Anatomy of the Classic Blog

03/29/2011

by David Addison

Main Entry: blog. Part of Speech: noun. Definition: an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a web page; also called weblog, web log.

Before we can properly define a blog, we must first define a Web site

The Information Superhighway was invented by genius nerd Al Gore in the late 80s. Al Gore is…uh-oh, wrong direction! Actually, the World Wide Web was created in 1989 by physicist Tim Bernes–Less of CERN, and became free for all to use on April 30, 1993. I was there in 1994 when Genie, Compuserve, Prodigy, and AOL became the early-generation dialup services to offer full access to the World Wide Web. I built my first web page in mid-2004, a monumental occasion that signaled the demise of my bulletin board system.

A website is a collection of text, images, and sometimes video or rich media posted on a single or multiple pages. Pages are arranged in logical order, typically in silos of like-topics, and interlinked with other pages to create the website. The retronym Web 1.0 (1991 to 2003) refers to early website design, where the focus was on publishing static websites as the byproduct of large up-front investments in content. The tags, along with framesets, were signs of the times. Content on a website was primarily managed by the owner of the website or several professional content writers. This is true today for the vast majority of websites that still cling to the 1.0 content model.

Content on professional websites is often well thought out, outlined, professionally written, strategically placed, optimized, and heavily edited before being published. This extensive process can take from a few days to several months depending on the topic, SEO goals, word count, and client needs. For the purpose of this article we will refer to this process as the c ontent [publishing] model .

The shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 (a retronym that characterizes Web site creation from 2004 to approximately 2009) can be seen as a result of technological refinements driven by the adoption of broadband connectivity and improved browsers. Web 2.0 is defined by blog site aggregation, a move from publishing to participation (true many-to-many connectivity), decentralization of Web site content, bottom-up content development, and the ongoing interactive process of content development. AJAX, Flash, widgetization, and user participation are signs of the time. Simply put, Web 2.0 is the readability and write-ability of the Internet—an interactive Internet that provides 24/7 ability to share, store, produce, network, communicate, collaborate, and learn.

Web 2.5 represents the evolution in Web technology that encourages and facilitates improvements to the Web 2.0 publishing model. If Web 2.0 brought a revolution of experiences in social networking, interactive blogs, and wikis, Web 2.5 provides additional tools that aggregate content and activities, allow data portability (a “friends” list in one social network can be more easily shared across other social networks), and filtering systems that can manage the flood of content from aggregated streams. These filtering tools work to allow the most relevant or popular content to rise to the top of the heap. Social connectivity and the growing interactivity within and between social networks represent the evolution of, and the direction, the web is taking, making the usefulness of cloud computing and Web apps a powerful engine of innovation and utility.

Web 3.0 is envisioned as taking aggregation, portability, and filtering even further with artificially intelligent algorithms tailoring semantic search results by divining searcher intent and the contextual meanings of search terms. Semantics is the science of meaning in language. Harnessing the intent and context, the semantics, of search terms chosen by the searcher promises to provide powerful new tools to refine search results over keyword results limited to loose associations between given keywords. Web 3.0 hopes to achieve meaningful contextual relationships between data sets rather than the loose associations between disparate data points a keyword search calls up.

In the Web 2.0 publishing model the distribution of website content can be thought of as a one-to-many medium (although a web cast is actually classified as a many-to-many medium). This is the case when a single person or small group of people publishes an article and many people read it asynchronously.

The vast majority of websites, early-on, did not use content management systems (CMS). Well more than half of all modern websites deploy CMS features. CMS utilization has been fueled by the popularity of the blog. A CMS is a collection of procedures used to manage work flow in a collaborative environment. A web content management system (WCMS) provides authors’ tools to create and manage content with relative ease and little knowledge of programming languages or markup languages (e.g., HTML and CSS). Most CMS systems use a database to store content, metadata, and page artifacts. Content is frequently stored as XML to facilitate reuse and enable flexible presentation options. The presentation layer or design is based on a set of templates. Unlike website building, a WCMS allows non-technical users to make changes to a website with little knowledge via a fat client or a web interface. Most newly deployed websites use a CMS.

So now we can define a blog

A blog is a collection of dynamic text, images, and sometimes video that is posted on a single page. Sounds familiar, right? A blog is a website. Today, there is very little that separates a blog from a web page.

In general, blogs have a tendency to provide more publishing control and social interaction abilities, plus several little technical features. Blog posts are linked together, usually organized by date. This is why sometimes the blog is referred to as an online journal, since posts are typically chronologically ordered in reverse (newest post first). We will refer to this as the blog model .

