A blog is a series of updates in reverse chronological order, with the newest material at the top. That’s it. Simple, no?
Yet blogging is a term that encompasses any number of forms; it can be turned to a variety of purposes, as millions of people around the globe have discovered. Blogging has become one of the most preferred ways for people to post news, opinions and, yes, even what they’ve had for breakfast as they write from their basements in their pajamas—the latter a capsule description of the way some people like to deride citizen media.
Blogging providers and services abound. The “big 3” services for individuals are:
Blogger: a free hosting service owned by Google that’s probably the least flexible of the pack but also probably the simplest to use. Google let Blogger languish for a time, but it has been improving the service lately.
WordPress: currently my blogging software of choice. WordPress has both hosted (free and paid) and self-serve options where you install the software on a computer owned by you or your Web hosting service. It also has a large variety of “plug-ins” that let you extend and customize what you can post and how people can view and use it.
TypePad: a mostly paid hosting service from Movable Type, a company that has focused more and more on the business market.
Posterous: aimed at folks who prefer visuals and short updates to lots of text. Along with a similar service called Tumblr, it’s one of the faster-growing sites in the genre.
The main thing to understand about any of these blogging services is their convenience. You can create a blog in about five minutes, and later you can make it pretty much as simple or elaborate as you want.
If you have a passion for something, blogging is a natural outlet. The best bloggers have several things in common:
- They write with a genuine, conversational human voice, more like a letter to a friend than formal journalism. A blog is not a press release machine, or at least shouldn’t be.
- They invite conversation. This trait isn’t universal: Some extremely popular blogs don’t allow comments, for reasons that seem appropriate to the people who run those sites. But I strongly advise that you not just allow comments, but encourage them.
- They link out to other sources. They don’t just tell what the author knows or thinks, but point readers to useful material from others as well.
Should you write infrequent but long posts, or frequent but pithy ones, or something in between? My answer is: Yes. Do whatever you feel is best, not what someone prescribes. (If you want to get lots of traffic, or visits from other people, more frequent updates are generally a good idea.)
For years and years, the question has kept coming up: Is blogging journalism? We may as well ask whether writing on paper is journalism. The answer, of course, is that most blogging is not journalism, but some blogging is. In short, as blogging pioneer (among many other accomplishments) Dave Winer has pointed out, blogs are tools to be used in any number of different ways. Let’s agree never to ask this question again, okay?