How to start a blog

Create an online journal and share your thoughts with the world

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Most of us would be hard pressed to remember life before e-mail inboxes. Pretty soon, the same might be said for weblogs, or blogs – web-based journals dedicated to up-to-the-minute musings, opinions, photos, recipes and rants. According to the blog-tracking website technorati.com, there are more than 75 million blogs floating around in cyberspace. The success of the online journal movement is no doubt thanks to the availability of free, easy-to-use blogging tools, explains New York-based blogger Meg Hourihan (megnut.com). She should know. Hourihan helped create blogger.com, arguably the most popular of these blog-hosting websites. Here’s how to get in on the action.

Creating a blog takes only a few minutes and, even for the most tech-shy among us, it couldn’t be simpler. First, you select a blog-publishing “host” such as blogger.com (a free service) or typepad.com (a paid service for those who want to create a more professional-looking blog). There is nothing to download or install.

From the host’s website, you create an account with your name, e-mail address and password. Next, you’ll need to name your blog and select a template and colour scheme that will determine how your blog will look. (Don’t worry; you can change it at any time.) From then on, you simply sign in from any computer that has web access, type out your post, apply basic formatting as you would in a word-processing program (bolding, italics and spell-check, for example) and click the “publish” button to make your post appear on your blog.

As you add more posts, they’ll appear chronologically, with the most current at the top, and an automatic archive of older posts will appear in the margin. Choosing the frequency of the archive (weekly or monthly, for instance) is just one of a variety of settings and template options that allow you to further customize your blog. You can also restrict who can read your blog and who can post comments.

So starting a blog is easy; deciding what to blog about might be the biggest challenge. Some people create their blogs as intimate journals. For others, they’re a soapbox, opening up a virtual conversation with, quite literally, the world. “My blog is a brain dump,” says Ottawa-based freelance writer and web designer Andrea Tomkins. “I need a place to organize my thoughts and muse aloud on my projects.” She set up her online journal, A Peek Inside the Fish Bowl, in 1999, before anyone even knew what a blog was. When her first daughter was born, she wrote about the complex cocktail of emotions she experienced, feelings that she soon discovered resonated with other mothers online.

Eight years later, Tomkins realized that she had unintentionally created a digital family scrapbook. “Sometimes I read back and am reminded of trips we’ve taken, or fun projects we’ve done together, and I think, Oh, wow, I wouldn’t have remembered those things had I not written them down.”

Another designer, Vancouver-based Jeannette Ordas, started her blog, Everybody Likes Sandwiches , to satisfy her craving for conversations about all things edible. She says her blog has been an invaluable tool for organizing her recipe collection but that the ability to share her cooking adventures and to receive comments from people around the world have been unexpected benefits. “Not only do I get e-mails, but I’ve received letters and small packages via snail mail from people who really connect with what I write,” she says.

When Vicky Smallman began blogging in 2005, she had her local Ottawa community in mind. The result is a quirky collection of political issues, community news, neighbourhood gossip and an advice column called Miss Vicky’s Offhand Remarks. “I use it to promote the things I love about my neighbourhood and to encourage readers to support local organizations, businesses, arts and culture,” she says.

Tips from the experts

So you’ve taken the plunge and started a blog. You’ve selected your favourite colours and even come up with an original title. If you’ve decided to make your blog public, don’t expect an audience overnight, but don’t expect it to remain private, either. “Even if you send your blog to a limited number of people, they will want to share it and you really have no control over where it will go,” says personal chef and blogger Caroline Ishii (caroline-cooks.blogspot.com). “I always keep this in the back of my mind.”

Post regularly and often Frequent updates give readers a reason to return to your blog and will help you find your voice.
Give your blog a focus Whether it’s knitting, cooking, pop culture or politics, specialized blogs tend to attract loyal readers.
Create your own community Seek out blogs that deal with similar subjects and comment on their posts. Create a blogroll linking to other blogs.
Blogger beware Use only first names or pseudonyms and don’t reveal personal information. Remember: Search engines such as Google will find anything you put out there.


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