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TakingITGlobal

2007 Webby Awards

How to Create Your Own Blog
Author: Andy Carvin, A Sense Of Place Network | December 8th, 2004
Communities: Cool Tools , Content,

Introduction

One of the most exciting features of the Digital Divide Network website is the ability for every DDN member to have a personal blog. A blog, or Web log, is a public Internet journal written by one person or a group of people. Blogs contain journal entries written by the author, who's referred to as a blogger. Most blogs display the most recent entry at the top of the Web page, with previous entries below that in reverse chronological order.

Blogging has revolutionized Internet publishing in the last several years because it gives everyone with Internet access the opportunity to become an online writer. Whether they want to talk about culture, politics, the Internet or their favorite hobbies, bloggers have popped up everywhere. Experts estimate there are at least five million blogs online today, and every day, thousands of people become bloggers for the first time.

Bloggers have different reasons for creating a blog. Some bloggers just like to generate debate. Others use blogging as civic journalists, writing news stories you might otherwise not see in mainstream media. Organizations often use blogs to publish newsletters, or share resources with their colleagues. Even students blog to publish their classroom writings online for peer review. But generally, most people blog because they feel they have something important to say, and are empowered by expressing themselves over the Internet. Whether it's a casual hobby or an intense avocation, blogging is a wonderful way to share your ideas with others.

There are a variety of blogging tools available to the public. Many of them are fee-based services, while others are free but require the inclusion of advertising on your blog, or require a high amount of technical expertise. Because of this, we decided to create a blogging tool that would allow members of the Digital Divide Network to create their own blogs with an easy-to-use interface that's free of advertising. As you'll see, our blogging tool is designed for beginners, but experienced bloggers may use it to "mirror" their existing blogs on the Digital Divide Network.

An Overview of DDN Blogs

As you get a chance to look at the blogs on DDN, you'll see that they all have a similar basic layout. For example, take a look at the blog I've created. The blog's homepage is set up with a three-column format similar to many other DDN pages. To the left, you'll see the major DDN navigation links. In the center column are my blog entries, the most recent entry appearing at the top.

The center column is the main focus of the blog, since that's where you'll display your entries for people to read online. Each entry has several basic elements, including a title, the text of the blog entry, a time stamp, the number of comments that have been posted about the entry and a link for people to post comments. All blog entries will have these elements; additionally, you can add a picture, but this is purely optional.

In the right column are a series of boxes specifically related to my blog: Navigate Andy's Blog, About Andy, Andy's Links, Creative Commons, and an RSS feed. Each of these boxes is worth a quick explanation.

Navigate Andy's Blog. This box contains three links: the blog's homepage, a collection of all the blog entries from the current month and an archive of all blog entries. If you have your own blog, the website will automatically change the name in the header, so rather than seeing "Navigate Andy's Blog," my name would be replaced by your name.

About Andy. This box retrieves any biographical information you've posted in your DDN member profile. You can edit your profile to include a bio, and this will then appear automatically on your blog.

Andy's Links. Similar to your bio information, your DDN member profile allows you to list your favorite websites. This list will then appear on your blog as well. In blog terminology, this is called a "blog roll."

Creative Commons. Creative Commons is an online initiative that helps bloggers and other online publishers explain to their audience the copyright rules for their website. Creative Commons allows you to tell your readers whether your blog may be redistributed for noncommercial purposes, if readers must ask permission from you before redistributing your blog, etc. You can even set up a license that says that that Internet users in developing nations may reprint or distribute your content without seeking permission, while users in developed nations need to ask you first. For more information on this feature, please visit my Creative Commons tutorial.

RSS Feed. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a format for sharing your blog content on other websites or have it delivered directly to your readers. If you click on the link labeled XML, you'll see it looks like a bunch of code, but certain websites and software programs are able to read this code and allow people to have your blog entries sent to them automatically. For more information on RSS, please read my RSS tutorial.

Getting started: Setting Up Your Blog


For starters, you're going to have to be a member of the Digital Divide Network. If you're not a member, join now. Simply fill out that form and submit it; you'll then get an email asking you to reconfirm your membership by clicking a link. It's that easy.

Before posting your first blog entry, it's a good idea to check the blog's settings to make sure you're happy with it - not to mention the fact that you'll want to give your blog a name.

To edit your blog settings, click on the Edit My Profile link near the top of the left navigation column. You'll then see an edit page with four different sections listed across the top of the main column. If this is your first time filling out your profile, click each section and fill out your profile so DDN members can learn more about you. If it's not your first time and you just want to set up your blog, click on the fourth link, labeled Blog Settings. (Or you can click on the preceding link as a short cut.)

