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Intro­duc­tion to Blog­ging

What is a “blog”?

Blog” is an abbre­vi­ated ver­sion of “web­log,” which is a term used to describe web­sites that main­tain an ongo­ing chron­icle of inform­a­tion. A blog fea­tures diary-type com­ment­ary and links to art­icles on oth­er web­sites, usu­ally presen­ted as a list of entries in reverse chro­no­lo­gic­al order. Blogs range from the per­son­al to the polit­ic­al, and can focus on one nar­row sub­ject or a whole range of sub­jects.

Many blogs focus on a par­tic­u­lar top­ic, such as web design, home sta­ging, sports, or mobile tech­no­logy. Some are more eclect­ic, present­ing links to all types of oth­er sites. And oth­ers are more like per­son­al journ­als, present­ing the author’s daily life and thoughts.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing (although there are excep­tions), blogs tend to have a few things in com­mon:

dia­gram

  • A main con­tent area with art­icles lis­ted chro­no­lo­gic­ally, new­est on top. Often, the art­icles are organ­ized into cat­egor­ies.
  • An archive of older art­icles.
  • A way for people to leave com­ments about the art­icles.
  • A list of links to oth­er related sites, some­times called a “blogroll”.
  • One or more “feeds” like RSS, Atom or RDF files.

Some blogs may have addi­tion­al fea­tures bey­ond these. Watch this short video for a simple explan­a­tion for what a blog is.

Here are some pro­fes­sion­al blog­gers’ point of view on what is a blog.

What is a “blog­ger”?

A blog­ger is a per­son who owns or runs a blog or a per­son who main­tains the blog. That is, post­ing art­icles or new posts, inform­a­tion, shar­ing the most up-to-date news, opin­ions and case stud­ies to name but a few. Such entries are known as blog posts.

The Blog Con­tent

Con­tent is the rais­on d’être for any web­site. Retail sites fea­ture a cata­log of products. Uni­ver­sity sites con­tain inform­a­tion about their cam­puses, cur­riculum, and fac­ulty. News sites show the latest news stor­ies. For a per­son­al blog, you might have a bunch of obser­va­tions, or reviews. Without some sort of updated con­tent, there is little reas­on to vis­it a web­site more than once.

On a blog, the con­tent con­sists of art­icles (also some­times called “posts” or “entries”) that the author(s) writes. Yes, some blogs have mul­tiple authors, each writ­ing his/​her own art­icles. Typ­ic­ally, blog authors com­pose their art­icles in a web-based inter­face, built into the blog­ging sys­tem itself. Some blog­ging sys­tems also sup­port the abil­ity to use stand-alone “web­log cli­ent” soft­ware, which allows authors to write art­icles off­line and upload them at a later time.

Com­ments

Want an inter­act­ive web­site? Would­n’t it be nice if the read­ers of a web­site could leave com­ments, tips or impres­sions about the site or a spe­cif­ic art­icle? With blogs, they can! Post­ing com­ments is one of the most excit­ing fea­tures of blogs.

Most blogs have a meth­od to allow vis­it­ors to leave com­ments. There are also nifty ways for authors of oth­er blogs to leave com­ments without even vis­it­ing the blog! Called “ping­backs” or “track­backs”, they can inform oth­er blog­gers whenev­er they cite an art­icle from anoth­er site in their own art­icles. All this ensures that online con­ver­sa­tions can be main­tained pain­lessly among vari­ous site users and web­sites.

The Dif­fer­ence Between a Blog and CMS?

Soft­ware that provides a meth­od of man­aging your web­site is com­monly called a CMS or “Con­tent Man­age­ment Sys­tem”. Many blog­ging soft­ware pro­grams are con­sidered a spe­cif­ic type of CMS. They provide the fea­tures required to cre­ate and main­tain a blog, and can make pub­lish­ing on the inter­net as simple as writ­ing an art­icle, giv­ing it a title, and organ­iz­ing it under (one or more) cat­egor­ies. While some CMS pro­grams offer vast and soph­ist­ic­ated fea­tures, a basic blog­ging tool provides an inter­face where you can work in an easy and, to some degree, intu­it­ive man­ner while it handles the logist­ics involved in mak­ing your com­pos­i­tion present­able and pub­licly avail­able. In oth­er words, you get to focus on what you want to write, and the blog­ging tool takes care of the rest of the site man­age­ment.

