Winter 2004-2005

Blogging for Your Community
by Trudy Schuett

You've probably heard about blogs in the news of the recent elections. They are far more than a platform for a single author to make his or her opinions public; they can used in a variety of ways, limited only by the imagination of the publisher.

Blogs have given not only individuals but groups of all sizes the ability to reach out to the general public and inform, educate, and communicate. For the first time since the Internet came into being, you can publish in the same way that was once restricted to those with specialized skills and/or a big budget. Whether your community is urban or rural, large or small, a blog can make communication far more productive.

Where an e-mail discussion group or listserv can also be immediate, the original message is often difficult to find in an active list. The fact that it is e-mail also adds to the glut of e-mail most computer users suffer, not to mention that important alerts or updates can be lost in software designed to protect users against spam. A traditional static website cannot provide the interactivity of a blog, and does require a certain amount of technical skill to maintain. With a blog, you have the main benefits of the listserv and website combined, and a larger pool of volunteers you could consider to maintain the site, since they require little specialized training.

Anyone with the ability to use a word processing program, such as MSWord, who is comfortable sending e-mails and surfing the Internet, can be a blog publisher.

Once the blog is established, it takes no more time than writing an e-mail. It doesn't need to be updated every day or every week, and it doesn't require lengthy entries, or even that all entries be the same length. Because a blog is so easily used, your designated bloggers can make blog entries themselves at any time of day or night, when it fits their schedule. It can replace such things as newsletters and telephone trees, allowing an infinite number of people to get the same message all at once. It ensures no one is left out, because the entries stay online and are archived for future reference, and can be accessed by the readership at their convenience.

The RSS feed is the thing that makes a blog really stand out in functionality. When a blog is updated, the RSS feed allows the blog itself to alert directories and aggregators that send the latest headlines and links to subscribers. This gives your blog a level of automatic outreach not possible with either a website or a listserv. People looking for the kind of information you provide (or groups such as yours) can find it quickly through their aggregators. This also eliminates the days or weeks of delay while waiting for a traditional site to be added to search engines, plus the extra time needed to rank prominently enough in those listings to be easily found by the public.

New visitors do not have to join a list, or search for contact information if they have questions or comments. They can leave a comment in the section provided with each entry, and anyone who has an answer can respond. Their question doesn't have to wait for a webmaster or the main blogger to answer it, which can promote more active participation by community members on the blog.

To get to the nuts and bolts of the thing, all you really need to know is that a blog is a website than can be updated as often as desired. It can be maintained by one or any number of people you choose. It can be public and available to anyone, or it can be password-protected for a limited readership. Depending on your level of technical expertise, you can use software on your computer to put a blog in webspace you already have, or use a host, such as Blog-City or tBlog.

When you use a host, the more technical concerns are handled by the host's staff, so if some element of the blog isn't working, or you find you need more information on some aspect of the blog, you can e-mail tech support for help. All the hosts provide step-by-step instructions for getting started and keeping things going. A note here on choosing a host: while there are literally dozens of blog hosts available, Blogger and Type Pad, which are the best-known, are more focused on personal publishing, a lone author without the need to carefully track numbers of visitors or perhaps add future advertising, or a different kind of gutter content (links or graphics at the sides) than allowed for in their applications.

It's important to choose your host carefully. That's because once established, it's difficult to move a blog to a host that better suits your needs. That's especially true if you've listed your blog in a number of directories in order to build your readership. Moving becomes the same exercise as starting at the beginning, so try to avoid this situation if you can.

Some Examples of Blogs for Community

I maintain a blog for the Yuma Technology Consortium, which is a committee of our local Chamber of Commerce. I have links to local city and county agencies, helpful websites with tech and business information, and those groups and individuals who participate in YTC. As the lead blogger for the website, I try to keep informed on issues that are important to the group itself, or members of the community who have an interest in these issues and post useful links and articles as the content.

East Bay Publishing and The Somerville News are more general-interest publications.

Global PRBlog Week supported the first online event of its kind. The blog was used as the actual space for the conference; "speakers" posted their presentations and took questions through the comments section or e-mail. The full conference is still freely available and contains many articles for further reference.

Steve Outing's How to Integrate Citizen Journalism into Mainstream News includes more examples. See also Jeff Jarvis's The News as Conversation.

Editors' Note: Phil Shapiro has set up a group blog where technology access news and useful information can be shared with the general public. To become a poster to the blog, email Phil.

Trudy W. Schuett is a multiblogger and teacher of bloggers, who maintains eight blogs. See, for example, WOLves, Trudy's Blog for Writers who Promote their Works. A list of links to Trudy's other blogs can be found on the WOLves home page under the heading "Trudy's Family of Fine Blogs."


Thank for writing this article, Trudy. It's a good introduction to blogging for the nonprofit/nontechie audience. I totally agree with you about the importance of RSS. I love RSS.

I have to differ with a few things, though. One is that Blogger and TypePad as just as robust and advertising-ready as any other software. But more importantly, it's actually quite easy to move from one blog to another as long as you own your domain name and can point it to the new location.

I moved my large, multi-author blog with hundreds of posts from MovableType to WordPress last summer. Making the templates look like the previous version was a *much* more onerous task than exporting the entries from one place and importing them to another.

Another great introduction that I recomed is Blogging 101:

Thanks again for writing this article!

= Ruby

Posted by: Ruby Sinreich at January 25, 2005 11:29 PM
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