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   April 2002


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TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE

NOTHING.BUT.NET WITH RICK KLAU

Blog On

The technology behind weblogs makes it easy to start and maintain one of your own. Join the craze.

If I told you I had my own Web page, you’d probably cringe. Personal Web pages are the antithesis of the mantra in Field of Dreams, "If you build it, they will come." No, they won’t. They have stayed away from personal pages—in droves.

So it comes as a small shock that a variation on the personal Web page phenomenon has become an enormous craze. There is an even bigger surprise. The sites are, by and large, great. These new sites are known as blogs, which is short for weblogs.

What’s It All About?

A blog is like a personal journal, where the site owner keeps a collection of links, writings, observations and other comments. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals maintaining blogs today—and they aren’t all college sophomores bragging about the latest concert they attended. Bloggers are truly a cross-section of the online community. And yes, I have a blog.

[As a sidenote, here’s the William Safire part of the column: blog is a noun ("Visit my blog"), a verb ("I blogged half of news.com’s headlines today") and a proper noun ("She’s been a Blogger for years").]

What makes blogs so different from personal Web pages? Blogs have a purpose. They exist to share thoughts, observations and opinions, instead of lists of useless links for friends or, worse, annoying pictures of the family. Blogs are focused on writing—often brief, informal comments with helpful links to other sites (most often other blogs or news sites). And the technology behind blogs makes them easy to update and maintain.

I found out about blogs by accident. While researching something called Reed’s Law, I came to the blog of John Robb. John, president of the company Userland and a former Internet analyst for Forrester Research, was also interested in Reed’s Law and had written about it just a few weeks before—which is why Google led me to his blog. I found dozens of quick posts there—all interesting, current and focused on technology and business. I bookmarked the site, and two days later I was back at it—this time because of a link from yet another site discussing a different topic. The fact that different searches on different days pointed me to the same source spoke to the power of a well-maintained blog. I was hooked.

So You Want to Be a Blogger

With hundreds of thousands of Bloggers on the Net, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are a number of options if you want to start your own blog. Here is a summary of some of the more popular options.

Blogger.com. Credited by many for bringing blogging to the masses, Blogger.com, at www.blogger.com, makes it simple to create, host and maintain your blog. Once at the site, pick a username and password, click on Create a Blog, and you’re off. If you already have a Web site, or space on a Web server, you can simply ftp your blog to that existing location. Otherwise, you can create a free account on Blogger.com’s partner site, www.blogspot.com. You have control over the site’s appearance, using templates that apply to all the pages in your blog.

Creating a new entry is easy. Type your post into the Edit field, click on Post & Publish, and your new content is now online. Blogger.com is free. However, the Blogger Pro premium service provides faster servers, increased functionality and other benefits for $35 per year.

The advantages to Blogger.com are that it is purely Web-based, the interface is exceedingly simple and it is free. The chief disadvantage is that there is no software installed on your machine. That means if you’re a mobile user, you’re limited to posting when you’re online.

Movable Type. Movable Type, at www.movabletype.com, is software that consists of scripts that you install on your Web server. So you’ll need to be comfortable installing and configuring Web server software. If you’re not, the good folks at Movable Type will do it for you for a small fee. While the software itself is free, the company requests a donation (and future versions with increased functionality will likely be fee-based).

Conceptually, Movable Type is similar to the Blogger.com model. Movable Type, though, offers more for those who can do their own programming. And it offers more control over the presentation of the content.

Userland Radio 8. This brings us to Userland, at http://radio.userland .com, John Robb’s company. Userland makes the high-end weblogging software application, Radio. Packed with sophisticated features, Radio gives users complete control over page layout, text formatting and posts archiving. Radio is a terrific program that lets you set up a blog in minutes. But its real power is its ability to support creation of Web services. Radio turns your desktop into a publishing service—publishing not just your blog posts but also other applications that you might be running on your desktop. This feature is likely beyond the scope of what first-time users will want. But it’s a glimpse into the future of distributed, Web-based computing. That alone makes it worth a look.

Radio is the most fully featured option in blogging. The downside? The blog lives on your desktop, so if you use multiple computers, managing the blog can be more difficult (not impossible, but it requires some additional administration).

It’s an Outlet with Archiving and Promotional Merits

Once I started poking around the blog world, I decided to give it a try. This seemed a great outlet for my day-to-day observations on technology and law. In the three months since I started my blog, I’ve also found it is a great tool for capturing sites and news for my future reference. That alone is tremendously valuable. From a promotional standpoint, it hasn’t been bad either. Now that Google has picked up the site, I get five to ten visitors a day who visit solely based on the content that is captured in my blog’s archives.

You can visit my blog at www.rklau.com/tins/. Let me know what you think—and send me a link if you start your own blog!

(Note: My next column will look at how firms can take the concept of weblogging and use it to create a kind of knowledge management effort.)

Rick Klau (rklau@interfacesoftware.com) is Vice President of Legal Markets at Interface Software, Inc. in Oak Brook, IL. He is co-author of the upcoming ABA book The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet (2nd edition).

[SIDEBAR, p. 10]

BLOGSPOTS

www.robotwisdom.com/weblogs:

Though a bit dated, it still has a great overview of the weblog concept and good links to other Web resources.

www.blogger.com:

Visit the "How to" and "Discuss" links for dozens of helpful tips and tricks to get started.

http://dmoz.org/computers/internet /on_the_web/web_logs:

This contains a directory of weblogs.

www.technologyreview.com/articles /jenkins0302.asp:

Read about "Blogs as the Digital Renaissance," in an article by MIT’s Comparative Media Director, Henry Jenkins.