A Practical Guide to Blogging

by Greg Knollenberg
The Internet Writing Journal, July 2002
Blogging is the latest Internet craze -- following trends like ebooks and online communities. Ebooks, homepages and online communities still exist and continue to thrive, but they are no longer buzz words. Blogging is to create a blog or weblog, which consists of frequently-updated journal entry style posts on a webpage. Blogging has recently been undergoing a media blitz. New articles about blogs appear daily in major newspapers and magazines. Pyra Labs, the company behind Blogger.com, a popular tool for creating weblogs, was recently named the coolest media company for 2002 by Forbes.com. And websites like MSNBC.com and The Guardian have recently launched blogs. But what do weblogs mean to you, and do you need to start one of your own?

What Are They?

Weblogs generally cover a particular person's life or a particular subject matter. Weblogs consist of short journal entries (usually a paragraph or two) on a webpage. Each weblog entry (also known as a post) will typically contain one or more links to related material being discussed in the entry. For example, a weblog that discusses UFOs could have an entry about an unexplained UFO encounter in Chile, with several links to related news stories or sources. There are also weblogs which are maintained by a team of people (collaborative blogs) and open-system blogs, which allow anyone to contribute to the blog with a moderator weeding out inappropriate posts. Often weblogs include a homepage containing the most recent entries and an archive section containing older entries. Weblogs can cover a single specific topic or simply be regular entries about the person creating the weblog, similar to an online journal. For topic-oriented weblogs the diversity is enormous. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs already online, covering such diverse topics as politics, war, Africa, science, technology, the Internet, books, space exploration, medicine and academic life. Despite all the buzz, weblogs really aren't all that new; they have been around since the late 1990s. Recent software and hosting platforms have made blogging much easier to do, and this has led to the explosion of weblogs.

Are They Journalism?

Some of the weblogs could be considered a new kind of journalism. Many times, the entries in a weblog will discuss a news article found elsewhere and contain a link to this article. In this way, weblogs act more like the editorial section of a newspaper than straight reporting (such as a traditional news article). Weblogs have sometimes been referred to as amateur journalism. There is plenty of debate about this issue. Regardless of the debate, some of the more popular weblogs can direct a considerable amount of traffic to newspapers by linking to individual articles. In this way, weblogs actually benefit the journalism profession by increasing traffic to the most interesting and/or well-written articles. People who are interested in a specific subject matter will often frequent weblogs covering this topic, in order to stay informed. Some weblogs also link to discussion forums where visitors can discuss each individual weblog entry. Whether you think weblogs are journalistic endeavors or not, media companies are both aware of them and impacted by them.



Should I Create One?

Yes, if you feel you have the time and effort to start a blog and feel you could contribute in a certain topic, or, you simply want to talk about yourself and your life online. However, for the latter, some may prefer the private diary or journal to a public blog. A weblog is no different than a webpage in that it can be discovered online by others. If popularity is your goal, be advised that many, many weblogs are read by hardly anyone at all. It is not easy to create a website or weblog that receives a large number of frequent visitors. Weblogs that do become popular are typically those that are updated daily, and require a great deal of work to keep updated. Another reason not to create a weblog is that it may distract from your time to work, play, write, etc. On the other hand, a weblog may provide good practice for your writing. Also, if you are a nonfiction author, there may be some promotional benefit out of a running a weblog on the same topic as your books. Some fiction authors even promote their work with weblogs with success, while others might prefer keeping their readers informed less often -- like with a monthly newsletter. Even if you don't care about the limelight or promotion and you just feel like you have something to say about something, weblogs are a unique way to voice your opinions.

Examples of Weblogs

There are thousands of weblogs of many varieties online to see. Many of them are updated each day. Some of the blogs are focused on a specific subject matter. Scout, a popular research-oriented website which reviews websites of education value, launched the Scout Weblog which keeps readers informed about new research resources and related information. The F**ed Company site's main focus is a weblog that provides (in some distaste) information about failing dot-com and technology companies. Slashdot is a popular technology weblog for geeks and computer professionals. For the more daring reader, Reddit Offbeat provides coverage of strange and bizarre news stories, and Who Would Buy That? informs readers about unusual items up for auction online.

