Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What is Blogging? Why would I want to do it?

Thursday evening I'm giving a one-hour presentation on blogging at the monthly meeting of the Genealogical Society of Whitley County. They meet the third Thursday every month, except December, at the Peabody Public Library in Columbia City. To make it easier for the attendees to utilize the links, and possibly to help out some of my non-blogging readers (assuming there are any) in deciding whether or not to take up blogging, the text of that presentation is posted below. The handout will have a text list of all the hypelinks included.

This is meant for someone who knows nothing about blogs or blogging. It's a lot to cover in an hour, so some of it will probably barely be mentioned, but the handout will provide a starting point and links for additional information. Depending upon the response, there may be a follow-up presentation or perhaps even a half-day hands-on workshop on creating a blog. Let me know if you think I've left out something important. . .

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What is a blog?

In the beginning, in the late 1990s, it was called a "web log" then the term got shortened to blog. Initially defined as an "online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page that is typically updated daily and often reflects the personality of the author.” In its present day incarnation, a blog can be used for virtually any purpose and can be used to discuss nearly any topic imaginable.

The Wikipedia entry for "blog" states that it "is a website where entries are commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. 'Blog' can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on art (artlog), photographs (photoblog), sketchblog, videos (vlog), music (MP3 blog), audio (podcasting) are part of a wider network of social media. Micro-blogging is another type of blogging which consists of blogs with very short posts. As of December 2007, blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs."

What's the difference between a website and a blog?

A "normal" website is usually a static page just sitting out there on the internet. It may have information on your family, a few stories about the family history, some pictures perhaps, and contact information. Once created, a web page seldom changes. It sits out there on the information highway just waiting for someone to drop by, read it and leave. Typically maintained by one person it doesn't allow anyone else to add to it.

A blog is a website that contains a series of articles, stories, news, tips, and information on the family’s history. It is dynamic in the sense that the front page changes when new material is added. It can also be interactive if comments are allowed. Comments give people the opportunity to provide feedback on the information you have posted. A blog can also be a "group" blog, which allows postings to be made by more than one person.

Why do I want to blog?

A blog allows you to quickly and easily create a place on the web where people can find you, learn about you, and interact with you. Content generally requires no "html" coding, which is the "stuff" you don't normally see on a web page, it is what makes the web page visible on screen. It might help to know a little bit about "html" but it really isn't necessary.

With a blog you can express yourself, you can write and publish from virtually anywhere, and you can interact with visitors. Blogging is really about connecting with and hearing from anyone who reads your work and cares to respond.

In August of last year, I wrote a post "Why Blog Genealogy? Why not?" that dealt with my thoughts on the subject. That article also includes links to some other posts on that topic as well as posts on some of the issues involved with blogging.

What do I need to consider before creating a blog?

The two bloggers listed below have provided better and more information on this than I possibly could in the amount of time allowed for this presentation. Although it isn't necessary, I highly recommend reading the posts on choosing a title or name for your blog and selecting a blog platform.

On her Family History blog Lorelle VanFossen links to a series of posts she created on "Building a Genealogy Blog" in which she discusses the purpose of the blog, the features you might want, choosing a blog title, what to put into your family history blog, as well as other topics dealing with blogging your family history.

For general information about blogging, ProBlogger Darren Rowse created a series of posts called "Blogging Tips for Beginners" that covers such things as deciding whether blogging is right for you, how to choose a topic, selecting a blog platform, deciding on a name for your blog, and much more.

How often do I have to post? How much time is this going to take?

There is no set schedule. Post whenever you want. Really. A few genea-bloggers post once or more a day while the majority of active genea-bloggers post once or maybe twice a week, or once every other week. It really is up to you. Time? Again, it's up to you and it really depends upon what kind of writer you are. If you are a quick writer, so much the better, you'll spend less time on your posts. However, I'm a slow, deliberate writer. It takes me a long time to create a post on my family. I seldom log into Blogger and write a post in real time. Almost always I write it, read it, and re-read it several times. Then I log into blogger and copy/paste the text and format it as needed. One thing you really do need to keep in mind though. Like genealogy itself, blogging can become addictive. Not just writing your blog but reading the posts of other genea-bloggers.

What do I post?

Pretty much whatever you want, it is your blog! Take a look at some of the other genea-bloggers. What are they posting? How are they posting? Family stories, memories, questions, research tips, news items, links to websites and other blog posts, responding to "challenges" put out by other bloggers, and participating in the Carnival of Genealogy are just some of the topics that can be discussed in a family history - genealogy blog.

Where do I find other genealogy-related blogs?

Most blogs have a "sidebar" (an area on either side of their posts) where they put links to other blogs. Click on those links, that's why they are there. You will find some amazing posts and very creative writers that will provide inspiration and ideas for your blog.

