I’m here live at the MCA-I conference in Milwaukee, WI, giving a presentation on Social Media 101, technically called “What the Heck is Social Media?” What better way to show the audience how simple it can be than to do a blog post live?
I've helped several people get their blogs set up over the past few weeks, and thought I'd share with you the basics. I'm mostly familiar with Typepad, Blogger, WordPress, and SquareSpace. Everything suggested here is doable on those platforms without knowing any html, css, or php. I'm sure most other popular platforms will have most of the same functionality, but of course I can't promise that.
Setting Up - Content
Here's what I consider the minimum set to get your blog going:
On each post
The date. While the date is important, the time of day isn't really necessary unless you plan to be exceptionally prolific. I leave mine on for silly, personal reasons, thank you very much :)
An obvious permalink or trackback.
Email this. You definitely want the ability for readers to email your post. You might not be able to specify this within your blogging system. Don't worry, you'll be able to get it along with those Digg, Del.icio.us, Reddit, etc. links you see everywhere when you get set up with Feedburner a bit later.
Subscribe. Somewhere at the very top should be a link to subscribe in a reader. I also like having a "subscribe via email" option. Lots of people are still intimidated by feeds, but don't hesitate to subscribe via email. Some platforms have their own feeds, but I recommend Feedburner here as well (covered after the jump).
Search. I use Google because I trust it and so does most everyone else. As with all widgets, you'll need code your specific platform. Here's the code for Google Search in Typepad.
Recent posts. You certainly want to show readers what you've written about recently. But I've never found recent comments helpful. If they're aren't many, you look like you have no buzz going on. If there are a lot, you end up with comments out of context, which isn't helpful either.
Categories or Tag Cloud. If you limit yourself to a handful of categories or tags, it probably makes sense to have a list for navigational purposes. If you tend to have more tags (within reason, of course) I think the tag cloud is really useful. The fact that the size of each tag increases with each reference makes for a great navigational aid. And, with a quick glance at a tag cloud, you can get real feel for the content of a blog. I'd dig further into a blog with a huge TECHNOLOGY and a small PORN, for example, but wouldn't bother if the cloud showed a large PORN and a small TECHNOLOGY.Honest!
Archives. Yes. Show your archives. How else will anyone get to your old stuff?
After the jump: Feeds 101, Publicizing, Metrics, and Blog Networks
Ok, granted, this may not be the ideal strategy for everyone. Another possible title for this post would be How to Name Your Baby. I sent this to my friend Liz, the recent recipient of good news about her amniocentesis, and who is therefore "really" and gleefully pregnant.
How to name your baby:
Start a blog
Write a post entitled "What Should I Name My Baby?"
Get dugg, reddited, sphered, etc.
Get a gagillion suggestions
Parse the names
Whip up a filter that will show you names not suggested
Wow, what does it mean when one gets one's own spam blog? Sadly, it's no measure of success. How & why did this happen? I was doing a (surprisingly) infrequent google search on my own name. I was momentarily surprised to see that lots of my comments on folks' blogs are getting pretty high results, then I thought, well DUH! I'm using my real name everywhere these days, and the searchbots have noticed. (Results pointing to this blog appear late - gotta work on that.) I was surprised, though, to discover this on page 6 of the Google search results: Small naughty Julie? Heh. So I click the link, of course, and find that I have my very own spam blog (splog). Obviously there's some spider out there scraping search results and auto-creating Wordpress blogs. I get that. But why Julie Gomoll? It's not like I'm some popular search term. Did they scrape new blog registrations, perhaps?
It's a pretty lame page, of course. (click to enlarge) It features a weird mix of search results, including one that refers to the night Julie Phillips spoke at my sister, Jeanne Gomoll's house. Theres an odd, but very tasteful and pretty picture of a woman kissing the cheek of another woman near the bottom of the page.
I'm not particularly pissed off about this... it just seems odd. There are no ads, so what's the point of this page? Well, at the very bottom, there's a little splog logo/button. It links to a page I won't link to here... let's just say it has "spylog" in the url. Thankfully, I'm on a Mac and could explore the link without worry. There's nothing there, of course, they're just trying to harvest information. Sad. Kind of weird that thay actually use "splog" in the button, don't you think? Do you have a splog?
