More Blogging Questions

I’ve had a few questions from sweet kittens wanting to know more information about starting a blog. Here are some excerpts from those emails!

“Hosting – this part has me totally lost. Templates – do these appear as they do when you sign up for livejournal/blogspot etc? HTML – is it a lot different than basic coding of hosted blogs? Also, hosting video directly to your site rather than through youtube… I’m sorry if this sounds terribly demanding, I just need to be pointed in the right direction if you know what I mean; even problogger is a little too technical some times.”

“I have registered my domain name but am not overly keen on using a standard template provided by one of the platforms like WordPress or Typepad etc. I know your boyfriend is a SUPERCOMPETENT tech whiz (!!!! YAY!!!!), but was just hoping you could give me a little advice on whether you think I should pay someone to design my template (and if so, will this need to be an ongoing relationship with me and chosen Techie, or will I be able to get by updating things and expanding the site on my own once the initial template is all set up?)”

“I’m in the process of redoing my site and I was wondering what content management or blogging system you use? My server isn’t wanting to get along with WordPress (which i’ve used for years), so I’m looking into using something called Geeklog. Any suggestions?”

If you haven’t read it already, I recommend a brief perusal of my article How To Start A Blog. It has lots of information & is a pretty good overview of the whole she-bang.

People start blogs (or websites) for a lot of different reasons. Do you want to start a business? Do you want a creative outlet? Do you want to be seen as an expert in your field? Do you want to make new friends? Do you want to share ideas? Do you just desire some kind of project? You need to know why you’re starting your website before you make any other major decisions, because this will influence the way you do things.

If you just want a creative outlet or a way to publish your writing — which is what most people are trying to do — & if you’re not terribly technical & don’t have an itch to learn, consider doing it another way. A lot of people make professional blogging look really easy, but it’s not all bread & roses! There are millions of ways to your art or ideas out there. For example, you could make a zine or magazine on paper or start a mail art project. The internet is great for exposure, but it’s not the ONLY way to do things!

If you want to make a living out of publishing online — well, welcome to the fold, my friend! However, a word to the wise: blogging is technical. You will need to learn about HTML, CSS, PHP & any number of other acronyms. You also need to think about things like load times, comment spam, SEO (there’s another one of those acronyms), CMS (& again!), building traffic, as well as the server-end stuff — permissions, DNS (they just don’t stop!), & much much more. If your blog is your business, knowing about all of these things is crucial. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to start doing some reading. When you can’t access your website & you’re getting all manner of errors, you need to know what to do — & quickly. I have learned a lot of this stuff from my boyfriend, & even now I am not totally on top of it. It is a learning process!

It is my firm belief that we all have something amazing to contribute to the world, & for this reason I’m never going to tell someone not to create a blog. We should all express ourselves in a creative manner, & blogging can be a great way to do that. But if you’re not sure about blogging, are a beginner full of trepidation or just have very little idea what you’re doing, I suggest starting your blog on a platform that makes life easy, like Blogspot or even Livejournal. There are a lot of blogs & livejournals with thousands of readers, so don’t think that having your own server is crucial — it’s not. These services remove a lot of the tricky issues, like hosting & templates. They allow you to use very basic HTML but if you don’t want to use anything more difficult, then you don’t have to.

The majority of people start a blog & after a couple of months of updating every day & not seeing their traffic grow, they get discouraged & pack it in. If you start on Blogspot or LJ, which is really easy — you basically sign up & start writing — & love it, then in a few months, you can always switch over to your own server with a snazzy layout & start gunning for it. Your readers will follow you, you just need to let them know where you’re going. It’s not as big a deal as it sounds. As an example, I have been publishing online since the late 1990’s, on Livejournal, Scribble, Diaryland, Xoom & all manner of other services. I had years of experience before I started iCiNG; I didn’t just jump into it!

When it comes to blogging, what people really care about is content. The general public’s expectations of an average blog layout is pretty low. We know you’re not Apple, it doesn’t have to knock our socks off! As long as it looks reasonably clean, that is good enough. You can fiddle with layouts later. It is really easy to get hooked into designing a template (it’s fun, I know!) & then lose your steam & never update. Take it slowly & enjoy creating your blog!

My suggestions:
Start on Blogspot (or similar) & see how much you enjoy blogging.
Read as much as you possibly can on blogging. Learn all the technical stuff. This industry is evolving every day, & you need to keep on top of it — you will always be learning new things.
If you want someone else to help you design a template, make it someone you like! Pay them in beer or something else they would be keen for. The thing is, you will probably need to go back & forth a lot while you’re planning it, & once it’s designed & you’re actively using it, you will probably find that subtle tweaks need to be made. Having a friend that likes your project & wants to help will be a huge bonus. Trying to coerce someone into doing something they don’t care about will be a major drag. You can always hire someone professional to do it if you don’t want this problem, but that tends to be quite expensive, so work out whether it is in your budget before you commit to it.
Research blogging software before committing to anything. Again, your requirements (& technical knowledge) will impact your choice. For example, I use TextPattern but I am going to change to Drupal soon. Your needs will probably be different.
Read 23 Questions for Prospective Bloggers – Is a Blog Right for You?

Blogging can be fantastic fun but it can be mind-numbingly frustrating at times, even for people who are technically competent. Think about what you’re trying to achieve before you begin, plot out some steps & assign yourself goals. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; it’s hard to have fun with something you’re struggling with. Subscribe to Problogger & read everything you can! Having knowledge will make your blogging journey much more enjoyable! Good luck!

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