Blogging

Have questions about Blogs and RSS Feeds (or News feeds)? What about the little orange boxes with XML or RSS in them on some web sites?
I have been getting more and more questions for the last two or three months about Blogs. Blogging isn't new. I started back in 2001. For me blogging started as a simple way to keep track of where I was going on the web and make a few notes on things. Then I discovered that I could blog from my Handspring (version of the Palm Pilot) and it became a way of journalizing some of my travels. Then I added another blog as a way of publishing my poetry. And now I'm seeing it as a really simple way for you to manage your own content on a web site. But before I get there let me define what a Blog is.
What is a Blog?
A blog generally has several of the following characteristics:

  • Short journal/diary like entries.
  • Displayed in reverse chronological order.
  • Frequently updated.
  • Intended for general public consumption.
  • Information that is instantly published to a Web site.
  • Include philosophical reflections, opinions on the Internet and social issues, and provide a "log" of the author's favorite web links.

From a technical perspective, the instant publishing is the part that makes it very attractive. Like a short note to yourself blogging can clarify thoughts, be used to begin a conversation, and if comments are enabled - listen to what people think about what you are saying and writing.
How do I read other people's Blogs EASILY?
The key here is "easily." When I first started reading blogs I kept a few in my bookmarks file and when I had a few minutes I would click on them and read. I tried a few programs over the years that aggregated blogs but was never very happy with them. Two things changed all that. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a way of formatting or organizing a blog so that it can be used by other programs and displayed by them. Using it on your blog is discussed below.
Once people started using the standard formats in their blogs then services started appearing to aggregate them. My out and out favourite is Bloglines. Found at http://www.bloglines.com It gathers, organizes and helps keep everything up to date. Register, add the subscribe button to your bookmarks or favourites file and anytime you see the little orange XML or RSS button on a page - you can subscribe.
The subscription will allow you to see an updated blogs when you visit the Bloglines web site. The update gives you a title and a summary or sometimes the whole article.
There are other feed aggregators that run separately. I haven't experimented with them as Bloglines meets my needs admirably. Feed Demon , Feed Reader , and relatively new Sharp Reader are all frequently mentioned as great services.
Why do I need one?
Spend a week or two looking at various blogs in your industry. You will soon realize that blogs serve two purposes. Getting out information about your product or service in an age when email is rapidly becoming useless and secondly enabling discussions with your customers about your products or services.
Remember that "instantly" I mentioned above. No more wrestling with HTML (well maybe a little bit but only paragraphs, bolding and lists.) No more waiting for the webmaster to post. It's all there. And quickly. Sometimes too quickly. A number of bloggers have learned that blogging in a heated moment can backfire. But that is another page (Etiquette and how to blog coming soon.)
Finally from a search engine perspective - they love regular new content and that is exactly what a blog is. Search engine bots will begin to visit much more regularly and move your pages up in ranking making them easier to find if there is regular content being put up.
How do I put one on my web site?
If you have made it this far, you are almost certainly asking how can I put one on my web site. There are two ways with a multitude of variations. One is to use a service like Blogger.com. The second is put the software on your own site.
Blogger.com is easily the quickest way to start blogging. Register, choose a spot to host your blog, and link from your existing site and you are off to the races. Some drawbacks that you may want to think about include:

  • the potential loss of archives if the hosting goes away;
  • the lack of a similar look and feel to your static site so customers aren't sure if it is still you;
  • and the complexity of more advanced setup .

The site template and hosting can be moved to your web space - giving you access to the great tools of Blogger and reducing the problems mentioned above. This probably is something you want your webmaster to do. So drop me an email. *grin*
Another way is to install blogging software on your web site. Wordpress, Movable Type, Typepad are all popular. I recommend Wordpress . The software generally requires a host with PHP and MySQL so a cheap or free hosting service won't cut it. Again this is probably a task for your webmaster. You know who to call .
Incidently my blog on this site is under the heading Thoughts if you want to check it out