What’s your digital gravestone going to look like?
Okay, that’s a bit morbid as an opening line but what are you going to leave behind? In thinking about what to write for this month’s column I went searching for mine. What did I find? Firstly an embarrassing teenage angst filled MySpace covered with a weird combination of Linkin Park and Nirvana. Secondly, I found 3 failed blogs. Why failed? The writing was terrible, half finished sentences galore, and no interactivity with any other part of my online life. They were flat pages of horribleness.
Thinking about my past blogs and the one I have today (whilst not very populated – I like it) made me realise just how many blogs and blogging options are available today. The blogosphere is a little overwhelming.
If you are thinking of joining the millions (or more probably billions) in the blogosphere, the different blogging options and platforms available can be a tad daunting. Do you go down the traditional blog path or are you a microblogger? Blogspot or Tumblr? Text, video or gif? In this month’s column I’m going to try and make sense of the blog-madness by providing an overview of the different types of blogging and some of the platforms available.
Blog or Microblog?
Short for ‘web log”, blogs were originally scoped as public online journals (1). Blogs have evolved and diversified past this original scope to the current point where you can blog about anything or as anyone. You can have a blog for an organisation, club, association, or basically whatever you want.
Since the scope of blogs has changed, the key identifier for blogs has changed with it. Now the dominant identifier for blogs is their informal communication style. To best engage your audience blogs should be colloquial; the blogosphere is not the place for formal language. This general guideline applies whether you are blogging as yourself or on behalf of an organisation. If you are looking to enter your library, organisation or business into the blogosphere, language is doubly important. When visiting blogs users have expectations with respect of the structure and language of the blog. Users are not generally looking for standard information (contact details, information on products and services) regarding an organisation. They are looking for the ‘human’ side of an organisation. Whilst users may learn about a company’s new products, services or a notice on issues its facing, to be effectively relayed in a blog environment this information needs to not simply be a cut and paste of the latest media release or newsletter. It needs to be tailored to the information medium. The language gets even more casual when microblogging.
As the name suggests a microblog is a smaller version of the traditional blog. Fast moving and succinct, microblogs can be text, audio, image, video based or an amalgamation of them all. The amount of content you can upload is restricted to encourage you to create short posts. The limited length of the posts also encourages you to post frequently. The word and/or character restrictions on microblogs also encourage you to be very casual in communicating with your audience. Subsequently shorthand (text speak) and hashtags are prolific on microblogs. Hashtags are particularly effective to convey tone or moods on microblogs.
Another thing to keep in mind when using microblogs is that your communication is embedded inside an established community. Unlike blogs where you visit unique URLS to access content, microblogs are commonly hosted on a single site. If you are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram you are a microblogger. Subsequently you should look at the tone and established communication rules of the platform – if you’re fighting against the communication tide you will find it difficult to have much success in the platform.
Blogs – Some platforms available in the blogosphere
There are a lot of blog platforms out there, A LOT.
Powering more than 20 per cent of the internet(2), WordPress (https://en.wordpress.com/) is a freemium platform which provides you with a reasonable degree of flexibility without making you dip into your wallet.
Using the free service you have the ability to customise your blog with selected themes, widgets and features. You have 3GB of space to upload images and other media (video not supported). You also have access to analytics on your blog so you can see how many people are looking at your blog, where in the world they are from and how many pages of your blog they are looking at. To support the site your blog will display ads, however these are minimal.
If you do want to pay for the Premium (AU$99 per year) or Business (AU$299 per year) options, you are given a customisable domain name, advanced customisation capabilities, no ads, additional storage space and video storage. Your users are spared ads and you receive varying degrees of tech support for your blog.
Purchased by Google, Blogger (https://www.blogger.com/) includes the features you would expect on a standard blog with the added advantage of integrating with your other Google accounts.
Completely free, Blogger does not have the freemium division of WordPress. You also have the ability (as with all Google products) of monetising.
Media-wise Blogger is a ‘no frills’ platform allowing you to embed simple images (png, jpg or gif).
As an added bonus, the digital archivist can create a customised permalink to content.
From the creators of Blogger, Medium (https://medium.com/) is for those lovers of minimalism. The primary allure of medium (and its purpose) is to give your words centre stage.
As part of this ‘stripped back’ mantra you have very limited options for personalising your blogspace. Unlike WordPress and Blogger there are no options to add widgets to your blog. And if you are looking to produce colourful, multi-font creations you are out of luck with Medium – you can bold, underline, sub head (to 2 levels), insert links, create lists, block quote and that’s it.
Medium also steps away from the traditional blog in how it works to ensure the findability of your work. You have a traditional space (or blog) for your work, while everything you write also populates a ‘collection’. Sorted by topic and theme these collections (https://medium.com/collections) provide another avenue through which you can build an audience for your work. It is also through these collections and the ability to share ‘draft posts’ that the platform works to create a community that is supportive and encouraging of each other’s work.
Microblogging – The sky’s the #limit
Bought by Yahoo for a staggering $1.1 billion,(3) Tumblr (https://www.tumblr.com) allows you to quickly share text, photos, quotes, links, dialogue of a chat or videos.
A lot of the allure of Tumblr is the community. Users can explore the site to find and follow other users. In addition to this community you do have an external blog with the tumblr.com address that is accessible to all.
On Tumblr you have relative freedom to customise your blog’s appearance. There is also an option to purchase additional themes. However there are a range of free themes so if you are not keen on spending any money you are in no way disadvantaged.
Tumblr also facilitates cross-posting on your various social media accounts. Simply link your Facebook/Twitter with Tumblr and you can post to your other platforms.
Ever wonder where all those short looping videos are coming from? Well they’re coming from Vine (https://vine.co/). Vine is a simple platform allowing you to upload, edit and share short looping videos. A realm for the amateur and the artist – the only thing you need is a camera.
Twitter is the key microblogging site. Twitter encourages you to share information with others quickly and frequently through the limiting your communication to 140 characters.
Whilst two-way communication is encouraged on traditional blogs, Twitter puts it at the forefront. Other Twitter users can quickly and easily communicate with (or about) you. This interactivity does make Twitter a bit more expensive on your time but the cost is worth it when you consider the global audience available through the platform. In short:
@twitter is fast paced, global and exciting #worthit!