Word­Press is one such advanced blog­ging tool and it provides a rich set of fea­tures. Through its Admin­is­tra­tion Pan­els, you can set options for the beha­vi­or and present­a­tion of your web­log. Via these Admin­is­tra­tion Pan­els, you can eas­ily com­pose a blog post, push a but­ton, and be pub­lished on the inter­net, instantly! Word­Press goes to great pains to see that your blog posts look good, the text looks beau­ti­ful, and the html code it gen­er­ates con­forms to web stand­ards.

If you’re just start­ing out, read Get­ting Star­ted with Word­Press, which con­tains inform­a­tion on how to get Word­Press set up quickly and effect­ively, as well as inform­a­tion on per­form­ing basic tasks with­in Word­Press, like cre­at­ing new posts or edit­ing exist­ing ones.

Things Blog­gers Need to Know

In addi­tion to under­stand­ing how your spe­cif­ic blog­ging soft­ware works, such as Word­Press, there are some terms and con­cepts you need to know.

Archives

A blog is also a good way to keep track of art­icles on a site. A lot of blogs fea­ture an archive based on dates (like a monthly or yearly archive). The front page of a blog may fea­ture a cal­en­dar of dates linked to daily archives. Archives can also be based on cat­egor­ies fea­tur­ing all the art­icles related to a spe­cif­ic cat­egory.

It does not stop there; you can also archive your posts by author or alpha­bet­ic­ally. The pos­sib­il­it­ies are end­less. This abil­ity to organ­ize and present art­icles in a com­posed fash­ion is much of what makes blog­ging a pop­u­lar per­son­al pub­lish­ing tool.

Feeds

A Feed is a func­tion of spe­cial soft­ware that allows “Feedread­ers” to access a site auto­mat­ic­ally look­ing for new con­tent and then post updates about that new con­tent to anoth­er site. This provides a way for users to keep up with the latest and hot­test inform­a­tion pos­ted on dif­fer­ent blog­ging sites. Some Feeds include RSS (altern­ately defined as “Rich Site Sum­mary” or “Really Simple Syn­dic­a­tion”), Atom or RDF files. Dave Shea, author of the web design web­log Mezzo­blue has writ­ten a com­pre­hens­ive sum­mary of feeds.

Blogrolls

A blogroll is a list, some­times cat­egor­ized, of links to webpages the author of a blog finds worth­while or inter­est­ing. The links in a blogroll are usu­ally to oth­er blogs with sim­il­ar interests. The blogroll is often in a “side­bar” on the page or fea­tured as a ded­ic­ated sep­ar­ate web page. Word­Press has a built-in Link Man­ager so users do not have to depend on a third party for cre­at­ing and man­aging their blogroll.

Syn­dic­a­tion

A feed is a machine read­able (usu­ally XML) con­tent pub­lic­a­tion that is updated reg­u­larly. Many web­logs pub­lish a feed (usu­ally RSS, but also pos­sibly Atom and RDF and so on, as described above). There are tools out there that call them­selves “feedread­ers”. What they do is they keep check­ing spe­cified blogs to see if they have been updated, and when the blogs are updated, they dis­play the new post, and a link to it, with an excerpt (or the whole con­tents) of the post. Each feed con­tains items that are pub­lished over time. When check­ing a feed, the feedread­er is actu­ally look­ing for new items. New items are auto­mat­ic­ally dis­covered and down­loaded for you to read, so you don’t have to vis­it all the blogs you are inter­ested in. All you have to do with these feedread­ers is to add the link to the RSS feed of all the blogs you are inter­ested in. The feedread­er will then inform you when any of the blogs have new posts in them. Most blogs have these “Syn­dic­a­tion” feeds avail­able for the read­ers to use.

Man­aging Com­ments

One of the most excit­ing fea­tures of blog­ging tools are the com­ments. This highly inter­act­ive fea­ture allows users to com­ment upon art­icle posts, link to your posts, and com­ment on and recom­mend them. These are known as track­backs and ping­backs. We’ll also dis­cuss how to mod­er­ate and man­age com­ments and how to deal with the annoy­ing trend in “com­ment spam”, when unwanted com­ments are pos­ted to your blog.