Chris Dunham's Genealogy Blog Finder now includes over 800 blogs in 26 different categories. Not all of them are currently active. I'll admit it, I haven't read them all ;-) but occasionally I do take the time to browse the various categories and discover something new and interesting.

In addition to listing some blogs, the category Blogs for Genealogy at Cyndi's List includes links to blogging-related sites.

A VERY SHORT Sampling of Genealogy and Family History Blogs.

I hesitated to include a list of links to other genea-bloggers because it implies that those listed are perhaps "better" than others and that, quite simply, is not true. Actually, the blogroll, on the right side of my blog includes many of the blogs that I read, so consider that a list of links! I was asked to highlight some blogs for this presentation so selected half a dozen for that purpose. These genea-bloggers have developed a "niche" for themselves, but there is far more to these bloggers than just their niche!

Humor: The Genealogue
Chris Dunham's "Top Ten" lists and links to genealogy related news items, past and present, will have you ROTFLOL (that's rolling on the floor laughing out loud). His ongoing "Genealogue Challenges" series will have you spending time puzzling over someone else's past.

Polish Records: Steve's Genealogy Blog
If you have Polish ancestors then Stephen Danko can help! He posts copies of the records he has found on his family along with translations (and transcriptions) of the documents and lots of other interesting things.

Journaling or "memory" prompts: AnceStories2
Miriam provides "Weekly journal prompts to help you document your life and the lives of your ancestors for future generations." Miriam highlights stories of her family and ancestors in a second blog called AnceStories.

Carnival of Genealogy: Creative Gene
With the COG, started in June 2006, Jasia brings together posts from other genea-bloggers on a specific topic twice each month. The COG, which has helped create a community of sorts, challenges you to write on a specific topic, some which you might not otherwise consider. Jasia has also shared many interesting stories on her family and her quest for her Polish ancestors as well as tips and other thought-provoking articles.

News and Reviews: Genealogy Reviews Online
Tim Agazio highlights "news, reviews and other interesting items related to genealogy and history" from newspapers and other websites while adding personal insight into those stories.

Research Tips and Genealogy News: Genea-Musings
Randy Seaver provides a slew of genealogy related research tips, news items, and humor as well as some of his own family history research stories.

What Tools are there for Blogging?

There are several places on the web where you can create a blog. WordPress and Blogger are probably the two hosting services with the highest visibility and highest usage. They both have similar features and they are both free. I'm sure that they each have their benefits and their drawbacks.

I chose Blogger because it seemed a little less complex and it is what many of the other genealogy bloggers use. Blogger is owned by Google and appears to index the blogs fairly rapidly, meaning someone searching for something you've written about will likely find it on your blog sooner than they might have otherwise.

To create a blog At WordPress
At the WordPress homepage, click on the "Sign Up Now!" button. You'll need to enter a username and password. If desired, the username can also be used as the blog name.

Once you've entered the required information, click on the box to signify that you have read the terms and conditions, then press enter. A dialog box will be displayed with options to create a post, change the blog template, or go to the homepage. You can also select your theme, add widgets, extras and a custom header, if desired.

It is really that simple to create a blog. Now what? Well, you might want to partake of the tutorials on WordPress that are available to pick up some hints and tips on writing and formatting posts and making changes to your blog settings.
To create a blog At Blogger
At the Blogger homepage. . . there are two ways to create a blog, depending upon whether you have a Google account or not. If you use gmail, then you already have a Google account.

If you already have a Google account:
Sign in to Blogger
A screen will display for you to enter a "display" name, which is the name used to
sign your posts
Click on the box to accept the terms and conditions
Click on continue
So as not to have to repeat the same information, skip over the next paragraph...

If you do not have a Google account:
Click on the orange arrow that says "Create Your Blog Now"
The "Google Account" screen will be displayed
Type in your email address (must be a pre-existing, legitimate address)
Type in your password
Type in the display name you want to use
Type in the text for the word verification
Click on the check box to accept the terms and conditions
Click on continue.

At the next screen:
Type in a title for your blog (it can have spaces in the name)
Type in the desired url (which can be the same as the name but without spaces)
Click on "check availability"
Blogger will let you know if the url can't be used.
Click on Continue.

Select a template to use
Click on Continue
Click on the "Start Posting" arrow

That's it, your blog has been created!

To create a post:
Type in a title for your post.
Type in the text or body of the post.
Type in a label (a category) for the post
Click on the "Publish Post" button
And there you have it, your first post!

Yes, it is easy, but in actuality there are also some other housekeeping chores that will require your attention. If you didn't previously have a Google account you will receive an email with a link to verify and activate your account.

You will want to edit your profile and add a picture of yourself to display on the blog.

You may also want to change some of the default settings for the blog and tweak some of the layout items to make it more personal.

