it.gen.nz

Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The why and how of blogging

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about blogging – how to get started, and if you’d even want to!

Read on for some advice, and as always some links at the end.

Q: OK, now what about the blogging story? How do you, and why would you want to?

A: Let’s do “why” first, shall we? It’s a way to be heard. I guess most people don’t have a newspaper or a radio station but many still want to get their point of view out there.

Q: but so many blogs are about trivia!

A: One person’s trivia is another’s big news, I guess. Many blogs are little different from diaries. If you blog on MySpace, for instance, you can restrict access to your blog just to your friends, or just to yourself if that’s what you want – then it really is like your secret diary, except of course that Rupert Murdoch and his staff can read it because they own MySpace – hmmm, if you want to write a secret diary, you are better of keeping it on your own computer.

Q: Or even in a diary!

A: Quite so. But blogging lets you reach an audience, either one you can control or just a general audience. I use mine, for instance, to put up material from these radio broadcasts. If you want to read what I intended to say, look at my blog on IT.GEN.NZ. If you want to hear what I actually said, pull the podcast from radionz.co.nz.

The other thing that blogs do that a diary or a radio broadcast can’t, is allow people to comment on what you’ve written. Those comments can turn into conversations among those who are commenting. It’s easy to leave a comment and anyone can do it – feel free to try it on the blog entry for this programme!

Q: What do you do if you don’t agree with the comments people leave on your blog?

A: That’s up to the blogger – I tend not to delete or edit other people’s posts unless they are downright offensive or legally risky, and I don’t get many of those, thank goodness. Some of the blogs out there have very robust discussion in their comments by the way.

Q: For instance?

A: The political ones are particularly like that – take a look at David Farrar’s Kiwiblog sometime. David is an indefatigable blogger who posts several times a day, often on political topics, and making no attempt to hide his own political views. Noting wrong with that, of course. He’s a strong advocate for his point of view, and deals well with the pushback he gets on his blog. I’m just mystified as to how he finds the time!

And there’s a site called Kiwiology which is basically a list of New Zealand blogs, just cruise over and take a look.

Q: How do you get started blogging?

A: The technology side of it is not hard and it doesn’t cost money, over and above your Internet connection, that is.

Q: Do you need broadband?

A: No, although it would be faster and less frustrating with broadband. But so long as you are just posting smallish lumps of text you can get away with dial-up. Or, if you get seriously into blogging and you have to blog just about everywhere you go, you can use a laptop with a data card or even a fancy mobile phone. But the simplest way to get started is to use one of the big blog hosting sites like blogspot.com or wordpress.com.

Q: How do they work?

A: You just go there and it’s obvious. You wind up with a blog that’s based on their domain name, though – so if you wanted to call your blog “banana”, you’d end up with banana.blogspot.com or banana.wordpress.com. There are several different kinds of software that people use for blogging. One of the common types is called WordPress – same name as the site WordPress.com, and others are Movable Type and Blogger. Some of these, like WordPress, are open source and you can set them up on your own web server if you have one. Commercial web hosts often offer WordPress and other free blogging software as a free option. Others like Movable Type are pay-for software, but you can also get free hosted copies at Typepad. And still others aren’t available for you to host – they only live on the host that owns them – the Blogger software used by Blogspot is the best known example.

Q: How do you use them?

A: It’s pretty obvious when you get to one of these sites. You post by using an on screen form, with spaces for the title of your post, the categories you think it belongs to, and of course the text of your post. Lots of them let you split your post into a head part, which shows on the front page of your blog, and an extended part which is where you put the bulk of a long post. You reader has to click “Read More” or some such to get from the head part to the extended body of the article. I don’t usually have more than 3 paragraphs in the head section, and often I just use it as an introductory paragraph and put the whole article into the extended part.

You can also put pictures, links, and even videos into your pages. The form you enter your post into makes it clear how.

If you start using this a lot, you can get software to make the posting easier, so you don’t have to use a web-based form. I use one called Marsedit; it just makes the posting process a little faster and easier. Google for “weblog client” to find a list.

There are also lots of resources to help you figure out how to use your blog. There’s an excellent book about using WordPress by Wellington author Miraz Jordan, and it has a web site supporting it, which I’ve put into today’s links.

Q: OK, so get started by going to WordPress.com or Blogspot.com. How should you write for a blog?

A: Ah yes, this is quite important. Blog articles are personal, blog articles are often short, and they sometimes contain the odd typo or error. That doesn’t matter so long they aren’t riddled with errors. I tend to see a blog article as being more like something I would say than a piece of prose I would revise and polish before publishing. So my advice is to say what you want to say as though you were talking to someone sitting across the table from you, then read it back once to see if you’ve said anything silly, or something that could get you into trouble, but don’t spend hours polishing. That’s what works for me, though – your mileage may vary, and other people may have more time than me to work through endless revisions.

Q: You mentioned things that might get you into trouble!

A: The standard laws about defamation, copyright, and contempt of court apply. If you wouldn’t write it in a piece of paper and stick it in your window, don’t do it online. You’ve also got to think about comments – it’s a good idea to at least read the comments you get and check that they don’t look legally dodgy as well.

Oh, and one more point – watch for comment spam. You can set comments on your blog to show up as soon as someone posts them, but if you do that there will be a lot of spam. Sad but true. You have two options to control this – either you set the blog so that you have to approve or moderate every comment before it is published, or you use technical spam control features of your blog host. I use a WordPress plug-in called Akismet which is uncannily accurate at getting rid of comment spam.

Finally – give it a go! Just get out there and try it. You never know, you might get hooked!

Links

As always, discuss this on Colin’s blog at it.gen.nz

Two hosted services to get started – Blogspot.com and WordPress.com.

The mighty Kiwiblog – a New Zealand high-traffic political blog. Don’t worry if you don’t get as many comments as this one :-)

Kiwiology, a site full of New Zealand blogs.

Lists of blog hosts and blogging software.

Weblog client software – optional.

A more detailed introduction to blogging from WordPress

Miraz Jordan’s excellent book on WordPress blogging software.

Akismet, an anti-spam plug-in for WordPress.

posted by colin at 11:50 am  

16 Comments

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