So you want to start a blog, do you?

I got an e-mail from a friend the other day:

I have to ask you about how to set up a blog page. My friends in (my former hometown) want me to create one to keep them updated. Only thing is… I don’t know where to begin. Any advice would be most appreciated.

Try not to laugh, but among my offline friends, I’m considered something of a blogging expert. I suspect that’s because almost none of them do it (hey, Cherann!); when you have a niche to yourself, you get to be an expert, I suppose. But I’ve really had to think about what to tell someone who’s truly starting from scratch in the blogiverse.

I made a short-lived attempt at blogging back in the summer of 2006, but I really didn’t know what to do with it at the time, and it lay dormant until March of 2007. At that point I decided I’d use it as a record of my reading, and I re-launched under a new name; since it wasn’t long before I was blogging about quite a bit more than just books, the “randomness” part of my blog’s title was covered. But I’d been reading blogs for awhile, thanks to my rapidly-expanding Google Reader subscription list, and my son has been an on-and-off blogger for a couple of years, so I’d had some exposure to the concept before I joined the party.

Since I really don’t know whether that’s true for my friend or not, I’m inclined to tell her to begin by reading some blogs, to see what’s out there. The very first thing my friend should do is to sign up for a free Google account, if she doesn’t already have one; this will allow her access to Google Reader and lots of other great services. (No, I don’t work for them…) Someone suggested that I just tell her to hit my blogroll for starters, but since my blogroll’s kind of a mix, I’m thinking of giving her a selection of the “personal blogs” (heavy on the “mom” variety) that I keep up with, since that seems like the type of thing she has in mind. Some of these are on many people’s blogrolls, but there’s good reason for that:

Bub and Pie
Busy Mom
A Daily Dose of Zen Sarcasm!
Friday Playdate
It’s Not All Mary Poppins
Parenting Without a License
SoCal Mom
Woulda Coulda Shoulda

(She can subscribe to all their feeds via Google Reader – 0r Bloglines, if she prefers not to Google. And if I didn’t list your more work- or book-related blog here…well, that’s exactly why – different focus, that’s all.)

I would also recommend a rather lengthy but entirely worthwhile homework assignment: earlier this year, Jennifer Satterwhite put together a great multi-post series on BlogHer covering all the basics of starting a “mom blog.” I’m not entirely sure this is what my friend wants to do, but since her reason for doing it is to keep friends updated, and she has a family and all, I’m thinking it’s something along those lines; in any case, I thought the series was a terrific primer for any sort of personal blog. And in my observation, unless you stick very strictly to a news-and-info niche or you’re in the “linky-linky” business, nearly every blog, and especially the non-commercial ones, makes at least the occasional detour into the personal.

Part I concerns selecting a blogging platform. For someone new to the game, I’d say to go with one of best-known free options, Blogger or I’m on Blogger, where all you need to get started is the aforementioned Google account. Sign in, decide on a title (Part II) and a URL, pick a template, and you’re ready to roll. I’ve found it easy to learn my way around. I’ve noticed that one advantage that some of the other platforms have over Blogger is the ability to respond directly to commenters via e-mail rather than posting a reply, and I’d like that option, but aside from that I’m not unhappy with my platform.

One thing my friend will have to think about seriously is whether or not to use her own real name, and the names of her family members, in her blog. Since she’s writing it for friends, she might feel freer to use real names – but the thing about the blogiverse is that you never know who’ll find you. (That’s one of the things that makes my husband nervous, since my blogging activity isn’t exactly veiled.) Jennifer discusses several approaches to this dilemma in Part III.

If you’re going to be blogging about what you and your family are up to, you might want to include pictures (Part IV). Some bloggers aren’t at all intimidated about doing that, and they’re probably using their kids’ real names too. I’m not really sure why you’d use the mixed approach of showing their images but not using their names, but some bloggers do go that route. Others will post pictures in which the kids’ faces are somehow blocked or obscured, but adults are identifiable. That’s pretty much what I do here.