Track­backs

Track­backs were ori­gin­ally developed by SixA­part, cre­at­ors of the Mov­ab­le­Type blog pack­age. SixA­part has a good intro­duc­tion to track­backs:

In a nut­shell, Track­Back was designed to provide a meth­od of noti­fic­a­tion between web­sites: it is a meth­od of per­son A say­ing to per­son B, “This is some­thing you may be inter­ested in.” To do that, per­son A sends a Track­Back ping to per­son B.

A bet­ter explan­a­tion is this:

  • Per­son A writes some­thing on their blog.
  • Per­son B wants to com­ment on Per­son A’s blog, but wants her own read­ers to see what she had to say, and be able to com­ment on her own blog
  • Per­son B posts on her own blog and sends a track­back to Per­son A’s blog
  • Per­son A’s blog receives the track­back, and dis­plays it as a com­ment to the ori­gin­al post. This com­ment con­tains a link to Per­son B’s post

The idea here is that more people are intro­duced to the con­ver­sa­tion (both Per­son A’s and Per­son B’s read­ers can fol­low links to the oth­er­’s post), and that there is a level of authen­ti­city to the track­back com­ments because they ori­gin­ated from anoth­er web­log. Unfor­tu­nately, there is no actu­al veri­fic­a­tion per­formed on the incom­ing track­back, and indeed they can even be faked.

Most track­backs send to Per­son A only a small por­tion (called an “excerpt”) of what Per­son B had to say. This is meant to act as a “teas­er”, let­ting Per­son A (and his read­ers) see some of what Per­son B had to say, and encour­aging them all to click over to Per­son B’s site to read the rest (and pos­sibly com­ment).

Per­son B’s track­back to Per­son A’s blog gen­er­ally gets pos­ted along with all the com­ments. This means that Per­son A can edit the con­tents of the track­back on his own serv­er, which means that the whole idea of “authen­ti­city” isn’t really solved. (Note: Per­son A can only edit the con­tents of the track­back on his own site. He can­not edit the post on Per­son B’s site that sent the track­back.)

SixA­part has pub­lished an offi­cial track­back spe­cific­a­tion.

Ping­backs

Ping­backs were designed to solve some of the prob­lems that people saw with track­backs. That is why the offi­cial ping­back doc­u­ment­a­tion sounds so much like the descrip­tion of a track­back:

For example, Yvonne writes an inter­est­ing art­icle on her Web log. Kath­leen reads Yvon­ne’s art­icle and com­ments about it, link­ing back to Yvon­ne’s ori­gin­al post. Using ping­back, Kath­leen’s soft­ware can auto­mat­ic­ally noti­fy Yvonne that her post has been linked to, and Yvon­ne’s soft­ware can then include this inform­a­tion on her site.

The best way to think about ping­backs is as remote com­ments:

  • Per­son A posts some­thing on his blog.
  • Per­son B posts on her own blog, link­ing to Per­son A’s post. This auto­mat­ic­ally sends a ping­back to Per­son A when both have ping­back enabled blogs.
  • Per­son A’s blog receives the ping­back, then auto­mat­ic­ally goes to Per­son B’s post to con­firm that the ping­back did, in fact, ori­gin­ate there.

The ping­back is gen­er­ally dis­played on Per­son A’s blog as simply a link to Per­son B’s post. It is com­monly believed that ping­backs do not send any con­tent, as track­backs do. This is not cor­rect. If you get a ping­back, you will see an excerpt from that blog in the Edit Com­ments sec­tion of your dash­board. The issue is that very few themes dis­play these excerpts from ping­backs. The default Word­Press themes, for example, do not dis­play ping­back excerpts.

In fact, there is only one sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ence between ping­backs and track­backs: Ping­backs and track­backs use drastic­ally dif­fer­ent com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­no­lo­gies (XML-RPC and HTTP POST, respect­ively). But that dif­fer­ence is import­ant because track­backs have become the tar­get of so much spam. The auto­mat­ic veri­fic­a­tion pro­cess intro­duces a level of authen­ti­city, mak­ing it harder to fake a ping­back.

