Your grandmother's guide to blogging

Originally written for: eVent! magazine [ep] in Kelowna British Columbia June 4th, 2005

These days it is near impossible to watch the cable news networks, especially the American ones like CNN and MSNBC, without hearing about “blogs” and the “blogesphere”. Blogs, it seems are shaping the way news is gathered, but what are they and where did they come from.

Online journals or weblogs, shortened to blogs, have been around for years but have only recently been gaining the sort of media attention that’s brought them to the attention of the general public. Initially to maintain an online journal required knowledge of HTML, the computer language that many internet sites are programmed in, and so posting even a short journal entry could be both difficult and time consuming. However over the last few years online services that take the hassle out of the process have sprung up, and thus blogging has exploded.

Initially the first to take to blogging was the tech and computer community, with many early sites being about topics like networking, why linux is cool and why Boolean searches were going to change the world. Next came teenages, who were able to post their diaries online for all to see. Services like livejournal (livejournal.com) catered to this market by adding animated mood icons, so a post could accurately reflect the sadness of not getting asked to the school dance with an tiny picture of an animated cloud crying.

Blogging continued to become easier and more popular. Services like Blogger (blogger.com) offered easy to edit journals with greater control over page design. Bloggers (those whom blog) who want more advanced features have the option of setting up their own site on a server, a complex task, or using a pay service like TypePad (typepad.com). By placing advertisements on their site or by selling merchandise many bloggers even make a living off their blog.

Now there are blogs on anything you can think of, from animal care to zoology. There are blogs about cooking, blogs about photography, blogs about travel, blogs about politics and pretty much anything else there is.

The most prevalent is still the personal weblog. Peter Jones, a student at Okanagan University College is one such blogger. His journal (paetebre.com) is mainly for himself. “I have this habit of forgetting what I do, especially over the summer, so I use it to remind myself what I've done, who I've seen, and that sort of thing,” Jones says. Yet he also keeps it up for friends and family, “so they can see what I'm up to, maybe give them a laugh or two.”

How much an author wants to disclose to what effectively is the entire world, is up to them. Jones generally is fairly open on his journal, but he does admit that there are limits. “If I did anything terribly interesting that could put me in jail, I'd keep it to myself,” he says, “I may put a nickname over a real name for some people to avoid getting yelled at, but otherwise it's all up there.”

Okanagan based husband and wife journalists Heather Hughes and Hanson Hosein are using blogging for another purpose. They are currently on a 52 day trip through America on a project that has them investigating the battle between chain stores like Wal-Mar and independent Mom and Pop stores. Blogging their trip they are using more advanced blogging features than your typical site. Their site Independent America (independentamerica.net) is a multi-media combines photos, video posts with audio and the more traditional text.

In the United States political orientated blogs have grabbed the mainstream media’s attention for their role in media events like Rather-gate the scandel focusing on NBC’s use of forged documents in a report on President George Bush’s Vietnam military service record. Anchor Dan Rather was ushered into retirement after a number of political blogs uncovered that the documents were fake. The media now sees the blogs as new form of a newsgathering, though most politically orientated blogs are wildly partisan.

In Canada Members of Parliament are beginning to get blogs. Saskatchewan Conservative MP Andrew Scheer is one example. His site (andrewscheermp.blogspot.com/) contains his thoughts on Canada’s national political scene. One post suggests that George Lucas based the plot for the new Star Wars film on the Canadian Poltics, with Paul Martin as the evil Emperor and Belinda Stronach as Darth Vader.

As blogging continues to become easier it will become more and more popular. Though the influence of blogs is often overstated they are here to stay. As video and audio blogging get more popular they too will become new and creative ways to communicate.

Sidebar:



How to create your own blog

Step One: pick a topic

Is your blog going to be simply a personal journal or about something specific? Blogs with a well-defined and specific subject matter often have an easier time finding an audience than blogs that vary from post to post.

Step Two: select a service

If you do not want to spend money on your blog to start go with a blog hosting service like Blogger (blogger.com) that provides a free blog that is fairly easy to do some minor design customization on. Many bloggers move to another service after awhile if they find they want greater control over their site.

Step Three: design your site

Even the most basic blog hosting service will give you the ability to tweak your site to look how you want. Change the colours, add graphics and icons and you’re off to the races. This design can be simple or complex, it’s up to you.

Step Four: post

This is what blogging is about, writing posts. Though the internet is credited for destroying the grammer and spelling skills of a generation do edit your work. There’s nothing that drives readers away like a blog that’s riff with spelling mistakes.

Step Five: promote your blog

How you promote your blog depends on who you want to come to your site. If it’s just an online family newsletter for the grandparents then send them an email with your site’s address. However if you’re wanting to get the word out about your site to the rest of the world wide web then start by visiting a promotion site like Blogs Canada (blogscanada.ca).

Step Six: rake in the cash

Few people make enough money from blogging to live on. Some like actor Wil Wheaton (wilwheaton.net) best known for his work in Stand By Me and as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: the Next Generation have been able to turn successful blogs into writing careers. More likely you may be able to ad some ads to your site and make a bit of money to help cover any blogging costs you might have. A service like Google’s Adsense (google.com/adsense) will provide ads that will generate cash for you when they’re clicked on.