When you get to blog settings page, you'll notice a series of form fields and settings. The most important one is up first: it's the Page Title field. Here, you should give your blog a name. Bloggers often like to feel like they score points for being witty or clever, but feel free to come up with any name that sounds good to you.

The second item on the page asks whether you'd like to be notified of comments. This means that whenever someone posts a comment to your blog, you'll get an email notifying you of this. Most bloggers set this to yes, but if you're not interested, you can set it to no.

Next, you can select how many blog entries you wish to have displayed on your homepage at any given time. Personally, I have mine set to five, but it's up to you. Once your page has reached its limit, the oldest entry will be archived automatically and the newest entry posted to the top of the blog.

External RSS Feed. This is a feature for bloggers who already have their own blog somewhere outside of DDN and they'd like to "mirror" their blog here as well. Mirroring is useful because it helps bloggers reach a wider audience, and indexes their content into the DDN search engine. If you already have a blog and wish to mirror your site on DDN, simply paste your current site's RSS feed in this field. Once you've done this, the DDN site will copy the blog entries from your original blog and mirror them here. Again, to learn more about RSS, please visit my RSS tutorial.

Blog Style. If you'd like to change the color of your blog, you can select from the colors shown here.

Creative Commons. As I mentioned earlier, Creative Commons is a simple way of letting people know if you'd like your blog entries to be republished by others. Here you can select from a variety of copyright licenses if you wish to use one. For a description of the various licenses, please read my Creative Commons Tutorial.

Header Image. This allows you to upload an image from your computer and have it displayed at the top of your blog. Many bloggers like to post a small photo of them, but it's entirely optional.

Once you've made your settings edits, be sure to click the button that says "Update Settings." Otherwise you'll lose your changes.

How to Post a Blog Entry

If you look at the left navigation column on any DDN homepage, you'll see a section called Blogs. Click on the link labeled Post an Entry. This will bring you to a blank template that you'll use to post your blog entries.

As you'll see when you look at the template, it's a very simple form. The two most important elements are the Title and the Body. When you're ready to write an entry, put the title in the Title box and the text of your entry in the Body box. You can write it directly in the boxes, or you can write your entry using a word processor so you can spellcheck it, then paste it into the form fields.

Below the Title and Body boxes are two more boxes. The first one allows you to upload an image from your computer if you have an image you'd like to display with your blog entry. Please remember that you should only post images that you own yourself or have copyright permission to post online. The last item is the Community box. This is useful if you're writing a blog entry about a particular subject, like education or e-government, that has its own DDN community. Click the Community box to see a list of them. You should use this feature if you'd like to share your blog entry with members of a particular topical community, select it from this list. That will create a link to your blog on that community's homepage.

Once you've posted a blog entry, it will appear on your blog's homepage and be added to your archive. DDN will also post a link to your blog on the DDN homepage, as well as particular topical community if you've chosen that option.

Editing and Deleting Blog Entries

If for any reason you wish to edit or delete a blog entry, it's very easy. Go to your blog and click on the title of the entry you wish to edit or delete. It will then open a new page showing the entry. Just below the entry, next to the time stamp, are two links: delete and edit. Click on either one to make the change on your blog.

What Should I Blog About?

Well, that's entirely up to you. The reason we created the DDN blogging tool is because we wanted to encourage our members to share their ideas with each other, as well as the general public. Think of it as a way to start virtual brainstorms, share interesting news stories or online resources, comment on what's being done to bridge the digital divide, or whatever else may interest you. It's often helpful if you pick a theme to your blog, such as education technology, e-health, Internet access for the disabled, cool Internet tools, etc., especially if you have expertise in a specific area. Think of your blog as a way to share your expertise and your ideas, so try to focus on things you know about and care about. If you have something you'd like to share that relates to the digital divide in one way or another, use your blog to share it with all of us.

Promoting Your Blog

Once you start blogging, it's a good idea to share your blog with friends and colleagues. You can send them an email with the URL for your blog and encourage them to visit it. They don't have to be a DDN member to read your blog, though they'll have to join if they want to post comments. It's also a good idea for you to share your RSS feed; go down to the bottom right corner of your blog and right-click the XML link so you can copy the URL of the RSS feed. Then, when you share it with people, folks who use RSS will be able to subscribe to your blog and have it sent to them.

There are also many blog search engines on the Internet, and they're a great way to get people to notice your blog. Check out websites like Technorati, Bloglines, Feedster and Kinja; each site allows you to submit your blog so others may access it.

Any Questions?

If you have any questions about blogging, please feel free to post them to the Help Desk in DDN's discussion area. We also have a general discussion on blogging if you'd like to interact with other DDN bloggers.

Andy Carvin is director of the Digital Divide Network.







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