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The Art of Blogging - Part 2
Getting Started, "How To", Tools, Resources

George Siemens
December 6, 2002
Part Two of Two-part Article on "The Art of Blogging"...Part One

Getting Started
Examples

How to blog
Tools for blogging
Extending blogs - aggregating
Conclusion

Getting Started
The best way to learn to blog is to blog. Fortunately, getting started is fairly simple. Three main options exist: hosted, remote server, and desktop.

A hosted service is the easiest and quickest way to start. Services like Blogger allow new users to set up an account (for free or a premium version for $35 per year) and begin posting literally in a matter of minutes. Blogger can host the blog, or the user can post to his/her own site.

A remotely installed blog is perhaps the most involved to setup. Movabletype allows users to install on a server (free for non-commercial, $150 for commercial). Some technical skills are required to configure the blog and database. Documentation, however, is excellent for Movabletype. Installation is also offered for a fee.

Desktop blog programs are installed on a user's computer, and posts are then uploaded to a host. Radio Userland is a desktop program for $35.95, which includes hosting and upgrades for a year. Start up process for desktop blogs is almost as simple as hosted services like Blogger.

Blogger, Movabletype, and Radio Userland are only a sampling of available blog programs. Webcrimson, greymatter, Drupal, and Tinderbox are also available. For a complete listing of blog resources, visit Blogroots.

Once your blog has been setup, you're ready to start blogging! Getting your blog noticed takes some time...but linking to other bloggers, posting comments on their sites, engaging in dialogue, and "pinging" (an option available on most blogs) sites like Weblogs help to increase recognition. How to Publicize Your Blog offers some great concepts for increasing readership. Interesting, provocative writing, however, is the best way to get noticed.

Examples
Reading other blogs is an excellent way to learn - not only about the content being blogged, but about the process of blogging. Selecting a variety of blogs and writing styles affords a broad perspective of how to use the medium. Some bloggers of note:

This sampling of blogs reveals an important issue: blogs are used as a tool (replacement?) for virtually every type of traditional media, communication, and interaction. Blogs have infiltrated broad areas of the Internet and appear to be poised for significant, "overnight" success and adoption. Where the Internet is about availability of information, blogging is about making information creation available to anyone.

How to blog
Writing effective blogs is similar to effective writing for traditional media. While sentence construction, basic grammar, and spelling are important, bloggers are often more concerned about communicating concepts. Writing rules are employed (and broken) to the degree that they support effective communication of a message.

However, some differences do exist. Traditional writing is audience focused. Bloggers often write primarily for themselves or for a small group - as a way of organizing thoughts, sharing information, or creating a personal resource of links (as compared to a monolithic "Favorites" folder). The Internet is also more dynamic and media-rich than traditional media. Bloggers can incorporate audio, video, animations, and pictures...hyperlinks are also used to create connections between information and ideas.

The following is a list of guidelines for beginning bloggers:

  1. Start. As stated earlier, blogging is best learned by blogging...and by reading other bloggers. So...start.
  2. Know your motivation. Why are you blogging? What do you hope to achieve?
  3. Link. The heart of blogging is linking...linking and commenting. Connecting and communicating - the purpose of the Internet.
  4. Experiment. Developing a writing style is an evolutionary process. Try different approaches and formats until you find one that fits your message, audience, and personal motivations.
  5. Use life and your experiences as your "idea generation" file.
  6. Get an opinion. Then express it.
  7. Express your personality...let your humour, your perspective on life, and your values shine in your writing.
  8. Post regularly. This is important - readers drop off/lose interest with irregular blogs (syndication and aggregators allow blog readers to stay in touch with infrequently updated blogs - more on that in the section "Extending Blogs").
  9. Keep writing clear and concise. Avoid jargon...but utilize the unique aspects of the medium (visual, links, sound). Focus on communication (function) before form.
  10. Write for a reason, not recognition. Most bloggers have small audiences. Satisfaction is derived from the writing process, not the audience response.

Additional resources: How to Write a Better Weblog and How to Blog

Tools & Resources for Blogging
As you progress in blogging, you may find increased interest in additional tools to enhance your blog. Many resources are available...and the list is expanding continually. Here's a few resources to consider:

Extending Blogs - Aggregating
A few days (or even hours!) of searching the blogosphere can overwhelm newcomers. The amount of information is incredible. How can a user keep track of various blogs? It seems impossible to stay in touch with more than a hand full of bloggers each day. Fortunately, a solution exists to simplify the process of reading large numbers of blogs: RSS (rich (or RDF) site summary).

Some articles detailing RSS/syndication and aggregators:

"RSS is a way of creating a broadcast version of a blog or news page. Anyone who has frequently updated content and is willing to let others republish it can create the RSS file. Typically called syndication, the RSS file is an XML formatted file that can be used at other sites or by other intermediary software such as news aggregators. The original incarnation was to use RSS to include several headlines on a personalized portal page. But an RSS feed can also be easily pulled into other functions, such as an aggregator." The Blog Realm: RSS, Aggregators, and Reading the Blog Fantastic

"Content developers make their RSS files available by placing them on their web server. In this way, RSS “aggregators” are able to read the RSS files and therefore to collect data about the website. These aggregators place the site information into a larger database and use this database to allow for structured searches of a large number of content providers.
Because the data is in XML, and not a display language like HTML, RSS information can be flowed into a large number of devices. In addition to being used to create news summary web pages, RSS can be fed into stand-alone news browsers or headline viewers, PDAs, cell phones, email ticklers and even voice updates.
The strength of RSS is its simplicity. It is exceptionally easy to syndicate website content using RSS. It is also very easy to use RSS headline feeds, either by viewing a news summary web page or by downloading one of many free headline viewers. Though most RSS feeds list web based resources, several feeds link to audio files, video files and other multimedia." An Introduction to RSS for Educational Designers

Portals, Blogs, & RSS: why they are your future - a thorough, link rich exploration of portals, blogs (history, software) and RSS.

Through the use of RSS, bloggers can keep up to date with a large number of blogs. The link to the RSS file can simply be added to an aggregator (for example: Amphetadesk or Aggie). The aggregator then searches the RSS files and generates a page listing posts and topics since the last visit. A user can view large amounts of news/information in a very short period of time.

Conclusion
The simplest innovations are often the most effective in responding to ground swells of trends and change. The potency of the blog phenomenon is two fold: perfect match for its medium and ease of use.

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