Tuesday, June 29, 2004

25 rules for good blogging

Note: This post originally appeared on PeoriaPundit.com. I'm backposting it here because it fits the new how-to-blog theme here.

In honor of this afternoon's visit by WEEK anchorman/reporter Mike Dimmick (and the young cameraperson whose name I cannot remember correctly, I'm very sorry), I am presenting this post: "How to Blog." Some of what I discuss here touches on Mike's generally thoughtful and sometimes probing questions.

They plan to run the story sometime in late July during their 10 p.m. newscast.

1. Buy a computer. Oh, sure. You probably think you can make do with a budget computer, the kind they advertise for around $499, printer and monitor included. Fat chance. You're gonna end up obsessing about how everything will be absolutely wonderful if your system were just a little bit faster. So go buy the biggest, most expensive system you can afford. By "can afford," I mean take out a mortgage.

2. Get on the Internet. Any computer system you buy is going to include pre-installed AOL or MSN software and an offer for "free" dial up access. Free dial up access is the Internet-geek version of free crack. Skip the middle man and sign up for DSL or Cable broadband access. Peorians are lucky in that there is plenty of competition and the rates are low. Seriously. It's not that much more expensive that one of the better dial up plans. You will not be sorry. Trust me.

3. Develop a brain. Because there is nothing more annoying that a stupid blogger.

4. Buy a dictionary. Because spell check misses too dam mulch.

5. Here comes the blogging part. Start off on Blogger. Serious bloggers do not use Blogger. Except those serious loggers who run quite nice blogs on Blogger. So start off with a free Blogger blog, then migrate over to pMachine or Moveable Type if you like it and want a full-featured version. The Blogger.com interface is easy to use and lets you do a very basic blog without knowing how to code anything.

6. Content. Content. Content. It's amazing how many people think the public wants to read about the mundane details of their lives. Trust me: No one cares. If you don't have anything to say, stick to the dead-tree journal you keep in your sock drawer. If you are not bringing people in to visit your site, you might as well not even have a blog. Do something to entertain the reader

7. Bloggers do it daily. Serious bloggers that is. Some people can get away with posting weekly or monthly. My rule of thumb: Have at least one post a day, even if it is a post saying you will have no other posts. Also, even Blogger lets you post-date a post. If I know I'm going to be too busy to blog, I hold a few back by post dating them. Here's a secret: I do that with my "eye candy" posts.

8. Write about what you know. I know Peoria. I know newspapers. That's what I write about. When I stray from these things, that's when I usually get my ass handed back to me and have to apologize.

9. Link to other bloggers. Do it in your posts. Do it in a blogroll. Sign up with Blogrolling.com.

10. Learn the basics of HTML. This will let you do what you want to on the page. If you are going to post images or links within the body of your posts, you will probably need to know how to do it using HTML.

11. For God's sake, be careful. There are a ton of sites about blogging and HTML, but precious little about how communication law and basic ethics apply to the blogging community. Basically, bloggers have the same First Amendment protections as journalists who work for televisions and newspapers. But, they also have the same responsibilities. YOU. CAN. GET. SUED. If you don't have a working knowledge of the difference between a statement of fact and an opinion, you are better off not writing smack about your neighbors' sex lives, OK?

12. Do not blog about work. Trust me on this one. Even if you do it anonymously, someone will find out.

13. Obey copyright laws. Now, pardon me, I have to post another Drew Barrymore update and some Eye Candy. All kidding aside, don't reproduce entire works belonging to someone else. Post a couple paragraphs, then your own comments and observations.

14. Don't forget to go to sleep, eat dinner, take medication, etc. All of these things, I have done.

15. Hotlinking -- placing on image on a post when that image is stored on someone else's server -- is a bad idea. Yeah, folks with memories know that I used to do it. I stopped. It's theft of services and its bad design, cause when the other guy takes the image down and disables hotlinking capabilities, you will have a broken image on your site. If you want to post an image, download the software at Hello.com and learn how to use it. Fair warning: It's a free service and there is some "spyware" involved.

16. Keep the color scheme simple. There is a reason newspapers are not red with yellow letters. I have visited sites with embedded music files that start playing when you open them. I have not visited these sites twice.

17. Unlike a diary, which can be burned, a Weblog can never be destroyed. Thanks to Google, virtually all sites are cashed somewhere and it will show up on a search request somewhere. Maybe that person is your future boss or the divorce attorney hired by your spouse. That post about how you got loaded on weed and tequila and went and picked a fight at the gay bar might seem freekin' hilarious when you were 19. But, it won't seem quite as amusing when you are 25 and applying for a security clearance.

18. Use Haloscan or some similar service to let readers make comments to your posts. Repeat after me: The Web is interactive, the Web is interactive. The Web is interactive,

19. Let readers link to your articles by setting up permalinking capabilities. Blogger does this automatically. This puts you ahead of many professionally-run sites that don't allow this because their companies are run by idiots.

20. Do not put a visible hit counter on your site. How many visitors you get is no ones business but your own. It looks goofy, too.

21. In the name of merciful heaven, do not run huge images. By that, I mean two things. A photograph that is too wide will screw up how the entire page appears on the screen. Also, use some image editing software -- Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop Elements -- to reduce the number of pixels in the image so it doesn't take too long for visitors to download.

22. Get thee to w.bloggar.com. This is a nifty desktop utility that I used constantly when I was using Blogger. It's the closest thing to a M.S. Word-like interface that lets you click a button and send a post to your site.

23. Remember: The more time you spend on the blog, the more success you will have. If you just slap something together, it will look slapped together.

24. If you do decide to pay for server space -- by paying $5 to $10 a month for hosting -- remember, these sites place limits on bandwidth, the amount of data that can be downloaded from their servers every month. If you post a ton of pictures or audio or video files, that takes up more bandwidth because those files are larger. Also, the more visitors or hits your site gets a month, the more bandwidth is used. I was able to get along with 5 Gigabytes of bandwidth a month until I stopped hotlinking Steeling other people's bandwidth). When I found myself getting a lot of search engine hits, my bandwidth got eaten up in a day. My advice: If you are at the point where you have outgrown Blogger and you want to spread your wings, select a hosting package that provides a minimum of 10 Gigabytes a month. It is better to have too much than too little.

25. Have fun. 'Cause you ain't gonna make any money at it.