What is a Blog?
At a conference in New York City two years back (the first formal conference ever on the subject of blogging), panelists at a roundtable discussion were asked the inevitable question: “What is a blog?” A huge argument ensued because no one could agree on a single definition.
While even the experts can’t agree on what a blog is, everyone agrees that blogs are fueling something significant.
So what is a blog? For purposes of this article, I’m defining a blog as a running commentary on a subject, presented in “diary” format, made possible through special software that makes publishing the commentary on the Internet easy and quick.
The fastest way to get your brain around the definition above is by seeing some examples:
Boing Boing Blog
These three popular blogs each probably have a readership comparable to that of a mid-sized daily newspaper. In fact, Slashdot has so many readers that it can it spawned the “Slashdot Effect”. That happens when so many Slashdot readers are trying at the same time to access a particular Web site mentioned in the publication that it causes the aforementioned site to crash.
These three blogs, and thousands like them, built major readerships with just some clever prose and a little technology – really something anyone, say even an author, can do.
The Software That Makes Blogging Blogging
There are lots of blogging services as well as software packages out there. For example, Salon has a popular blogging service (http://www.salon.com/blogs/), as does BlogSpot, now owed by Google, (http://www.blogger.com/start) and TypePad (http://www.typepad.com/)
But my personal favorite is WordPress (http://www.wordpress.org/).
Our company, BookLocker.com, is a self-publishing services company. We offer independent authors a cost-effective way to get their books into the marketplace. I installed blogging software on our server and we now offer free blogs to Booklocker.com’s POD authors.
Real Simple Syndication (RSS)
Another important dimension to blogs is Real Simple Syndication, or RSS for short. RSS is a way to format information so it can be easily shared between Web sites. Essentially, RSS is a special file that contains summaries of the most recent updates to a Web site. Having these updates out there in a universal format (specifically, a format called XML) means that if a piece of software looks at your RSS file, it has an instant summary of the most recent information contained within your site. The URL to your RSS file is known as the RSS feed. So when you hear of people “pulling a feed” from a site or “updating a feed,” it refers to the process of accessing or updating the RSS file. Our website, WritersWeekly.com, is available in RSS (http://www.writersweekly.com/index.xml) as well as by email each Wednesday.
Since the data is in a standard format, sharing that data for use on other Web sites becomes a simple exercise. For example, using RSS I can take the last three entries from one of our author’s blogs and automatically put them on his book’s sales page – creating cross-promotion between the two.
But probably an even more dramatic example of the power of RSS is Feedster. It is a search engine driven entirely by RSS feeds. Feedster basically monitors all the RSS feeds submitted to it for changes. When Feedster detects a change, it sucks down the content associated with the change into its database. People can then use Feedster to search this content.
RSS was actually around long before blogs. But it wasn’t until blogs came along that RSS took off. Most blog software and services automatically create an RSS feed, hence the link between the success of blogs and RSS.
The Practical Applications for Authors and Publishers
So let’s put it all together and see what blogs and RSS mean for authors and publishers.
An obvious application for authors and publishers is to create their own content using blog technology. I can tell you from the tests here at BookLocker that blogs do sell books. But the trick is that the content has to be well-written and published frequently. There is nothing worse that a stale blog. And it often takes several months before one can build a significant readership.
Some blogs run by BookLocker’s authors are:
Tim Leffel’s Cheapest Destinations
The Powers That Be
The Portable Writer
Warrior Women Inc.
Senior Center Murders
Another application that isn’t so obvious is using RSS to monitor content on other blogs for opportunities to plug a book. If you go to Feedster and plug in some search terms, you’ll receive all the blog posts that reference those terms, including the date and time they were first published. Monitoring this on a daily basis helps you find opportunities to inject your own commentary (many blogs allow readers to post comments on a topic).
Here are some additional blogging resources:
Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content
By Biz Stone
Lockergnome’s RSS Resource
Ranked Popularity Listing of All the
Major RSS Search Engines and Directories
After years of making other people money in exchange for vague promises of Internet-based wealth, Richard Hoy struck out on his own in the Spring of 2000. Together with his wife, they formed BookLocker – a company that provides a low-cost, turn-key publishing and sales environment for independent authors. In addition, the company owns WritersWeekly.com, offering freelance job listings, new paying markets and more every Wednesday.