Blogging: What you need to know to start your own Blog right now!
1. What's a "Blog"?
"Blog" is the shortened form of the word 'weblog', coined by John Barger, one of the earliest weblog authors. According to Wikipedia, Peter Merholz abbreviated the term to just "blog" with the line "I've decided to pronounce the word "weblog" as wee'- blog. Or "blog" for short." And a new Internet sensation had a brand new name.
2. What Are They Used For?
When weblogs first began, they were generally just a daily [public] journal, or a list of web links the author found interesting or useful, and sometimes some commentary on the links. Today, blogs are ubiquitous and serve purposes ranging from the original - a daily public diary - to the commercial, containing information and commentary about products or services. A political candidate almost has to have a blog these days, where he can rally his supporters and tell them what his platform is and what he's doing. Many businesses create blogs that allow them to inform customers and clients about current and future events, new products, or new ways to use the products they already own. Individuals create blogs to express themselves, to record the events in their lives, or to keep wide-spread families updated on their personal events. People create blogs about their hobbies, their cars, their dogs... the list goes on. There are as many reasons for creating blogs as there are blogs, and they are extremely popular. Technorati.com - a site that tracks and aggregates blogs - is currently tracking 112.8 million of them!
Before you set out to create a blog, you'll need to decide what your blog will do. Will it be your public diary? Will it be the place where you wax enthusiastic about your Mustang, or your garden? Will it be the place you review the music that you love, or the art that you find compelling? Will you talk about books, or furniture construction, or fishing? Only you can decide. You should already have an idea what you want to blog about before you set out to build one.
3. Hosting Considerations
Having decided what to blog about, you'll still be faced with some important decisions that are technical in nature. Hosting is the term describing the service performed by the web server - it hosts the blog, or stores the blog's information locally and serves it up to web browsers when they ask for it by name. A blogger can host their blog in several ways.
Hosted on their own server, provided their ISP's terms of service allow it. This solution is labor intensive and security intensive. Any web server will be faced with many attempted attacks from "black hats" - the generic term for people who want to do something bad to your system, whether it's simply crash it, deface it, or take it over and use it to send spam. For this reason and others, you should only host your own blog if you're extremely comfortable securing and maintaining servers.
Hosted at a web hosting company, where a staff maintains the servers' hardware, but the blogger is responsible for maintaining the web server software, and installing and maintaining their own blog software, like Movable Type, WordPress, or B2Evolution. This is a solution for someone who's very technically competent, but doesn't want to host their own web site. This might be because of the labor overhead or the terms of service from the ISP, since most of them prohibit running 'servers' on residential Internet service.
Hosted at a dedicated blog hosting site. There are quite a few such sites that aggregate multiple blogs on one hosting substrate. Usually they'll have a domain, and your blog will be distinguished by the bit of the name known as the hostname. For instance, you might have myblog.blogspot.com. Blogger.com is a popular blog hosting site, and if you establish a blog there, your blog's name will be prepended to the domain name.
For most beginning bloggers, the third solution is going to be the right one, for several reasons:
Maintenance - These blog hosting services have a staff that maintains the hardware and software involved in delivering your blog to Internet at large. You don't have to buy, power, or maintain anything but your blog itself.
Reliability - Most of these hosting services are much more reliable than you could expect your PC to be as a server platform.
Exposure - Most of these hosting services have their own aggregation processes that can highlight your content for other users, and have features that make it simple for you to update the common aggregation and syndication sites, like Technorati.com and feedburner.com.
Simplicity - Most of these services make it extremely simple to create posts, manage archives, and generate RSS or Atom feeds (we'll talk about those in a bit).
4. Getting Started
You can search Google for the phrase "blog hosting sites" and find, literally, twenty or more sites that will allow you to set up a blog for free. Some of the most popular are blogger.com, livejournal.com, typepad.com, and wordpress.com. Any one of the services would serve the purposes of a beginning blogger very well.
To sign up, all you'll need is an email address. Blogger.com is one of my favorites, and it's as good a place as any to start your journey. When you go there to sign up, you'll be asked to create a "Google Account". If you already have a gmail account, you can use that - if you don't, you should probably get one, as it's useful far beyond the scope of blogger.com. But if you're in a hurry, you can use your current address. You'll need to supply your email address, a password, a Display Name (this is the name that blogger will put in the byline on all of your blog posts). You'll need to confirm the captcha, which is an image of distorted alphanumeric text designed to make sure that you're a human and not a spammer. It doesn't always work, but it's a pretty good protection. Finally, you'll need to read and accept the terms of service.