4th and final day. Recap: the first panel of the day for me was Web Typography Sucks, which proved to be far more in depth than I expected - I learned a fair amount and got some good suggestions for working around the traditionally poor type treatment provided by most blog engines. I'll share them here once I've ha a chance to check them out. After that I went to Combinatorial Media as Self Expression, which was a fun, engaging panel. Text, audio, video, mashups, comics, roll-your-own community - where are all these varied forms of media headed? The panel discussed what is, ultimately, the 2007 version of "multimedia", and what it means for playful and/or artistic content as well as more serious/educational purposes. Again, I have lots to look into as a result, and I'm really looking forward to sharing what I did up with everyone.
The afternoon keynote was delivered by Will Wright, creator of theSims, SimCity, and all the other Sims games. He's a visionary, to be sure. He talked about the nature of storytelling, and how games offer an opportunity for a different kind of empathy - taking the viewer out of the role of a character and putting them into the role of director. This led into his demo of Spore, which pretty much had the audience drooling.
In most world-building games, you create an environment that entices settlers. The better you run your government (city/settlement/country), the more your community grows in size, wealth, and sophistication. Spore has several modules - you start with a single cell, navigating around the primordial ooze, until you consume enough matter that and evolve enough to move onto the land. You must learn to survive on the land, mate, and eventually be part of a tribe. The creature into which you evolve depends on the earlier play and on choices you make. The creature-creator (six legs? eight? one eye? four eyes? purple? red?) is incredibly flexible, allowing you to stretch and mold as much as you want, taking milliseconds to render beautiful, complex creatures. You then move on ... you must run a city, get civilized, and eventually achieve the ability to travel in space. Now the universe is your oyster, and you can visit planets created by other users. You have complete terraforming capabilities, so your world will be out there too. The worlds will be populated by creatures evolved within other players' games. You may well visit a planet populated by a species that wants nothing more than to eat you, or you may find a compatible species with whom to settle. Will says it's not a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) so much as it's a Massively Single-Player Online Game.
All I know is I can't wait. During the demo, Tori turned to me and said "I've never wanted to buy a computer game in my life, until now." She also suggested that I probably shouldn't buy it, as I'd never leave my house again. Fat chance :)
The final program item was the traditional wrap-up talk by Bruce Sterling. He's always an engaging speaker, but I was kind of surprised at his speech. He seems to be part of the rumblings of the "backlash" I've been hearing about. My paraphrase of his sentiments... blogs suck, twitter sucks, mashups suck. He predicted that in 10 years we wouldn't know what a blog is, that the format would be dead. As much as I do consider Bruce Sterling brilliant, truly a visionary, he sounded a bit like a cranky old man at these closing statements.
I started with Blogger, which overall was pretty good, but when I got frustrated with it's limitations I decided to look around. In hindsight, Blogger was probably the second-most flexible of the four I tried. service.
Overall, feature-rich and pretty easy to use
You can easily ftp your entire site to your domain.
Kind of a pain to customize templates, but there are quite a few sites out there with custom templates available for free
I really thought this would be it for me. They take a modular approach to template-building, and pretty much let you design your own pages. Squarespace might get there one day, but they’re not quite ready for prime time yet. Pros
Customizing templates is relatively easy
Have to redirect DNS to run on your own domain
No support for basic add-ons (such as Feedburner)Update: I was wrong - they do indeed support Feedburner
Ugly standard templates, not much else out there yet.
TypePad All along, my friend Susan had been telling me to try typepad. I kept resisting, knowing I’d either have to either redirect my dns or live with a typepad.com domain. I decided on the latter. If this blog takes off, I’ll do what it takes to move it.
Simple, flexible customization
Supported by lots of 3rd party products
Good knowledge base
Have to redirect DNS to use your own domain
Very few 3rd party templates out there, but the standards on the site are decent.
So far, overall, I'm pretty happy with TypePad. I'm having a little trouble getting some custom code to work correctly, but I'm getting there.