Perhaps the most important thread that runs through most of the blogs that are on the Internet is this: they seek to create and/or be a part of some sort of community. The blog format itself—those dated entries—can give your family, friends, customers, constituents, or like-minded strangers a window into the topics you want to explore online.
And with the other tools that are discussed on this site—wikis, social networking, photos, video, audio, and so on—you can add a number of different features and entry points to make your site more interactive and compelling for the people you want to have visit. But in order to get there from here, you’ll need to do some planning.
The first step is to pick the content management system that you want to use for your blog. As you might imagine, there are many different options. Which you choose is important, even when you’re getting started, because you’ll probably find yourself becoming attached to that CMS as you become familiar with it and dig deeper into its features. When you do, you’ll probably find that it has the design flexibility to handle your needs and your style of blogging.
So, to help make that determination you’ll want to decide on the “style” of blog that you intend to create. You’ll often hear people say that they’re “married” to a particular blogging application; the metaphor can be quite apt. If you’re just getting started, you should take a week or two to “date” a few different blogging applications first before marching down the aisle with one particular one.
It’s generally easy to move a few blog entries and comments from one system to another, but the more customization you do, the more you’ll probably want to stick with that blogging application through the good times and bad! When planning your blog, you’ll want to consider the reason that you want a blog in the first place. As mentioned, a great reason to start a blog is because you want to start a Web community, whether for personal reasons—diary-like entries that talk about your day or that focus largely on a hobby or topic of interest—or for business or organizational purposes.
Once you get past a certain number of entries (or, say, into your second month of entries) the blogging software will usually create an automatic archive of your entries that a reader can browse through or search at their leisure. From there, however, how you blog—including the type of content and the style of the presentation—can vary pretty dramatically.
Here are a few different examples of blogs and consider some of the tools or features they offer that support the style of blog that they represent.
Personal Diary: Often a personal blog can be simple—at least at first blush—when it comes to design and features. With a personal blog, you may or may not want to allow others to comment on your entries. You will likely want to offer a subscription feed so that people can see when you’ve added new items. And if you’re a photographer or you have a hankering for home video, you may want to take advantage of Web-based services to displays those multimedia files for your visitors.
Views and Reviews Blog : Another popular “style” of blog is one that takes a top-down approach to some particular topic—views from an expert, a pundit, a maven, or perhaps even a self-proclaimed demagogue. Whether or not you want to allow comments is up to you (some of the most famous online pundits don’t) but you will want to keep the opinions and links to others coming fast and furious. With these blogs, I’d suggest taking advantage of the many different ways that your readers can rate or social bookmark your entries so that you get them publicized, passed around, and in front of larger and larger audiences.
From the Desk Of … Blog : Some of the best blogs in a commercial sense can either create a community around a company or product or actually create a market for a product by bringing customers together to read and participate in the blog. If you’re setting something like this up, you may still want to offer comments, although moderating those comments might be more important to you in this setting. It may be important to you to be able to tag or categorize entries on your blog so that visitors can more quickly find items that are important to them. And, while you may have photos and videos linked to your blog as well, you might find that social bookmarking or rating tools are more important to you, if only because you want to get your blog seen by more people in order to entice them into learning more about you or your company or product. You may even want a content management system that can integrate with online merchant tools so that you can sell your product directly to consumers.
Organizational Outreach Blog: A blog can be as useful for a non-profit organization as it can for a for-profit business—sometimes more so, if only for their value in what we might call “online outreach.” A church, school, charitable organization, or politician’s website should be designed specifically to inform visitors about news and developments they would find interesting. You may not care as much, in this case, about commenting features, but you may want to offer tools for receiving feedback in other ways. Photos may be important, as might wiki tools, which help you create reference-style sites as shared information resources. A wiki is a website that enables its visitors to add content and edit the pages right in the browser window. Wikipedia is one huge example of a wiki, but using the same principles you can publish your own wiki that you and your readers can build, change, and grow.
Internal Organizational Blog: Depending on the size of your company or how dispersed it is geographically, you might find that a blog that’s specifically designed for internal news and discussions is a handy tool. In this case you may want to look for a blog that focuses on collaborative tools. In my day job, I’m a newspaper publisher, and we use both blogs and wikis extensively for brainstorming, “group memory,” and planning.
Community Blog : This is really a catchall category, and the topic can be anything from local news and events to a topic-focused blog that’s designed for a particular audience. The truth is that a lot of popular blogs can easily be said to fit this category, from political sites such as DailyKos.com and RedState.org to one of the sites I run, www.jacksonfreepress.com (see Figure 1-4). Any topic-oriented or even personal site can become a community site, particularly if you offer your readers ways to post not just comments, but also their own entries (either as authors of their own blogs, in “forums” or in special open blogs on your site). It’s with these sorts of sites that you may really see user-generated content take off, particularly if you give your users tools that they need to express themselves.
You can probably come up with a few more twists, but most of the blogs out there fit one or more of these general categories. Each in its own way is destined to create some sort of community (assuming you keep at it and have some success getting visitors), no matter how limited. So, depending on your motives and ambitions for your site, thinking about the style of site you want to build will certainly have an impact on your planning.
It’s worth saying at this point that not all sites—not even all community sites—are ideally presented using blogging software. For instance, sites such as ePinions.com or the multitude of independent technical support or product-focused sites on the Web are often better presented using forum software or a similar solution such that people can create their own posts and garner responses in a more structured online environment . Sometimes this can be accomplished in a blog, but more specialized software might be a better fit.
Some blogging CMS software is designed to allow registered users to create their own blogs on the site, essentially making it possible for you to run a site that is a collection of individual blogs. That’s different in my mind from the purpose of a forum or some other specialized site where the point is not that anyone could run their own blog—which is still a one-to-many format, even if you have many people who are set up as “authors”—but rather that people can post questions and answers or quick topics of interest in order to get a conversation going.
It’s also worth pointing out that you don’t have to have a blog as the only type of presentation on your website. As you’ll see in later chapters, it’s possible to mix and match a blog with static pages that are used for other items, or with photo galleries, forums, wikis, and all sorts of other Web applications. And while this book will pretty much assume you’re using your blog’s index page as the home page of your personal or professional site, that isn’t necessary either.
Many people install blogging software and offer their blog as a subsection of their overall website, preferring to have a static “home” page and then linking to their blog (even if their blog is hosted on a different computer or via a blog service). Consider which is best for you and you’ll be able to easily make any of these combinations happen.
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