I have three real blogs, by which I mean ones I actually post things on. I have two others I received by registering at WordPress.com and Blogger. I almost never sign on to Blogger (a choice, not a critique), and mainly use WordPress.com when I show someone how to start a blog.
I don’t do that often; I’m a poor proselytizer. But I’m not bad at explaining.
There are two main routes to having your own blog. The simpler one, for most people, is a blog hosted on sites like WordPress.com or Blogger. You don’t have to consider domain name, hosting services, or any of that stuff.
You do have to figure out how a blog works, which like many things can seem quite complicated from the outside. I’m a WordPress fan, but its distinction between Post and Page is not intuitive, and the explanation in the WordPress Codex isn’t much help to a newcomer.
( *** Tech term alert: if you don’t care about WordPress, feel free to skip the next paragraph. ***)
A WP novice doesn’t immediately grasp whether, when, or how to use categories. She doesn’t necessarily see the distinctions between publish, preview, and save draft. It’s not obvious how to write a post and set it to appear automatically at a later time. And that’s just the writing-a-post stuff, not the admin controls, the use of plug-ins, or the tradeoffs that come with switching your theme.
The second route to having a blog is to have your own domain (like my www.daveswhiteboard.com), to have that domain hosted (by a hosting service or, for those with lots of tech time, on your own), and to install blog software on your domain the way I’ve installed WordPress on mine.
None of that is all that hard, necessarily — but it’s comparable to learning to drive a standard transmission car when you only know how to drive an automatic. There’s more stuff going on, more that you have to think about, concepts you need to incorporate, skills you need to build. The effort can well be worthwhile (either for the stick shift or for the domain), but it’s not essential. At least not in the way that food, shelter, clothing, and shortbread are.
My own impression of a blog, way back when, was “here’s my big thought of the day.” After nearly four years, I know quite a few bloggers. Most of them don’t see their blog that way. Still, you can see the parallel with the (relatively) uninformed picture of Twitter as “here’s what I had for lunch.”
My first blog is a collection of stories by and about people from Cape Breton Island, where I was born. Most of them aren’t by me. My second blog began as a way to keep in touch with my parents, who’d been online for a few years but had trouble when it came to reading email, finding items they’d previously read, and opening attachments.
My point is not that you ought to blog for your family stories or to keep in touch with your parents. Instead, it’s that if you’ve got something you want to share with one or more people at a distance, and you think you might have a number of things to share, then a blog’s one way you can do that.
A longtime colleague and friend has a serious-hobby interest–to preserve his privacy, I’ll say this interest is in Japanese ceramics, because it’s not. He collects Japanese ceramics, he makes trips to examine them, he meets often with people also interested in ceramics.
He asked about making a web page to summarize lectures about Japanese ceramics, I suggested a blog to accomplish this–far less a technical leap for him than a full-blown website. I walked him through WordPress.com’s setup. He made practice posts (so he learned by doing simple versions of the real task). I’ve spent five or six hours all told helping him maintain and troubleshoot his blog.
He does almost nothing the way I would. The most recent post doesn’t appear on the main page. He has white type on a dark background. He has dozens of photos in a single post. He has enormously long posts (no “click to read more” for him). He doesn’t allow comments.
He gets email from strangers who thank him profusely for sharing in this way. Guest lecturers collaborate with him because they’re so pleased to have their material circulated more widely, especially by someone attuned to nuance in the world of Japanese ceramics. He’s chugged along for two years with a slow rise to about two posts a month.
I’ve learned a lot from helping him. In particular, I’ve been reminded of the difference between an option, a preference, and a recommendation. You could argue that his blog might be more “successful” if he changed some of his practice–but I believe he knows what he wants to say, how he wants to say it, and quite a bit about who might want to hear it said.