Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Blog or not to Blog, that is the Question

I wrote my first blog post Feb. 8, 2007 “my43, a place to learn and work” (a pretty lame first post I might add) using our District’s portal (my43).  I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to write about per se but knew I had to figure out this blogging thing if I was to be able speak about it authentically.  My blog didn’t have an interesting name, it was just “Brian Kuhn’s Blog”.  I wrote about whatever I felt like, periodically, and related to my work or interests.  I wasn’t highly engaged in my blog and it wasn’t a priority for me.

In late December 2009 I decided to make a change.  I signed up for a Google blog (blogger/blogspot) and called my blog “Shift to the Future” and focused on technology, education, and futuristics.  I committed to writing weekly and purposefully – my first new post, written Dec. 29, 2009 was Disruption is coming.  Why do I blog now?  Here are they key reasons:

  • to think out loud and transparently about novel or provocative ideas
  • to speculate about the future and how technology and education co-disrupt
  • to engage others in conversation about current issues, events, or future scenarios
  • to share things I have learned from books and articles I’ve read
  • to be a writer – I like to write
  • to get feedback from others on my ideas, my thinking

I read a post today “Why I Blog: A Principal’s 13 reasons” which by the way I learned of from my twitter network from @gcouros.  For more on twitter, see Tweet, Link, and Learn.  I can resonate with the author’s reasons for blogging but in particular I found it interesting how he addressed reason #12 “To show off”.  Some people do view blogging as self-promotion and if we’re honest with ourselves, that is a part of this.  But isn’t that a key part of leadership and success – sharing your ideas, persuading people, etc.  Blogging is really an extension of what successful people in business or education have done for years – in this case, using a different platform or medium.

Okay, let’s say you’re interested in jumping into the blogosphere.  Where do you start?  Well, there are a number of free blogging services on the Internet including these:

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I have seen dozens of blogs on these three platforms and to be honest it probably doesn’t matter which you choose.  If I were to start again, I might lean towards WordPress just because I think some of the themes, layouts, and widgets are better than what I’ve found with Blogger plus organizations can download and install WordPress on their own servers if they wish so there’s flexibility there.  But my experience and current blog is with Blogger so any technical comments I make will be limited to this experience.  This isn’t meant to be a complete how-to from a technical perspective but more of a basic get started and start writing focus. 

You need to make a few critical decisions by answering some questions, before you get started.  What are you going to call your blog (it’s name)?  The name should be descriptive of the general focus for your blog.  Mine is called Shift to the Future because I’m interested in writing about future scenarios.  I generally write about current time, near future, and distant future.  My focus is mainly on technology and education and how they are disruptive and create possible futures.  Next, you need to decide on whether to purchase and register your own domain name, or not.  I waited about three months to decide which in retrospect was a mistake – it created a lot of work for me to migrate and update links, and re-promote the new name.  Originally my blog domain name (the URL) was http://shift2future.blogspot.com but then I registered my own which became http://shift2future.com.  I did this because I want my blog to be portable – to be able to move it to a different blog service if I chose and secondly to build a brand and identity around the name without the distraction of the name of the company / service hosting it.  I strongly advise you to make this decision before starting – it costs me $10 per year to own “shift2future.com”.  You might not care and like me, you can change your mind later if this becomes an important aspect for you.  Many great bloggers do not have their own domain name so it’s okay if you don’t take that step.  Thirdly, you need to decide the scope for your blog – what will you write about, what are the boundaries for topics, etc.  That will help you focus and make it easier for readers to know what to expect.

Okay, you’ve answered the initial questions so here are some first steps I think you should take to get started:

  1. decide which blog platform / service you will use (blogger, edublogs, wordpress, others)
  2. signup for a blog account
  3. use the blog service to create your blog (details on how will vary for each blog service) ** note, if you decided to register and own your blog URL, there are additional details you’ll be faced with…  you may want help with the steps from a tech savvy friend
  4. once your blog is created, play with the layout options – where the pieces (main post area, header, footer, widgets, etc.) will be located on the page
  5. browse the themes and choose one you like – you can always change this later (the color scheme, border/edge style, etc.)
  6. upload a photo (professional / tasteful) of yourself for your profile picture
  7. write the overall summary description for your blog – this gives readers a quick look at what they can expect from your blog
  8. browse the widgets (tools, webparts, they will be called various things by different blog services) and add some such as
    • About Me – write a personal / professional profile description
    • Subscription button or links
    • Follow my blog button or link
    • Twitter updates – linked to your twitter account feed so that you share with your readers what you’re tweeting
    • Blog Archive – this builds as you post
    • Labels or categories or tags – when you write posts you should add tags or categories or whatever they’re called for your blog service so that people can find your posts by key word
    • Visitors or statistics – shows where your readers are coming from
    • you’ll find others that interest you…
  9. if you don’t have a twitter account yet, be sure to refer to Tweet, Link, and Learn – Part One to get that sorted out – you will need twitter to promote your blog posts; make sure to update your twitter profile and list your blog URL as your twitter website
  10. if you use LinkedIn (if you don’t, see Tweet, Link, and Learn – Part Two) make sure to update your profile and add your blog URL to the appropriate field

Okay, you’ve successfully followed the above steps and now you are ready to be a blogger.  My advice is that your first post be one that introduces “you”, what you’re interested in, your professional interests, what you do professionally, and why you’ve joined the blogosphere.  You can save the post as draft while you write it until you’re ready to publish it for the world to see.  Once you publish it, you need to tell people about it – here’s an example tweet promoting my last post:

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I always start with “new post” then the title of the post and the shortened URL (tweetdeck auto-shortens, I’ll talk about this below), and then the twitter hash tags (keywords) where I feel the post is relevant.

URL’s (the web address of a web page such as your blog post) are typically long.  Twitter as you may now know limits tweets to 140 characters.  URL shortener services are used to take the actual URL and return to you a shortened one that you can use in a tweet.  Shortened URL’s are cryptic but behind the scenes they redirect people when they click on the shortened link, to the real web page.  A good URL shortening service is bit.ly.  First you copy the URL for your post, goto bit.ly, paste your post’s URL into the “Shorten with bit.ly” field, click Shorten, and you’ll get a short URL to copy and then paste into a tweet.  Or, use a tool like TweetDeck that does this automatically when you paste in a URL to a tweet.

To make blog post writing easier, if you are using a Windows PC, download and install Windows Live Writer (it’s free).  It is a very nice tool (I’m writing this post with it) for formatting, pasting in pictures, linking in videos, adding tags, etc. – it is way better then directly writing with the blog service web editor.  You will need to configure your blog account details (user-id, password, etc.) to “connect” Live Writer to your blog.

Finally, you should add the blog name and link to your e-mail signature block, tell your friends, colleagues, and anyone that will listen, about your blog and share your blog URL (web address) with them.  Congratulations, you’re on your way to writing and sharing your thoughts and growing your professional learning network (PLN). 

If you’re reading this and have further questions or comments, please feel free to write a comment here and I’ll do what I can to help.