To become an internationally published author, photographer or videographer, click here. It's almost that easy to start a blog. According to the Pew...

Share story

To become an internationally published author, photographer or videographer, click here.

It’s almost that easy to start a blog.

According to the Pew Research Center, 12 million American adults blog, publishing on the Internet everything from the meals they eat to the lives of pet cats, reports on terrorist plots, media sins and celebrities “driving under the influence.”

Authorities estimate that at least 50 million blogs have been created worldwide and say that number could double by spring.

Blogging is the product of relatively new technology and a primitive urge to communicate. All it requires is a computer and a line to the Internet. With those two conditions met, blogging, at its cheapest, costs nothing more than the blogger’s time.

The reward for that time is connection, whether your target audience is a few family members, a handful of friends or the entire world.

Washington, D.C.-based blogger La Shawn Barber was writing for online publications when she discovered blogging about three years ago. As her blog gained readers, Barber dropped her column to concentrate on her blog. Her site, La Shawn Barber’s Corner, in which she comments on political and current issues, averages about 3,000 visits a day.

“My blog has done so much for me personally and professionally and not only that, but I love to do it. It’s a labor of love,” says Barber, adding that she’s been invited to speak at conferences, worked briefly as a blog reporter for MSNBC and had her blog featured on CNN.

The basics of a blog

The term “blog” is a foreshortening of Web log. “Log” suggests a record, typically cast in words or images. The log is published, or posted, on the World Wide Web. But unlike other media, publication isn’t the end of the story; it’s the beginning.

Once published, if the blogger allows it, readers can comment on the posts, creating a dialogue impossible in other media.

Some blog services offer “trackback,” an option that enables bloggers to send links or referrals to fellow bloggers’ sites. Bloggers can also use comments and trackbacks to increase readership of their own sites.

Within their posts, bloggers can embed links that, with a click, take the reader to another site. So bloggers who comment on articles or images they find online can link to the articles and send their readers directly to the source. The interactivity generated by bloggers is referred to as the “blogosphere” or World Live Web.

The majority of bloggers write about themselves.

According to the Pew’s Internet & American Life Project Report, 76 percent of bloggers surveyed said they write to document personal experiences. The term blog is often considered synonymous with online diaries.

Breakthrough blogs

Those who once might have only shaken their fists at the nightly news reports are now taking to the Internet to be heard, sometimes breaking the surface of mainstream media with a splash.

Recently, the celeb blog TMZ made headlines when it broke the Mel Gibson DUI story. Charles Johnson, at Little Green Footballs, exposed a doctored Reuters news service photo of Beirut, Lebanon, during the recent conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

At the same time, traditional media outlets have sent their own into the blogosphere. The Baltimore Sun, for instance, hosts about a dozen blogs.

Thanks to Web sites and blog software packages, it’s possible to get a blog up and running in minutes.

The right way to blog

If you have a computer with an Internet connection, the first step is to choose a hosting service that offers space for free or for relatively low monthly or yearly fees. Some host services, such as blogger.com, myspace.com and livejournal.com, are free and, most important for beginners, require no additional software or coding knowledge. Others offer varying rates for different levels of service, frequently allowing you to test their service free for the first 30 days.

The beauty of the free sites is obvious. The drawback of free sites is that the hosting service may not provide all the extras of the pay sites.

One extra is commenting capability. Commenting allows readers to post their thoughts on your blog. Of course, that means you may get negative feedback as well as positive. You’re also likely to learn that some comments are best left unposted. Check to see that the service you’re considering allows you to turn commenting on and off, and to regulate commenting — essentially allowing you to don your editor’s cap, sift through comments and post only those you want. Beware, however, that posting only favorable comments may turn readers off. And not all negative commentary is necessarily a bad thing.

Barber cautions that bloggers, too, have to be careful which lines they cross in their public discourse. “You have to be responsible. And there are limits,” she says. “I do have an edgy writing style. I’m sort of outspoken. But I do know that I can’t libel anyone or deceive my readers. So, I do hold myself accountable, and I want them to hold me accountable.”

Once you’ve established the blog, get ready for the hard part: posting.

No one can tell you what to post, but help is available from veteran bloggers. Maybe nothing is as informative as reading blogs, both those you admire and those you don’t.

Simon Masnick offers a blog how-to reference in his posting “Everything you wanted to know about blogging but were afraid to ask” at simonworld.mu.nu/archives/037779.php.

The post also includes links to numerous sites offering tips on blogging, blog etiquette, increasing readership and related issues.