Technology

This Week On The Internet: Blog like you've never blogged before!

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As was alluded to last issue, everyone and their dog has a blog, and most of these are incredibly uninteresting, even for the immediate family of their writers. Therefore, as a public service, This Week On The Internet is going to show you how to make a blog that doesn't suck.

1. Open an account.

There are many places that will host blogs for free, from dedicated blog hosting sites like Blogger and Livejournal to personal networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. While the latter are useful for quick posts, they don't have nearly the autonomy and power that a dedicated site like Blogger has, so we'll use that. Those with PHP-enabled webspace can use an open-source script like Pivot or Movable Type to maintain their blogs, but setting up complex scripts like these is a little beyond the scope of this article. It's definitely a good option if you have the technical know-how, however.

2. Get a good address.

It's unlikely your blog will get read if it has an address like jbpolpolvik8432148.blogspot.com. Go for something memorable and try to avoid putting numbers in it. Better yet, buy a domain name from a site like GoDaddy.com and then just point it at whatever blog address you end up with.

3. Make an awesome first post.

Don't write something like "Hi, this is my first post! Yaaaay!" to start everything off. Start off with a bang! Post some photos! Write a poem! Do a little dance! Make a little love! Get down tonight!

4. Continue with good content

The average person on the Internet has an attention span 1/8th that of a gnat. It's important to continually produce interesting content or else readers will go elsewhere. Be opinionated. Why else do you think the blogs of far-right nutjobs have so many readers? It isn't the quality of the content; the writers merely strike a chord with their readership. Blogs offering a perspective different than the mainstream are also good. For instance, some of the most interesting blogs online are based out of Iraq and give a perspective from someone where the news is actually happening.

Also, unless you have an insanely interesting life (you don't), nobody wants to hear about it. Keeping an online diary is for teenagers. Nobody, and I mean, nobody wants to hear about how depressed you've been since your cat died. Posts like the aforementioned are deserving of all manner of abuse from commenters and only clog the Intertubes with pointless tripe.

Lastly, for the love of God, spellcheck your entries.

5. Make it look good

Ever go to a website so poorly designed it's uncertain whether it's a real site or an artificially constructed example designed to demonstate how not to do webpages? If so, can you remember what the page was about, beyond the fact it looked absolutely atrocious? Aesthetics matter. Use one of the default templates if you need to, but try to learn some HTML so you can design your own unique-looking page.

6. Use photos

There's an acronym used on various forums, mostly by 12-year-olds who forgot to take their daily dosage of Ritalin: tl;dr. "Too Long; didn't read." While hopefully university has built up a tolerance for long blocks of text, nobody likes to be met with a wall of words. Break up long stories with pictures. One of the best ways to do this is to open a Flickr account (flickr.com) and link to the photos on your blog remotely. This is also useful while travelling because it allows for uploading and the manipulation of photos without any additional software-useful for those pesky Internet kiosks with no imaging software beyond "Paint".

If you're just wanting to keep a photoblog (a blog primarily designed to show off photos with very little-if any-text), Flickr can also act as a decent starting point, though serious photographers will probably find it lacking in features.

If you have your own PHP-enabled webspace, Pixelpost (pixelpost.org) is a good option, as is Gallery2 (gallery.menalto.com). If you don't, try Aminus3 (aminus3.com), which gives unlimited bandwidth and space, along with very swank templates.

7. Aggregate!

Several personal networking sites-such as Facebook-allow users to import an RSS feed. In English, Facebook can be set up to automatically convert blog entries into notes. Also, there's a Facebook Developer Platform application that allows the importing of Flickr galleries. To increase readership, make sure to take advantage of both of these. Personal networking sites are a captive (and often bored) audience. Use this to your advantage.

8. Manage comments correctly

One of the coolest things about maintaining a blog is reader interaction. Note, however, that interactivity doesn't just happen by enabling comments. Like a rare shrubbery, a blog's comments have to be carefully maintained, well-trimmed, and treated with the same love and affection you'd give a small animal. Like a puppy. Unless you don't like puppies. In which case, you're a bad, bad person. Shame on you.

Regardless, there're a couple things to keep in mind. Firstly, kill any comment spam you get as soon as humanly possible. Commercial blogging services are pretty good for preventing a deluge of such crap, but if any do get through, make sure to nip them in the bud.

Secondly, respond to your comments. Don't be afraid to talk to your readers; indeed, if they've already taken the time to read, they'd probably appreciate a response.

That said, don't respond too quickly. Let your readers (even if there're only two of them) duke it out before dropping The Voice From On High.

9. Post frequently

Blogs stagnate faster than a three week old slice of gorgonzola left in a rez beer fridge. Keeping readers interested with fresh and innovative content is a surefire way of having them come back. Note, however, that quantity is not better than quality. Having only a few wicked awesome entries is far better than having an enormous archive of unreadable crap. That said, what can take a blog from "Good" to "Epic" is the amount of quality content. If necessary, have some friends contribute.

10. Use multimedia

Everybody loves YouTube (with maybe the notable exception of the MPAA's lawyers, but they're boring). Use it. Copy and paste the "Embed" field of a YouTube video into blog entries for great justice!

11. Have a dedicated email account for your blog

Email addresses listed in any sort of online public area tend to get spammed way more than private addresses. Creating a new email address specifically for blog-related mail is a good plan as it not only allows the filtering of spam, it also prevents legitimate reader mail from being tossed into a junk folder.

12. Maintain a linkdrop

Linkdrops are quick entries about cool sites. They don't require a lot of explanation and give readers a good idea of what you're currently stoked about. If your blog software doesn't have linkdrop category, at least keep a text file with various cool links. Who knows? You might just hit upon a new Internet meme before everyone else does.

13. Speaketh the truth!

The fastest way to lose readers is to post libelous claims. Well, that's not entirely true; celebrity gossip sites are pretty popular. But, uh, regardless, don't lie. It may be the Internet, but you can still be charged with libel.

14. Have fun!

After all, when else are you going to be able to write utterly meaningless tripe and have others read it?

Have a crucial tech question? A wicked-cool website to share? Is your cat in your PC, eating your megahutz? Email

aendrew@gauntlet.ucalgary.ca!

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