If you've filled out all the proper information, the next screen you'll see asks you for a blog title. Fill that in - it's what will show up on the blog page. It can be whatever you want. "Steve's Blog" or similar. Choose a URL that you like (and that's not taken!) - this is the address that will go in the address bar of the browser. Pick a template you like, and click continue. You can change the template later if you decide you don't like it. You'll see a confirmation page that says "Your blog has been created", and you can click on "Start Blogging".
You're ready to create your first blog post! Put in a title, click on the main window and start writing. Blogger now autosaves drafts, so even if you get disconnected, you won't lose your post. Click on "Publish Post" and you've completed your very first blog post. Click on "View Blog" to see what it will look like to the rest of the Internet when they stumble across your little corner.
On the internet, comments can be problematic. If you turn them off, you'll turn off a certain percentage of viewers, because blogs are widely viewed as interactive media. If you leave them on, you'd better have thick skin - a certain percentage of Internet commenters feel that it is their personal job to be scathingly critical of everyone who attempts to express themselves in a public forum. "Comment Spam" is another common problem of blogs, where "bots" (scripts) or hired flunkies post comments that are not much more than a list of links to sites featuring all kinds of "services" ranging from anatomical treatments to "ch3ap v1agra". Many sites have spam fighting techniques implemented, like registration or captchas, and this can save you a LOT of work. The alternative is comment moderation. Comment moderation is a system where you, the blog owner, have to review every comment posted and approve or reject it. This approach is labor intensive, but ultimately ensures the highest quality of dialog, provided the blog owner (you) is prompt.
Another type of response is called a trackback, sometimes referred to as a pingback. This is when someone sees your blog post and wants to respond to it, but feels that the response requires more space than the comment system allows. They post on their own blog and send a trackback to your site. If your site supports trackbacks, the response will appear in your comment area with a link to the entire post on the responder's blog.
A feed is a means of syndication, such as RSS or Atom, that offer blog readers a means of aggregating the blogs they read into a convenient format. Probably the single most popular syndication reader is Google Reader, but there are many standalone readers, generically referred to as "RSS Readers", even though they support Atom as well, in general. Most of the blog hosting sites will provide these feeds for you, with a link that says something like "Subscribe to this Blog". Users can copy this link and paste it into Google Reader, and whenever you make a post it will show up in their Google Reader views.
There are several services that track new posts and update various search engines and aggregators with the information that your blog has been updated. The one I use is called "Ping-O-Matic", at pingomatic.com. This service will update 21 search engines and aggregation sites with one notice from you, making it efficient and useful. You can visit the site and look at the list of services that it updates for an idea of the type of sites that need to know about your blog. Why do we want to do this? So people can find your blog. That's the beauty of the Internet - it democratizes information. You can have thousands of eyeballs on your site in a matter of days if your topic is compelling enough and you show up in the right search engines.
There are blogs that make money for their owners. They are few and far between. Blogs make money with advertisements, and the only way to make money with advertisements is to put them on your blog. Many Internet businesses will pay you per click or per sale for people coming to their site from your links. This may sound too good to be true - and it is. You need a LOT of pageviews and targeted advertisements to make enough money to matter. I'm not saying you shouldn't use Google's pay per click system, or Amazon's affiliate program, I'm just telling you that you probably won't get rich at it.
But if you decide to try an make money with your blog, I have a few suggestions for you.
Don't become a link farm - sites that build articles solely to drive traffic to their list of links become easily recognizable as spam very quickly. You might make a hundred bucks the first month, but after that you've got a domain that's spoiled.
Be selective about advertisements. If you have a blog about cars, don't run advertisements about home vacuum cleaners. Run ads about car wax or car wheels or even auto photo albums, but make sure that people who are actually interested in your topic will probably be interested in your advertisements, as well.
Engage in SEO in a good sense. We don't want to drive just anyone to the site. We want to drive people to the site that are actually interested in what you, the blogger, have to say. This makes it much easier to target advertisements, as well, and if you provide good content, no one will be irritated by the advertisements on your blog.
You now have your very own blog. It's a place you can express yourself, a place where millions of people might see what you have to say. It's a very simple process, and it can be very rewarding if you put some thought and time into it. If you do it for long enough, you can build a fairly impressive body of work, essays that you can then assemble into your own personal book, be it commentary, opinion, or just narrative. So get busy, and Happy Blogging!