Blogs, Blogging, and a Blog-Related Challenge

 

'Blog' in typeset pieces

From Marcel Media, posted December 16, 2010

 

Firstly, happy new year to you all. I hope you had an enjoyable, not over-hyped celebration to bring in the new year. To start off I want to announce my inclusion in WordPress’s Post-a-Week Challenge for 2011. It’s just what it sounds like. I’m committing myself to produce at least one post every week for the next year. This could very well be too ambitious for me, since I only just started my blog a couple of weeks ago, but we’ll see how it goes. What have I got to lose?

 

This post I’d like to take some time to talk a little bit more about blogging and some things that come with it.

A web log, or blog, is what you’re reading right now. If you’ve never heard of or read a blog before, people use them to share their opinions, give reviews, report the news, showcase their talents, or just express themselves.

There are a bunch of different services out there that you can use if you want to start one up yourself. WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr are a few that I’m familiar with. Blogger is run by Google, and is a service I tried using a year or so ago (I mentioned something about this briefly in my first post). At the time I felt as though I kept bouncing between hobbies and so I was going to dedicate my blog to writing about my hobby of trying new hobbies. That blog never really got off the ground. Not because of the service though. I just didn’t have enough interest in my topic of choice to write about it. From what I’ve heard, Blogger is a very good service to use, and since it’s run by Google that shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are a variety of simple themes to choose from, and you can alter the colour schemes and change the layout of the page. Logging back into my empty account with Blogger, all of the tools look pretty simple to use. If you want to see a nice crisp Blogger blog in action (and/or are a Blue Jays fan) check out my brother’s blog, Blue Jays on Fire.

If you’re looking to blog with a format even more simple than what’s offered by Blogger, I suggest Tumblr. Tumblr has a large variety of free themes to choose from, though not much customization in the layout is available after that. You can link your Foursquare account up to it if you have one, so that it will automatically publish your check-ins and other things (it’s not really a selling point, but I thought I’d mention it anyway). The real draw with Tumblr is its ease of use. To start a post with Tumblr, you choose what kind of media your post will focus on from the list of post options at the top of your dashboard:

Tumblr Dashboard

From there, you create your post which will be published automatically in a format that lends itself to the content you included. There is a whole network of people using Tumblr, and it’s easy to search through their directory to find Tumblrs on the topics you’re interested in. Here are a couple entertaining ones that I’ve found thus far: Godzilla Haiku; When Parents Text (and here’s mine – ). Tumblr also has the ability to ‘reblog’ content that you find on other Tumblrs, which lends itself very well to spreading memes and creating a social network feeling to Tumblr.

If you have a smartphone, and want a place online to post cool share-able stuff that you come across during the day, I’d say this blog format is for you. It’s essentially a microblog, though it’s not quite as micro as Twitter is in that sense. Tumblr also lends itself well to photo-blogs, or any other focused blog where writing is secondary to some other kind of content (e.g. video, quotations, links).

But maybe quick and easy isn’t your style – I know it doesn’t seem to be mine. I use my Tumblr for random findings on the net, but I don’t think it really lends itself to expression of any length. For full functionality I make WordPress my blog’s home. I’m not just saying this because I use WordPress and I want to score points with the admin. I did after all mention two other blog services and didn’t say anything negative about either of them. It just so happens that I’ve chosen WordPress, and I’m very happy with it. It’s very functional, and has tons of widgets to add to the site. A WordPress.com blog, hosted by WordPress itself may not be as functional and customizable as a self-hosted WordPress.org blog, but you don’t have to pay for the former, and for now that serves my purposes just fine. However, some of you may remember my mentioning a new project I’m working on. That project will actually give me the opportunity to use WordPress.org’s self-hosted service, which I’m very excited about.

If you were hoping that I’d get talking about blog-related services at this point I’m sorry to let you down. I was going to, but this post seems to be a good length already, so let’s just call it a cliffhanger…

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Twitter and Friends

 

From ArtCulando.wordpress.com, May 28, 2010

From my days as a summer camp counselor, I remember having pre-camp training sessions focusing on how to deal with different types of kids. There were a bunch of different types, and always a slightly different way on how to deal with their particular needs, but the funniest (and only one I remember) is the Attention Kid. An Attention Kid is pretty self explanatory. They do wacky, strange things for attention, and once they get it from you, they do more things to try to keep their audience. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Twitter lets you be an Attention Kid. Or, more accurately, it makes it OK, and even socially acceptable, to let your Attention Kid out. I had some other sites in mind to write about for this post, but leaving Chapters, having just tweeted my location via Foursquare, and proceeding to tweet my completion of secret santa purchases, I realized just how incredibly weird Twitter is.

