Kevin on the TECHWR-L listserv asked a lot of questions on the "practicalities of blogging." I thought I would respond here in a post rather than on the listserv, because so many people outside of techwr-l have the same questions. Kevin asks,
Let's say that I wanted to finally start a blog (it seems de rigeur for techwriters (and many others) to have a website and at least one blog
indicated on their business cards, resumes, etc.) ... I want to know about the practical exigencies of getting it done and out there.... What's the "usual" approach ... Let's further say that it's not intended as a professional tool, but still semi-seriously as an adjunct to a hobby or a cause, or a passionate interest.
If you're not very technical (or if you don't want to worry about breaking your blog), use a hosted blogging service, such as Typepad or, cringe, Blogger. If you're not that committed to actually spending money to blog, use a free but still-respectable host, such as WordPress.com. If you live in Vancouver, use Expression Engine (lot of EE guys up there).
Who is using what ... and:
- what do you especially like about the method or service that
- what would you change next time ... ?
I use WordPress that I host on BlueHost. I like the extensive cPanel BlueHost provides as well as their live chat support -- very helpful. If I were to do it all over, I wouldn't bother trying to customize my themes so much. Instead, I'd just pay $100 for a nice-looking Premium WordPress theme.
If you have a work/professional blog and a fun blog, how do you differentiate them? Do you hide your real identity on the fun one, so as not to poison any Googling by future prospective employers/customers?
If you're going to embarrass yourself online, don't blog. Do yourself and your career a favor and don't hit that Submit button, hoping no one discovers who you are. But if you want a personal blog to post pictures of your cat and kids, yes, create a second, separate blog. My wife actually uses Dick and Jane pseudonyms, but many just use their real names. If you go the self-hosting route, you can install two blogs on the same web host space. Personally, maintaining two blogs is strenous. I can barely keep up with one.
How do you like to handle audience participation? Don't allow it? Have the responses on the same "physical"/visual page as your posts? ... Do you moderate?
Definitely allow comments without moderation. Moderation connotes distrust. And comments, however short or unclever, motivate me. I'll admit it -- even though I don't write for comments, I absolutely love getting comments. It means my post has influenced someone in some way. If you turn off comments, you eliminate the comment spam problem, but you also miss out on the interactive fun of the web. Also, some comments enrich and deepen your understanding of what you're writing about.
As a reader of other people's blogs, do you even care what anybody (other than the blog author) has to say?
Yes, sometimes the comments on a blog are more interesting than the post itself. You can discover other new blogs through comments.
Do you compose via the service's web interface, or do you compose off-line and upload?
I write in Word as I ride the train into work, and sometimes at lunchtime or in the evening. Word is easier to compose my thoughts, because I can rearrange and edit more quickly than with the WordPress interface. I also try to alternate long posts with short ones, which helps keep the momentum going without wearing me out.
Is there a good reason to have your own branded website, as opposed to just a blog somewhere ... ?
Definitely get your own domain. It only costs $10. Even if you use a hosted site, you can buy a domain and point it there. Personal domains are more professional looking and unique.
What about visibility? Are the techniques similar to those for websites, when it comes to getting noticed by search engines and serendipity?
Blogs are very visible. The more readers you have, the more your SEO climbs, and the more hits you get from Google. If you start writing about products and services, people read them and often believe you more than the company websites. To crank up your visibility, write interesting content, comment on a lot of other posts, post at least three times a week, and be patient.
What happens when you want to move? Do you own your content (and any responses you've received)? Is there an easy, practical way to port them to a new provider ... ?
WordPress allows you to export your content and upload it to another site. Very convenient. If you blog for a company and then switch jobs, you've lost quite a bit of content and Google rank.
Any other gotchas and tips?
Ask yourself if you're truly a writer, because blogging is writing. If you're a good writer and enjoy writing, you'll love the creative outlet of the blog. If you're more of a techie who happens to be able to write software manuals during the day, you may find writing posts a chore rather than a relaxation. However, given such a bent, WordPress provides a playland of code to explore.
Is there a newer approach than blogs, that I should be considering ... ?
I keep waiting for another podcaster in the tech comm field to emerge, or a screencaster. I think Jing will make a strong impact on the blogosphere when it catches on. What is Web 3.0? Invisibly connected networks of sharing without effort? I'm not sure.
When you do start your blog, please send me a link. Also see my blogroll for other good blogs on technical communication.
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I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.