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Sunday, June 24, 2007

General Assembly handout: Blogging for beginners.

This is the text Christine Robinson and I prepared for a workshop we led with Peter Bowden and ChaliceChick at this year's Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly.

What is a blog?

A blog is a website that makes it easy for someone to publish their thoughts online. Some blogs are personal journals. Others offer commentary on specific topics. And others simply collect useful and interesting links from across the Web. Most blogs have a handful of readers, but some attract as many readers as prominent magazines.

The latest post (or blog entry) is published at the top of a blog, with earlier posts below. Many blogs also invite readers to post a comment in response, which makes blogs interactive as well as current. And, using a tool called "RSS" or syndication, blogs can automatically notify you when a new post has been published, making it easy to keep up with your favorites.

Reading blogs

Visit a blog the same way you'd visit any other website: Type its address into your web browser. The workshop presenters' blogs are:

Find more than 250 UU blogs at UUpdates. My "Guide to UU Blogs" lists 145 blogs.

Bookmark the blogs you like and read them whenever you wish.

A more convenient way to read blogs

If you have a personalized homepage — like MyYahoo!, iGoogle, My AOL, or Netvibes — you can add your favorite blogs to your homepage. Your homepage will then automatically show you the latest headlines from your favorite blogs, saving you a lot of browsing.

Some blogs invite you to subscribe to receive new posts by e-mail. If you can't find a subscription invitation on a blog you'd like to get by e-mail, try a service like Feedblitz, which will set up your own personal e-mail subscription with nothing more than the address of your favorite blog.

How to comment on a blog

Most blog posts have a place near the bottom to click if you want to read comments or add a comment. You may have to register the first time you comment on a particular blog, and you may need to follow some simple anti-spam, like entering a code that the blog will give you.

(If you are trying to attract readers to your new blog, commenting on other people's blogs is a great way to draw notice!)

How to start a blog

Decide what kind of blog you want to launch — and what kind of attention you are comfortable attracting. A personal diary is simple enough: Launch your blog, and say whatever strikes your fancy, so long as you recognize that blog posts are easy to find using a search engine. When you post something to a blog, remember that you are making it public. That's the whole point! (Some blog services, like LiveJournal and Vox, allow you to set up blogs that only designated friends or family can read.)

If you want to set up a more topically focused blog or are thinking about reaching a broader audience, you may want to consult one of the many helpful books about blogging; try Essential Blogging: Selecting and Using Weblog Tools or Blogging For Dummies. Religious professionals will find The Blogging Church especially helpful.

[During the Q&A period, many congregational webmasters asked about blogs as part of congregational websites. This is a question Anna Belle can address much more competently than I can at her blog about church websites: Faith and Web. Update 6.26.07: Ask and ye shall receive! See Top 10 Tips for Church Blogging.]

Most new blogs use Blogger or WordPress. [I also recommend TypePad and Movable Type.] Blogger has exceptionally good instructions for beginners. There are endless toys and personalizations, and even ways to make a little money on the side, but if what you mostly want to do is write, you can be set up in a half an hour. Once you're set up, write your first post!

If you intend to write about Unitarian Universalism, notify UUpdates and me about your new blog so you'll be added to the UU blog guides. Read other blogs and leave comments, and soon you'll have a blog audience. Here are some tips about writing blog entries:

  • Keep posts short. Blog readers tend to have short attention spans. Two paragraphs is fine, five is usually too many.

  • Learn to add images, which, as we all know, are worth many words.

  • Learn to add links to your blog and give your readers ways to get more information.

  • When you build on someone else's writing, which is considered very good in the Blogging world, link to blog entry that inspired you. That way your readers can follow the train of thought.

  • Think about your blogging boundaries. This really is a public medium.

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 24 June 2007 at 2:44 AM

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Ms. Theologian:

June 26, 2007 11:09 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks for posting this, Chris.

Charlie Talbert:

June 26, 2007 07:16 PM | Permalink for this comment

... and thanks for the workshop!

Anna Belle:

June 26, 2007 09:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

I was very happy to hear that congregational webmasters were inquiring about blogs. I've just summarized my thoughts in Top 10 Tips for Church Blogging.

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