FAQ: What Is a Blog?
By Andreas Ramos, www.andreas.com
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What are blogs? How do you make a blog? Why are blogs important? Which are the main blogs? And your most important question: Can I make money with blogs?
Recently, there has been a great deal of talk about blogs, so I wrote this FAQ to answer several questions:
History and Overview of Blogs
Origin of Blogs
In August 1999, Evan Williams in San Francisco figured out how to update his website by just typing text into a text box.
Normally, to update a website, you use an HTML editor, edit the text and add HTML formatting, use FTP to upload it, and the page is then available.
But his new method allowed him to open a webpage, type text into a text box, click Submit, and it was instantly available as a webpage.
This makes it easier to add content to websites without having to bother with HTML.
For example, Eleanor has a website at eleanor.com, where she wants to keep a diary of what she is up to.
Blogs allow anyone to quickly post text and images to the Web without any technical knowledge. This opens the web to more publishing and distribution of information.
I should also mention several more people who have been significant in developing blogs. Dave Winer created the Radio Userland blog tool radio.userland.com. Meg Hourihan megnut.com is the co-founder of Pyra (blogger.com) and she got together the funds that kept the company alive.
Origin of the word Blog
If a diary on the website is a log entry on a website, then it is a web log. This was shortened to weblog, which soon became blog.
There's also the verb, as in "she was blogging all morning."
How do I pronounce blog?
Blog rhymes with "dog" or "blob". It's one word. It's not pronounced "bee-log."
Are there other silly words?
What is the blog community?
A subculture has sprung up around blogging. Groups of people maintain blogs and cite each other in their blogs. They even visit each other. (In the list of articles at the end, read the New Yorker article for a good description of this.)
Aren't blogs just diaries?
Okay, yes, the vast majority of blogs are self-centered and trivial. It's like reading someone's diary. Here's a quote from a blog:
But there's more to blogs. The advanced blog tools are in effect content management and distribution tools. These can be used for business.
Blogs can also be private
Blogs aren't just public. There are also private blogs. These can be internal newsletters for a family, a group of friends, a school class, a project team, and so on. They can share daily information, such as major family events, like new babies, updates on an upcoming wedding or get-together, or updates on an illness in the family.
Most blogs are written by one person, but there can be more authors. The advanced blog tools allow multiple contributors. Five or six people can contribute and create a group blog. It can be either a group of people, or it can be open to anyone. This allows collaborative publishing.
But what exactly is a blog?
There's two parts to a blog: the software and the resulting text on your webpage. Would you like to see what these look like?
The blog editor (the software)
The editor is what you use to write the blog's text. You sign up at (for example) blogger.com, fill out a few pages of questions, and that creates a blog account for you. You then get a login and password which lets you use a blog editor (this editor appears as a webpage at blogger.com).
The blog editor has a text box in which you type in your text for your blog (just under New Post in the illustration). You click Post & Publish (at the upper right corner) and it gets added to your webpage. The text appears at the top of your blog page (see the next illustration.) The time and date is automatically added. The previous postings are listed in the bottom half of the editor page. You can always go back and edit a previous posting. You can also delete it.
The blog (the results)
When you click Post & Publish, your entry is now visible to the world at your blog webpage. Everyone can read what you wrote in your blog.
How do people read my blog entries?
There are several ways for others to read your blog.
This last point is important. One of the major problems, if not the critical problem, of the simple blogs is that they depend on visitors coming to their website. If you're not well-known or have an interesting topic, your blog will not have much traffic. By using a tool that can send your blog out by email, you can reach your readers directly. I'll discuss this point further in the Conclusions.
How many blogs are there?
I have several comments to these numbers.
Why is there all this talk about blogs?
Blogs finally passed the tipping point from subculture into the mainstream.
Why are blogs important in journalism?
Using blogs, ideas are brought up on blogs, discussed further by others on their blogs, and distributed to yet more blogs. This is somewhat like a publicly-available email discussion. Blogs makes it possible to carry out a conversation in public, with hundreds of thousands of readers.
This is no small thing. A few blogs have led the media on several items:
These blogs are also the top blogs. They are averaging about one to two million readers per month. This is larger than most magazines, and easily in the range of the top twenty US newspapers. The top blogs are a major established form of news media.
