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  • All About Blogs
    By By John Nolt

    There's a revolution happening on the Web, and it's all about "blogs." Perhaps you've heard the thunder of the guns, perhaps not. Those of you who already know what a blog is, bear with me. I'm going to start from the very beginning. I hear it's a very good place to start.

    Blogs in a Nutshell
    A blog is a Web page. You open and read blogs like any other Web site—by typing or pasting the URL into your browser's address bar or clicking a link to the blog. There's no need for any software other than your Web browser.

    But a blog isn't just a Web page.

    The Blog Concept
    The word "blog" is really a shortened version of the term "weblog."

      log
      a record of performance, events, or day-to-day activities
    The first weblogs were kind of a "log" of the early Web. Their authors were often computer professionals who were fascinated by all the different stuff they could find out there. So, they kept track of the best stuff they found, and they put a log of their findings on their Web sites. A Web log.

    Initially, the first blog just had links to cool sites. Eventually, bloggers started commenting on the sites they linked to. One of the earliest blogs, "Robot Wisdom," is still primarily a list of links with brief comments. Comments grew into anecdotes, short stories, diary entries, movie reviews, political opinions, overheard quotes, you name it.

    But the basic idea behind a blog remained: a simple record of performance, events, or day-to-day activities. Today's typical blog is updated on a regular basis with new information, almost always in a long column of entries with the latest stuff at the top.

    How Blogs Changed the Web
    In the early days of the World Wide Web, not many people had a Web page of their very own—a homepage. Then suddenly it seemed like everybody had one. But there were a couple of problems:
    • Once created, homepages just sat there. They didn't change often, even as the Web was changing around them. Links to other pages stopped working, information got stale, and people lost interest in keeping up their pages, partly because�
    • Homepages were hard to update. You had to jump through a dozen hoops just to change your age. Nothing was automatic; nothing was easy.
    Then along came Blogger. Blogger is a Web site that exists for the sole purpose of enabling people to create and maintain weblogs. It was one of the first, if not the first, to succeed at making it truly easy to be a blogger. These days there are many other programs, Web sites, and companies all with the goal of helping people make blogs.

    The concept of a weblog brought focus to the creative urges of would-be Web authors. No longer did people wonder what to put on their Web sites. It's a log. You put a record of performance, events, or day-to-day activities on there. And the new blogging programs and Web sites made keeping a blog so simple almost anybody could do it.

    And they did!

    The Blogosphere: Vast Diversity
      "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."
      --Samuel Johnson
    By some estimates there are over 70 million blogs on the Web today. Many blogs are personal, between friends and relatives, kept to stay in touch, show baby pictures, talk about the grandchildren, etc. With rare exceptions, most bloggers don't get paid for keeping their blogs.

    Blogs are seen as an informal means of communication on the Web. Because of the personal, grassroots origin of "blogging," even those manned by professional writers who are paid for their work, have a loose, down-to-earth feel to the writing.

    There are personal blogs, corporate blogs, and political blogs. There are scoundrels and patriots and scoundrels who are patriots. Blogs of every stripe and flavor. There are awful blogs and wonderful blogs. There are blogs that influence presidential campaigns. There are blogs that got their authors fired because of what they blogged about.

    There's even an EarthLink blog.

    Finding Good Blogs to Read
    On the Internet, Sturgeon's Revelation is a constant presence. Luckily, it's easy to pile your plate full of interesting, well-written blogs. Here's how:
    • Ask your friends! Maybe they have a blog of their own, maybe they know of some good ones. Blogs are like dentists—a good referral is priceless.
    • Check the blog roll. Blog rolls are defined in the next section. So keep reading.
    • Technorati is a vast catalog of blogs. A blogalog. The site keeps track of blogs and rates according to popularity and other criteria.
    • Google it! Do a search for a topic you're interested in and add the word "blog" to it.
    How to Read a Blog
    When you're looking at a blog in your Web browser, there are a few things you should look for in order to get the most out of your experience.
    • Comment links. Many blogs allow you to enter comments. A comment might show up as just a number next to the date and name of the person who wrote the entry.
    • A search box. If you've gone to a blog about a particular subject, like Corvettes, you can do a search to see if they've written about something you're particularly interested in.
    • A list of categories. Some blogs let you sort their entries according to topics.
    • Recent entries. It's nice to be able to see some of the recent topics, especially if only a few entries are shown on the blog at one time.
    • A "blog roll." The term "blog rolling" is similar to "log rolling" in literary circles, where one writer refers to another writer, who refers back to the first. Many bloggers keep a "blog roll" which is essentially a list of the blogs they like, mixed with blogs that have reciprocal links. If you like a blog, odds are you'll like some entries on its blog roll.
    • An RSS feed. What's that, you say? Why, it's the greatest thing since sliced bread! Read on to find out more�
    Keeping Track of Your Favorite Blogs
    The blogosphere is huge! It can be hard to keep track of all the good blogs you find. Clicking through a long list of bookmarks every day gets tiresome, just to see if something new has been posted on any of your favorite blogs.

    But of course there's an easier way! It's called RSS.

    RSS is an acronym for "Really Simple Syndication," and it has changed the face of blogging forever. With RSS, you can have the new entries to your favorite blogs delivered to your Web browser like the New York Times every morning. It works like this:
    1. Find a blog you like
    2. Look for a button or link that says RSS, XML, or Subscribe
    3. Right-click that button and choose Copy Link Location
    4. Go to myEarthLink Reader and sign in (sign up if you haven't!)
    5. Click Add a Source and then click Search.
    Once added, the new posts for that blog will appear on your myEarthLink Reader page. You can add as many sources as you want, and they'll be organized and updated automatically!

    Web sites like myEarthLink Reader are called RSS newsreaders. There are more out there on the Web; some are Web sites like myEarthLink Reader, others are programs that run on your computer. Try a few on for size.

    Next Week: A Blogging How-To
    Next issue's tech tip will be all about blogging. How to make a blog, how to write for blogs, and how to maintain a blog. Until then, have fun in the blogosphere, and let us know if you find any good links!

    If you'd like to read more about what blogs are and how they came to be, here are a few choice articles to skim through, by the pioneers of blogging:

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