Some feel that track­backs are super­i­or because read­ers of Per­son A’s blog can at least see some of what Per­son B has to say, and then decide if they want to read more (and there­fore click over to Per­son B’s blog). Oth­ers feel that ping­backs are super­i­or because they cre­ate a veri­fi­able con­nec­tion between posts.

Using Ping­backs and Track­backs

Com­ments on blogs are often cri­ti­cized as lack­ing author­ity, since any­one can post any­thing using any name they like: there’s no veri­fic­a­tion pro­cess to ensure that the per­son is who they claim to be. Track­backs and Ping­backs both aim to provide some veri­fic­a­tion to blog com­ment­ing.

To enable track­backs and ping­backs, in the Dis­cus­sion Set­tings of your Admin­is­tra­tion Pan­els, select these items under ‘Default art­icle set­tings’:

Attempt to noti­fy any blogs linked to from the art­icle.

Allow link noti­fic­a­tions from oth­er blogs (ping­backs and track­backs.)

Select­ing one option and not the oth­er would not be very neigh­borly 😉

Once enabled, track­backs and ping­backs from oth­er sites will appear in your Admin­is­tra­tion Pan­els just like oth­er com­ments, but on your post pages, they will appear accord­ing to your theme’s design.

Once enabled, ping­backs are sent auto­mat­ic­ally when you pub­lish your post, you don’t have to do any­thing. To send track­backs, you will need to find the track­back URL some­where on the post page you are link­ing to. If you can­’t find one, try to determ­ine if the site sup­ports ping­backs. If it does, you should not send track­backs as well. Copy/​paste the track­back URL into the Send Track­backsfield on your Add New Post screen. If you don’t see this field, go to the screen options and select the Send Track­backs option. Note that select­ing this does not send track­backs, it only dis­plays the field called Send Track­backs. When you pub­lish your post, track­backs will be sent to the URLs you pas­ted into the field. This field will also show the status of track­backs and ping­backs on your Edit Post screen.

If there is someone that wants to send a track­back to your Word­Press blog because their blog­ging soft­ware does not sup­port ping­backs, your track­back URL they should insert into their post edit pan­el is your blog post’s permalink with “trackback/​” appen­ded to the end. If their soft­ware sup­ports ping­backs, they do not need to do any­thing, the pro­cess is auto­mat­ic.

Com­ment Mod­er­a­tion

Com­ment Mod­er­a­tion is a fea­ture which allows the web­site own­er and author to mon­it­or and con­trol the com­ments on the dif­fer­ent art­icle posts, and can help in tack­ling com­ment spam. It lets you mod­er­ate com­ments, & you can delete unwanted com­ments, approve cool com­ments and make oth­er decisions about the com­ments.

Com­ment Spam

Com­ment Spam refers to use­less com­ments (or track­backs, or ping­backs) to posts on a blog. These are often irrel­ev­ant to the con­text value of the post. They can con­tain one or more links to oth­er web­sites or domains. Spam­mers use Com­ment Spam as a medi­um to get high­er page rank for their domains in Google, so that they can sell those domains at a high­er price some­time in future or to obtain a high rank­ing in search res­ults for an exist­ing web­site.

Spam­mers are relent­less; because there can be sub­stan­tial money involved, they work hard at their “job.” They even build auto­mated tools (robots) to rap­idly sub­mit their spam to the same or mul­tiple web­logs. Many web­log­gers, espe­cially begin­ners, some­times feel over­whelmed by Com­ment Spam.

There are solu­tions, though, to avoid­ing Com­ment Spam. Word­Press includes many tools for com­bat­ing Com­ment Spam. With a little up front effort, Com­ment Spam can be man­age­able, and cer­tainly no reas­on to give up web­log­ging.

Pretty Permalinks

Permalinks are the per­man­ent URLs to your indi­vidu­al web­log posts, as well as cat­egor­ies and oth­er lists of web­log post­ings. A permalink is what anoth­er web­log­ger will use to refer to your art­icle (or sec­tion), or how you might send a link to your story in an e‑mail mes­sage. Because oth­ers may link to your indi­vidu­al post­ings, the URL to that art­icle should­n’t change. Permalinks are inten­ded to be per­man­ent (val­id for a long time).