Though sometimes not quite as helpful as it could be, the best place to learn about
these things is the Blogger Help Center, which can also be accessed from the Blogger Dashboard when you are signed in to Blogger.
Obviously, I think blogging your family history is worth the time and effort spent, and it's fun too, but it isn't for everyone. Blogging is a commitment, not only to your readers but to yourself, and the rewards are numerous.

10 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great class Becky.

    I tried to do this once... teach a class on blogging (to a church group). I spent an hour and a half going over how to post to a blog (that I'd already set up for a local church) using WordPress. People seemed really interested and asked good questions. I gave several examples of how information, photos, and the like could easily be posted from the comfort of their own homes. (These were people who were all web savvy and frequently took digital photos of all the parish events and then requested that I add them to the web site along with descriptions/announcements of the parish events). I empowered them with the ability to do for themselves.

    The blog has been up for a year now and not one person has posted a single thing to it. It has stopped them from requesting I make updates to the parish web site though ;-)

    I don't know if I'm just not a good teacher (probably) or if they realized how much time it takes to sit down and write a blog post or upload photos and decided against it.

    I sure hope your class results in more blogging than mine did! LOL!

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  2. Becky,
    You've done a good job with think. I teach about blogs and blogging every semester. I don't expect all of my students to become bloggers. However, I do want them to be able to appreciate the blog and other Web 2.0 technologies. For this reason, I give the students choices in the assignments. I will usually have about 8% of the students choose one of the blog-related options on the assignment where they have a choice of what they can do for the credit for the assignment. However, I find that almost all of my students will identify a few blogs that they just "have to check out" regularly (even if they are sports-related blogs). So, even if those in your audience don't become bloggers, perhaps they'll find a few blogs that they want to check out regularly.

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  3. Very well done Becky. Since I am probably one of the newer genea-bloggers, here are some of the issues I had to deal with in making my decision:

    - Privacy. I think this is an important topic to cover. Discuss ways of posting to protect not only your own full identity but also that of living family members. I've been the victim of identity theft in the past and it is a real concern, especially for those that may not use the Internet as much as your or I do.

    - Journey. I treat my blog as a true journey and sort of a treasure hunt. When I find new things, I blog about it. When I learn new things, I blog about it. When I make mistakes, I blog about it.

    - Multiple Blogs. Tell your audience that it is not uncommon for a blogger to reach a point where they feel the need to "parse out" their blog to several blogs. I have one blog which is simply a transcription of my great-grandmother's diaries. Another deals with food and my mother's recipes. People should not worry if their initial blog is too broad. Over time, they may discover the best focus for the blog.

    You should be proud of what you are doing and being able to present to an audience on this topic!!

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  4. You've done a great job with this! I hope some of those in your class at least give it a try. One point you might make, that I've found lots of people aren't aware of, is that you don't have to have a blog to leave comments and interact with bloggers.

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  5. Becky:

    A really thorough job.

    No, everyone we teach will not create a blog of their own. So, I always devote some time to commenting. Commenting gets them engaged in the blogging world and brings them to the party.

    Right now I'm teaching 14 Writer-Friends to team blog and they seem petrified of commenting.

    If I can get them to comment, we're half way there.

    fM

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  6. Becky,

    This is a great class! I wish I would have read something like this as I started...would have saved me from making a lot of beginning mistakes. Also, thanks for including a link to my blog...I really appreciate it!

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  7. Becky,
    Great info for beginners who want to get into blogging! I hope many of your students begin blogs because of your hard work.
    Donna

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  8. A great idea, Becky. I hope it is successful. Nice round-up of how to get started.

    Even if none of your students become bloggers, it will raise awareness among them as to our colleagues' dedication and time spent to bring information to our readers!

    Good luck!

    Schelly
    Tracing the Tribe
    http://tracingthetribe.blogspot.com

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  9. Thanks everyone for the ideas. The presentation went well though I went over the allotted hour by 15 minutes. Everyone who attended seemed interested, some were just curious as to what a blog was, and a few had actually read some blogs. All of the points that had been brought up in the comments were discussed as well as most everything in my post.

    One gentleman thinks perhaps he might create a blog. He just wasn't sure how to useful a blog would be for presenting his family history. I offered to help him set it up and get through the first post or two.

    It was a small group, only 15 attended but we're a small society (less than 100 members) with 3/4 of our members out of state. Considering the weather (cold, windy & snowy) that night it was a good turnout. I'm happy with how it went and very glad the laptop provided by the library worked!

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  10. Becky,

    Good for you! I'm commenting a bit late, but I second Maven's comment about some people seeming petrified to try. I think the less a perons uses new technology in their everyday lives, the less likely they are to try, sort of like my elderly mom treating a cell phone as something from another planet. But, you did everyone a service by explaining what blogs are. That understanding is the first step toward using the technology creatively.

    ReplyDelete

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