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How to Get Into Blogs, 101

Update:

Given the continuing popularity and interest in this post, I’m moved it over to our wiki here. That way, if you have suggestions or improvements you’ll be able to make them there easily. Comments here will get read by me, but I’d suggest any updates/improvements be made on the wiki itself.

Thanks – sog

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Ok, for those of you who are regular blog readers, you may as well stop reading now. Just skip this one. The purpose of this post is to give the many people who still haven’t gotten into blogs – i.e. not my regular readers – a simple, step by step example of how to dip a toe in the blogging waters. I talk to multitudes of people – whether they work for ISVs, enterprises, PR firms, or the neighborhood general store – who:

a.) have little idea what blogs are and are all about
b.) aren’t convinced that they should care
c.) don’t really know where to start with blogs

I’ll try to address A and B here a bit, but mostly focus on C.

So Why Read Blogs?

I won’t seriously tackle the “why you should care” here mostly b/c there are too many reasons to list in one place and each person’s reasons are different. But briefly, if you’re in the technical field, here are a few quick reasons to read blogs:

  1. You get a direct line into the thinking of important people in the field, think Jonathan Schwartz or Tim Bray (Sun), Miguel de Icaza or Nat Friedman (Novell), Bob Sutor or Alan Brown (IBM), Don Box or Robert Scoble (Microsoft), Adam Bosworth (Google), Dan Gillmor (San Jose Mercury News), Jon Udell (Infoworld), Steve Gillmor, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, and many others. It’s unfiltered and in their own words. This means a lot of typos and misspellings (my blog being exhibit A of that), but also an up to the minute take, in their own words.
  2. Reading from a news aggregator is a *much* quicker way of reading news. For example, when I log in in the morning and hop over to Bloglines, in one interface I can see what around 70 people, along with news outlets like the NY Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe, or groups like Java.net, the Mono Project, Google, or GNOME have to say. Sure beats visiting the hundred or so websites individually to see if they might have some updated content to read.
  3. The group mind knows things that one mind can’t. There’s no better example of this than Slashdot, where a post will bring thousands of different opinions and facts together in one place. That sort of group aggregate information assembly is very difficult if not impossible for one person, but trivial for the blogging world.
  4. You get a much better picture of the individuals involved; what they’re working on, what their concerns are, sometimes even what their favorite restaurant is. It’s a different way to build relationships. Not a replacement for personal interaction, of course, but one that has its place and has a lot more scale to it. If you’re a PR/AR person trying to get my attention, for example, it might help to know something about me.
  5. You heard it here first. Blogs very commonly have announcements and news long before the mainstream media has heard, digested, and written it up. It’s a nice complimentary source for the mainstream media, and it’s a highly effective tap into the pulse of important news and announcements.

There are a lot more reasons, but those are a few of the biggies.

And that’s all the convincing I’ll do here.

So, How to Read Blogs?

I’m going to keep this as simple as possible for the sake of explanation, length and convenience.

To be clear, each of you could simply visit each blog you want to read individually – like mine – by visiting the actual webpage. But as you need to check more and more of them, it becomes overwhelming. Much as I might like to think my opinions are insightful, amusing, or at least worth looking at, I can’t reasonably expect everyone I work with or speak with to visit my blog every day, mostly because they have no guarantee that anything’s changed. So just take my word for it, if you’re going to read blogs you need a ‘reader’ or ‘aggregator’. The purpose of these is simply to bring all of the different feeds you might read together in one place. Rather than visit 100 sites, I visit one. Makes it MUCH easier to keep up with everything. I can do 2 hours of research in a half hour.

Anyhow, I’ll be walking through setting up a reader in Bloglines, which I use, but be aware that there are a multitude of other options available both as online services or email client-like readers. The Bloglines setup is easy for many people simply because they don’t have to download and install anything. So without further adieu:

The Short Version:

1. Head to www.bloglines.com and register an account
2. Find a feed you want to add and copy it
3. In Bloglines, click “My Feeds” then “Add” and paste the feed link in that window
4. Click subscribe
5. You’re done – that’s all there is to it

The Long Version (with pictures)

Step 1. Get a reader:

Head to Bloglines and register an account. All you need to provide is an email and password. Click register, and it’ll do the email confirmation thing common to many web applications these days. Click the validation link in the email you receive, and your account is all set.

