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  • How To Be a Blogger
    By John Nolt

    This week's tech tip is the second voice in our duet about blogs. In our previous installment we addressed the question "What is a blog?" in depth. If you need a refresher, you can find that article in the eLink archives. If you're still with me, let us now attempt to scratch the surface of the topic "How to create and maintain a blog."

    I'm going to save the words of wisdom for the end and get right into the thick of things. If you need to know "Why should I blog?" or "What should I blog about?" before jumping in, go ahead and skip to the end. But for now...

    Blogging in a Nutshell
    As we learned last issue, a blog is a Web page. Therefore, the basic needs of a Web page hold true for blogs. In short, to create and maintain a blog you must:
    1. Create the Web page where your blog lives.
    2. Upload it to the Web.
    3. Change it when you want to add a new entry to your blog.
    4. Upload it again so everyone can see the new stuff.
    Blogging With Blogger, in 5 Easy Steps
    The easiest way to get into blogging is to sign up on a Web site that offers blogging as a service. Such Web sites provide a place for your blog to live on the Web (they call it "hosting" your blog) and lots of tools for creating and managing the content of your blog. Here are three of the most popular: Blogger is one of the oldest and most mature blogging services. Originally independent, Blogger was scooped up by Google a while ago, which has greatly improved their service. Since Google's purchase of the service, Blogger has added many features that make keeping a blog a breeze. Let's step through the process of creating a blog with Blogger.

    Step 1: Don't worry
    If, as you go through the steps of creating your blog, you find you've created a mess that you're just not pleased with, just go ahead and start over. Everything I'm talking about here is free, and you can try as many times as you like in order to get your blog the way you want it. Just go for it—nothing bad will happen.

    Step 2: Create an account on blogger.com
    If you've never been to Blogger before, the main page will ask you to create an account, then you'll be led through the next few steps. Creating an account is very simple—choose a username and password and enter an email address. If you're an EarthLink member and you want to blog anonymously, you can use an EarthLink Anonymous Email Address.

    Step 3: Choose a Name and Address
    Next, you'll need to decide on two important issues.
      The name of your blog: Think about the name for a minute—it's not easy to change once the blog has been created.

      Where your blog will live on the Web. Blogger gives you a couple of options here:
      • You can choose to put your blog on BlogSpot, a special Web site that Blogger owns just for people to keep their blogs.
      • You can put your blog on a Web site where you have FTP access—like your EarthLink webspace. For now, let's assume you'll choose for your blog to live on BlogSpot. If you ever want to switch from BlogSpot to your own webspace, Blogger makes that pretty simple.
    Step 4: Choose a look for your blog
    Blogger lets you start blogging in style by providing a bunch of nice-looking templates to choose from.

    Step 5: Start posting
    The first page Blogger shows you after creating your blog is the "create post" page, where you can start writing your very first entry. An entry on your blog is called a "post." This is because blogs waaaaay back at the beginning of time probably were derived from old Internet message boards, and messages on those boards were (and still are) called posts.

    Going further with Blogger—Maybe
    As simple as it is to start using Blogger, you will find yourself quickly appreciating how powerful it is as well. Unlike some of the other blogging services, Blogger lets you change the look of your blog (the template) to suit yourself. You can do basically anything with it, because Blogger gives you direct access to the code that makes up the look of your blog.

    This is good and bad. It's good because it gives you the control. Bad because there's a steep learning curve if you want to add and remove features from your blog by editing the template. Here's a good place to start learning more about using Blogger.

    If you'd like to try a blogging service that's a little more automated, WordPress has a really nice system with lots of easy ways to enhance your blog, including a few not offered by Blogger.

    Popular Features on a Blog
    As blogs have developed, a few features have become pretty standard—every blog should have them. Below are some of the features your BlogSpot blog will have right from the start. If you try a different blogging system, this is a good list of things to include on your blog.
      Search. Luckily, blogs hosted by BlogSpot come with a header at the top that includes a search box. Once you've got a bunch of posts on your blog, you may find yourself using this feature more than your readers do.

      About. Most Blogger templates include a link to your Blogger profile. Your profile contains information about you, which you can include on your blog. Or not...it's up to you. The information in your Blogger profile doesn't have to identify you; it might just give readers an idea of your background so they have a better understanding of where you're coming from.

      Comments. People like to interact with blogs, making each post a potential conversation. Comments let you know that not only is someone reading your blog, but that what you've written has moved them to react by leaving a comment.

      Archive. If your blog is interesting to someone, they may want to read things you've written in the past before they read what's current in your blog. Archives keep your older posts at hand.

      RSS. The latest way to read blogs is via RSS—Really Simple Syndication—which we discussed in last issue's tech tip. Suffice it to say, there should be an RSS feed on your blog.

      Blog Roll. Most blogs have a list of links to other blogs or other Web sites somewhere on the left or right side. These lists of links let you reciprocate when someone likes your blog enough to include it on their list of blogs. This is called a "blog roll."
    Tell People About Your Blog
    Now that you've got your blog all set up and you've added a couple of posts to it and it's looking all fine and dandy, it's time to publicize! Unless your blog is just for you, a diary of sorts, you're going to have an audience in mind.

    Your audience might be "as many people as possible" or "just my family" or "only people who like Nutter Butters." In any case, here are some easy ways to publicize the existence of your blog:
      Email. If your blog is for your family or some other small group, just tell them about it in email. Even if it's not just for that small group, you should still email your friends and family about your blog. Word of mouth is the best kind of advertising. Don't forget to include a link to your blog!

      Kinja. This Web site lets you create a Kinja card for your blog. People will see your blog's card while they browse Kinja.

      Technorati. The most exhaustive catalog of blogs on the Internet, Technorati lets you "claim" your blog—a fancy way of saying "add your blog to Technorati's catalog." After you've claimed your blog, Technorati will start to track it, and people will find it when they search for blogs on Technorati.
    What to Blog About
    There's no hard-and-fast rule about what a blog should be. There are general guidelines, but don't limit yourself to only one idea of what you should blog about.

    Consider the people that you would like to read your blog. Write about things that would interest them. Some examples for inspiration:
      Other post topics and blog subjects:
    • Ideas
    • Baseball cards
    • Movies you've seen and loved
    • Things you've learned about knitting
    • Progress toward your weight-loss goal
    • A diary about your efforts at restoring that old Camaro
    What Not to Blog About
    Here's an easy rule of thumb:
      Don't write anything on your blog that you wouldn't be willing to say in front of a large group of people, including your boss and your family.
    Blogger has more good advice on this topic.

    Why Blog?
    Ok, we've covered how to make a blog and what to put on a blog. Let's briefly discuss why you'd want to blog in the first place. I can't answer that for you, really. But maybe I can give you some ideas that will squash some preconceptions.

    Your blog doesn't need to be clever or original. It will reflect your personality and interests, and that's really enough. Perhaps it will accomplish something for you—practice in writing, education about how webpages and Web sites work, a log to refer to about something in your life.

    Your blog can be about anything or nothing! Let the automatic formatting of Blogger remove the issue of how to do it from the prospect of simply putting your thoughts online. You have something to say, go ahead and say it!

    If that's not enough encouragement, here are a few links to other people who are trying to explain both why they blog and why you should too: Tell Us About Your Blog
    If you have a blog of your own or have been inspired to create one by this article, we'd love to know. Send email to earthling@corp.earthlink.net and tell us all about it!

    Next week: The first of two parts about podcasts and podcasting: "What's a Podcast?"

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