July 10, 2002
Blogging for Beginners: What
One day your grandchildren are going to sit on your lap and ask you, "Grandpa/Grandma/Generic Grandparental Figure, what did you do during the Great Blogging Revolution?"
OK, so they might not, but there's no harm in being ready. Blogging -- creating online journals that range from the cringingly personal to the professionally vital -- is here to stay and, like it or not, we're in the middle of a new means of gathering and disseminating information. And it's about time we got up to speed and started a bit of blogging ourselves.
For those of you not yet up to speed on the phenomenon, Weblogs -- Web logs -- are usually basic Web sites maintained by individuals who chronicle anything, from their own dating disasters to the world of wireless communication. They pepper their text with links to other Web sites, include their own comments, and those of readers. Blogs, as they're called for short, reflect the Internet at its best: an informal medium for informed ideas, anarchic, commercially naive and compelling. They're also quite polite, a bit like the Internet of old. Perhaps because each blog is individually owned and managed, the interactions that take place seem to be less churlish and aggressive than some of the material you'll find on news groups and other public forums. Hooray to that. So what do you need to get started?
First, you need to find someone to host your blog. This is not difficult. And not expensive; indeed, several sites dedicated to blogging offer a basic package free. If you sign up, in most cases you'll end up with a site mixing the name of your blog with the host's name, followed by a .com (for example, loosewire.weblogger.com).
Once you've signed up, you'll be asked to select a template -- sometimes called a skin -- that determines the basic layout of the page, including colors, columns and text size. These can be fine-tuned later, depending on how fiddly you want to get. Once that's done, you'll be asked to fill out basic fields, such as the name of your blog, a brief description of the site and a few details. You'll also be asked how public you want the site to be -- ranging from allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to add their comments directly onto the site, to only you who can add material. When this is all done, your site is basically ready.
Adding content can be done the same way, by logging into your site and making a new posting. You don't need to know any html -- the basic programming code that goes into preparing Web pages -- as in most cases you can add links to other sites that you mention in the text, just by selecting the text in question, clicking on a button and typing in the Web site's address. This linking to other sites is a core part of many blogs, which themselves consist of little more than a list of links to other sites. That's not to say this is not important or useful stuff. On the contrary, such sites are lovingly prepared by aficionados who generously pepper their links with informed comments. This, in my view, is blogging at its best, since it provides a degree of objective expertise you're unlikely to find elsewhere. Indeed, providing links to other sites has become so central to many blogs that services have sprung up to make it easier -- check out BlogRolling (http://www.blogrolling.com/1), for example.
Now I'm Hooked
It's not all sunshine and haymaking. Teething troubles are unavoidable. I've tried a host of hosts, and while I'd plump for Weblogger (http://www.weblogger.com/2) or Blogger (http://www.blogger.com/3), I had teething problems with both. Blogger wouldn't let me set up archives of old postings on anything but one of its own hosted sites, despite promises to the contrary, and I couldn't get my brain around tweaking the background images on Weblogger. That said, both are intuitive and user-friendly without being twee. Xanga (http://www.xanga.com/4), while fiddly for setting colors and other layout preferences, also offers great extras, such as a live news feed from the king of news feeds, Moreover (http://www.moreover.com/5).
I'm now a convert -- check out my blog at loosewire.weblogger.com6, where you can see recent columns and further musings by myself and other readers. Once you're over the psychological hump of actually putting your own content onto the Internet, you may find yourself hooked -- and prepared to look your grandchildren in the eye and say with steely certainty: "I was blogging."
Updated July 10, 2002
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