Blogging 101 – My Presentation at BarCampGR

For the last two posts I’ve mentioned BarCampGR, a local Ad-Hoc IT conference, where I gave a presentation on Blogging, and I’ve said that I would post the lecture. It’s required by BarCamp to make the lecture available on-line, so here it is.

First, a couple of definitions – which I totally forgot to do in my lecture on Friday, 21 August 2015. I will try to be brief.

What is a blog? A blog is a series of usually written entries on a website that appear in reverse-chronological order (most recent first).

What is a blogging platform? The blogging platform is the website that hosts many blogs. Live Journal, Dreamwidth, Blogger, Tumblr, and WordPress are all popular blogging sites.

What costs are involved in blogging? Time. That’s about it. Blogging, especially if you are serious about it will take time. But any enjoyable hobby takes time. A hobby is something you enjoy spending your time on, so if writing isn’t something you enjoy – don’t blog. Most blogging platforms are free.

How much money do you make blogging? Zero. Zip. Nada. See previous paragraph. Actually, not only do I not make money off any of my blogs – it really irritates me when people ask this question. No one asks someone who’s into antique cars if they make money or someone who’s in an amateur sports league if they get paid. But me – they ask.

I think that’s it for the FAQ that I totally forgot to include as part of my lecture at BarCampGR, and I think that covers most questions I was asked by the audience.

So away we go.

Presentation on Blogging for BarCampGR – 21 August 2015

Introduction

I have been blogging for about ten years. I currently have four blogs, but I primarily use two of them and the other two are mostly archives. I’m a technical writer, and I have been always interested in doing at least some time of writing.

Three Types of Blogs

There are three types of blogs, first, purely Personal Blogs, second, Semi-Professional Blogs, and third, Professional (Company) blogs. This presentation will focus on the first two: Personal and Semi-Professional blogs. A purely personal blog, is a blog one launches for personal enjoyment and satisfaction. It may be about your personal hobby or interests, or it may be a general blog about everything in your life that you are willing to share on-line. When blogging started, most blogs were personal blogs, and personal blogs still exist.  My WordPress blog is a personal blog – I don’t limit my content to a specific topic, and I frequently include the best content from my other, older, blogs. And, again – a personal blog can be about anything: your favorite TV show, your hobby, anything you want. Or, it can be about everything. Personal blogs are frequently havens of creativity and they don’t have a lot of rules.

The second common type of blog is a semi-professional blog. This is the type of blog you might want if you have a hobby that you hope to eventually make your profession. For example, if you are an amateur photographer, but you hope someday to be a professional, a semi-professional blog is perfect for you. – You can display your best photos on your blog, write about your photographic experiences (share your stories), even include a résumé. In essence, your blog becomes your on-line portfolio. And it isn’t just photography – any art or craft can become the subject of your blog. Do you love to cook? Start a blog with recipes, tips, and tricks. Cooking and recipe blogs some of the most popular places on the web. And if you want to include video – don’t forget youTube. It’s extremely easy to embed youTube videos in a blog these days. You can even establish statistics – followers, likes, etc., which you can use in a “pitch meeting”, or job interview. Semi-professional blogs are exploding right now. And if you are a student, a career-changer, or you just want to see if you can make your hobby into your dream job and still make a living – a semi-professional blog is a great place to start.

The third type of blog is a business blog. I don’t intend to spend a lot of time on business blogs, beyond explaining what they are. A business blog is usually part of a larger business website. Business blogs are meant to drive customers to your website, and thus create new customers. They are also meant to help your business retain customers and keep them from going to your competition. The best business blogs aren’t hard sell, used-car-salesman-like places. The best business blogs offer something – and something concrete. They seek to instruct. They include special offers – discounts and coupons. They inform. And they listen. All business social media interaction, including blogs, is about building a community with your customers.

How does one start a blog? – Blogging Platforms

There are a lot of different blogging platforms out there. I’ve used Live Journal, Blogger, Tumblr, and WordPress. Every time I’ve started a new blog, I’ve learned something. And, in my opinion, every blog I’ve started has been better than the previous one. When you are starting from scratch, it’s good to do a little research, and read blogs on different platforms before deciding where you want to start. But, as with most things in computers, it also depends on your personal likes and dislikes, what you want to do with your blog, and your preferences. Most blogging platforms are intuitive and easy to use – and free, especially to start. You can also simply try a few different platforms before making a final decision, and abandon or delete the old blog on the old platform.

Live Journal (LJs) is one of the oldest blogging platforms. It’s entirely volunteer-run as well. Live Journal doesn’t limit content, and it is open to many different opinions and ideas. However, because it’s so old, the code is very, very old too. Although Live Journal tries to keep up and update its site to add features that users want – it can be slow and buggy. It’s also one of the few sites hosted outside the US, which can cause accessibility issues.

Dreamwidth, which I have not personally used, is, in essence, the US mirror for Live Journal. It uses the exact same code – and you can import your Live Journal directly into Dreamwidth and keep everything intact because it’s the same code and system – but hosted in the US. The problem with Dreamwidth is it is the exact same coding platform as Live Journal. Therefore the bugs in LJs, frequently also exist in Dreamwidth. Also volunteer-run, Dreamwidth seems to be slow in adding new features.

Both Live Journal and Dreamwidth do not play well with other blogs. If you want to re-publish content from another blog, you’ll need to cut and paste. Or you can link to non-LJs content. LJs did, finally, however, add the ability to embed videos from sources such as youTube or Vimeo rather than simply linking to them.

