Quick Take: Getting Started in Blogdom

I have been getting a few requests lately to post some tips about setting up a blog and/or personal web space. I cover mostly blogging here but most of my suggestions can be adapted for other types of sites as well. Without further ado, here are the tools I use, along with some tips, and what I recommend for those just getting started:

Tools

  • Hosting and Registration – I use Dreamhost. They really make hosting fun, simple and cheap. The prices they offer and what you get for that money is simply unbelievable. Their bottom package is only .95 and it gives you 200 gigs of storage and 2 Terabytes of bandwidth. You get one free year domain registration with any new account sign up and additional years or domains only costing .95. It is a steal. Not only that but they have “One Click Installs” for many of the tools you will need to get a blog up an running (more on that later).
  • Blogging Software – I use Movable Type as it is what all of the cool kids use (Lifehacker, Kottke, etc.). That being said, I would not recommend it for a fist time blogger or someone who is uncomfortable with setting such things up. The install can be a bit tricky for a newbie but there is plenty of documentation for those willing to take the dive. For an easier path, I would actually recommend WordPress to a first time blogger. It has a more user friendly interface on the back end, a WYSIWYG style editor for posting, and ( here is the kicker… ) Dreamhost offers it as a one click install. Therefore, very easy setup for someone who does not know how to install web based tools. The other good thing about WordPress is that there are literally hundreds of templates out there that are easy to install to give your site a nice look and feel. Which brings me to…

  • Template/Look and Feel – I do not use a pre-built template for my site. My site design is original and built from the ground up using inspiration dirived from many sources. I am a big believer and fan of minimalist design and less-is-more functionality. The “look and feel” of my site is part of an overall personal branding that is derived from such ideas. In that vein, this look and feel extends to other personal and public documents as well such as my resumé. I think that in our ever more connected and public world, developing a “personal brand” is all the more important and my website reflects that idea. I was able to do this because I have a good friend and web advisor who is brilliant at code wrangling and pixel pushing. Between my vision and his skill we were able to create something unique. That being said, there are some great books out there that give examples of great web design for inspiration. This is where I started. So if you have the skills or know someone who does, it is worth putting in the extra effort to come up with your own unique design.

  • Posting – I actually do not use the Movable Type interface to write and publish most of the posts to my blog. I use an application from Mariner Software called MacJournal. Amongst it’s many stellar features, It has an excellent full screen mode for distraction free writing and I can publish to my blog from my Mac with only a couple of clicks. It is a wonderful tool and now there is even a Windows version. Well worth the money. That being said, there are plenty of other ways to easily push and publish content to your site. Flock, for instance, is a Mozilla based web browser that interfaces with you blog and many other web services such as Flickr and offers a very nice interface for posting what you are surfing directly to your site. The point here is to use tools and processes that make blogging easy because then you will be more inclined to keep up with it.

Tips

  • Find your voice – Blogging is a conversation with the reader. Write as if you are speaking to a friend about all of the cool stuff you are doing or finding on the web.
  • Identify your source – If you are posting about something you actually saw from someone else posting it, make sure to say that. (i.e. “via 43Folders”). Always identify your original source as it is proper “netiquette”.

  • Be original – Blog about something new and fresh or a new and fresh take on something not new. For example, there are a bunch GTD blogs out there now. The world does not need another GTD blog. What would be good is a blog that focuses on how to implement GTD in large groups and organizations – I have yet to see anyone focussing on that.

  • Blog what you love – Of course, the other example is a blog like mine. The fact that I mention GTD so much is that it is that much a part of my life. But I also blog about productivity in the workplace, cool Mac applications, Ubuntu, the occasional Windows app, my wife Princess Bethany, etc.. I blog about all sorts of things that I love or otherise capture my imagination.

  • That is it for now. Not only would I love your feedback in the comments but I would love even more if, when you start a blog or site, post it up in the comments or otherwise send me a link. I would love to see what others are doing.

    Note: Many of these suggestions and tips I originally wrote in a response sent via e-mail to my friend Jonathan Cisco. He has since gone on to start a blog of his own detailing his experiences moving to New Zealand – DreamingNZ.com.

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