As I was relaunching the blog recently, I decided that every day of the week needed multiple topics for me to rotate through so I could continue to update at a regular interval without destroying my sanity. In the middle of it, I had a momentary delusion of grandure where I pictured people asking me for advice directly in the comments section. This was a far flung idea and I imagined it wouldn’t happen often, but I still went to the trouble of creating a tag for it and calling it “Workshop”.
Color me surprised when it turned out people actually had questions for me.
In fact, what I discovered was that there were a lot of people who had the same question. So, today, on my first Workshop Wednesday ever, I’m going to answer the question…
How Do You Start A Blog?
In a short period of time I have received a surprising number of questions regarding how exactly I do this blog. Some were of a slightly more technical nature, others a bit more vague, and one just asked if I had any general advice. So here I am, once again feeling strange that people want to ask me how I do something that I figured I wasn’t really an “expert” at in the first place.
This happens often enough that you’d think I’d have some confidence by now.
But, getting to the point, there’s a few primary steps to blogging and making it work out that I have learned the hard way and could come in handy for the people who are just getting started. With luck, this moment of advice will be enough to let you surpass me as your master and become the chosen one. But for now, you’re going to need to start with…
Blogging in the old days was originally something only people with a lot of time on their hands and some knowledge in HTML were going to do. In fact, once upon a time, that’s how I did my first blog long before “blog” was a thing. But, in the years since, a lot of bloggers are writers who are just trying to create a consistent flow of content (or die trying).
For those people, platforms have been constructed to allow anyone to do it. But these platforms have a lot of differences between them. So, as a quick run down, I’m going to go over the platforms that I’m familiar with and a potential alternative for the truly dedicated. First, let’s hit the one that I’m using right now (and many others are using as well)…
WordPress is, at least for the next couple of years, THE blogging platform above all others. There are noteworthy contenders which could very well tear it down, but for the most part its place is secured for a couple reasons.
- Web Host friendly
- Easily installed
- Comprehensive tools
- Good default themes
WordPress’ biggest selling point is the fact that it has a lot of customization behind it. Most Web Hosts out there will support installing WordPress directly to your directories and then let you do just about anything you can with them if you understand the use of PHP and CSS. Because of this, there is a lot you can do with WordPress that allows you to seamlessly integrate your blog into a more comprehensive site.
However, if you aren’t someone who has the time or the skill set required for working with the code behind the scenes, the presentation is still fairly good. The theme I use on this site right now (which I am shocked to have gotten a couple of compliments on) is a simple graphical touch-up of the 2014 official WordPress theme, available to everyone upon installation. It’s simple, elegant, and I was able to make some adjustments to the look with a few changes to the CSS, a banner, and a background image. The combination is quite nice and does the trick for me in the meantime until I finally get off my ass and get back to building the more comprehensive site I intended quite some time ago.
- Load time issues
- Incredibly dependent on themes
- Incomplete on installation
However, it’s strengths also happen to amplify its weaknesses. WordPress’ many moving parts mean that several Web Hosts are slow to load your site because it’s constantly reloading things that would normally be loading out of memory. That banner at the top of my page? On slower internet connections it will flicker out every time you change the page because WordPress and my Web Host are talking to each other about whether or not I used the same image. It’s a bit stupid that way.
But that’s not even the stupidest part of the process. There are some tools, fundamental tools, which WordPress simply leaves out of the package for reasons that I can’t fathom. When starting a blog, especially if you’re concerned about the audience’s reception of the blog, you’re going to want to have some analytical tools at your disposal to track things such as view counts and statistics. Well, WordPress doesn’t have that out of the box, they make you hunt down a third party plugin to do it and it can take several before you find the one that works best for your needs. I personally went through three before finding one that gave me exactly the information I was looking for.
And, for that matter, a lot of the plugins, being third party, are not exactly the smoothest designs out there. You’re going to find quite a few that are clumsy, incomplete, lacking in their interface, or simply not clear on what exactly they do until you’ve plugged them in. They all have descriptions, of course, but they’re usually pretty vague and the only real metric you have on them is the user ratings included on the site.
And we all know how effective user ratings can be.