Step 2. Prepare to Add Feeds:

On the Bloglines page once you’ve logged in, click the “My Feeds” tab on the upper left. You’ll only have one feed in there – the Bloglines one. You now need to add more feeds. Before we get there, let’s take a minute to examine what a ‘feed’ is. In layman’s terms, a feed is essentially a summarized view of a blog (or other webpage), stored in a file. This file is available on the internet and contains information about what people have posted in their blogs; each site has their own, sometimes more than one. The ‘reader’ – the Bloglines account, in this case – simply looks at that ‘feed’ at regular intervals, and tells you when there’s something new. So rather than you visiting tens of webpages every day, a few times a day, the reader/feed combination does that for you. Feeds may be listed on pages as text or graphics saying “Atom”, “RSS”, “Syndicate this Site” or “XML”, but for your purposes it doesn’t really matter. They’ll mostly likely work just fine with Bloglines. They’re just feeds.

Step 3. Find Feeds to Add:

Over time you’ll probably accumulate more and more feeds as you find new sources, and I’ll have some a few suggestions for you at the end, but in general you should look for feeds from the sources that interest you. Those might be people, they might be newspapers or magazines, or it might be industry groups or organizations. For now, however, let’s walk through how to add one feed. As an example, we’ll take Jonathan Schwartz’ blog, as it’s one often visited and cited in the technology world. Assuming that you can find the blog using Google (click here if you can’t), you’re presented with his page, seen below. Take the URL or page link – http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan in this case – and proceed to step 4.

Step 4. Subscribe to Feeds:

Click on “My Feeds”, then under that click on “Add.” That’ll give you the Window seen below. Simply insert the URL you got above into the space labeled “Blog or Feed URL” and click subscribe. It’ll give you another screen, but don’t worry about those options for now, simply click Subscribe. Voila. Now, whenever you log into Bloglines, the lefthand pane will contain that feed, and make it bold if there’s new content. Click on it, and you can read through them all. And that’s it. You’re now an
official blog reader. Kudos, congratulations, pat yourself on the back, etc.

For extra credit, you can also bookmark this link and use it to subscribe to feeds in Bloglines. When you come to a page you want to subscribe to, like Jonathan’s blog, click the bookmark and Bloglines will try and find a feed to subscribe to. And if you find yourself not reading one of them, just delete it. Simple as that.

Step 5. Find More Feeds:

You will, however, probably want to add more feeds for your perusal. Here’s a few of the feeds I read so you can pick and choose by topic area. Simply cut and paste the feed link into Bloglines as in step 4 above. Also, be creative. Look for other blogs that interest you. Politics has a ton of blogs, but maybe for you it’s gardening. Home remodeling. Yachting. Whatever. Point is, there’s a blog for just about every subject, you just have to look for it.

Any follow up issues, pointers, complaints, concerns, issues, questions, queries, corrections, etc, just click the comments link below and drop them in.

Enjoy your blogs.

Just click “Add” in Blogines and paste these in there and you’ll be all set.

the most important, of course – us! :)

RedMonk:
James Governor – http://feeds.feedburner.com/JamesGovernorsMonkchips
Stephen O’Grady – http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady/index.rdf

a few others to peruse, but bear in mind this is just a few taken at random from my list. there are literally thousands if not millions of others available.

