Let’s get blogging! by Neil Martin, Learning Technologist
Image credit: Image is in the Public Domain and is covered by a CC0 licence (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)
First up a disclaimer. There has been plenty written about blogging and some really detailed resources are out there. This article aims to give you a (relatively) quick overview and provide some context and examples. I will post some links to resources at the bottom, so skip to there if you are bit short for time and just want to get going!
What is a blog?
A weblog (or blog for short) is an online space to share your knowledge, expertise and ideas:
- The author (blogger) writes blog posts to share their expertise in a topical way weaving in their own opinions and insights
- Individual blog posts are sorted in reverse chronological order with the most recent posts on top
- Content can be tagged so that readers can search on different key words and categories
- In most cases posts can be commented on by others to provide contrasting opinions and nurture debate. This content can be moderated for approval before being published, but doesn’t have to depending on context.
- Many blogs include tools to allow the post to be shared via email or social media and therefore potentially increase the audience and impact
Blogs have been around in various forms for 15 years. The early blogs were particularly popular for those interested in politics where they provided opportunities for political debate in a new medium. Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire blog, for example, was established in 1999 and is still influential today. Since then, the number of blogs has exploded and blogs exist for just about every topic imaginable.
Blogging platforms: Blogger and WordPress
Blogger was one of the first mainstream blogging platforms. As a small startup, it was acquired by Google in 2003 and quickly became the leading tool for writing blogs. It is a hosted service, which means that once you have set up your blog, all your content will be hosted on a dedicated server owned by Blogger.
Blogger is great for:
- Beginners; a Blogger hosted blog is intuitive to set up and easy to get going
- Having simple and focused design templates geared towards getting your content out there
The other major blogging platform is WordPress.
WordPress comes with beautiful and modern templates (called themes) as well as a range of plugins that can add richer functionality to your blog.
WordPress comes in two flavours…
WordPress.com is a hosted solution on WordPress servers. It has much of the functionality of Blogger but with more freedom to customise. WordPress.com may also be more suitable for team blogs as you can set up multiple users.
A second version of WordPress is WordPress.org. This is a freely available version of WordPress that can be downloaded and installed on your own server. This is a much more sophisticated set up that allows you to fully customise the user experience thanks to the range of plugins and themes available. This blog is as example of a self-hosted WordPress setup.
WordPress.org is not necessarily recommended for beginners as the options available can be overwhelming. It also requires you to purchase hosting and a domain or utilise web hosting within your organisation. At USQ no formal service exists at present.
It’s probably worth keeping WordPress.org and self-hosting in mind for the future if your blog matures and you wish to have more control, but for starters Blogger or WordPress.com are excellent.
Writing a blog
Writing blog posts can at first seem quite daunting, but it is really a case of adapting writing skills that you already have.
In preparation for blog writing there are a number of questions that you should consider:
Why am I doing this?
Let’s be honest here, writing a blog is a commitment. It’s important early on to identify the purpose of your blog and to set some goals. The purpose may be as a space for personal reflection, or as a resource that reinforces your credentials as an expert on a particular subject. It’s absolutely vital that you understand the parameters of your blog and the type of content that is likely to go in to it.
Example blog: Melisa Terras’ Blog
Melisa Terras is a Professor of Digital Humanities at University College London. She has kept a personal blog (using Blogger) for 7 years and has posted over 300 articles. Her blog has a number of functions: It is a space to share information and reflect about her subject area. It draws attention to her research in an informal way, but also includes aspects of her personal life as she juggles academia and motherhood.
What should I write?
Blogs exist for just about every subject. Here are some of the qualities of a good blog.
- Relevant (and current)
- Readable (and scannable)
Writing for the web is a different medium to more traditional types. Users tend to first scan read before engaging with the content. Try to make your content scannable by using short paragraphs, headers and bullet points.
Consider adding engaging images and videos. Remember to check any rights first. I tend to use creative commons images as these have been shared for open use.
Example blog: Elearnspace
George Siemens’ Elearnspace blog is a regularly updated blog that shares his knowledge, ideas and opinions on MOOCs, connectivism and learning analytics. He offers opinions, commentary on other blog posts and updates on his own activities.
Who is my audience?
In order to focus your blog further, think about your audience and their expectations. Are they within your peer group or more generalised?
You may have multiple audiences. The Seattle Children’s Autism Blog, for example, is primarily aimed at parents with autistic children but is also aimed at health professionals and researchers.
How much time?
It’s worth questioning about how much time you have to dedicate to your blog. The likely answer is “very little” given the pressures of balancing existing life and work commitments. Commit to a realistic number of posts per month, perhaps one or two only. A content plan can help you with this. This can be as simple as planning out the posts you wish to write over a six-month period in a spread sheet indicating rough dates of publication and a few keywords.
What shouldn’t I write?
Hopefully I’m not stating the obvious, but don’t forget that anything you post online tends to stay online. Search engines index and archive content and any web page can link to another web page.
Content that could be deemed as defamatory, offensive or overtly political is best avoided. Remember also to let the readers know who you represent, and if necessary, that the views are your own and do not represent the organisation that you work for.
One technique that a lot of bloggers use is to share the content with a colleague, friend or family member for checking before publishing.
Should I write alone or as part of a team?
Writing as part of a team has a number of advantages. It means that posting can be shared around so the blog can be quite active but require less commitment e.g. a couple of posts a year for each member.
I work within the Australian Digital Futures Institute and we have been running a team blog for over three years with around 150 posts. The blog is used to communicate research activities and professional interests of members of the institute. A couple of things that have worked well for us is to a) have a blog roster and b) an editor who has final say on publication.
How can I measure the success of my blog?
Ultimately a successful blog needs to have readers. This doesn’t have to be a large amount if the community of readers are engaged. Last week, I was talking to a colleague who kept a blog on local issues in her community. Her blog had a small readership of around 40 people living in her community, but was successful because of the commentary and debate that was generated.
A number of tools are available help analyse engagement with your blog:
- Google Analytics is a web analytics tool that allows you to better understand how many visitors you have, where they are from and to what extent they are engaging with your site.
- Both WordPress.com and Blogger have in built administration tools that can give you statistics and real-time information on user activity. For self-hosted WordPress users there is a plugin called Jetpack that allows you to utilise the tools provided by the hosted WordPress.com
- You may also want to consider how you can build you audience. Utilising social media and email subscription tools may help with this.
Let’s get blogging!
Hopefully you’ve had a useful overview of blogging, what it is and some tips. The next thing to do is to set up your blog and get going. Below are some useful links that will help you along the way:
Take a look at:
Activity: Create your own blog and post the url of your blog to the comments below!