Out of the many linear feet of books that crossed my doorstep for possible review recently, one stands out: Suzanne Stefanac's "Dispatches from Blogistan: A travel guide for the modern blogger." The book is a great read for anyone wanting to keep up with Internet trends, read and use blogs more adeptly, start a blog, or run a blog more professionally.
In today's world of profit-pumping book publishing, a blog-related title is easy - the technology is simple enough to explain without much research or tech-writing talent and the buzz factor should make the book easy to market. Suzanne, however, pleased and surprised me by taking the text far beyond a get-rich-quick effort seen in other blogging titles. She includes historical context and piles of advice, and dishes it out with an appealing writing style intermixed with interviews and quotes from Internet denizens such as Cory Doctorow and Laura Lemay.
The $25 ($17 at Amazon.com) book begins with a survey of common types of blogs - diaries, topics, news, opinion, and so on. In each case, Suzanne puts the type of blog into historical context. Notably, the section about diaries looks at Japanese pillow books, Leonard Da Vinci's notebooks, and the diaries of Samuel Pepys, while the section about news not only covers the emergence of the modern concept of freedom of the press but also looks at what separates a journalist from an advocate and discusses journalistic ethics.
I was a little less impressed with the middle section of the book, which covers the mechanics of setting up a blog and lists useful blog-software features and popular blog-making options. It's tough to write scintillating prose in long lists of this nature, and though the writing was fine, I started skimming. Perhaps some of the lists should have been appendixes.
Before I bogged down too much, though, I reached a fascinating section covering topics like why an RSS newsreader is cool, and what the deal is with tags, tag clouds, blog search engines, del.icio.us, trackback links, permalinks, Flickr, and other jargon that savvy Internet users fling around but rarely explain with any sort of satisfying depth. I read this section with avid interest, since I hadn't previously understood how it all fit together.
Suzanne offers piles of tips for enhancing a blog's popularity, both through making a blog easier to find and through improving the writing quality. Much of this content is available elsewhere, but it's still a nice rundown. The book also looks at legal issues that a blogger might encounter: copyright law, Creative Commons licenses, fair use, libel, and more.
Naturally, the book has its own blog, and on the blog you can read longer versions of the interviews in the book, plus some excerpts. The blog uses the same Courier typeface for headings that the book uses, which gives the blog/book combo points for consistency, but which work much better onscreen than they do on paper.
The book could use some help on Amazon.com, where a few favorable notes from readers can make a big difference to a book's sales success. To that end, if you buy and enjoy the book, I hope you'll join me in reviewing it there.
Suzanne's prose is personal and witty, and I expect to keep "Dispatches from Blogistan" on my shelf as a reference for a few years and perhaps as a memento of an era after that.