Pictures aren’t a blogging requirement, of course, but they’re easy to post and can be part of your content. However, most of what makes a blog what it is are the words. And when the words are about your family, you do have to consider carefully how much you want to reveal about them, whether or not you’re using real names and faces (Part V). Granted, whether the words are about your family, your work, your hobbies, your neighborhood, or even in response to a meme, you still have to think about how much of yourself you want to put out there because, again, you never know who’ll find you.

Jennifer gets into the “being-found” part of blogging in Part VI. I think many of us start out blogging with the expectation that no one’s going to read a word of it, but before long we may start hoping that will change and we’ll want to be found. If my friend starts her blog, she has a built-in audience in the friends who have asked her to do it. If those friends are bloggers, they may start linking to her, and eventually her posts will show up in searches, and she’ll be discovered by the outside world. And if my friend follows my first suggestion regarding blog-reading and involves herself in the conversation by leaving comments (linked to her blog profile, of course), she’ll be found by even more people – I know that I check out the profiles and blogs of my commenters, don’t you? (Maybe that’s how you found this blog.)

With help from Jennifer, this is my Beginner’s Guide to Blogging. I’m pretty sure that at least some of you reading this have no need for any of this information, but you may have some of your own ideas to share. If you do, please leave a comment, and I’ll include it in what I pass along to my friend.

UPDATED 12/11 to add a link to this post, “Advice for New Bloggers.” She makes some of the same points I already have, but offers some additional perspectives about blog development and inspiration.

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  1. I wish I had come across your post when I first began blogging! I really had no idea what I was doing. My hubby helped me a lot (still does with the more technical aspects such as html coding). Like you are suggesting to your friend, I began by reading other blogs out there to get a feel for what all I might do with my own. I knew I was going to focus on books and keep the personal to the minimum, and it was just a matter of figuring out how I wanted to go about it.

  2. Literary Feline – That BlogHer series I cited came along when I was still pretty much a newbie, and I thought it was really useful – I just hit the highlights here. My blog’s become both more random and more personal than I originally thought it would be, but I don’t seem to get through books fast enough anymore to support a blog just based on that! πŸ™‚

    I think your blog fulfills your aims for it very well. One nice thing I’m learning about memes – through your blog and others – is that they can be personal without being overly so, if that makes sense, so it’s good to work them in.

  3. Hey Florinda, Thanks for the shout out! I’m really not on anyone’s radar yet, so I really, really appreciate making the short list!

  4. I can respond to comments by email, but only if the commenter has an email address enabled on their Blogger profile. (I checked the option to get all my comments emailed to me.)

    When I first started out blogging, I was a bit put off by blogs that demanded an email address. Of course, eventually I caved and set up a Hotmail account for blogging purposes, but for awhile I would only comment on sites that didn’t demand an email addy.

  5. Kimberly – I’m not on all that many people’s radars myself, but that doesn’t stop me from giving shout-outs – happy to include you!

    Bub and Pie – Same here, which is one reason I finally did enable e-mail on my Blogger profile. (I get comments e-mailed to me too.) But if the commenter isn’t a Blogger blogger, or hasn’t enabled the e-mail link, it’s not an option unless I have their e-mail address already for some reason, so I just have to hope they come back to look for a response. And I know sometimes I don’t check back myself, so I don’t assume anyone else will…

  6. I love the little follow-up feature now offered by Blogger. I was using Co.mments for awhile, but it stopped working for me for some reason and so I switched around. I now use Commentful for blogs that don’t have the follow-up feature. With Commentful, I have to go to their site to check for new messages and possible responses to my comment, but at least I don’t have to try and remember where I left a comment. Of course, with the Blogger follow-up feature, the responses are automatically e-mailed to me. They were with Co.mments as well.

  7. Literary Feline – That “e-mail follow-up comments” feature on Blogger is so new, I keep forgetting about it! I have used it a few times (on your blog, as I recall), but I just need to get more in the habit. It does make the whole thing more conversational.

    I was using CoComment for comments on other blogs, but I had some problems with it – I may have to check out Commentful for those non-Blogger blogs.

  8. Cherann – Always glad to do the linky thing! πŸ™‚

    The last time we talked about it, my sister had decided blogging probably wasn’t for her. I’m curious about whether she’ll waver if this friend of ours gets one going, though – we’ll see what happens.