The "Dissident" Blogger Handbook
Reporters Without Borders has today released a wonderful handbook of international blogging. The 84-page guide includes sections that discuss the basics of blogs and blogging terminology, and it moves quickly into a serious how-to guide for blogging anonymously and blogging successfully. This is a first for the international blogging community, and I am certain that it will receive an extremely warm welcome.
The guide begins with general discussion of the role of blogs and basic blogging terminology. This is hardly revolutionary coverage, but the writing is solid, with sections from very reputable sources in the international online media scene.
There is also a good section on choosing the right blogging platform, getting things setup to make the search engines happy, and a lot of serious advice on "making your blog shine."
There are a few problems in the text, notably the failure to mention several key blogging platforms available for international use. (They mention MSN but not Typepad??) Also, I think there is not adequate description of the differences between a hosted blog service (Like Blogger) and a blogging platform that you have to install on your server (Like Movable Type.)
But by far the most inspiring part of the handbook (an it is as a whole quite inspiring) is it's selection of personal accounts from "famous" international bloggers, including selections from a female blogger in China, a writer in Iran, a wonderfully disaffected journalist in the U.S., and a Bahranian blogger who prides himself on "breaking the government's news monopoly."
Keeping with the audience-first nature of blogs, everything is eminently readable, with spunky illustration by Nuit de Chine.
This is not a handbook for making money with your blog; it's a serious look at the tools that are available for people who are otherwise not encouraged to communicate. It is for newsmakers without news outlets and people making news who don't make headlines.
That's a refreshing break from the wealth of blogging how-tos in the developed world. Those documents may be useful, but they don't have the kind of detail that you find here for really getting a blog started in China, Nepal, Iran, etc. In this way, the "How to Blog Anonymously" chapter by Ethan Zuckerman must be considered the most important single part of the document. As an online community, there is nothing stopping us from perfecting and distributing tools for subverting government chokeholds on IP addresses.
I am very excited by the guerrilla-free-speech innovation documented here.
As Rebbecca MacKinnon has written, "Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest."
This handbook is groundbreaking both symbolically and technically, and I think it safe to say that it will evolve to address it's very few shortcomings. Hopefully it will be re-released regularly, with updates of all the wonderful things that are going on in the blogosphere, new home of the free international press.