Pretty” Permalinks is the idea that URLs are fre­quently vis­ible to the people who click them, and should there­fore be craf­ted in such a way that they make sense, and not be filled with incom­pre­hens­ible para­met­ers. The best Permalinks are “hack­able,” mean­ing a user might modi­fy the link text in their browser to nav­ig­ate to anoth­er sec­tion or list­ing of the web­log. For example, this is how the default Permalink to a story might look in a default Word­Press install­a­tion:

/index.php?p=423

How is a user to know what “p” rep­res­ents? Where did the num­ber 423 come from?

In con­trast, here is a well-struc­tured, “Pretty” Permalink which could link to the same art­icle, once the install­a­tion is con­figured to modi­fy permalinks:

/archives/2003/05/23/my-cheese-sand­wich/

One can eas­ily guess that the Permalink includes the date of the post­ing, and the title, just by look­ing at the URL. One might also guess that hack­ing the URL to be /​archives/​2003/​05/​ would get a list of all the post­ings from May of 2003 (pretty cool). For more inform­a­tion on pos­sible Permalink pat­terns in Word­Press, see Using Permalinks.

Blog by email

Some blog­ging tools offer the abil­ity to email your posts dir­ectly to your blog, all without dir­ect inter­ac­tion through the blog­ging tool inter­face. Word­Press offers this cool fea­ture. Using email, you can now send in your post con­tent to a pre-determ­ined email address & voila! Your post is pub­lished!

Post Slugs

If you’re using Pretty Permalinks, the Post Slug is the title of your art­icle post with­in the link. The blog­ging tool soft­ware may sim­pli­fy or trun­cate your title into a more appro­pri­ate form for using as a link. A title such as “I’ll Make A Wish” might be trun­cated to “ill-make-a-wish”. In Word­Press, you can change the Post Slug to some­thing else, like “make-a-wish”, which sounds bet­ter than a wish made when sick.

Excerpt

Excerpts are con­densed sum­mar­ies of your blog posts, with blog­ging tools being able to handle these in vari­ous ways. In Word­Press, Excerpts can be spe­cific­ally writ­ten to sum­mar­ize the post, or gen­er­ated auto­mat­ic­ally by using the first few para­graphs of a post or using the post up to a spe­cif­ic point, assigned by you.

Plu­gins

Plu­gins are cool bits of pro­gram­ming scripts that add addi­tion­al func­tion­al­ity to your blog. These are often fea­tures which either enhance already avail­able fea­tures or add them to your site.

Word­Press offers simple and easy ways of adding Plu­gins to your blog. From the Admin­is­tra­tion Pan­el, there is a Plu­gin Page. Once you have uploaded a Plu­gin to your Word­Press plu­gin dir­ect­ory, activ­ate it from the Plu­gins Man­age­ment Sub­Pan­el, and sit back and watch your Plu­gin work. Not all Plu­gins are so eas­ily installed, but Word­Press Plu­gin authors and developers make the pro­cess as easy as pos­sible.

Basics — A Few Blog­ging Tips

Start­ing a new blog is dif­fi­cult and this can put many people off. Some may get off to a good start only to become quickly dis­cour­aged because of the lack of com­ments or vis­its. You want to stand out from this crowd of mil­lions of blog­gers, you want to be one of the few hun­dred thou­sand blogs that are actu­ally vis­ited. Here are some simple tips to help you on your way to blog­ging mas­tery:

  1. Post reg­u­larly, but don’t post if you have noth­ing worth post­ing about.
  2. Stick with only a few spe­cif­ic genres to talk about.
  3. Don’t put ‘sub­scribe’ and ‘vote me’ links all over the front page until you have people that like your blog enough to ignore them (they’re usu­ally just in the way).
  4. Use a clean and simple theme if at all pos­sible.
  5. Enjoy, blog for fun, com­ment on oth­er peoples’ blogs (as they nor­mally vis­it back).
  6. Have fun blog­ging and remem­ber, there are no rules to what you post on your blog!

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