In contrast to the content model, where there is a structured and systematic approach to content creation, a blog is typically more free-flowing and experimental. For example, the Dirigo Blog is primarily used to catalog technical, strategy, and content tidbits important to the Dirigo staff and our clients. Secondarily, our blog demonstrates to readers that our professional staff maintains its continuing professional education. The publication of blog posts does not require an exhaustive content creation cycle, but rather occurs almost as quickly as they are written—though Dirigo staff have made it a habit to reach out to our in-house editor for review and prose guidance after publication as part of the creative process.

Blogs are typically maintained by one to three individuals, that is why blogs are often cited as being online journals—singular people talk about their personal experiences in life, at work, at home, or cover completely random topics. Jorn Barger is credited with first using the term web log. While surfing the early Internet in 1995 he started cataloging his experiences on his website, Robot Wisdom. In this sense Robot Wisdom was Barger’s blog, or online journal of Internet experiences and musings about life.

In contrast, a very successful but controversial model of attracting unpaid bloggers as content providers has been utilized by the Huffington Post. The writers and bloggers submitting content are generally authoritative in their specialties and contribute in exchange for the fulfillment and satisfaction of this means of self-expression. Academics, politicians, policy wonks, and celebrity entertainers by the thousands have all contributed and indirectly benefit from the self-satisfaction—and cachet—of having been published on HuffPo.

Not all blogs are created equally. Today blogs often are dedicated to a single topic such as art, music, health, or fashion. The blog genres can get quite granular, as is the case with Pencil Revolution , a blog dedicated to the pencil. Other blogs like Barger’s Robot Wisdom cover a myriad of topics of personal interest to the author. Political, policy, and technical blogs have proliferated, covering topics as broad as foreign policy and economics, or more narrowly focused on current and historical trends, as in arms control and treaty verification. The quality of writing can run the gamut of simple prose and casual recollections or thoughts, to the presentation of highly detailed technical and authoritative information.

Platforms for blog publishing range from simple blog applications to other more complicated formats that facilitate meaningful presentation of rich, authoritative, highly technical information.

The following is a discussion of tips and useful pointers that make business blogging content of greater utility to the blog publisher and readers on the World Wide Web:

  • URL— A domain name that is short and easy to remember tends to be the most effective. For instance, blog.domainname.com works great. So does companynameblog.com. We prefer to use domainname.com/blog because embedding a blog into the base domain consolidates Google PageRank. Avoid obscure or long URLs. The title or name of your business blog does not, however, need to be tied to your URL.
  • Blog Name— If your blog has a unique name it should be prominently displayed with a logo. The logo should link to the home page of the blog. A tag line to go along with the blog name can help readers understand what your blog is about.
  • Design Your blog is a direct extension of your brand. As such, the style guide elements of your brand should carry over to the blog design. Your blog design should be distinct from that of your website. That is, the design should not be so similar as to confuse the reader as to whether they’re on the company website or the company blog.
  • Date Order— A blog typically organizes posts by date. Most have posts arranged in reverse chronological or descending date order, with the most recent blog post at the top of the center content area. Why? This is what blog readers expect. Old blog entries are generally housed in an archive section, sorted by months and years. The archive navigation is typically displayed in the left-or right-hand navigation.  
  • Author— The blogger’s name is usually listed next to the timestamp. Many blogs end with “Posted by {blogger’s name}.”
  • Title— Blog posts always have a title that describes the content of the entry. Titles are typically set off in the presentation layer, formatted with a bold or larger size font.
  • Purpose— Will the blog serve as a journal for the business? Is it a search marketing tool (always)? Is it to be used to demonstrate thought leadership and create credibility in an industry? Is it a communication tool for customers? Choose a purpose and use it as a strategic compass.
  • Content— In essence, you want to build an editorial plan for the blog that supports the customer personas you’re trying to engage. Target those topics and keywords for which you want to be known. The publishing schedule should be predictable and stable. Pay close attention towWeb analytics, offsite citations, comments, and social chatter to gauge whether your content is resonating.

While there are many ways to appeal to an audience, the same three forms that make for persuasive rhetoric— ethos , logos , and pathos —make for a powerful blogging voice. Depending upon the nature of your business, your content will bear the mark of one or more of each of these forms. With a focus on ethos, your reader will identify with the writer’s character and image; with logos, the logic or rationality of the author’s argument wins the reader’s confidence; and with pathos, the appeal acquires more emotional overtones.

