NOTE: This post was written in 2003 and in places is now out of date. WordPress is now the dominant self-installed blogging platform, and continues to gain more of the market. Updates have been integrated into this post.
What is a Blog?
In its ‘purest’ form, a blog is something akin to an online, personal journal or diary, taking the form of a series of chronologically-ordered, short, personal posts on a website. It is easy to update and normally works by adding short posts to a template design of some sort.
BLOG is short for weB LOG, and became recognised widely as a web-publishing format in about 1999, when, among others, Evan Williams (via Pyra Labs, now owned by Google) created Blogger.com, a free-to-access blogging tool which published your blog back to your own site by FTP. Blogger.com is currently one of the most popular blogging platforms in the world, along with WordPress, LiveJournal and MovableType.
Blogging (the process of posting an update to a blog) took off, as did the community around it. Bloggers proved to be a friendly bunch, and many of them linked to each other and other sites, creating a dense web of links and opinion. The personal nature of most blogs meant that blogs became one of the most accessible personal-opinion formats on the web.
Why would anyone want to keep an updated record of their personal thoughts and opinions online? There’s a lot more to blogs than just that, but even for that purpose alone, it’s an amazing way to exercise a right to free speech, and to reach potentially millions of people with your thoughts.
There are a growing number of different applications of blog-technology, including:
- Professional News Sites/Portals
- Lightweight Content Management for all sorts of websites
- To-Do Lists (personal or across a group)
- Review Sites (movies, music, food, you name it!)
- Corporate Knowledge Management (Knowledge Logs or K-Logs)
- Project Management (recording work completed at ‘x’ time for ‘y’ project)
- Podcasting (delivering audio segments periodically)
- Vlogging (Video-blogging; delivering video snippets/segments periodically)
There will no doubt be more uses for the technology in the future, especially as blogs and related technologies evolve and mature more, and as different kinds of meta-data is stored within blogs.
How Do I Blog?
Most blogging systems have their own interface of some sort for posting blogs, whether it be via the web (like Blogger.com and MovableType), using one of the many desktop clients (like w.bloggar and MarsEdit), or even straight into a text file in a directory (like blosxom uses).
A common thread amongst each of these systems is that each ‘post’ is treated as a separate entity, which allows for a number of cool features (see below).
Today, there are tools of all sorts for posting to blogs, including 2 of my own, AvantBlog, for posting to Blogger.com from a handheld/Palm device, and webpad, a more powerful editor with access to a number of different blogging systems and number of HTML tools for managing post content.
Bells & Whistles
With blogs becoming more popular, a number of related technologies and extras have developed in the last few years. Some of the more popular features/extras are:
- Allowing readers to contribute comments to a blog post creates a feedback loop and in many cases provides a simple discussion forum/community feel.
- Most blogging tools allow for some sort of categorisation of posts so that they can be organised according to topics. Different systems handle this in different ways, for example MovableType allows you to store a post against multiple categories, while blosxom stores a post in a single directory, representing a topic/category.
- RSS allows other users to easily syndicate the content of your blog into their own, or into a news reader/aggregator of some sort (web-based like BlogLines, or desktop-based like NetNewsWire). In addition to content syndication, Atom also provides a programming interface for modifying posts made in a blog using other tools.
- Calendar Navigation
- Many blog tools offer the option of including a calendar on your blog, so that people can navigate your posts by jumping straight to a particular date and seeing all posts on that day/month/year.
- Upholding the spirit of a ‘permanent location’ for everything on the Internet, so-called permalinks are automatically-created URLs which are intended to be the permanent location of a post, even after it ‘scrolls off’ the homepage of a blog (since only a certain number of posts will be displayed on the homepage normally).
- Since bloggers are such a friendly bunch, they often maintain a list of the blogs which they read regularly. This list is normally presented along the side of their own blog, so that you might also find other sites which interest you. This list is called a blog-roll (see blogrolling.com for more about blog-rolls).
Hopefully this has provided you with a bit of an introduction to blogging and blogs, and you can see that they are a great way to get information online quickly. Their personal and business uses are only going to grow, and it will be interesting to see where they go in the future. Sites like Technorati and BlogDex are probably good places to keep an eye on if you’re interested in the future of blogging.
So now, if all you want is to see a blog in action – jump over to the blog section of this site and knock yourself out!