For those who have been hiding from the internet under an even bigger rock than myself, Twitter is a social network intended to allow you to follow the happenings of friends instantly. You and your friends make posts of 140 characters or less to update anyone you please on what’s doing, so brevity is key here. Apparently one of the biggest uses of Twitter has been the following of celebrities, since this medium lets you get immediate status updates from your favourite stars. I’ve never been to engrossed in pop-culture, so I haven’t made any use of this feature, but I make no judgements – it’s just not my thing. I’ve also dabbled in subscribing to posts from news agencies, hoping to keep myself better informed. But news sites post so many stories during the day, the volume of tweets becomes overwhelming. I’ve found a better way to get your fill of sources that tweet a ton is to make a list of those tweeters, so you can follow them in one place and not have your friends’ posts get drowned out.

Twitter has always raised this problem for me though: I already have Facebook, a place where I can let my friends know what’s going on with me and what I’m doing. Why do I need Twitter?

My answer is…I’m not really sure that you do. But Twitter is different, if only slightly. It isn’t cluttered by all of the applications and information that Facebook has. Twitter is just status updates. No more, and no less. Alright, so there’s a little more, but I’ll get to that. Basically, I’d say that Facebook is for long-term status updates (and basically anything else, because it has a whole profile), whereas Twitter lends itself more towards The ADD kid in you who has to make sure that everyone knows exactly what you’re doing and how you feel about it all the time. Selfish and annoying, but think back to that attention kid. He was always having fun, wasn’t he?

Foursquare also lends itself to this ‘pay attention to what I’m doing all the time’ mentality, and as if that weren’t bad enough, it rewards your Attention Kid behaviour too. Foursquare is it’s own social network, but it connects to your Facebook and Twitter easily enough. It’s purpose: to make you log you daily wanderings. Just dropped into the neighbourhood coffee shop for a cup-a-joe? Check in with your Foursquare account to let all your friends know that you’re there (a smartphone is pretty much essential to make use of this network, though I think it is possible to check in via text message). When you do that, you get some points which are determined by how many times you frequent the place, whether it was your first visit, or even your first visit of the day. These points will add up in some mysterious way, and if you end up having the most points at a particular location you become the Mayor! Alright! Yah! Wait, so why do I want to be the Mayor of J&J Variety? Well, some businesses offer special discounts to Foursquare Mayors, so that’s kind of cool.

Now I’ve had my Foursquare account for a few days now, and I don’t frequent many places, as I’m an incredibly boring individual. But from my limited experience, I’m gonna have to go out on a limb and assume that there aren’t too many businesses that offer these discounts. And I’m gonna further assume that there are even fewer businesses that are even aware of the existence of Foursquare. But maybe not. I’m gonna keep my account regardless of this fact, and the fact that I only have one friend on it (and he doesn’t even live in the same city as me). And in case you were wondering, Foursquare is relevant to this Twitter post, because you can post your check-ins from Foursquare to your Twitter or Facebook account. A feature that is especially necessary when you have vastly more friends to ignore your post on these other networks than on Foursquare.

 

Ever wanted to post pictures with your tweet? No? Me neither. Not yet anyway. But when I get the urge, I have an account ready and waiting for me at Twitpic. Twitpic is exactly what it sounds like. A sit that latches onto Twitter like a leach and lets you post photos alongside your tweets. There’s not much more to it than that, except to say that you can do this with the twitter app on your smartphone (or at least I can on my blackberry), so I’m wondering how long it will be till Twitter pulls the carpet out from under Twitpic and just lets you upload pics itself.

 

How about URL links? Ever wanted to share some of those on Twitter? What about Facebook? Ever been annoyed with the unruly length of some web addresses? Then you need to check out Bit.ly. at Bit.ly you enter a ridiculously long URL, push a button, and get back a nice short one that you can post anywhere like the original link. And if you make an account with them you can keep tabs on all of the links you’ve made with Bit.ly, tracking the number of clicks and so forth.

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