Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Blogging Primer

Here's a post for the newbies. When I started blogging (heck! I'm still a beginner!), I didn't have a clue about this online format. I was starting from scratch. After a little research, I know a few more things, which I'd like to pass along so it's not as difficult for you other beginners.

A blog (short for web log) is an online journal with a reader feedback mechanism. That's the comment link you'll find at the bottom of my posts. These can be disabled on blogs, so you might not see one. On Seth Godin's blog, for example, the comment feature is shut off.

To start a blog, you need some sort of blog creating program or service. I'm using Blogger, which is a free service. It was started by a couple of guys, who sold it to Google, the current owner. In order to maintain the free service, Blogger requires that its tool bar appear at the top of each blog's page. You can click on the Blogger icon to go right to its website.

Another popular blog service is TypePad. There is a fee for this service.

Two books helped me launch my blog. One was Publishing a Blog with Blogger by Elizabeth Castro. This skinny book is a Visual QuickProject Guide full of color photos and easy-to-follow instructions.

The other book I used was Blogging in a Snap by Julie C. Meloni. This has much more depth, though it's still easy to understand. Good illustrations, too. This book helps readers to alter their Blogger templates, which is a task that is not for the faint-hearted. You have to understand html (hypertext markup language) and css (cascading style sheet) code in order to fuss with the template. Html and css are computer languages that are used to build websites. If you want to see some of this code, just go to the View menu at the top of your internet browser and select Page Source. You'll get a screen of code that looks like gobbledygook to the uninitiated.

There were some other terms being thrown around while I was trying to wrap my head around blogging. RSS feed, feed aggregator, trackback, permalink, ping, & captcha. I thought that these things would all automatically come with a blog service. Not so.

The permalink comes with the blog service. Each post gets its own url address. (That's the address you see up in the address bar at the top of the screen.) If you want to see one of my post's permalink addresses, just click the # sign to the left of my name at the bottom of the post. Permalinks allow others to link directly to one post in a blog.

A trackback is a link to someone elses blog that references a post in your own blog. So, if I mention something in one of Seth Godin's posts, I can trackback to his, but only as long as he has the trackback feature, too. If he were to mention something about one of my posts in his blog, he can send me a ping, which, as far as I can figure is like flicking someone in the back of the head in order to get his attention. The ping lets me know he's mentioned my post. I'm still learning to use these two features, which are not a part of Blogger. To get trackbacking, I am using a free blog commenting service called Haloscan.

When I started my blog, I used Blogger's commenting service, which allows for the use of CAPTCHAs. That's an acronym, folks. It stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test. This is a test that allows computers to tell the difference between humans and other computers. It normally involves a human retyping a set of Salvidor Dali-esque letters and numbers that appear in a box. A human can usually do this (if the letters and numbers aren't too squiggly). A computer can't. This means that computer-generated spam can't get through to the comment section of a blog. When I changed my comment service to Haloscan, I lost the CAPTCHAs, but Haloscan assures me that they have good spam blockers, so they don't need CAPTCHAs.

RSS, as in RSS feed, stands for Really Simple Sydication. Having a blog is like writing a newspaper column. It can be published on the web through the use of a feed. Blogger has an internal feed, but there are external feeds as well, such as FeedBurner. These feeds help to get your blog more widely distributed.

There are millions of interesting blogs out there. Impossible to read them all or keep up with changes to even a handful of them. For this there are feed aggregators (a.k.a. news aggregators). There are all sorts of these aggregators that will look through the blogs you're interested in and send you a little synopsis with updates. I'm using Bloglines.

There were a couple of other terms that I learned in my blog research: lurker and troll. A lurker is someone who reads blog posts, but doesn't comment. Perfectly acceptable behavior that I often engage in myself. You can learn a lot by lurking around blogs. You'll especially pick up some lessons about how blogs work. The other term, troll, is not complimentary. A troll is someone who flames others with negative or inflammatory statements. A troll purposely tries to get a rise out of you. For this particular problem, most blogs give you the option of comment moderation.

Okay, this post is far too long already, but I thought it was worth it to explain this fascinating technology that is still in its evolutionary stages as far as being a creative medium. If you need help with blogging, I don't know a lot, but you can send me a comment and I'll try to point you in the right direction. Happy blogging, happy lurking.

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