Blogger is Google’s blogging site. Any blog address with “BlogSpot” in it is hosted on Blogger. And when I set-up my movie review blog there, I loved it because design was drag and drop. Finally, an easy way to set things up to look the way I wanted, without having to use CSS, HMTL, JavaScript, or some type of code. The drawback of blogger is interactivity – there is none (pretty much). Most blogging sites host communities – some method to meet people who share your interests. They also allow for commenting, and for the blogger to comment back on comments. Yes, that sometimes means spam or trolls – but you can delete that. You can also set-up a spam filter to prevent seeing it in the first place. But one prime purpose of blogging is not only to express your own creativity, it’s to meet like-minded people. The power of community isn’t to be under-estimated. Blogger has security settings that are so high you are unlikely to get any comments. It’s also hard to get followers on Blogger – harder than any other platform.

Tumblr is a live-stream blogging site. It’s like Twitter – without the character limit. In fact, I became aware of Tumblr because I noticed people I followed on Twitter often simply posted a link on Twitter to blog content on Tumblr. Tumblr is almost entirely tag-driven. The easiest way to find the content you are looking for is to search for tags. You can follow other blogs on Tumblr, and find a community that shares your interests. It’s also very easy to link other blogs or social media accounts to Tumblr, or vice versa – to link your Tumblr account to automatically post a link to your social media accounts. Or, you can manually post the links you want to Twitter, Facebook, or other accounts. The downside of Tumblr is the complete lack of design controls. Even simple widgets – like a tag list, are missing from Tumblr – probably because it’s so in the now, like Twitter. Whereas Twitter makes this fun – for a blog, if you want to provide an archive of your writing, or art, or photography, or pictures of your crafts (everything from jewelry to wedding cakes), Tumblr isn’t the best only choice. But it can be a good additional place, something to use in addition to Twitter or even in addition to a second website or blog.

WordPress is what I’m now using for my blog. The most confusing thing about WordPress is that there are actually two of them. WordPress.Org, confusingly enough, is the commercial arm of WordPress. If you want a company website and blog – check out WordPress.org. But you’re going to have to pay for it. I actually use WordPress.Com, which is the free blogging site from WordPress. My blog is a personal one, and although I sometimes think of making it a semi-professional one – at this point, I’m not willing to pay monthly fees just for my blog. Still, WordPress.com has enough for the hobbyist blogger. And, unlike most other blogging sites, you can import the contents of another blog into WordPress, and create WordPress entries from your old blog entries. If you choose to do that, a couple of things to keep in mind. First, only import one blog at a time – or you will be overwhelmed by the new content. Second, proofread your new blog entries – remove extra spaces, and test links – updating them as needed. Third, use WordPress tags and categories to organize the imported content. Do not rely on the tags (labels, categories, etc.) importing correctly or completely – check and update them as needed.

How does one start a blog? – Design

To start a blog simply go to the main page of a blogging site and open an account. Fill in the required information and follow the on-screen directions to get started. The exact information you need to provide varies by service – but it usually isn’t much, a user name and an e-mail, that’s about it.

When starting a blog you’ll often start by choosing a theme. A theme is the decorative motif for your website. Most sites provide a number of free themes – some more than others. Some sites also have premium (paid) themes. The theme gives you a starting point for how your blog will look. Some themes are customizable – you can start from the basics that are given to use and update colors for example. Others are set as they are. If you see a theme you like somewhat but, for example, don’t like the color scheme – look at the description to see if the theme is customizable – if not choose a different theme.

Once you have a theme, you still might be able to customize the layout of your blog. My Movie Project blog on Blogger has a header row that goes across the top, a navigation column on the left then the main content column in the middle. My WordPress blog has a pinned video post on the top, and three columns: navigation, main content, then widgets. I prefer a two or three column layout column because it looks like a newspaper or newsletter. However, you can have any layout you want – and your projected content should determine the layout. My WordPress theme even lets me have a header photo for each blog post which looks very professional and engages the reader’s interest. But, again, because blogs tend to be customizable – you can do whatever you like and whatever appeals to you.

After determining your theme and customizing it, the next step is to add widgets if you want. Widgets are simply interactive or static “boxes” that hold information in a specific place on your blog. Widgets can import information from another source, such as your Twitter feed, or they can be a static list or piece of information – a quote, an “about you” description, a list of your favorite films – anything that fits your blog and that you want front and center and non-moving. Different blogging platforms offer different types of widgets you can use on their site. This might be another consideration when choosing a platform.

And that’s it – that should complete your design set-up. You are ready to start blogging. To post to your blog, or create a blog entry, sign in to your admin section, click on the “new post” button or icon, give your post a title and write away.

When you finish your post – press the “publish” button (or “Post” or “upload” whatever your service calls it). You also want to organize your posts to make them easier to find. Called “labels”, “tags”, or “categories”, you will want to use a consistent organization scheme, so your posts are identified by general content or type and others can find your posts. The tags you use will vary, it depends on the blogging platform and your actual content. But do not skip tagging (or using categories) to organize your posts and be consistent in the tags that you use. Tagging can get complex, but don’t skip it.

Another common thing you should add to at least some posts is pictures or video. Pictures make your posts more visually appealing and can draw people in to your blog. Pictures can be pictures, drawings, vector graphics, infographics, .jpgs of charts or graphs from Excel, a single Power Point image – anything with visual appeal. All graphics uploaded to blogging sites should be in the .jpg format.

Wrap-Up and Questions

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s