Article For Website Compass magazine

Get the Word Out
All About These Things Called ‘Blogs’

The Internet has long been lauded as the first truly democratic, decentralized mass medium. With a small financial investment, a few technology skills and something to say, you can easily build a site on the World Wide Web or participate in an online discussion forum to make your voice heard.

And with the quick rise of the “blog” phenomenon, staking a claim to your sliver of cyberspace has never been easier.

A blog (the term—added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2003—is a shortened form of “Web log”) is essentially an online journal, a text-based web page with chronological entries by its author and whatever topic he or she deems appropriate.

Blogs hit the online mainstream in 1999, and today more than 4 million exist. Most are diary-like compendiums of personal lives, read by family and friends and probably few others. But an increasing number are topical, tackling topics such as technology, sports, current events, and politics, with the most talented “bloggers” attracting substantial followings and influence. For example, more than 30 political bloggers had enough following to receive media credentials to cover the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

If you are feeling the blogging bug’s bite, we can’t tell you what to blog about, but we can tell how to get started.

Just like Web pages, a blog must be hosted by a website. You can always host your own, but it’s easier to join with thousands of other bloggers on an established blogging website.

The most popular blog-hosting website is Blogger (www.blogger.com). Setting up a blog with Blogger is quick and easy. Like creating any online account, you choose a user name, password, and provide an e-mail address. You then name your blog (www.thenameofmyblog.blogger.com), choose a template to display your writing, and you’re ready to blog away.

Other blog websites operate in a similar fashion. We suggest you visit a few blog-hosting sites to determine which is right for you. In addition to Blogger, popular blog hosts include Typepad (www.typepad.com), LiveJournal (www.livejournal.com), TheBlogCafe (www.theblogcafe.com), Blogit (www.blogit.com), and Blog Identity (www.blogidentity.com),
While creating a blog account is simple, maintaining a successful, widely read blog is a different story. Here are our tips for a positive blogging experience.

Pick a topic and stick to it. The most successful blogs have content that can’t be found elsewhere. There are a huge number of blogs out there, so you need stand out from the pack. A unique, eloquently stated viewpoint and unique knowledge about an interesting topic will attract blog-lovers as quickly as unremarkable, repetitive content will drive them away.

Develop an expectation among your readers about what your blog is about, then develop and remain loyal to that theme.

Blog, and blog often. Have you ever bookmarked an interesting website only to find later that the content never changes? One or two visits later, you’ve lost interest. The same can be said of blogs. A blog entry per month or even one per week isn’t going to cut it. Try to blog as often as possible so you can turn the chance visitor into a loyal reader.

Come together. Blogging is all about networking—meeting others with common interests and likes and dislikes. Many blogs have a spot where visitors leave comments. Respond to those comments and e-mail messages and participate in other blogs to show interest in the larger blogging community and to drive visitors to your blog. Many bloggers participate in “blog rings,” in which bloggers reciprocate by placing links to each others’ offerings.

Get the word out. Your blog won’t be found if no one knows its there. Here are some tips for publicizing it:

  • You can always start by telling your friends and family then include your blog address in your e-mail signature and business cards.
  • Many people will discover your blog through a search engine when they do a keyword search. Make sure your page titles and links contain words that accurately describe your blog’s content so search engines can be used to find your blog.
  • Get your blog listed in blogging directories (see sidebar article), which can attract visitors to your blog.

Blog are simple affairs—just plain text and maybe the occasional photo. But for a more sophisticated blog, you might want to consider the free and inexpensive blog tools you can find online.

While creating a simple blog doesn’t require much technological know-how, blog tools are generally for more advanced users who have at least basic computer programming knowledge, want specialized features for their blogs, or need tools to do their own blog hosting.

There are hundreds of blog tools to be found online, including those that help you create blog templates, allow visitors to leave comments, track the number of visitors, and easily add sound and photos to blogs. Particularly helpful are tools that automate a process (called “pinging”) to notify blog directories when you’ve added a new entry. Do a search engine keyword search for “blog tools” to find the tools you need.

With these basics in mind, now is the time to consider adding your creativity to the fast-growing world of blogging.