Thus journalists are learning about blogs.
What are the top blogs?
Blogstreet monitors a list of some 150,000 blogs:
Look at a number of blogs in these lists to see what blogs are like.
How do I find out what is going on in blogs?
There are all sorts of search engines and other tools for blogs.
Are there examples of corporate blogs
Companies are using blogs in order to maintain contact to their users. For example, Macromedia's top developers keep blogs where they discuss new products, show web developers how to use new features, and answer questions. This allows the developers to hold a public conversation with their major customers. See www.markme.com/mxna/index.cfm
Why should I do a blog?
How to set up your blog
Okay, let's get practical. The remainder of this FAQ covers how to create a blog. I'll also talk about a few tips and tricks. At the end, I'll make a few general comments about blogs.
Where to find blog tools
A number of companies offer free or low-cost tools so you can set up and maintain a blog. Nearly all of these offer free trial periods. Try several and choose the one you like best.
If you know of other tools, let me know.
My recommendation: Start with blogger.com. Notify 50 friends, have them add comments to your blog, and try it out for at least four weeks until you get the idea. If you want to use a blog for a small or medium business, you could get by on Blogger. But Movabletype is a complete system with more features. It's a few hundred dollars and well worth it.
Do I need to use a blog tool?
No. If you know how to do HTML, can install CGI, know how to write or modify PERL and SQL, and you can use FTP, then you can just maintain the page manually :-) The New Items list at my website is just ordinary HTML. Talkingpoints.com, one of the best-known blogs, is maintained manually, without any blog software at all. However, blog software makes it much easier to maintain, especially for non-technical people.
Where is the blog page?
For example, if you sign up at blogger.com, you have two choices:
So depending on which you choose, you send out a notice to your friends and invite them to read your blog at eleanor.blogger.com (if you host it on blogger.com's website) or eleanor.com/blogger.html (if you host it on your website).
How do you modify the look of your blog page?
When you sign up for a blog, your page is put into a template. You can choose the template. This controls the look (colors, layout, etc.) of your blog.
If you know how to edit HTML, you can edit the template. This lets you change the fonts, colors, and layout.
If you're adding the blog to your website, you'll probably want to use your website's layout. At blogger.com, the blog editor tool lets you open the template and edit it. I copied the template and opened it into my HTML editor tool. The template is made up of CSS, which you can strip out and replace with your own. There are really only a few tags that are specific to the blog: these call the blog content. I used my website's template and inserted those blog tags into it.
What does it cost to create and maintain a blog?
It's free to use blogger.com. If you host the blog at their website, they make money by putting banner ads on your blog. If you host it on your own website, there are no banner ads.
The more advanced blog tools charge a small fee (for example, $25/year at blog-city.)
Who else will offer blog tools?
It's expected that the major ISPs (America Online (AOL), Yahoo, and Microsoft) will soon add blogging. AOL is beta-testing AOL Journal, their blog tool, at journals.aol.com. GeoCities, Topica, YahooChat, and others may switch to blogs as well. Very likely, these companies will buy existing blog tools companies.
Are there risks? Will I get more spam? Can someone hack my blog?
If you put your email address in your blog, yes, you'll get spam, because spammers use search engines to look for email addresses. So… don't put your email address on your blog.
Can someone hack the blog? It's possible, in that it's possible just about everything on the web can be hacked. If you have a small blog, I doubt anyone will bother you. But if you're running georgebush.blogger.com, then yes, lots of kids will try to hack your site.
When you set up your blog, be sure to use a password that is not a word in a dictionary. Add numbers to it, such as shiva9287duck.
There are also issues about security of the archives. If you will use a blog for a company and there are legal issues about company content (who said what, when, etc.), then note that blog editors allow people to edit the archives. You'll have to make sure that the blog tool offers tracking of changes and backups of archive entries. Attorneys, medical doctors, and others with privacy requirements must check that the blogging tool offers sufficient security.
How do I promote my blog?
You promote your blog just as you promote your website: in emails, on lists, on your business card, in your advertising, in press releases, articles about your company, services, or products, and so on.
Of course, you promote your blog by writing interesting content that gets picked up by other blogs, and you reciprocate and mention other blogs in your blog. This creates an interlinked network of blog content.
