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The Symbiosis of David and Goliath


When one man weild as much power over the Internet as the Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, there are some inherent dangers in writing up what you think of his new book, Army of Davids. Glen gets 10%, 20% even 100% or more readers than most bloggers and is responsible for directing traffic around a large part of the blogosphere… Compared to him, websites like Spot-On are “Davids” to his Goliath. And although I want to remain in his good graces, I thought it was worthwhile to share my thoughts on An Army of Davids before you rush out to buy it.
Entrepreneurs and bloggers will find Glenn Reynold’s new book, An Army of Davids to be reassuring, if not revolutionary, as he explores the future of the human condition, and economics in a post-industrial age.
Based on his belief that human nature is fundamentally good—and therefore we should empower people rather than big organizations like Government, Big Business or the Mainstream Media—Reynolds makes the case that the New Economy will thrive on a symbiosis between service-oriented small businesses and product-oriented big businesses.
Reynolds describes the “Comfy Chair Revolution,” most effectively with the example of the local Barnes and Noble. He gets a latte and a place to write Instapundit or grade papers and in turn, they get his revenue and, presumably book or music purchases that might otherwise be made over the internets.
Although Reynolds ascribes the move to such a “Third Place” to the need to find a community with a “safe place”, my personal experience as a recent home-based entrepreneur tells me there is another motivation. Working from home, I sometimes have to leave my “office” to find motivation; I see others working at my local coffeeshop, and I draw energy from it. When I return home, “home” is no longer home. Likewise at the end of the day, I leave the “office” for an errand or what not and return to “home.”
Perhaps I notice this because Reynolds sees the “Army of Davids” as a primarily suburban phenomenon without thinking about what it means to urban environments other than briefly dismissing efforts at “downtown revitalization.” I would argue that we could be witnessing a sea-change in real-estate markets where commercial properties convert to residential…in fact we’re already seeing it in L.A.
The basic principle of the first two thirds of An Army of Davids is that small businesses are best at delivering targeted goods and services that consumers want in an economy that places such a high value on aesthetics, but we still need the big organizations, like the Office Depots or EBay, to provide us with basic needs from office supplies to health insurance. There is a new symbiosis between the two.
Whatever the motivation, Reynolds makes a good case for the trend towards home-based service-sector entrepreneurship, but leaves the broader implications unexplored. What will it mean for real-estate markets if people leave the “Gray Suit” culture and set up shop in shorts and tee shirts? Will office-to-condo conversions be far behind? We don’t know because Reynolds quickly moves on to what you thought the book was about to begin with: blogging.
Describing the rise of what I’d call a Blogger Diaspora, Reynolds defines the role of bloggers as watchers of the mainstream media. The blogs correct the media, as well as lead it—if something gets enough attention among the blogs, the press is almost forced to cover it.
His discussion of bloggers, and what makes good blogging is not Revolutionary. I’m almost tempted to call these chapters “Hugh Hewitt’s Blog without the Crazy Christianity,” which for the purposes of introducing business people to the medium is actually a good thing.
Had Army of Davids ended with its discussion of how bloggers relate to the mainstream media like entrepreneurs relate to Office Depot, it would have been a great book, but Reynolds wanders off the path to explore two more of his hobbies—Space and Nanotechnology. While he manages to make Music and Microbrewing relevant to the core thesis of “Army,” it almost seems as if Reynolds is getting his thoughts on these issues into paper because, well, he’s getting published and he expects people to buy and read the book, (or, as with his site, he thinks they think this stuff is as interesting as he does) whereas they may not care about his thoughts on the matter otherwise. Even with these “extra” chapters, An Army of Davids is worth the read, especially for members of the burgeoning entrepreneur class seeking encouragement by knowing that they are not alone.
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for his gracious link! Maybe I’ll re-read the last few chapters to see if my initial reaction changes.

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