Today’s Web column for CBC’s Afternoon Edition…
Over the past few years the growing use of computers and the Internet has contributed a lot of weird new words to our language. People talk about ROM and RAM and “megs of memory,” Googling and websurfing and more. But one of the weirdest words of all is blog, which sounds more like something you have to clean up—“Dear, the dog left a big blog on the sidewalk, can you take care of it?”—than anything to do with computers.
But, in fact, blogging is big—and you can try it yourself for free.
A blog is simply a series of posts that are displayed on a web page in reverse chronological order: in other words, the freshest post is at the top, and as you scroll down, you move back in time.
The word blog—which I agree is ugly, but we seem to be stuck with it—is short for Web log.
Exactly who invented the Web log is amatter of intense debate, at least among the kind of people who intensely debate things like this.
According to an article on CNET News.com last year celebrating the 10th anniversary of blogging, Dave Winer, who launched Scripting News on April 1, 1997, claims it as the longest currently running Web log on the Internet: but he didn’t originally call it a Web log.
The term appears to have been invented by Jorn Barger, a programmer, futurist, and James Joyce scholar to describe his site RobotWisdom.com, which he started in December, 1997. It was essentially a day-by-day log of what he was reading and thinking about. He needed something to call it, and came up with WebLog. He also says Winer’s site wasn’t really a blog because “he mixed up the reverse-chronological ordering too much,” and that RobotWisdom.com was the first blog.
Peter Merholz of Peterme.com shortened WebLog to “blog,” and since people always prefer short words, a new four-letter word (albeit not a swear word, except perhaps for the occasional old-media news reporter who finds him or herself scooped by one) entered the vernacular.
As of last April, Technorati was tracking more than 70 million blogs worldwide—and at the time was seeing about 120,000 being created every day, or about 1.4 per second.
Of course, not all of those are active: a lot of people start blogs and then let them fall by the wayside when they discover it’s actually quite a bit of work keeping one going. In any event, the odds are hardly anybody is going to read them: most blogs get only a handful of readers, or none at all, on any given day.
Some, however, get more. A lot more. As of this morning, the truth laid bear, which tracks these things, had the gadget blog Gizmodo at the top of the list, with 2,466,128 visits per day. But the 5,000th most popular blog was only getting around 200 visitors a day. Most get far, far fewer.
If you’d like to try blogging, there are several places that host blogs for free. The biggest is probably Blogger, which is owned by Google. It’s easy to get started: you go to the main page, create an account, give your blog a name, choose a template (which determines the look of the blog) and you’re off and running.
You can post either by visiting the website or simply by emailing a special address.
Blogger makes it easy not only to post text, but to upload pictures and video. And you can jump in and modify the template as much as you like—moving things around, changing the look of your posts, changing the background, whatever—all for free.
One of the nicest bits of blogging software is WordPress. Normally you install WordPress on your own webhost, but that can be a bit of a hassle and isn’t something a novice is going to want to mess with. If you’d like, you can instead get an account at WordPress.com and create your blog there. WordPress.com provides statistics, so you can see ho many visitors you are (or aren’t) getting and which pages they visit. WordPress also lets you create regular Web pages as well as blog posts, so you could use it to host a complete website with a blog component.
A couple of other free blog hosts are BlogText.org, although it doesn’t let you modify your page as much as some of the others, eBloggy, BlogDrive and tBlog. Be aware that some of these free sites place advertisements on your blog which you’ll probably have no control over.
Big sites like MySpace and LiveJournal host blogs, to. One of the interesting things about MySpace and LiveJournal is that you can make “friends” out of other people on the service, who will then automatically be notified on one of their pages of any new posts you put up (and vice versa).
But you can achieve that same goal with most blogging software through something called RSS feeds (RSS stands for “Real Simple Syndication”). People can subscribe to your feed, and then, rather than have to actually visit your blog, can read your posts using a something called a feed reader, which presents everything in a uniform format on a single page. My favorite is Google Reader: I subscribe to dozens of blogs using it and can scroll through the posts rapidly to see which ones I actually want to read.
Of course, as well as read blogs, I maintain my own. My main one is called Hassenpfeffer, and is hosted by Blogger; I copy it to LiveJournal and MySpace, as well. I also maintain a blog for SF Canada, the association of professional speculative fiction writers in Canada, which highlights writing-related news from our members, and I’m one of the group bloggers at a site called Futurismic, which focuses on future trends and interesting science trends from a science-fiction lovers’ perspective.
Oh, and then I have a couple of blogs which have gone completely inactive, but we won’t talk about those.
And how many visitors do I get at my blogs every day, you ask?
Oh, will you look at that. I’m out of time.