In the case of most small businesses, blogging is usually accomplished by a team of one. Many businesses just can’t find the time, and outsource content generation and their blog strategy to firms like Dirigo to ghostwrite.

One content generation option for advertisers is to engage a quasi-personalized service such as Pay-Per-Post (PPP). PPP affords advertisers an online shortcut by hiring blogging content creators—“posties”—to create sponsored content. Once a required blog or video has been posted, PPP reviews how well it matches the requested topic, tone, and length. If the work is deemed acceptable, PPP then handles payment from the advertiser to the blogger.

  • Advertisement —For those seeking to monetize their blog, there are many different methods. The Internet is awash with advertising opportunities. Bloggers typically monetize their traffic using advertising services such as Google AdSense, a free application that allows you to display ads relevant to your audience’s interests. We do not normally encourage monetization because the presence of AdSense is widely viewed as a signal for low quality content sites (e.g. AdSense may harm your SEO efforts).

Each time a website visitor clicks on an AdSense advertisement, the blog owner will receive anywhere from a few pennies to a quarter (for example). As a best practice, the majority of advertising-supported blogs include 4–8 ad spaces in the sidebar, real estate prominent to the users’ eyes. Ad activity can be easily tracked, and the ads can be readily customized to the blog’s look and feel.

AdSense can dilute your brand equity because site owners don't have control over who advertises. Each AdSense click represents a lost reader. While strategies vary, we generally try to drive traffic from the blog to a website where we promote products or services. There is big money in mailing lists. We place an emphasis on capturing as many e-mail subscribers as possible from blog sources.

  • User Participation— Readers should be able to reply to or comment on a blog entry. A blog must have comments or some form of user interactivity so that community members can share in the discussion and voice their opinion. If it is not two-way or interactive, then it is not a blog. Why so? When users are allowed to comment and respond to one another’s comments, a column becomes a discussion. We begin to see social media interaction occurring and a shift from the one-to-many model to a many-to-many model. One best approach is to allow the user multiple ways to either comment as a guest, sign-in, or login to one of their social media accounts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, OpenID, Yahoo, or Microsoft’s Windows Life).

Most modern blogs are moderated or reviewed thoroughly by filtering systems and moderators. This is because blog SPAM or content SPAM is used heavily to take advantage of the open nature of comments in the blogging software via repeatedly placing comments into blog posts that provide nothing more than a link to a spammer’s commercial Web site. SPAM is huge maintenance problem.  

  • Social Sharing Icons— At Dirigo Design & Development, we deploy a blog hub-and-spoke model that leverages blog content as the destination, and off-blog social media participation and other content syndication as outposts. Blog content needs to promote the brand and produce measurable return on investment. The blog might have Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, or YouTube linkages used to extend the conversation, re-purpose, or mash-up blog content.  

If your content is not easily shared, it is hard to build a readership to your blog. Use social media icons throughout the homepage, individual posts, and RSS feed, so that readers can easily share content with friends and social community members. The Facebook “Like” and Twitter "Retweet” features are universal blog elements. If you add social features to your blog, understand that to make them effective, resources should be spent on those off-blog social channels.

  • Content Organization via Tagging— A blog must have a method of organizing content. When a blog includes categories, you will usually find a list of the categories in the left- or right-hand navigations. Most organize content into categories and by chronology/date. Tagging is the most popular way of organizing content. Tag clouds or word clouds (weighted word-count lists reflected in the visual design) are typically used to organize content. They may be laid out sequentially (arranged either horizontally or vertically); sorted (arranged alphabetically or by some other criterion such as popularity or date posted); with a circular layout (positioning the most popular tags centrally and tags with decreasing popularity towards the borders); or in clusters, in which the distance between tags follows criteria such as semantic relatedness, with the most related tags positioned most closely. Tags are usually hyperlinks that lead to a collection of posts associated with the keyword phrase (an index page listing all of the posts associated with that tag).  

  • Navigatio n— Make it easy to find content within the blog. Useful navigation elements include: categories, newest posts, tags or tag cloud, search box, recent posts, popular posts, and most commented posts. You certainly don’t need to build in all of the above-mentioned, but most of them are quite useful. Many blogs provide an archived collection of blog posts categorized by month and year. Other blogs in addition will provide subject categories as a means to correlate related postings. This element serves to provide readers with broader exposure to the thoughts and ideas presented in the blog.