For people who are scared by that last block, Blogger is the platform for you. Being one of the three most common blogging platforms I’ve encountered, it’s currently fading from view much in the same way as MySpace or LiveJournal of days gone by. However, while it isn’t as popular anymore, it is still a functional platform and some people find that it still does exactly what they need it to do even if it lacks some of the polish and popularity of the contemporary competition.
Having used it for about four years myself, the thing about blogger is that it is basically idiot proof. You’ll sacrifice a lot of the features for making a more complete website around the blog, but you won’t have to worry about any of the vital functions being missing. In fact, between WordPress and Blogger, it’s easy to say that Blogger is the one more clearly designed specifically for blogging and it keeps all of the features that a blogger would need in mind.
- Complete package of blog oriented tools
- Simple to start
- Worked into Google’s resources (without harping too much about Google+)
The strong points of blogger are in the ready to start nature. You’ll find that all of the analytical tools are there from the start and will give you an idea of the traffic you’re getting, where it’s coming from, and what exactly is the high and low point of your day. For someone who’s trying to make a success out of this, these are vital tools that should not be left as an add-on. You will be using these tools to tell you what exactly is and isn’t working about your blog and letting you know if the things you’ve recently done are getting positive feedback.
On top of this, Blogger, being owned by Google, is connected to all of Google’s resources. If you have a gmail account, Google+ or Youtube account, you already have a blogger account and it’s just a matter of starting your blog. This doesn’t seem like a huge benefit from the start, but if you intend to be a professional blogger or start to get a steady traffic flow, it is actually possible to easily monetize your blog through Google Adsense. Some people may complain about ads being placed on your blog, but if it becomes popular enough for you to be able to generate a real revenue out of it, well…
- Less versatile
- Less customizable
- Less traffic
The problem with this is that the simplicity also comes with a lack of complexity. You can customize the look of your blog, right down to editing the HTML directly, but more complex changes and functions are out of the question. For a lot of people this is perfectly acceptable and perfectly suited to their needs. So, once again, it’s a matter of whether you’re looking to build a site or a blog. Also, while WordPress can be installed directly to your website, similar cannot be said for Blogger, despite the fact Blogger has been around for years.
However, the real problem with Blogger, especially in recent years, is the lack of traffic. Though my last couple of months with them had a different problem, the majority of my time there was struggling for getting someone to even look my direction. Meanwhile, after only two and a half weeks active in WordPress, I’ve managed to completely recover my lost numbers and look to be on the way to surpassing them by the end of the month.
How bad is the traffic on Blogger for someone just starting? In two weeks here, I’ve received over 200 spam comments. There’s really only two explanations for this.
1. WordPress’ spam filters are all plug-ins (they are, and I installed one a couple days ago)
2. The robots simply didn’t find me
I know that it’s actually mostly the second rather than the first, as I only received three spam robot comments over the course of four years being active on Blogger. So, this is the place you go if you don’t mind grinding for your traffic and are looking to be more about the blog than about what you’re writing about.
And, speaking of ghost towns.
This is one of the grandaddies of the current blogger platforms. If you had to really trace a line back through the modern trends of social media to a common ancestor, this is probably it. LiveJournal is exactly what it says on the box, it is a journal and it is live.
The truly fascinating thing about LiveJournal is that, while other platforms to come out after it have since died, LiveJournal is still alive and kicking. In fact, one of the things about LiveJournal vs other platforms is that it has a very close-knit community vibe where people are likely to band together rather than scatter. This is where you go for that general vibe of “people sitting around a table in the basement sharing stories”. And, because of that, it’s kind of appropriate who one of the most famous LiveJournal users is.
- George RR Martin still uses it
- Tight-knit communities
- Super simple
- Slightly better for targeted networking
LiveJournal was almost accidentally built around the concept of community. There are groups that are active in LiveJournal where you can easily search a common interest and then go ahead and throw in your two cents like a good old fashioned forum of old. Your blog can be shared with people of a common interest rather easily and people who are there tend to be the ones who are interested specifically in the topic rather than just shooting the shit or making people miserable. This is a place without trolls, as the trolls have moved onto greener pastures a long time ago.