On the personal weblog side, Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame, has won numerous weblog awards (yes, there are weblog awards) for his popular blog located at: wilwheaton.com. After he left Star Trek, his acting career suffered, and his story has all the elements of a good novel: a hero, a struggle to overcome great odds, and success in new ventures. Neil Gaiman, the bestselling novelist and children's author, started a weblog for one of his novels (American Gods) in 2001 and couldn't seem to stop. His entertaining and witty weblog has been mentioned in numerous newspaper and magazine articles and traffic to his site is excellent, which certainly helps to promote his books. Another bestselling author who excels at blogging is Nora Roberts. Nora let fans tune it to see what was happening on a book tour through Europe last summer (The Three Fates Tour), and tag along as she negotiated the sale of a new home in Ireland. She even posted daily photos of the trip. Needless to say, these three weblogs succeed because of the great writing talent of these authors. Certainly, Neil Gaiman and Nora Roberts both could write about a simple trip to the grocery store and end up with a funny and fascinating tale. But even beginning authors might want to consider a blog as a valuable addition to their websites. Fans love to hear about the personal details of celebrities and interesting people; People magazine is based on this very principle.

Directories and Search Engines

As the number of weblogs increases, many directories and search tools have emerged to help people locate blogs on particular topics. Some of large weblog directories include: Eatonweb Portal, BOTW, and the Open Directory's weblog links. There also topic-specific weblog directories such as NYCBloggers.com and Boston Blogs. A list of directories can be found in writerswrite.com's new blogging section. In the search department, DayPop.com is a useful search engine that can search weblogs and their contents. DayPop can also list the day's most popular articles that weblogs are linking to. BlogTracker and Weblogs.com help readers kept track of recently changed weblogs.

How Do I Start a Blog?

Fortunately, there is no enormous technological hurdle that you have to overcome before you can build a weblog. You do not have to be a computer expert or even know HTML, but computer skills and HTML knowledge can certainly help. If you can navigate the Web fairly easily and fill out an online form, then you should be able to create your own weblog. To create a weblog you need to either use a blog hosting service such as Wordpress, Blogger, Typead, or Tumblr, which does all the work of formatting, hosting and archiving for you. All you have do is type in your weblog entries. Instructions for using these services can be found on the websites; they are easy to follow. Costs are low; they typically range from free to $50 per year. Because of the blogging explosion, there are many new blogging hosts launching and some web hosting companies are adding specialty blogging tools and services.

If you are more technically inclined, you can set up your own website with its own domain and a web hosting provider, then use one of the many software programs available to help you launch your weblog. You could also do the entire weblog in HTML or write your own blogging program, but most bloggers choose some type of software or hosting program because it simplifies archiving and formatting tasks. Some of the most popular blogging software programs include Blosxom, Drupal and Movable Type. A list of more software tools can be found here.

How Do I Promote a Blog?

Promoting a weblog is not much different than promoting a website. You need to submit the URL of your weblog to the search engines, exchange links with other weblogs similar to yours, list your weblog in weblog directories, etc.

More Information

Further proof that blogs are a hot topic is the recent release of several books on blogging. Some of these new and future releases include: The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog by Rebecca Blood (Perseus Press); Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content by Biz Stone (New Riders Publishing) and We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs by Paul Bausch, Matthew Haughey, Meg Hourihan (John Wiley & Sons). There will likely be additional books in the future. For links to more articles and information about weblogs, look through the resources on Writerswrite.com's new blogging section.

Conclusion

Blogging is definitely a new and interesting way to convey information. Readers like it because weblogs are easy to read and they can find information very quickly. For the writer, blogging can provide a promotional benefits and help build an audience for his writing. As more media companies create weblogs or specialty sections, there will be more work for journalists and writers. Employees who blog can telecommute; there is no need to be in the office at all. Even if you don't start blogging yourself, you should read some blogs and become aware of this new growing online format. Journalists must follow and understand this new trend. Eventually, the fervor over blogging will fade, but it is likely to continue to remain a popular format by writers and the media for presenting information and a convenient tool for readers who enjoy summaries of the day's news with commentary, and those who just enjoy reading views other than that of the mainstream media.

**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.



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