Saturday, August 13, 2005

Blogs: Part I - Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Too Afraid to Ask.

Blogs: Part I
Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Too Afraid to Ask.
By Steve Plunkett

By now, if you haven't heard the term "blog," you definitely live under a rock or have been on sabbatical for the past year on a secluded island somewhere off the coast of Tahiti. The trouble is that the blogging phenomenon seemingly has taken off so quickly that it can be a bit embarrassing if you have to ask some basic questions about this new medium. Let's face it... you don't want to be that shmo in the back of the room that has to ask, "What is a blog?" at the next association conference. No, you want to be the kid at the head of the class who knows it all. The one who gets the A+ for blogging knowledge. The one who can whisper the right answers in his colleague's ear and impress everyone with your all-encompassing knowledge of the blogosphere.

So...with that in mind, we're going to have a little tutorial over the next couple of months on the world of blogs. You're going to learn about the history of blogs, who blogs, why it's important to be in the blogosphere and some tips on how to keep yourself safe in this uncharted territory. It'll be fun, and we hope you feel comfortable enough to raise your hand every once in a while. My email address is at the bottom of the article... so please, feel free to shoot me a question.

A brief history
A "BLOG" is short for weblog, meaning a "log" or "daily diary" posted on the web. Blogs originally began in 1992 as a quick and easy way for the early users of the Internet to set up a discussion about the development of HTML and the start of public use of the Internet. Back in the early years, weblogs were manually updated using a modem and a telnet application or an FTP program. Needless to say, the cumbersome nature of updating blogs left them in the hands of the super geeks for most of those early years, which, as a result, left them fairly inaccessible and unknown to the general public.

The early bloggers
A guy named Tim Berners-Lee was one of the original bloggers, and he started by linking to websites and posting comments about them as they were posted online. Two other early bloggers were David Filo and Jerry Yang, grad students at Stanford University. They started what is today known as Yahoo! in February 1994 by "blogging" their personal interests on the Internet. This was a "blog" of the websites that they knew, categorized by subject, and it became the first web directory. Brian Pinkerton, a student at the University of Washington, started WebCrawler as one of the first search engines and "blogged" his first Top 25 list on March 15, 1994. Cool Site of the Day listed its first website on Aug 04, 1994 and became a daily blog of the evolving art and science of web design and development. My first day of blogging was September 1st, (Labor Day) of 1996. I just started by posting links to "cool websites."

KISSing Blogs
As with any progression in technology, you've got to make it so simple, any 85-year-old grandma could use it before it will finally take off in the public domain. I mean, you don't find a lot of people who know how to write DOS programs anymore (unlike the early days of the TRS80 and the Apple IIe computers), and why should they when they can just click an icon in Windows or on their PowerBook? The ol' KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle - that's what it's got to be to really take off, and that is what has happened to blogs. Now, there are tools that automate blog creation and maintenance, which makes them much more accessible to the larger population. In fact, the use of some sort of browser-based software is now a typical aspect of "blogging" and fosters a blog community. I still update my original blog manually and have since Labor Day, 1996. I also have three or four others that I use blogging tools to update. The "blogs" that have blogging tools tend to be updated multiple times a day. The one I update manually is almost two months behind. With the creation of "blogging" tools, it's much easier to update on a daily basis because of the time it takes to code the HTML to update a blog on a daily basis. It's also much easier for someone without knowledge of simple HTML to create and maintain a blog today, which is why many people and companies now have blogs.

Look Who's Bloggin' Now
Because they basically are unfiltered, unedited content, the appeal of blogs has grown exponentially. No one likes censorship, and blogs give people even in the highest and, unfortunately, lowest of places an opportunity to "vent" or wax eloquently on their subject de jour. It basically cuts through all the crap that people smell as propaganda a mile away.
Now, the bloggers aren't just the people sitting at the pinnacle of nerd-dom, they are high powered executives, credible journalists, movie stars (yes, they, not their publicists, really are blogging) and other celebrities. In fact, our PR department now pitches some journalists solely through their blogs instead of the traditional contact routes at publications.

Also, companies are blogging and encouraging their employees to blog. While this may seem a bit dangerous on the surface (and it does require a few guidelines, which we'll cover later), it is a great way for customers to "touch" the real you, the real company - not just the approved copy on the website or slick graphic design in the latest brochure. In a world where people are more cynical now than ever before, blogs offer companies a way to create powerful relationships with their customers rather than just sell them something.

Cool Things to Come
So, that's the skinny on the basics of blogging. In the next couple of months, we'll talk about how to start a blog and some principles when setting up a corporate blog and guidelines for employees who blog. Stay tuned 'cause there's lots more to come on the blogosphere.