Is a blog a journal? A portfolio? An alternate news source? The new discussion forum? Or is it just a new way of building a Web site? Blogs are all of these and more.The definitions of a blog vary widely, but following the original definition of blog as a contraction of "web log," I assume that the essential features of the modern blog is that 1) entries are date stamped and usually ordered in from most recent backwards, 2) the comments feature is available (although not always enabled) and 3) generates an RSS news feed.
So if you find a Web site which is organized by date-stamped entries - it may be a "blog."
The truth is that users have been maintaining online journals (or "Web Logs") beginning well in the Web 1.0 era. In fact, many sources, including the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118436667045766268.html) have been celebrating the 10-year anniversary of blogging for the past year. The blog has been around longer than many of us realize.
What's truly changed in recent years is the availability of tools and services which allow users to publish a blog without needing to know special Web technologies like HTML or SFTP. Now users can set up an account, fill in a form, press the Submit button and – presto – post a blog entry which has been neatly formatted, time-stamped, tagged and categorized. The archive pages are even generated automatically for you. This is something anyone can do and one reason why blogging is such a "hot" media channel.
A few definitions of blogging state that commenting must be included. After all of the most exciting features of the modern blog is its ability to generate dialogue. For instance, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame can post a controversial blog entry on the Dilbert Blog (http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/) and see how his readers react.
Not only do the readers get a chance to respond, but they get to see how others are thinking, plus Scott Adams and his marketers get to learn more about his readers.
But can you blog without commenter's? There are many benefits to just writing a blog even if you don't get a chance to see comments. Writing an entry is an excellent way to organize your thoughts and is a process of self-discovery. You may find yourself writing about things you didn’t realize you knew or cared anything about. Blogs are also an excellent way to document the progress of a project or to post completed projects (e.g. photos, designs, music files or poems).
Most importantly, just because people are commenting on your blogs doesn’t mean they aren't reading it.
There are many free blogging services to choose from, but if you are a Penn State student, instructor or staff member, you now have the option of using the free Blogs at Penn State tool (http://blogs.psu.edu) which is based on the Movable Type Platform. With this platform, you can post entries, add photos and images, upload podcast files, embed videos from You Tube and even embed custom maps from Google Maps (http://blogger.psu.edu/help/upload).
The Blogs at Penn State also allow you to customize your blog including changing background colors and reconfiguring the sidebar. See documentation at http://blogger.psu.edu/help for more information.
The advantages of the Blogs at Penn State are that blog is published to your Penn State Personal Web space, and you will always have access to your files. The Import and Export tool also allows you to transfer entries between blogs – even those published one other sites. Finally, the Blogs at Penn State allows you to create multiple blogs for multiple purposes.
An instructor, such as Professor Phil Long (http://www.personal.psu.edu/cpl2/blogs/) of the Philosophy Department, may create one another blog for academic research, another as a personal journal and one for each course (such as http://www.personal.psu.edu/cpl2/blogs/PHIL083/).
Similarly, a student may be given blog writing assignments for different courses (each within separate blogs), but maintain a personal blog elsewhere. Staff members can chronicle their work projects in one blog and their hobbies somewhere else.
If you want to activate your Blogs at Penn State account – just go to http://blogger.psu.edu/help/basics/activateblog.
So now that you have signed up for your blog…what's the next step? If you're getting stuck with trying to decide what and how to post, you're not alone. Before trying to fill in that first empty blog entry form ask yourself some questions.
The most important question is probably "What is the theme or purpose of this blog?" There are lots of great examples to choose from including personal journals, photo portfolios, ITS work blogs and even biking in Centre County. We'll list a few examples at the end of this article.
Once you decide on a theme, you just have to write a blog entry. Many people write their first entry about the purpose of their blog, but another option may be just to wait for something blog-worthy to write about and post a "regular" entry.
A blog entry doesn't have to be long. Many blog entries are single paragraphs which link to an interesting Web site.
Or you can write a longer blog entry which reacts to another blog entry. Or maybe you can write about something which you just observed or discovered today.
What if you are working on an entry that's not ready to post? Most blog systems have a setting which allows you to switch entries between "Published" (visible to the world) and "Unpublished" (hidden from the world). This can be a good safety net if you write something which is not quite ready yet for the world to see.
Here are some examples of the different types of ways a blog or blogging tool can be used.
The most famous/notorious type of blog is probably the personal journal in which topics can range from politics to work to the latest World Series game. Many people like this format because everything you need to know is in one place.
A popular blog in this format is Boing Boing (http://www.boingboing.net/). Another one in a journal format is Confessions of a Student Nurse (http://lilk8tob.spaces.live.com/) which chronicles one nurse's life inside and outside the hospital. You can see similar examples from your Penn State colleagues at http://blogger.psu.edu/directory. Classic titles include Are We There Yet?, This Blog Goes to 11, Life is So Much Better with Sound Effects and Nothing Here to See.
Although it is popular, it is also become a bit notorious and has often been satirized as in http://www.thespoof.com/diary/index.cfm.
If you are interested in blogging, but not this genre, there are other alternates available.
Another genre of blog is one that focuses on a narrow topic. Political blogs are a prominent example of this, but other topic blogs include career issues, different technologies, academic disciplines, and personal projects. If there is a specific area you are interested in, this could become the focus of your blog. Some examples include:
Another twist is to use a blog to chronicle a specific journey or project such as in
A third variation is the portfolio blog. Because blogging platforms include content management system tools, the line between Web site and blog is being blurred further, and a good example of this is the portfolio which documents finished projects on static Web pages and works-in-progress in the blog.
A great example of this is Laura Guertin’s E-Portfolio http://www.personal.psu.edu/uxg3/blogs/guertin/course-goals/scientific-method/. Although the homepage is static, the Category links go to blog entries she has included in her portfolio.
Blogs can be used by instructors to post course announcements and additional information and can be used by students as a discussion forum or as a journal or portfolio. Blog headlines can even be fed into ANGEL so students know when updates are posted. Blogs can also be a vehicle for students to share digital projects such as video assignments or podcast recordings.Here are some examples of course blogs at Penn State
A final note is that blogging is probably most successful when the author enjoys the process. Instead of planning on working on a blog, maybe it's better to think about it as a chance to relax. Writing a blog entry can be therapeutic either as a break from some other task or as a way to get something off your chest. Blogging is also a great way to let others know what you've been accomplishing. And remember that when you blog – you never know who will read your next great idea.
Elizabeth Pyatt is an instructional designer within Information Technology Services and maintains several blogs at http://www.personal.psu.edu/ejp10/blogs/ including Got Unicode?, Elizabeth Pyatt's TLT Blog and A Linguist in the Wild.