All about blogging.
If you are twenty-something or younger, you probably don’t need to be reading this. You’ve probably been happily blogging away for what seems like years, all your friends blog, you read their blogs, and they yours. But for those of us over forty, or with families to care for and busy jobs to do, or perhaps our attention has just been someplace else for the last two years, we may not have even heard the term, or if we had, it sounded like “flogging” and not wanting to go there, we just ignored it.
But blogging is growing and for very good reasons, much like email took off ten years ago. And like ten years ago when I found myself repeatedly trying to explain email to people and why they really did need an email address, now I’m explaining blogging and why it matters.
What is blogging? – the act of producing a blog. What’s a blog? That’s a little bit harder to answer, but bear with me. The term blog is short for web log, a “log” of diary-like entries published on a web site. This is how it started, people publishing their daily thoughts for all to read on their website. Often the blog entries occur as short, quick snippets – a link to something cool found on the web, an opinion, an idea, a rant. And sometimes they are longer, thoughtful essays. Sometimes new entries are produced every few minutes, and sometimes just once and a while. It all depends on the author and what she or he wants to express.
But blogging has evolved to mean much more than diary entries. Blogging is easy, almost instant, publishing of content to a website, where every entry is preserved in a database and is therefore categorizeable and searchable. Content can be photographs, recipes, restaurant reviews, or anything digitally storable on a computer that you can categorize. One of my blogs is a recipe site, with my family’s recipes sorted by ingredient (beef, chicken, lamb) or menu item (brunch, main course, dessert). Another is a group weblog for book reviews. Several of my friends are authors on this site with the ability to post reviews of books they’ve read. Another blog is set up sort of like a journal, except that it is rarely personal. I use it mostly to park things (ideas, opinions, links, humor) that I find interesting or useful, and think others might find so as well.
The true power of the blog comes from its interactivity with visitors and other blogs. As an author, you can allow your web visitors to comment on your entries, the comments then being published along side or in a separate window of the entry. On your blog, you can keep track of when other blogs reference one of your entries. You can have their references to your site be automatically published on your site. Your website is no longer an island visited by anonymous people only known to you by the page view statistics your web host gives you about your site. Your visitors, at least those who either comment on your blog, or make a comment about your blog on their blog have a name, an email address, a website – an identity. As you find other blogs that you like to read, you link to them on your blog site. And as others find your blog interesting, they link to you as well. All of this helps build a community of those who share a common interest in each other’s content.
What makes blogging different from writing to any other kind of web site? For one thing, the tools. Even with great web development tools from Adobe and Macromedia, building a web page is a pain. It just takes time, a lot of work, too much time if you are just going to say a sentence or two. And once you’ve made a page, updating it takes time too. The blogging tools that are freely available to the public have changed the nature of web publishing. It’s easy. You log in to your weblog control page, you type in your entry, you click on Save and presto! Your entry is now published to your website. The default templates that come with these services are professional looking enough, and customizable if you know how to do that sort of thing in HTML.
Why does blogging matter?
1. It gives you a place to easily store interesting bits of information and ideas that you come across. Bits and bytes. Computer storage is cheap. Brain storage is unreliable. If I could I would dump everything I’ve ever learned into my computer. The computer is more efficient at searching than the brain is, and better at storage. We forget things. The computer doesn’t. With a blog, even better, the stored knowledge is on the net, accessible from any browser anywhere in the world.
2. Writing your thoughts down, on paper or computer, is a good mental discipline. It sharpens your intellect, it refines your thinking. It helps clarify your thoughts so that you communicate them better. It helps etch more clearly in that unreliable brain things that you might want to remember more clearly. And it puts you in the position of “creator” rather than passive consumer of content.
3. By opening up your blogs to comments, you invite the collective intelligence (hopefully) of your readers to add to your thoughts and to contribute to your knowledge. You’ve created a collaborative thought space.
4. Young people are blogging, en masse. One blogging site, Live Journal, cites 650,000 active accounts, 95% of which are from users under the age of 30. Blog sites are replacing home pages because of the ease of publishing, the depth of functionality, and the connections with other bloggers.
5. If you produce a website, your website will score higher in Google rankings (search engine results) if your site is a blog. Google rewards sites for rapidly changing content and links outbound and inbound from other sites, which is the nature of blogs.
6. Now anyone can publish. The best content will get the most exposure as more blogs link to it and more people comment to it. The publishing and distributing of content will become decentralized, shifting power away from the major media companies.
How do you get started?
If you want to start a blog, you’ll need blogging software to load on your server, or a blogging hosting service to host your blog for you. The easiest way is to use a host service like Blogger.com or Typepad. Blogger.com is free and ad supported, but you will need to know some HTML to get started and to make your site look good. Typepad is a new service that costs a minimum of $5 per month, but you don’t have to know any HTML and the service is the most feature rich of all of them with gorgeous styles from which to choose the look of your blog. LiveJournal is another host service free to users if they’ve been invited by a friend and a nominal fee if not. Radio Userland is a desktop program that is installed on your computer and the entries are uploaded to a host.
If you want the most flexibility and customizable features, you’ll need to go with blogging software that you load onto a remote server hosting your web site. Movable Type (from the same company that makes TypePad) is the most powerful solution out there, with a free license available for personal, non-commercial use and licenses available for personal and commercial use that includes support. Movable Type requires a good knowledge of HTML and style sheets but the documentation is extensive and MT has an active user base and support forum.
http://www.escobosa.com – photographer and web designer Marc Escobosa
http://www.davebarry.blogspot.com/ – humorist Dave Barry
http://www.peterme.com – usability pundit Peter Merholz
http://www.metafilter.com/ – a community blog, news and commentary
http://www.typepad.com – hosted blog service
http://www.movabletype.org – blogging software
http://www.weblogs.com/ – a list of recently updated weblogs
http://www.technorati.com/ – find out what weblogs are linking to your weblog
http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/blogging_part_2.htm – article on the art of blogging
Put Weblogs to Work – A MacWorld article on bloggging
Time Magazine article on blogging and journalism
Six Apart CEO Mena Trott’s take on blogging
How to Make Money with Your Blog
This article is written by Elise Bauer and licensed under a Creative Commons License with some rights reserved. If reposting this article on a website, please host all graphics on your own site and link back to this article at http://www.elise.com/web/.