I'm a knowledge junkie. I can't pinpoint exactly when it started, but I recall at some stage in my mid twenties I discovered books can be a really useful source of knowledge. What a concept 'eh? Read a book and suddenly you know some stuff that can let you do all these amazing things. Sure, I'd read Petzold, but that was how to write code that draws circles on the Win16 platform - not particularly mind bending. I think it was Steve McConnell's "Code Complete" that got me started on the knowledge track, as opposed to pure information.
Later on, I discovered newsgroups. Woah! My universe expanded faster than Einstein could make theories, relatively speaking... (ouch, sorry couldn't resist). I found some news groups that were noisy, with lots of newbie questions (like struts-user), but still had the occasional gem. Some had a bunch of really smart people holding lofty discussions around best practices in software design and architecture (such as xml-dev). I subscribed to so many newsgroups I could hardly keep up with the new posts, then one day someone suggested grouping them by conversation - that way you could limit you reading to only those conversations that you cared about. That boosted my bandwidth by a factor of 10 I'd say. Amazing how a simple thing like that can make such a difference.
Anyway, where am I going with this? Well, now its the blog era. From time to time I evangelize the blogging thing. I love getting little bits of micro-content delivered fresh every morning. I love seeing peoples reaction when I explain it - sometimes pity, sometimes disdain. If you are wondering what the blog thing is all about, then here is my beginners guide. I've broken it into two parts to make it simple - reading and writing.
- Blogs - short for web logs - are an online journal that anyone can see. Normally when you go to a web site that is a blog you see the blog entries, starting with the most recent ones at the top. But...
- You don't normally go to a web site that is a blog. What you do is subscribe to the blog. To do this you need to use an aggregator. I use bloglines as it is free, and because it is web based I can use it from home and the office. There are also desktop aggregators - RSS Bandit is supposedly good, but I haven't used it personally.
- To subscribe you need to supply the link to the blog. You'll often see a little orange button with XML on it - like this: . What I do is right click on the image and copy the link location, then paste it into the aggregators "add a new blog" screen. Sometimes the URL of the blog site can be used: http://fishdujour.typepad.com/blog/ will work for example. Failing that, look for something on the page itself that gives you the blog address - on my blog you can see "Syndicate this site (XML)" (top of the page on the right hand side).
- When you subscribe to a blog, you are adding it to your blogroll. The next time you open your aggregator, new blog entries from the bloggers (blog authors) on your blogroll will appear. Over time, you'll add and remove bloggers depending on what content you are interested in.
- One of the tricky things when you are starting out is finding blogs that are of interest to you. One thing I recommend doing is checking out the technorati top 100. This is a list of blogs ranked by the number of people who link to it - a sign that it has useful content. At the moment, bloggers are predominantly geeks, but there are communities forming in all sorts of interest areas. I've heard that family GPs are using blogs as a way to keep up to date with new information on treatments.
- Speaking of links, once you have subscribed to a few blogs you'll notice bloggers who post items that link to other blog entries. This is the blogging way of having a conversation. You may see the term trackbacks used - this is basically a list of blog entries that point to another blog entry.
- If you want to be a blogger, you need to create a blog. There is special software for this: I'm using Typepad, which is a hosted service. Thanh says blogger is OK as well, and it is free.
- Bloggers tend to stick to a subject area when blogging, although that certainly isn't a hard and fast rule. When you create a blog, you can assign a topic to it - "weblogs" is the topic for this entry for example.
- You can create your blog entry using the software, or write it in another editor then cut and paste.
- Blog entries are in HTML so include hyperlinks and images in your entries if you like.
- Typepad has a really nice WYSIWYG editor that has a toolbar button for including links so you don't even have to know HTML. It also has a spell checker.
- A permalink is simply the unique identifier for a blog entry. This is what people link to when creating a trackback. This is created for you automatically by your blogging software.
So that's it in a nutshell.
People are calling the blog phenomena "social software" as it is all about communities of interest, and sharing information. I certainly feel more knowledgeable and connected to emerging trends in my industry since the blogging thing happened. I hope you find it as rewarding as I have.