I recently did a talk on the benefits of blogging for a local organization here in metro Chicago. While putting together material for the talk, I stumbled upon this short piece that I had written a few months ago. It was still in the queue for the blog (most of my writing is finished weeks before it goes on the blog), so I included it in the materials. It fits in nicely with this week’s earlier tutorial video about subscribing to blogs.
What is this blogging thing all about anyway?
I get e-mail every day from people about my blog. I usually hear two things from people:
“Love the site!”
“Looks like a LOT of work!”
Many people are a little fuzzy on what a blog is, exactly. At first, I had a hard time convincing people that this blog was not an online diary (which is a common misconception about blogs).
For those who aren’t so familiar with how blogs work, here are a few facts about what blogs are, how blogs work, and why blogs are cool:
- Blogs are websites
The word blog is an abbreviation of ‘web log’, and that term carries with it the connotation of a diary or journal. While it is true that many blogs are in fact diaries or journals, there is nothing inherent in blogging software making this the case. A blog is simply a content management system installed on a website that makes it extremely easy and streamlined to add new content.
- Traditional websites are static – blogs are dynamic
This is one of the main differences between a blog and a traditional (older) website. One sees sites such as CNN.com and nytimes.com becoming more and more like blogs as time progresses. It is a safe bet, in fact, that most news sites you read online these days function as blogs, even if this is not apparent to you upon first glance.
Going to the same site and seeing exactly the same content day after day is boring. You don’t pick up the same edition of your newspaper and read the exact same stories every day, after all. Why should websites be any different? On a blog, you change the content on the front page of your blog by entering text, images, video, audio, or whatever you want into a simple text editor (much like writing an email). You publish that text just like sending an e-mail. This new content gets put at the top of your front page, while all of your old content is neatly archived.
This sort of dynamic content can be done without the use of a blogging engine, but it is a slow and painful process. Blogs file data away neatly for you, keeping old content alive while opening up space for new content.
- Style and content are separate in blogs
Traditional websites require updating each element on each page to change colors, formatting, and the like. Blogs use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to make updating the look and interactivity of a site quick, painless, and separate from the content.
Blogs do not have to use CSS to work, and CSS is used on many websites that are not blogs, but the two usually work together to create an easily adjustable user interface.
- Traditional sites add content to existing web pages – blogs add content to databases
When you enter text into your blog text editor, you are actually entering data into a database stored on your blog. There are a number of advantages to this method of website creation. For one, the style sheet can call up and display that data in a variety of methods, unlike traditional websites (which usually have only one way of viewing the site). By clicking the tab ‘Cats’ on my blog, for example, you will call up entries that I have tagged as having something to do with cats. Clicking on ‘bass’, ‘videos’ or any other tab will have a similar effect, giving you a particular flavor of my blog tailored to the subject you are interested in. This is an extremely powerful advantage of a blog over a traditional website.
- Blogs gain power over time
Let’s take your typical musician website—perhaps 5-6 separate HTML pages, including an index, About Me, Music Links, Upcoming Shows, Audio Tracks, and the like. No matter how much this site is altered over the months and years, it is unlikely to ever grow much larger than those few HTML pages.
Every time I create a new blog entry, I have created a new HTML page which will be indexed and searched my Google and other search engines. I typically write 2-4 new posts each day. Within the first week of my blog, I already had twice the number of HTML pages out there for the search engines to crawl and twice the number of pages for people to link to. I am now (as of July 2007) at over 1300 posts after 1 ½ years of maintaining this blog.
Maintaining 1000 separate HTML pages without a blogging engine would be, to put it mildly, a daunting task. With my blogging engine, however, it is a piece of cake. I can search all of my posts for specific keywords and easily alter any post I have ever made. A few clicks of the mouse easily change the formatting for all 1000 pages immediately, with no mucking about for me.
- You can subscribe to blogs
By using an RSS reader, you can pull the content from all of your favorite blogs and keep up with many sites in an extremely efficient manner. I use an RSS reader from Google called Google Reader, which allows me to organize all of my feeds by category (music, photos, blogging, podcasting, video, technology, etc). One click of the mouse and I can see the headlines from all of my favorite music blogs, and one more click calls up the article right there in my reader. This is a great way to navigate a lot of content quickly (thus helping me find stories to blog about), and I can’t imagine navigating the web without one. Blogs and RSS developed at roughly the same time, and RSS is also the technology used to syndicate podcasts (like my Contrabass Conversations podcast).
- Blogs are what you want them to be, just like anything else
Ultimately, blogs are just a way of organizing content—nothing more, nothing less. The way in which this content is organized and the many options available for serving up that content (RSS, tabs, searches, categories) encourage certain types of interaction with online resources different from what was typically done on traditional websites, but the success or failure of a blog rests on the same foundation as that of a traditional website: quality content.