Blogging

Let’s get blogging! by Neil Martin, Learning Technologist

blog-224432_640Image 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
http://melissaterras.blogspot.co.uk
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.

  • Engaging
  • Relevant (and current)
  • Expert
  • Readable (and scannable)
  • Sharable
  • Personal

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
http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/
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.

Tools

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:

Blogging platforms

Blogging tips

Take a look at:

Activity: Create your own blog and post the url of your blog to the comments below!

16 thoughts on “Blogging

  1. Peter Albion

    My primary blog and the one that I’ll use for this project is DrAlb. It uses WordPress installed on my own hosting service. That gives me control but also means that I need to manage updates and maintenance. I used to write more often about things that I was reading but for the past couple of years it has been mostly links pushed from Diigo.
    I have a travel blog for which I use a free wordpress.com space. It is used to keep family and friends updated when we travel so I have it rigged to announce each post via Twitter and Facebook and it also supports RSS and email subscriptions.
    Subscriptions and notifications are an important aspect of blogs. When I first started reading much from the web (from about 1994) I maintained a page with links to a collection of sites that I checked each day for news. Now I very seldom visit a website to look for news. I follow a number of blogs using RSS in a reader and pick up links to other material that may interest me from Twitter and, less often, Facebook. If you are interested in blogs and are not already using RSS, in a reader or through your email, then I suggest that you investigate that. It makes much more sense to have the news come to you than to have to chase it down. If you don’t care to bother with RSS then email subscriptions can be an alternative for some blogs and many of them also send notifications through Twitter so you could follow there.

    Reply
      1. Sam Tickell

        I agree on the RSS – it is a very useful tool and I tend to use it with IFTTT (If This Than That) a web based tool to capture stores, cross post articles etc. With some of the sites I run, I still see a decent amount of traffic from RSS. I still think it helps with SEO too…

        Reply
  2. Ron Pauley

    I see I’ve got a lot to learn about blogging… and I realise now I’ve been avoiding it so long for all the wrong reasons. Thanks Neil for a great kick off to the project, and to others for comments that will keep me busy experimenting for some time. For the purposes of this exercise, I have created a free blog : gottawonder.weebly.com

    Reply
  3. Tim McCallum

    Great article Neil.
    I use the WordPress dot com platform for a blog called ‘techteam’ . As you mentioned, the dot com platform works well for teams (techteam was born during a computer programming project).

    Here is an example of a super short techteam post on WordPress dot com
    Some statistics on this post:
    Number of words in the body of the post 34
    Number of comments received 62
    Number of hits per week 900

    This post illustrates the usefulness and effectiveness of easy to use online blogging platforms like WordPress dot com.

    Imagine your content, which you created in seconds, becoming the most authoritative source of information, for a question, on the web Click here for ‘techteam post’ Google Results

    It is possible with a Blog 

    Reply
  4. Sam Tickell

    I’ve run a few blogs or news sites in my time and contributed to countless others – generally in the motorsport space. My main project at the moment is on WordPress. WordPress is so user friendly and so easily takes in other parts of the web. For example over at http://www.racerviews.com, I have integrated ease photo galleries, podcasting, social sharing etc.

    Looking to start up another professional blog with my professional views and opinion rather than the style of content I deliver on RacerViews. I enjoy the process and believe that blogging in one form or another is really making a comeback.

    Reply
  5. Ron

    Keeping track of blog comments is presenting as a challenge for me. Could you please give a rundown of RSS Feeds and/or tools perhaps to help monitor comments.. anything to help keep up with the conversations.

    Reply
  6. Mary-Anne

    Thought I would try and use this for a motivation site and maybe later when I get my act together put a picture or two and learn a few of the fun bits later. Gee a blog can get long… does that mean you lose stuff or if you are the last blogger no one will bother to scroll down?

    Reply
  7. Jacinta

    Like a few others I have been putting off blogging, despite wanting to do it for a while. I’ve been trying to figure out whether to be anonymous or write under my real name. For now, I’ve forgone the real name (to all but those involved in this project!) but might get a bit braver as a result of this exercise.
    I’m over at http://realcrit.wordpress.com

    Reply
  8. USQ23Things Pilot Post author

    It is enjoyable, Hoda! It is like keeping a public journal of your experiences, and there are so many ways to personalise your blog and make it ‘yours’.

    Reply
  9. Ken

    Hello – I have had a few blogs over the years. My first was titled “Terra Incognita,” which posed the question “What does OSS and OER mean to Higher Education?” It was sort of a group blog that I coordinated. I started it in about 2008 and ran it as a series of contributed works. When I left Penn State, who was hosting it, I made sure that the posting were preserved, so we moved them into Connexions (http://cnx.org/search?q=Terra%20Incognita) now OpenStax (http://cnx.org/) and Merlot.

    About 2 years ago I started posting to a blog called “Latent Pattern Transition,” (http://www.kenudas.com/) with is a little more personal in nature. I recognise that I have sort of broken a few of the good practices that Neil outlined above. First, the topics can be a little esoteric, which may limit participation. This is not so much a concern for me because I am just sort of writing about what I think is important, which may not be very topical or may be of little interest to others. Perhaps of more importance is that the posts are a bit of work, which is why I think that I ran out of steam about a year ago.

    All this being said, this blogging exercise has motivated me, so I made a new post (picking up where I left off a year ago). The post is titled “Ruminations on University Presidency: evil is abolished and paradise restored” http://bit.ly/1v6zoMj

    Because I was pretty neglectful, the blog became a little over run with SPAM, which I am addressing. I know that I should probably moderate commenting or at least be much more active with SPAM filtering.

    Reply
  10. Ken

    Hello,

    I thought that this might be of interest. I am guessing that some of us might be aware of DS106 (Digital Storytelling – http://ds106.us/) and perhaps have even participated. Hoda, I am responding to the question in your BLOG about the use of social media and teaching tools in your classes. This is sort of an example of a very interesting project that is about social learning. There is a lot of blogging and other things that go on.

    I first learned about DS106 about 5 or 6 years ago when I heard Jim Groom (from Mary Washington) talk about persistent teaching and learning at a UCEPA meeting.

    Here is a little description from the “course” web site.

    “Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.”

    It would be quite powerful to create a program around this type of educational model. So much more interesting that the commercial and X MOOCs, but much quieter…

    Reply
  11. Ray Hingst

    Wow! There’s a lot of momentum generated already. I’m still contemplating as a novice, whether to start with blogger or wordpress! I should have that resolved in the next day or two!

    Reply
  12. Nick Kelly

    Thanks Neil, that’s great. My blog is this one here – http://www.nickkellyresearch.com – and I’ve found it really useful just as a place to kind of collate all the various places that things end up getting published.

    As in, given how many different places things end up going out in (websites, journals, slideshare, twitter, conferences) it’s been kind of helpful to have a central place where I just post it up whenever things happen.

    However one hitch is that getting PageRank over 1 seems to be beyond me – even searches for things directly related to my posts don’t come up so highly. Any ideas for how to improve that without taking up much time?

    Reply

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