The layout of these blogs is super simple and bare bones. There are few bells and whistles, but they will let you write up a journal entry quickly and easily without many problems. You can accomplish all you need to do in terms of just writing up a blog entry. And this simplicity is probably the reason why a lot of long time authors have stayed there when they weren’t interested in building a more professional website.
As I mention in the bullet-points, George RR Martin never left LiveJournal and probably never will. He’s a man who will kill many characters, but not his old trusty blog (which is titled “not a blog” to throw people off). And, frankly, if it’s good enough for him, it’s probably still good enough for some of you.
- Barest of bones possible
- A little too tight-knit
- Ghost town
And, of course, the fact it is low traffic is also a big problem. If you want to network with people with a similar set of interests, this is probably a good place for you. But if you’re hoping to reach out and draw the attention of people who aren’t active in that community, such as an audience which you may be looking to draw specifically to you… good luck. It’s not going to be easy. If Blogger were a town covered in potholes, LiveJournal is one populated by tumbleweeds, cow skulls, and a man sitting by himself playing The Rains of Castamere with the clicks of his typewriter.
There are functions to advertise your account on the LiveJournal front page, but that’s viewed by people who still run a LiveJournal. To the best of my knowledge, that would be like putting your ad on a billboard in the middle of the arctic.
On the other hand…there’s a slightly more active alternative.
So, let’s get this out of the way: yes, Tumblr is a blogging site and not just a place where people can post twenty seconds of a thought with a picture. There are actually some very good blogs located on the site and the place is used more and more by people who are looking for a less cumbersome and more trendy alternative to the rest of the places on this list. If you go to Tumblr, you’re going to be where the action is, and that’s a good thing for a lot of people.
Hell, I’m thinking of running a secondary blog there to take advantage of some of its strengths.
- Quick and low pressure
- Content versatility
- Variety of shared interests
- Incredibly active community
Tumblr’s strong points lie primarily in the fact it is a lightning storm of activity. Everything flies by as fast as possible and with little rhyme or reason to it. A single picture of a dog can reach 4 or 5 thousand people in a heartbeat and it’s shared constantly. If LiveJournal is made for tight-knit groups with shared interests, Tumblr is made for a chaotic hive-mind with a million different thoughts all at once.
And the beautiful part is that it is perfectly friendly to the idea that you don’t have to post a whole lot to get the kind of attention that takes tremendous effort elsewhere. As of this line, I’ve broken 2.5k in the word-count on this post and have rambled about a topic that I’m not 100% sure everyone’s going to get behind in the first place. If I were to write only a short blurb, I can’t be sure anyone would care and it’s hardly worth the effort.
But on Tumblr? I could have posted a single witty comment and watched that thing shoot off as if I shoved a rocket up its ass.
That’s some low-risk, high-gain, high-octane shit right there.
- Incredibly active community
By the same token, Tumblr is also the place where small things become big so fast that everyone is kind of passing around a metal rod in the middle of that lightning storm. While not everyone is going to be swept up in everything that’s happening there, it’s almost impossible not to be exposed to a lot of hive-mind activity that can lead you down more dangerous paths.
Tumblr’s ability to feed off of its own momentum means there are groups that quickly form around ideas that would normally wither on the vine. There are communities based around almost every idea you could possibly imagine. These communities of people can and will band together if they feel the need. This is great for someone hoping to gin up some interest in what they’re doing, But this also means that there are mob mentality moments which can get out of hand if you’re not careful. And, sometimes, this can go in surprisingly dark directions.
One of the recent trends, for instance, lies in people in the Tumblr community beginning to “dox” people who have offended the sensibilities of some of the niche audiences. If you’re planning to do something off-color, controversial, or even just hitting hot topics – you may want to test the waters before diving right on in. Because, once they do decide they don’t like you, they will gain momentum rapidly.
It’s a powerful force, a bubbling cauldron of raw momentum and energy. But, like lightning, fire, and anything else with that much raw power: it can burn you.
And yet, knowing all of that…
I’m still totally thinking of putting a secondary blog there.
(I write books. I also write this blog. Eventually I may write something on Tumblr.)