  • Mood Iconography— Some blogs use a set of icons to represent their current mood. With the rise of social media and greater interconnectedness and “friending,” services have developed that allow blog users to record moods as a means to express current preferences and one’s mood at a given time. One such service states simply that they “help you keep in touch with how you and your friends are feeling.” Friends must register with the service to benefit, and buddy lists can be generated that track the mood of each member of the list. A mood history can also be generated with this service, tracking the changes registered by users. Links relating to a given mood; books on moods, feelings, or on subjects related to a given feeling; forums and discussion sites on mood and feelings; and a better understanding of oneself are among the benefits claimed by the service.  

  • Technorati Tags— Technorati is an Internet search engine for searching blogs. Technorati looks at tags that authors have placed on their blogs. These tags help categorize search results, with recent results coming first. Technorati rates each blog’s “authority,” and the number of unique blogs linking to the blog over the previous six months.

  • Syndicated Content— Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequent works. It is a mechanical technique to receive and syndicate content. A blog publishes content to a specific address called a feed using a specific format. Feeds include full and summarized text, as well as metadata such as date, author, and tags. Users and content aggregators subscribe to blog feeds. They benefit the subscriber by offering timely updates from favored websites or by aggregating feeds from many sites into a central location.  

Subscribers retrieve content using programs such as NetNewsWire, NewsFire, Blogline, Sage, Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Reader, Windows Live Hotmail, and so on. These programs, which are often referred to as RSS Readers , check the RSS feed address at intervals (e.g., every 30 minutes) for updates. When an update is detected, the RSS Reader notifies the user of the update. Seasoned RSS users have a standalone RSS reader of choice. Casual business users tend to gravitate toward MS Outlook or Entourage (Outlook for the Mac).

News aggregator websites (e.g., Google News) collect RSS syndicated content using algorithms that carry out contextual analysis and group similar content together. Many aggregators are hybrids known as mashups. The most common type of mashup is a web page or application that uses a combination of RSS from multiple sources. Data mashups combine similar types of media and information from multiple sources into a single representation. In combination, these resources create a new and distinct web service that was not originally provided by either source. The better aggregators (e.g., the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post) layer in a selective process exercised by human editors. Aggregators reduce the time and effort needed to regularly check many websites, creating a “personal newspaper” or unique information space.

Subscribe options should be easily accessible. Users should be given the option of subscribing to your blog by RSS or e-mail .

  • Update Service— Blogs should publicize new posts by letting blog search engines and feed aggregators know about changes. Update services are tools used to let other people know you’ve updated your blog. The most popular service is Ping-o-Matic which, with just a single "ping,” will let many other services know that you’ve updated. Blogrolling scripts check update services to troll for new content. When content is found, it is published quickly. Update services are free. There are more than 250 different XML RPC Ping Services. Dirigo’s Payson Welch has assembled a complete list of ping services (why, because he’s a geek and has built a program to ping all).  
  • TrackBack & Backlinks— The primary form of interaction with blog readers is accomplished via comments. By allowing readers of a blog to post comments, the distribution of information shifts from one-to-many to many-to-many. A blog should have some method of keeping track of inter-blog conversations. A TrackBack allows web authors to request notification when someone links to one of their documents. Popular blogging platforms support automatic pingback when an article is published. Backlinks allows users to employ Google’s search infrastructure to show links between blog entries. A TrackBack is an acknowledgment in the form of a network signal or ping from the originating site to the receiving site.

If a blogger writes a new entry referring to or commenting on an entry found at another blog, and both blogging tools support the TrackBack protocol, then the commenting blogger can notify the other blog using a ”TrackBack ping”; the receiving blog will, most often, display summaries of, and links to, all the commenting entries below the original entry. This facilitates conversations spanning several blogs that readers can easily follow.

  • Content Frequency— A blog should have regularity in its posting frequency. Content should be generated by human editors and not robots or scripts. A blog should post often enough to keep the conversation and interest going in between posts. If what is posted isn’t substantive enough to spark significant discussion, then it’s not really an effective blog. Don’t get too hung up on this point. Creating a large group of engaged followers takes time–sometimes several years. If new entries are spaced too far apart, interest can be lost as visitors fail to find new content, lose interest, and go elsewhere.

Returning to the newspaper analogy, there is no feasible way for a traditional-print newspaper to allow everyone to post feedback and create a dialog. Sure, there is the editorial section; however, newspapers represent one-to-one relationships. Because blogs have the power to change the distribution model to many-to-many, they allow visitors to your website or blog to easily communicate with you and your other visitors publicly. This demonstrates trust, brand, and strengthens your online presence by fostering a social community atmosphere.

