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The Blog as Community

Blogs have revolutionized publishing. In fact, the mission of the largest blogging platform in the word–WordPress–is “Democratize Publishing.” Like never before, anyone with access to the Internet can write and share content, create an audience, and interact with that audience.

This interaction with one’s audience, and their interaction with each other–I would argue is a significant form of online community. Although the content is decidedly top-down, generated by an individual or group of authors, the comments section can be ripe for impassioned debate and socialization. Facebook pages are similar in their one-to-many dynamic.

The topic of whether blogs serve as virtual communities has been studied extensively. Many researchers have concluded that indeed they can be.

For these reasons, I feel it’s worthwhile to take a look this week at the nature and practices of blogging.

What Is a Blog?

The term blog is short for “weblog”, a form of online diary. The definition has expanded to include many types of authors and content areas. Many big businesses have blogs within their websites.

Blogs have the following features:

  • blog is now used as both a noun and verb
  • a blog owner, or author, posts regular updates
  • the updates are displayed in reverse chronological order
  • the blog may be divided into multiple categories
  • blogs can display a variety of content, from text and images to video playback
  • blogs usually are interactive: readers can respond in the form of comments to an individual post
  • sometimes the comments are structured so that commenters can reply to specific prior comments
  • commenters can create accounts/profiles that identify who they are and which link back to their own website
  • in some blogs, readers can upvote or downvote the comments of others
  • the blog author can contact commenters
  • the blog author can assess from the level of engagement what content might be popular for future posts
  • blog authors often join communities of bloggers and create a sort of content-driven ecosystem

Video

Always South Dakota — blogging, identity, and community | Cory Allen Heidelberger | TEDxBrookings [11:02]

In what way did Cory create and influence his community, as he tells in this video?

How do you feel about the ethical question he brings up?

Why Have a Blog?

Many people have a blog just to have an outlet for personal expression. Many have a cause to put forward, a hobby to share, or a thing they love to teach.

Many businesses have a blog as a form of content marketing.

One or more blogs may be one aspect of a larger community.

And the blog itself might make money for the blogger. Here are some ways in which individuals monetize blogs:

Video: Secrets of Making Money Online [2010, 8:33]

This is Darren Rowse, who has been writing about blogging at ProBlogger.com since 2004. He also wrote a book.

How To Start a Blog

There are a variety of free platforms for creating a blog. As is the case with many things, the easier something is to do, the more limited your options will be.

The following blog hosts are easy to get started on.

For a fully functioning and flexible blog on your own web host, the most popular choice is WordPress.org. The difference here is that WordPress.org is software you install on your own web host, and WordPress.com is your blog hosted by a company called Automattic.

The catch is that you need to know what you’re doing with self-hosted WordPress.

Set up your blog. Pick a topic. Start writing.

How to Create a Community Around a Blog

These pieces of advice apply equally to the personal blog of an individual or a blog representation an organization. They come from Melissa Griffin, and appropriately enough, her post on the topic generated a good deal of discussion.

  • Be yourself. Write like you normally speak. People don’t want to engage with a textbook.
  • End your post with a question for your readers related to the topic.
  • Mention specific readers in your posts when appropriate. This is akin to a group moderator acknowledging active members.
  • Integrate your blog with social media. This provides better exposure for your content, and is a welcome way for readers to see your new posts.
  • Identify members in your community who have things in common with each other, and serve as a friend matchmaker.
  • Respond to comments. Just like you want to know that people are out there reading, they want to know you’re listening to them too.
  • Select a comment system that allows for replies to comments (threaded comments). Disqus is good for this. Gravatar in WordPress does too, though the theme may or may not display the threading properly.
  • Mix up your content so that it provides variety without straying too far from your niche. Look for (or invent) ways to integrate reader content and feedback.

What to Write About

Let’s take a look at an eBook that I uploaded to Doc Sharing in the eCompanion: 212 Blog Post Ideas.

This helpful guide lists 212 writing prompts that can be used with almost any kind of blog, collected into the following categories:

  • be useful
  • be generous
  • be entertaining
  • be timely
  • be human
  • be promotional
  • be controversial
  • be engaging

A lot of these ideas can be useful for generating content for online communities of other types as well.

Advice from an Expert

Now let’s take a look at more advice from Darren Rowse.

Check out 31 Days to Build a Better Blog in Doc Sharing.

Some of this advice overlaps with the eBook above. But this eBook provides more extensive information on rationale, examples, and how to. It also includes ways to be a better blogger.

It is formatted as a series of daily challenges.

Notice how many of the challenges involve nurturing a community.