication, you might find the coverage a bit simplistic. Nevertheless, these chapters contain sound advice about choosing tools, about some of the conventions of the weblog community (permalinks, archives, sidebars), and about the all-important step of choosing a name for your weblog. After covering set-up, Blood dives into the business of actual creation: how to start writing weblog entries, and how to get better at it over time.
Blood also covers strategies for attracting and retaining readers, tempering those tips with the sage advice that webloggers that are constantly striving to get more readers will never be happy with the reader population that they currently have. This is one of the more critical points that the book has to make, in my opinion, and Blood does a good job of driving home the notion that there are better (and easier) ways of becoming famous than starting a weblog.
The sixth chapter, covering weblog community, ethics, and etiquette, is one of the book's most important. New bloggers that read this section will learn how to avoid offending established webloggers while they are starting out in the community. Bloggers that heed Blood's rules for ethical weblogging may even avoid getting sued for libel. Additionally, Blood deserves further kudos for making this section of the book freely available on her website.
The Weblog Handbook is a well-written, well-rounded, thoughtful introduction to the art and practice of maintaining a weblog. The author, Rebecca Blood, has taken her years of experience gained maintaining her own weblog, boiled it down into concise nuggets of information and advice, and then presented it with a vigor and enthusiasm which clearly reflects her love for the weblog form. Recommended for novice and old-school webloggers alike.
on July 8, 2002
This is a very useful guide to weblogs: how to start one, how to grow an audience, how to deal with angry email, and how to move up in technical sophistication. There's also a lot of well-put advice on etiquette, protecting your privacy, and otherwise flourishing in the blogosphere, along with some historical background that most journalistic accounts of weblogging have missed. It's very well written, and the author's personality comes through in a very engaging fashion. Highly recommended.
on July 17, 2002
When Rebecca Blood's "The Weblog Handbook" arrived in the mail, I was delighted to see that it was a slim volume. All of the great books on writing - Aristotle's "Poetics," Ezra Pound's "ABC of Reading," Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," - are slim volumes. I was not disappointed.
Within the 195 pages that compose the book, all of the necessary territory is covered. She defines (or perhaps it is better to say she delineates) the phenomenon of the weblog, places it within the context of both Web and popular culture, and provides nuts and bolts stuff like how to purchase a domain name or choose the best weblog management tool. More importantly, she focuses on the writing process ("Weblogging is about personal expression, not about software"), and guides the reader through such weighty topics as the development of critical thinking skills, finding the appropriate voice, and building confidence in one's writing abilities. Some of this is good advices for all writers, but she also provides the basic considerations for creating content specifically for weblogs, including the appropriate way to credit links, and which conventions to follow in laying out your site to best accommodate your visitors.
As a novice blogger (actually, I've learned that my site is more of a "notebook" than a "blog") I find this book to be indispensable. To be sure, there are plenty or resources on the Web for would be practitioners, but because the form is still relatively new, and there are widely varying ideas of what a weblog is, finding information online is often more confusing than helpful. "The Weblog Handbook" is comprehensive and coherent.
on September 24, 2003
This book is a worthy attempt at a weblog book for adults. It's not in-your-face evangelism about how weblogs are going to change the world. It's not a hands-on guide to installing and using weblog publishing software. It doesn't have a lot to say about how weblog technology works behind the scenes.
What this book does cover (in a measured, thoughtful way), are the personal and social aspects of weblogging. How to think through whether weblogging is for you. The unexpected but practical benefits of running a weblog, like increased self-confidence and improving your writing skills. How to fit researching and maintaining a weblog into your life, and what to do when it turns from a pleasant hobby into a chore. How to deal with too many or too few readers. How to avoid revealing too much personal information, and how to retain the respect of your readers in the face of wildly differing opinions. Also covered is the author's personal view of the history and development of weblogging, and an attempt to classify weblogs into different types. These aspects, though are secondary to the main focus of the book.
The book handles more like a paperback novel than a typical computer book. It's small, relatively thin, and has no illustrations. The author has a comfortable, easy-reading style, but is occasionally repetitive. I guess that's the fallout from years of condensed and pithy weblog posts.
on January 8, 2004
I also read "Blogging: Genius Strategies...". If I had to compare the two books I would state that the other was the how, and this book is the why.
Rebecca talks much of the edicate related to blogs and how they can help improve you as a person and as a writer.
on September 25, 2003
If you just heard or have never heard of blogging: *****
Blood's book is a book about ideas, not the nuts and bolts. Most people can gather what blood has outlined through experience and reading other blogs. She covers great material in a straightforward manner, but this book does not desearve rave reviews.
What Blood does great is introduces Weblogging to an audience who might not want to start a blog, but is curious about the culture. Her passion is evident, and for a beginner, absolute-just-heard-of-blogging-and-wants-to-know-more person, this is the perfect book. Conceptually, this book is a great help.
If you know or have any experience with bloging, you might try elsewhere, this read might be boring. She gives great examples, but they are difficult to understand because there are no real to life visuals.
Great, easy read, okay execution, but not for experienced bloggers.
on August 22, 2005
I like Rebecca's Pocket and have been considering starting my own blog so I purchased this book. The best thing about this book is that Rebecca is obviously very enthusiastic aboout blogging, especially about what it can do for the confidence and writing abilities of the blogger. The book gives some practical questions potential bloggers need to ask themselves before starting a blog. The only reason this book isn't rated higher is that it is a little outdated - but it still has good information.
Did I end up starting a blog after reading a book? Not yet. I still haven't been able to answer for myself the question posed by Rebecca, "If you spend 8 hours + a day in front of the computer for work, are you willing to spend an additional few hours in front of a computer at home writing your blog?"
Rebecca Blood of Rebecca's Pocket wrote this 200 page tome in 2002. I finished reading it in 2006. I would say about half of the information provided is dated or anachronistic. While her blog is full of interesting reading material for a technophile, the book needs a major overhaul.
Where is it useful? It's filled with practical advice as the title suggests. Most of that practical advice is more related to being a decent human being than it is to blogging. The Weblog Handbook is a good read if you are ethically challenged or prone to getting into flame wars with other citizens of the virtual reality we called the Net. It's a good read if you want to blog for the long term and aren't sure what sort of writing will make people come back to visit you again and again.
What isn't useful? Blogging is, like most new technology, a rapidly evolving animal, and this book should be updated annually to keep up with the state of the genre. Blogging is just now emerging as a serious alternative source of valuable information about the world. Also, if you're looking for advice that will help you pick the best tool to blog with, this book is not going to help at all. In fact, no book will help much with that. A single author blog, in my opinion, here in 2006, should be written and published, in every case, with WordPress. It's by far the most elegant tool out there.
The Weblog Handbook doesn't mention either it or Movable Type, which is what Rebecca's Pocket is based on.
If you need help figuring out how to blog in a civilized fashion, so that you will actually find and keep an audience, then The Weblog Handbook might need to go on your reading list. Other than that, I would say avoid this book unless it is re-released with more relevant information about the current state of blogging. Technology books have a very short shelf life.
Rebecca herself is a class act, and so is Rebecca's Pocket. However, a major overhaul of The Weblog Handbook is long overdue.
Update: Rebecca read my review and noted that she has hand coded the site up until six days ago. I never visited her during the hand coding days. Rebecca certainly practices what she preaches in the The Weblog Handbook and is a maven when it comes to dispensing sage advice regarding blogging etiquette.
I still believe that The Weblog handbook would be a more useful tome if it included a chapter or two on current blogging tools and if it was updated annually or every other year.