It’s fascinating helping people get into blogging. It’s like teaching them to fly, given that you’ve been doing it for a while and you’ve got your dorsal tail feather control down and everything, but they’re still a bit ungainly and fluffy and, without guidance, would not fly so much as plummet.
I stumbled into it of my own accord and discovered stuff by trial and error – mostly error – but it’s interesting to realise how much I’ve found out along the way, while simultaneously realising how back to basics you need to go when explaining it all.
Given that the thorny issues of ‘what do you want to write about’, ‘who are you writing for’ and ‘what do you want to achieve’ have been covered, the nuts and bolts are the first difficulty. I tend to recommend WordPress as a nice, simple hosted solution because I find Typepad fiddly and Blogger spammy, and to my eyes WordPress is fairly friendly and easy to use. But then there are all sorts of problems for beginners, starting with ‘how do I write a new post’. OK, so the ‘New Post’ button is at the top, but sometimes the eye needs pointing in that direction. It’s not a big button, and it doesn’t wave at you or anything. Then there’s, well, everything else. How do I insert an image? How do I insert a YouTube video? How do I change the layout? What do all these blog stats mean? Etc.
Then there are questions about links, which become a bigger question about community. When to hyperlink? Where? Why? How do you get people to link back to you? My answers are generally along the lines of hyperlinking to improve usability and search engine optimisation (SEO), and you get people to link back to you by including them on your blogroll in the first instance, and then commenting on their blogs, generally interacting with them, and providing great content in the second. Over time you find out about people, and they find out about you. Links abound.
Another topic – how do you get ideas? This is where I point people to RSS and aggregators, namely Google Reader because it’s awesome. Most of my ideas come from checking what’s come through in my feeds – in fact, I actually tend just to check what’s come through in the feeds to the right of this page because they give me a snapshot that can often trigger something. You can also keep yourself connected through other resources such as Twitter and, more recently, the new super-aggregator Friendfeed, all of which are rich in comments that will pique your interest providing you use a client such as twhirl to get the most out of them.
And the more you do this, the more aware and alert you become. When I’m on a roll (a blogroll?) I’ll be noting things to write about left, right and centre, whether it’s something someone said, something I read, or just an idea that popped into my head (hey, that sort of rhymes). I sometimes get frustrated that I lose some of these ideas, which is why I’ve recently taken to adding them as notes in my mobile phone as and when I get them.
If you’re slightly geeky you can almost think of this all as input – process – output. The input is what you read, hear or see that gives you ideas. The process is formalising that idea and putting it down into a post. The output is actually posting.
But that’s a very dry way to think about it. For me, blogging is about increasing your expertise in your chosen subject area, being inspired and engaged, and coming across other people with similar attributes. What’s to lose?