by Joanna Preston
What’s a blog?
A blog (an abridgement of the term web log) is a website, usually maintained by an individual rather than a company, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are generally displayed in reverse chronological order (ie, newest entries first). Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other web pages.
The most crucial points of difference between blogs and “normal” web pages is their chronology; their use of links; and the ability for people to leave comments on individual entries.
Why would I want one?
You can use a blog as an online diary, a scrapbook, an open letter, or a journal. Or as your own personal soapbox – somewhere that you can write about the things that are important to you. That annoy you. Or that impress you. Correcting false impressions. Raving about your favourite book. Some people use private blogs as a way of collaborating on a writing (or other) project – a recent example is the linked haibun collection Quartet (Teneriffe, Qld: Post Pressed, 2008), which was composed online this way.
Because of the way blogs link to each other, there is a greater chance of someone coming across your site and reading what you have to say than just having another site on the web. Each blog-host website will list different topics that people are blogging about (which you mark by tagging your post with relevant words: poetry, haiku, politics – whatever you think describes your topic), and the blogs that feature those topics.
More than anything else, blogging is about a sense of community. Whatever you are interested in, someone, somewhere is already blogging about it. And because blogs allow comments, they become conversations rather than just a million monologues.
For a final reason to start blogging … they are much easier to set up and run than a standard website, and people – publishers, politicians, journalists, fans of your favourite preoccupations – do read them. The popular blogs get literally millions of hits every day, and genuinely do sway opinion. The size of your potential audience is mind-blowing.
How do I get one?
There are a number of computer programs that will make a blog for you. They tend to be referred to as “blogging software” or “content management systems” (CMS). But the simplest way of creating your own blog is to use one of the many online (“developer-hosted”) programs. The two I have had experience with are Blogger and WordPress, but another well-known service is TypePad. (See Wikipedia for more information.)
Blogger is part of the Google empire, and has lots of different customisations. You can even earn money by having ads on your site. The interface is pretty user friendly, the FAQ (frequently asked questions) page is good, and their discussion forum is very helpful – post a question and you’ll usually get the answer within a couple of hours. (NB: Blogspot was the name of Blogger’s earlier free web-host – hence some blogs are “address.blogspot.com” rather than “address.blogger.com”.)
WordPress is essentially a stripped-down version of a highly regarded CMS programme, hosted for free. Again, the interface is pretty user friendly, the FAQ page is good, and the forum very helpful. It doesn’t have as many customisation options as Blogger, although you can pay to add some extra bits and pieces. I prefer it to Blogger because it has the option of running as a full website, with separate web pages as well as a blog. All blogging websites have good instructions on how to set your blog up. It mainly comes down to your personal preference for appearance and options.
A few examples of haiku-related blogs that use these two platforms:
Blog title – quirky is good, as long as there’s some sort of link to what the blog is about (or who you are). For convenience, most people will have their blog name (or some version of it) as their blog address – Lynne Rees’ blog for example.
If you go with WordPress, be aware that their system assigns your user name as the address of your first blog – subsequent blogs can be given whatever address you like (as long as no one has taken it yet), so you can always create another one!
Posts – a post is an individual blog entry. It has its own date (and time) stamp, and its own title. You can write posts (i.e., create them), save them as drafts, and publish them. They remain invisible to the outside world until they’re published. Try to post reasonably regularly – if you’ve built up an audience, you don’t want them to lose interest.
Links – are how you connect your blog to the rest of the blogosphere (a collective term for all blogs and their interconnections). There are two types: text links (the normal “underlined words in blue that opens a new page when you click it” type) and Blogroll links.
If you’re referring to someone else’s poem or article, a text link to where you read it is both polite and convenient. Especially link to something you liked or have referred to in someone else’s blog – it lets your readers know where else you read, and where else they can find good information. It also send an electronic message back to the person who wrote the original blog post, and shows up in search engines. It’s all about connections and community. And feels extremely pleasurable when it happens to you!
Blogrolls are the list of links that you usually find on one or other side of a blog page. Exactly like the “Links” page on a website. And again, it’s a way of getting connected to the other people who are interested in the same things you are. And the more blogs (and websites in general) that link to you, the more “visible” your blog is to search engines and the like. Of course, if you want to keep your blog private, don’t add links to your posts, or in your blogroll.
Tags – are labels that you add to your posts so that people looking for something on a particular topic can find it. They also make it easy for you to search through your own posts. You can use any word/s or phrase/s, as specific or general as you like – examples include poetry, haiku, work-in-progress, music, lame jokes, ad infinitum.
Comments – are one of the most interesting things about blogs. Read something, add a comment! Someone reads your post, they can leave a comment. And yes, you can respond to their comments too – it can build into some fascinating conversations.
When you set up your account, you have the option of selecting how you handle comments. You can choose to not allow them at all. Or to only allow people who are registered with a blogging service. Or open to anyone, including anonymous commenters. Comment moderation settings allow you to screen comments before either allowing them (publishing them with your post) or rejecting them (deleting them). So you don’t need to worry about idiots posting offensive or stupid comments – you choose who gets to be part of the conversation.
Spam – unfortunately blogging is as susceptible to spam (electronic junk mail) as everything else. Most blogging services have very good spam filters, and moderating comments (rather than letting them appear unregulated) deals with most of the rest. It’s generally sensible not to put your email address on your blog – most communication is fine routed through comments. (And if you do get spam … don’t click on it. Not even the button marked “I’m not interested”.)
Blogging is actually a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing more Kiwi haijin out there.
Editor’s note: Joanna Preston is an ex-pat Australian poet who lives near Christchurch, where she shares her life with an overgrown garden, seven hens and an Understanding Husband. She edited the NZPS 2008 anthology and was co-editor of Kokako from 2009-12. She wrote this article especially for Haiku NewZ. Read Joanna’s blog.
This article was updated slightly in December 2016.