Register your blog
The MIT Media Laboratory uses Blogdex to track the spread of information through the blog community. You can register your blog at http://blogdex.net. This won't promote your blog. It will only help MIT to study activity among blogs.
What's this about using blogs to improve your page rank at Google?
First, a bit about how Google works.
By coincidence, blogs happen to match the way Google works. People in the blogging subculture have lots of cross-links to each other and they update their blogs daily.
This means if friskypanties.blogger.com spent the last two weeks writing one-line rants against Coca-Cola and her friends pass her link around, her page may show up higher in Google, even if she is only 14 years old and Coca-Cola is a 110 billion dollar corporation with a ten billion dollar advertising budget.
But the high ranks are not permanent. At some point, friskypanties will move on to something else, and Coca-Cola's ranking will go up again.
At the moment, it's fairly easy for a group of users to create blogs, mention each other in their blogs, and get a high page ranking at Google.
However, Google pays attention to attempts to manipulate page ranking, and if they decide they don't like this, they will block the blogs.
More about blogs
Here are a number of articles about blogs.
So what do I think about blogs? First of all, I live in Palo Alto, I've worked for several dozen startups and major corps, and I manage websites for businesses. I wrote this FAQ in order to look into blogs and see if they are useful asides from personal diaries.
Many people will email me and say that I don't get blogs because I don't appreciate how important it is for them to tell the world that they saw a dog this morning. Like, whatever.
By now, you're read this FAQ and you understand blogs. So let's go back to the questions in the introduction: What are blogs? Why are blogs important? Can I make money with blogs?
What are blogs?
Blogs are a tool for putting content on a webpage. Simple blogs are mostly just diaries, but the advanced blog tools can distribute information. Blogs are actually Content Management System (CMS) tools.
Why are blogs important?
Are blogs commercially significant? Where's the money?
Okay, blogger.com made money, but only because Google bought them. Soon, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft will add blogging to their services, and they may buy some of the existing blogging tools companies.
As for most users, there's no clear idea how they are going to make money. Only a handful of blogs attract a large readership. Joshua Marshall at talkingpointmemo.com, with 50,000 visitors per day, asks readers to contribute money, but he earns his living as a journalist. There are no blogs that produce enough money for even one salary.
If you're going to use a blog for dissemination of information, you should invest in the advanced blogger tools. These allow collaborative authoring, they can send out email notifications of new blog content, or they can send the new content as an email to subscribers.
If you're a web developer, you should learn how to install and maintain blogs, especially the advanced blog tools
The biggest fish will get bigger…
At the moment, there are only a few hundred thousand blogs that people are reading. When AOL/Yahoo/MSN/Earthlink add blogging, this will grow to millions. Blogs will also replace many of the current chat lists, newsgroups, and email lists.
Barabasi's study of network theory shows that only a few hubs get all the traffic, and the vast majority of nodes will get little traffic. The first to set up blogs will be the ones who have the high visibility web destinations. See www.andreas.com/faq-barabasi.html). Read that and you'll get the picture.
Will blogs replace books and other forms of information?
Let's look at the nature of books. Books are organized writing, which means a unified multi-page document, constructed with a central idea, table of contents, introduction, chapters, summaries, index, and so on. Organized writing includes reviewers, editors, and often publishers.
Blogs by their nature are short spontaneous entries, a series of observations, comments, notes, and so on. This means that blogs are good for making observations, but the nature of blog tools (a serial collection of entries, sorted by time of entry) is not good for writing a document. The nature of blogs places a limit on blogs.
By the way, when I was writing this FAQ, I noticed that there aren't any good FAQs on blogs. None of the Help pages of the major blog tools has a general explanation or overview of blogs, or any sort of discussion of the implications of blogs. I wonder if the blogging community is so accustomed to blogging (writing short comments) that they don't know how to write long documents.
Are you doing a blog?
I manage several blogs for clients. There are in fairly obscure narrow professional topics, yet they get substantial readership (over 1,000 readers per month). The lawyer has gotten several new clients because of his blog, and each client is worth $5-10,000.
I also have my own blog, where I add tips and tricks for various web stuff. See andreas' blog.comments powered by Disqus