  • Content Management Systems —As noted, nearly all modern blog softwares deploy a content management system (CMS). Many include themes, plugins, and widgets, as well as SPAM controls. Three examples include Blogger, MovableType, and WordPress. WordPress is the most popular blog software currently in use. It is an open source CMS, used as a blog publishing application powered by PHP and MySQL. It has many features, including a templating system and thousands of plugins. WordPress MU (for multi-user ), extends WordPress into a community-building platform. Dirigo is also well practiced at deploying custom WordPress blogs. Among desirable CMS features to look for are the following.

    • Generates XML/CSS
    • Integrated link management
    • Permalink structure friendly to search engines
    • Extensive support for plug-ins
    • Nested categories and multiple categories for articles
    • TrackBack and pingback
    • Typographic filters for proper formatting and styling of text
    • Static pages
    • Multiple authors (e.g., Wordpress MU)
    • Support for tagging

Dirigo is an ASP.NET shop first and foremost. ASP.NET is one of three main programming platforms (PHP, JSP, .NET). ASP.NET is a comprehensively well-supported programming platform used for Web development and client server applications (stand alone programs). ASP.NET uses many programming languages (e.g VB.Net, C#, J#, C++ COBAL).

Because we most often integrate our blogs into the website, we tend to use BlogEngine.NET and now we have our own CMS system, which includes an easy, intuitive blog.

Enter the blogosphere

As previously mentioned, Barger is usually credited with starting the first web log in the mid-1990s. The term blog is a shortened version of web log. During the early days of the Internet users started pouring out their thoughts online, and the blogosphere took shape. Early in the first decade of the twenty-first century the blogosphere was segregated from traditional websites and existed as a niche of the web. These days we hear less about the blogosphere as a separate entity. Blogs today are considered more mainstream, even a necessity to successful business practice. For this reason many websites with blogs hire professional bloggers or in-house staff who blog as part of their job description (a technique known as blog seeding).

Note:
  • Technorati defines the active blogosphere as the ecosystem of interconnected communities of bloggers and readers at the convergence of journalism and conversation. It is often referred to as an authority on blogs. Its primary function is that of a blog search engine that indexes and rates blog status. Technorati also hosts the State of the Blogosphere, which collects yearly information about the blogging industry as a whole.

Technorati is a blog search engine, index, and one of the foremost authorities on the blogosphere. So who are these elusive bloggers? They are people inhabiting every continent, writing in over 80 languages across more than 130 million blogs. Below is the composition of bloggers according to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2009:

  • 72% are hobbyists, writing for personal satisfaction.
  • 15% are part-timers, writing to supplement their income. (Independent bloggers take note: As of 2009, according to revisions to the FTC’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” bloggers receiving items for review or payments must disclose that fact.)
  • People who are self-employed represent 9%, with blogging as their sole means of employment.
  • The “pros” represent 4%—these bloggers are hired by large organizations.

Bottom line, a blog is just like a web site—except that it relies on interactive sharing of information, often in the form of the written word, and grows in content through interaction with its audience. Blogs use a variety of different publishing models based on user feedback. One or more blogs can help your business reaffirm your brand and marketing messages by staying in touch with your users and providing a place for them to give you feedback. Anyone with a computer connected to the Internet can start a blog. Integrating a blog into a well executed marketing plan that maximizes ROI can be a difficult task. Writing new blog posts can be as easy as writing an e-mail. It can also require a skilled writer.

Would you like to learn more about how a blog can help your business? Contact Dirigo Design & Development to find out how our professional staff can assist your business to grow its online presence. Our dedicated team members have a wide array of skills to offer, ranging from blog management and analytics to content creation and editing, cutting-edge search engine optimization for blogs and websites, and customer relation management.

Through a close working relationship with our clients we can help you to build your infrastructure, establish your online presence, and propel your business to new heights.

Principal Author: David Addison
Date of Publication: 03/29/2011
Updated: 02/20/2013

References:  
http://technorati.com/blogging/article/state-of-the-blogosphere-introduction/#ixzz0pii3L9FA
http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm
http://thefuturebuzz.com/2009/01/12/social-media-Web-20-internet-numbers-stats/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog
https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Technorati
http://www.uni-due.de/~s400268/Lohmann09-interact.pdf

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