The computer helper: Should you have a blog of your own? (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Feb 16, 2009, 2:08 GMT
Washington - By now everyone's heard about blogs. They're referenced routinely in newspapers, magazines, on television, and probably by your colleagues at work. But if you're still a bit puzzled about what's so special about blogs, don't worry. You're not alone. The fact is, most people don't know how versatile a blog can be, how easy it is to set one up, or how it might be used for business or for enjoyment. Read on to learn more.
Q: What's the easiest way to set up a blog?
A: There are a number of easy ways. First, if you have a Google account, you're about two clicks away from having a blog set up on Blogger.com, which is owned by Google.
If you don't have a Google account, just go to Google, and click Sign In in the upper right-hand corner. Then click Create an Account. It's free, and the most personal information you'll need to supply is a current e-mail address.
Once you've signed in, just click My Account in the upper right-hand corner, and on the following page, click More under the 'Try something new' section. Then find and click the Blogger link. Sign in with your Google account, and then follow the prompts to create your first blog.
Other good, easy alternatives are LiveJournal.com and Vox.com. Give each one a look - and even set up an account with each - before you decide.
Q: I don't have any need to post my thoughts on a daily basis. What else can I use a blog for?
A: Do you have a resume or curriculum vitae online that people can get to easily - or even download? A blog can be used essentially as a repository for any type of textual or photographic material that you would like to share online. You could use a blog as an online writing tool, a place to store and share photographs or recordings, an online meeting place for family and friends, as a meeting place for a club, or as a learning tool for individual or group projects.
Q: Can I make money from a blog?
A: Yes. Lots of people are making money - albeit small amounts of it - by signing up with an advertising service such as Google's Adsense (https://www.google.com/adsense) and placing the Adsense code on their blogs. If you use Google's Blogger.com to create your blog, you'll have pre-defined Adsense 'blocks' that you can arrange anywhere on your blog when you determine the layout of the blog.
Once the Adsense code is placed within a blog, targeted ads start appearing on your blog. 'Targeted' means that the types of ads that appear will depend upon the subject matter of your blog.
You'll make money every time someone clicks on one of the Adsense ads. Google's Adsense program will pay you each month, although you must accumulate at least 100 dollars before a payout will be made. A word of caution: don't try to click the ads that appear on your blog, and don't encourage your friends to do so, either. Google can easily track where clicks are coming from, and if Google detects any suspicious click activity, your Adsense account will be closed.
You don't have to stick with Adsense alone, however, although many bloggers find it to be among the most successful at bringing in revenue. Other similar alternatives include Yahoo! Publisher Network, Kontera, InfoLinks, and Chitika. The latter three specialise in what's called inline advertising, which involves examining and highlighting certain words within the content of your blog. When users allow the mouse to hover over one of the highlighted words, an ad appears, and when someone clicks the ad, you get paid.
Q: My blog on Blogger has a Web address that ends in 'blogspot.com.' How can I get a blog on my own customised Web address?
A: If you want a customise blog address or if you get serious about blogging and want more control over how your blog looks, you'll probably want your own hosted blogging solution. That means you would buy your own domain name and hire a Web hosting service to set it up for you. You can buy domain names either through a service that specialises in selling domain names, such as NameCheap.com, or you could buy the domain name from the Web host itself.
There are thousands upon thousands of Web hosts out there, and finding one can be tricky. You'll want to look for hosts that are not only dependable and honest but that know a good bit about how best to set up a site to run a blog. WordPress.org has a list of tried-and-tested Web hosts that you can start with at http://wordpress.org/hosting.
Once you have a site name and host, you can have the host set up WordPress, Movable Type, Typepad, or another free but capable blogging software package. Each of these offers much more customisation possibilities than Blogger and other two-step blogging setups. In addition, you can find plenty of third-party add-ons, including fancy layouts and designs (called 'themes'), for each package.
Q: Can I use a blog as a picture album to share photos with members of my family?
A: Yes. Almost any blogging service or program allows you to post pictures, with no limitations on number. But there are also blogging services that specialise in offering what are called 'photoblogs.' Photoblogs are differentiated from traditional blogs in that they are designed and optimised for posting photographs rather than text.
Fotolog (http://www.fotolog.com), Flickr (http://www.flickr.com), and Photoblog (http://www.photoblog.com) all make it easy for you to start a blog with an emphasis on photos. Getting started with each requires just a short signup procedure and a few clicks beyond that.
Q: How can I make sure my blog shows up in a search engine?
A: You can go to the trouble of submitting your site to Google (http://www.google.com/addurl/?continue=/addurl) and other search engines. But chances are they'll find you anyway.
If your aim is to have the world find your blog, though, you should not rely solely on search engines to drive readers or viewers your way. Start including a link to your blog in every form of electronic communication - e-mail and message board posts, for example. And don't forget the 'real world.' If your blog becomes part of your business persona, include its Web address on your business card or other paper-based communications.
--- Have a computer question? Send it to the Computer Helper at firstname.lastname@example.org.