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Essential Blogging by Mena G. Trott, Benjamin Trott, Shelley Powers, Scott Johnson, Rael Dornfest, Cory Doctorow

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Chapter 1. Introduction to Blogging

Here’s a dry definition of a blog:

A blog is a web page that contains brief, discrete hunks of information called posts. These posts are arranged in reverse-chronological order (the most recent posts come first). Each post is uniquely identified by an anchor tag, and it is marked with a permanent link that can be referred to by others who wish to link to it.

That’s what a blog is, but not what it’s for. A blog is a means of communication, and there are many different types of messages carried by blogs. Some are nothing but pointers to other web sites, while others run long essays; some are personal diaries, others feature technology; some are edited by one person, others by teams.

This chapter is an introduction to the world of blogging. You’ll learn key terms such as blog and syndication, see the different types of blog, analyze the ingredients of a blog, and compare and contrast the different ways you can run your own blog. After reading this chapter, you can make an intelligent decision on which blogging system to use and will know which of the later technology-specific chapters are for you.

The World of Blogging

There are hundreds of thousands of blogs on the Internet, and new blogs are created every day. Originally, they were known as weblogs, a term coined by Jorn Barger. The word implies that it might be a record of where some editor has been that day and what she has seen along the way. Now they’re blogs (as in “we blog”), a term coined in jest by Peter Merholz (http://www.peterme.com), and contain everything from political commentary to private journals.

The word blog is also a verb meaning to maintain a blog (“Yah, I blog from time to time.”) or to post something to a blog (“Oh, that is so cool, I’m gonna blog it as soon as I get home.”). Most people use software to automate the maintenance of their blogs, rather than edit the raw HTML themselves. Chapter 2 through Chapter 9 explore some of the most popular blogging tools.

Can I Blog?

Short answer: yes. There are bloggers of all types, equipped with all levels of technical skill. From Octavia Philips’s personal blog at http://www.tavie.com to Charlie Stross’s auctorial blog at http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blosxom.cgi, bloggers approach their sites with as much variety and passion as the general Net public approaches the Web itself.

What Would I Talk About?

Creating a taxonomy of the blogiverse is a fruitless task. There’s no good, central directory of blogs that puts each one in its own pigeonhole, because even the most topical blogger will stray from the subject from time to time to celebrate some personal victory or warn his readers off a terrible movie.

Blogs are rich tapestries of something-or-other, mind-croggling crazy quilts of opinion, fact, community, humor, bile, and lust.

Cult figures such as Neil Gaiman, an award-winning writer best known for the Sandman comics (http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/journal.asp), and Wil Wheaton, geek hero best known for his role as Ensign Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation (http://www.wilwheaton.net), blog, holding forth on the subjects that have wandered over their personal and creative transoms that day.

Amateur pundits such as Jorn Barger (http://www.robotwisdom.com) and pros such as Andrew Sullivan (http://www.andrewsullivan.com) comment on current affairs and make political points.

People from all walks of life maintain personal diaries, from Scraps deSelby’s LiveJournal (http://baldanders.livejournal.com), which chronicles his obsession with music and his struggle to stay employed in New York City to Punk Rock Girl (http://www.mokuzen.net/journal/), the caffeinated rantings of its eponymous author. Journalists, such as the San Jose Mercury’s Dan Gillmor, keep blogs (http://www.dangillmor.com) where they engage in “Journalism 3.0,” interacting with the subjects of and audiences for their articles in real time; Paul Boutin, former senior editor of Wired magazine, does much the same on his blog (http://paulboutin.weblogger.com), where he has taken to drumming up scientists to debunk the claims of conspiracy nuts who say the Pentagon bombing was faked.

Freelance analyst George Scriban (http://www.scriban.com) keeps a blog where he dissects the “piracy” claims of the entertainment industry by gathering (and linking to) data from sources all over the Web, taking investigative journalism to the next level. Jason Lubyk of New World Disorder (http://www.drmenlo.com/nwd/) posts a half-dozen news-of-the-weird stories every day, while Gary Farber’s Amygdala (http://amygdalagf.blogspot.com) does much the same with lengthy commentary and analysis.

Glenn Fleishman’s 802.11b Networking News (http://80211b.weblogger.com) is the place for news and analysis of new wireless networking technology. He’s not the only one — bloggers cover technology like no other subject. Wes Felter’s pithy notes on Hack The Planet (http://wmf.editthispage.com) provide razor-sharp point-form commentary on important tech news.

The author of this chapter is Cory Doctorow, a coeditor of a blog called Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things. Boing Boing (http://www.boingboing.net) originated as a paper “cyberculture” zine, and while the medium has changed, the content is much the same: snide and impassioned commentary on technology, civil liberties, Disney theme parks, community wireless networks, science fiction, natural oddities, and Fortean phenomena, und zo wieter. While all three contributors to Boing Boing earn parts of their living as professional journalists, the blog is a wonderful opportunity for us to spout off on the subjects we’re excited about, without having to duke it out with an editor over subject and word choice.

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