Wednesday, August 10, 2005


The Wonderful World of Weblogs

Hello bloggy friends. I've been asked to write an article on blogs for our workplace wellness newsletter. Not exactly writing for Salon, but it's a start! I've tried to write this as a blogging 101, but would appreciate any comments, thoughts or suggestions. (The resources at the end had to be formatted the way they are listed because not everyone has access to the full Internet. Am I missing any good general resources?) Be sure to admire the alliteration in my title. Aren't I clever?

The Wonderful World of Weblogs

Have you read a blog today? (Score additional points if you’ve blogged today.) If not, you’re missing out on perhaps the biggest revolution in the communication world since Gutenberg. Okay, perhaps that’s an exaggeration. But much like the ubiquitous Blackberry, while you might sneer at the concept, once you finally have a blog of your own you’ll be hooked!

What the heck is a blog?

A weblog, more commonly known as a blog, is a journal, usually informal, that is published on the Internet. There are as many reasons for blogging (the act of writing a blog) as there are bloggers (people who blog). There are political blogs, literary blogs, and celebrity blogs; blogs about knitting, blogs about pizza, blogs about babies; there are photo blogs and technical blogs. There are blogs written by professional writers, and blogs written collaboratively by people who have never met in person. You can use your camera phone to e-mail pictures to your ‘mo-blog’, and you can subscribe to a ‘podcast’, an audio-blog you download to your MP3 player.

Most blogs have a few common characteristics. They are updated frequently, often daily but usually at least once a week or more. Posts (individual blog entries) appear in reverse chronological order, with the most recent posts at the top of a page, and previous posts archived by date (and sometimes by category). A small biography of the blogger is usually present, and lists of “100 things about me” are a common feature of personal blogs.

Blogrolls and comments

Bloggers show their allegiance to or interest in other like-minded bloggers and blogs by maintaining a ‘blogroll’, a list of links to favourite blogs. In the world of blogs, a.k.a. the ‘blogosphere’, having a lot of blogs linking to your blog confers status and a certain respectability. One blogger has developed an entire ecosystem of over 30,000 blogs, categorizing them from Insignificant Microbes through Crawly Amphibians and Marauding Marsupials to Higher Beings, based on a combination of daily visitors and incoming links.

Most blogs feature a commenting system that allows blog readers to interact with the blogger. This is what makes blogs both unique and addictive! Especially in the early days of one’s blogging career, it’s a heady thrill to send something into the great void that is the Internet and know that not only is someone reading what you wrote, but has taken the time to reply to it as well.

Why do people blog?

So now you have an idea of what a blog is. What is more difficult to convey is the sense of community among bloggers and faithful readers of blogs. Blogging is more than just finding a forum for your thoughts, opinions and attitudes (although that is a large component of it.) Blogging, and reading other peoples’ blogs, easily becomes a daily habit. It is surprising how quickly one becomes addicted to hearing the minutia of a complete stranger’s daily travails. Personal blogs can keep guests updated on wedding plans, or act as an online baby book, sharing stories on the fun and foibles of raising children. Blogs can simply act as a place to vent, to discuss, to compare and to congregate.

How do I get started?

Although blogging got its start among the technically savvy, you don’t have to know much more than how to find the Internet and how to type to have your own blog. The Web giant Google provides a free online interface called Blogger, or you can subscribe to one of many popular blog-hosting services such as Moveable Type and LiveJournal. With Blogger, you simply choose a “look” for your blog from among a dozen or so standard templates and select a name for your blog (by far the most agonizing part of the process) and you can be blogging within minutes. For the more technically adept or adventurous, or those with deep enough pockets to hire a techie to make the changes, the customization options are limitless.

What makes good blog?

This, of course, is highly subjective. However, some principals seem to run through all types of blogs, whether political or personal. Here are ten tips for new bloggers.

1. Write often.

2. Write well. You don’t have to be Margaret Atwood, but you should be able to string together a sentence. Pay attention to grammar and punctuation. Your readers will thank you for it.

3. Open your blog to comments from others. At first, no one will comment. But then someone will, and you will be hooked.

4. Be brave and write what you truly believe. Don’t fall into the trap of writing what you think others want you to write, or writing to live up to someone else’s expectations.

5. Build a community. Join blog directories, and use them to find like-minded bloggers. Or follow blogroll links on blogs you admire. Read and comment on other people’s blogs, and link to the ones you really like through your blogroll. Most bloggers will return the favour.

6. Install a hit counter, but don’t obsess over it. Some really great blogs never get much traffic, but some really bad blogs are unfathomably popular.

7. Don’t try too hard. Not everything you write will be a masterpiece. Strive to capture moments, and convey them honestly.

8. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Post a poem, a picture, a letter to the editor, a short story, a rant. Blogging usually lends itself to shorter pieces, but every rule has an exception.

9. Be smart and be kind. Don’t blog about your boss or proprietary work issues - people have been fired for doing that. Don’t say things on your blog to deliberately hurt other people. Don’t steal other people’s words or ideas. Don’t be a comment troll (someone who intentionally posts nasty comments just to stir up trouble.)

10. Have fun!

Blog resources

Here’s an arbitrary and capricious list of interesting blog links. Please note that all of these sites are in the public domain and may contain offensive language or material. Also, all blogs listed are English only, with the exception of Blogger and the Blogs Canada directory, which offers some information in bilingual format.

Blogger, Google’s free blogging software
http://www.blogger.com/ (English)
http://www.blogger.com/start?hl=fr (French)

Blogs Canada, a comprehensive list of Canadian blogs.
http://www.blogscanada.ca/ (English)
http://www.blogscanada.ca/directory/default_fr.asp (French)

Ottawa Start Blogs, a list of Ottawa blogs

Truth Laid Bear’s blog ecosystem

DotMoms, a collaboration of mommy-bloggers (and a really long list of mommy and daddy blogs)

Place and Thyme, an award-winning Ottawa photo blog:

A selection of Canadian political blogs

Rick Mercer, from CBC’s “This Hour has 22 Minutes” and "Made in Canada"
(For more celebrity blogs, visit http://www.icerocket.com/c?p=celeblogs.)

And finally, most humbly, the author’s blog about being a working Canadian mum to two preschool boys, called Postcards from the Mothership: