Talking with Scott Rosenberg about Say Everything, Dreaming in Code, and MediaBugs

My guest for this week’s Innovators show is Scott Rosenberg. He’s the author of two books, most recently Say Everything, subtitled How blogging began, what it’s becoming, and why it matters. Before that he was the Chandler project‘s embedded journalist, and told its story in Dreaming in Code. His current project is MediaBugs, a soon-to-be-launched service that aims to crowd-source the reporting and correction of errors in media coverage.

We began with a discussion of Say Everything. Its account of how blogging came to be is a great read, and a much-needed history of the era. Since I know that story quite well, though, we focused on the blogosphere’s present state and future prospects. Blogging is still a new medium. But those of us who experienced blogging as a conversation flowing through decentralized networks of blogs have now seen still newer (and more centralized) social media capture a lot of that conversation.

The good news is that more people are able to be involved. The fact that millions of people fired up blogs was, and remains, astonishing. But active blogging has proven to be a hard thing to sustain. Meanwhile hordes of people find it relatively easy to be active on Facebook and Twitter.

The bad news is that, as always, there’s no free lunch. While it’s easier to create and sustain network effects using Facebook and Twitter, you sacrifice control of your own data. Scott thinks we’re moving through a transitional phase, and I hope he’s right. We really need the best of two worlds. First, control of the avatars we project into the cloud, and of the data that surrounds them, insofar as that’s possible. Second, frictionless interaction. The tension between these two conflicting needs will define the future of social media.

Two of Scott’s other projects, Dreaming in Code and MediaBugs, are connected in an interesting way. The media project adopts terminology (“filing bugs”) and process (version control, issue tracking) from the realm of software. If MediaBugs helps make non-technical people aware of that crucial way of thinking and acting, it will be a bonus outcome.

Hat tip to Joshua Allen’s Better Living Through Software

Here’s another piece of Say Everything that I want to spotlight:

Microsoft wasn’t known as a haven of openness and cooperation. But it was a big place with a lot of smart people. At the turn of the millenium, during the company’s bitter antitrust fight with the U.S. Department of Justice, many of those people found it impossible to recognize themselves in the press’s portrait of the company. The first programmer at Microsoft to start blogging, Joshua Allen, set himself up with an account on Dave Winer’s EditThisPage service in 2000 and started posting under the header “Better Living Through Software: Tales of Life at Microsoft.” It was totally informal and unauthorized — a lone call for a parley raised from behind the company’s siege walls. Allen explained his intent: “I wanted to say that I am a Microsoft person and you can talk with me.”

I used to read Joshua’s blog back then, I still read it now, it was nice to see its seminal role acknowledged in the book.

Here’s a picture of the blog’s home page, annotated by the ClearForest Gnosis entity extractor:

Quite a cast of characters!