Marketing:
Seth Godin – http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/atom.xml
Radiant Digital – http://feeds.feedburner.com/RadiantDigital

Microsoft:
Robert Scoble – http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/rss.xml
Josh Ledgard – http://blogs.msdn.com/jledgard/rss.aspx

Google:
Adam Bosworth – http://www.adambosworth.net/index.rdf
Joe Beda – http://www.eightypercent.net/rss.xml

Novell:
Erik Dasque – http://primates.ximian.com/~edasque/erik.rss2
Miguel de Icaza – http://primates.ximian.com/~miguel/miguel.rss2
Nat Friedman – http://www.nat.org/rss.xml
Robert Love – http://tech9.net/rml/log/?flav=rss

IBM:
Alan Brown – http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/dw_blog_rss.jspa?blog=353
Bob Sutor – http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/dw_blog_rss.jspa?blog=384
Ed Brill – http://www.edbrill.com/ebrill/edbrill.nsf/blog.rss

Sun:
Jonathan Schwartz – http://blogs.sun.com/roller/rss/jonathan
Tim Bray – http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/ongoing.rss

Comics:
Calvin and Hobbes – http://www.livejournal.com/users/calnhobbes/data/atom

Technology Links:
Java.net News – http://today.java.net/pub/q/news_rss?x-ver=1.0
Project Mono News – http://www.mono-project.com/news/index.rss2

Columnists:
Jon Udell (Infoworld) – http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/rss.xml
Dan Gillmor (San Jose Mercury News) – http://weblog.siliconvalley.com/column/dangillmor/index.rdf

Legal Issues, etc:
Lawrence Lessig – http://www.lessig.org/blog/index.rdf
Wendy Seltzer – http://wendy.seltzer.org/blog/index.atom

IT Governance and Controls Links:
The Business Controls Caddy – http://www.controlscaddy.com/A55A69/bccaddyblog.nsf/stories.xml

News Links:
Washington Post Technology News – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/technology/rssheadlines.xml
New York Times Technology News – http://www.nytimes.com/services/xml/rss/nyt/Technology.xml
(Want more NY Times feeds? Then visit http://www.nytimes.com/services/xml/rss/index.html)

Sports Links:
Boston Red Sox News – http://syndication.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox?mode=rss_10
ESPN’s Peter Gammons – http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/rss/columnist?name=gammons_peter

Update: Added a few more feeds for your reading pleasure.

Categories: How To's and More.

  • http://radiantdigital.blogs.com George Dearing

    Thanks for including us in the Marketing list of blogs!

    Cheers,
    George
    http://radiantdigital.blogs.com/radiant/2004/09/b

  • http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady sog

    no problem at all. happy to link to such a useful resource. and thanks for the link back ;)

  • http://www.controlscaddy.com/ Christopher Byrne

    I feel so left out:-(..but seriously, you should add Ed Brill's blog (http://www.edbrill.com) to the list.

  • http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady Stephen O'Grady

    Sorry to have omitted you, Christopher, but you're in there now. As is Ed.

    Would that I could put my whole blogroll in there, but it's simply too many.

  • http://jameselee.myblogsite.com/ James E. Lee

    Thanks for the write-up; that saves many of us "blog evangelists" some work. You probably saw that Michael Hyatt (blog: Working Smart) referenced this article, which is how I found it.

    You might consider making a note about the value of Bloglines' "Clip Blog" feature, since that's a great way for people to use each other as filters for interesting content.

    I wrote a short summary of Clip Blogs in my article "Why I have 2 blogs", at:
    http://jameselee.myblogsite.com/blog/_archives/20

  • http://amediadragon.blogspot.com jozef Imrich

    In a nutshell, the reasons above explain exactly why I read blogs ;-)

  • http://barry.kelly.name Barry Kelly

    I recommend a standalone, offline blog reader: faster response times and can notify you when a new blog entry comes in.

  • http://afish.typepad.com AF

    On Why Read Blogs: "…And that's all the convincing I'll do here."

    Hah! It took me a while to use the reverse psychology method, and say "if you don't want to read blogs, you shouldn't read them." Only then did they come after me "but I want to know! Convince me!" Ahhh…the tables turned.

  • http://www.2ks.com.br Cleber Mori

    Nice article! Would you mind if I make a traduction of your text to portuguese? I would like to post on our site, with the appropriate references to this site and everything…

  • http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady sogrady

    hell no, Clem. i'd be honored for you to translate it. the more people it reaches, the better.

  • http://www.gbgames.com/blog GBGames

    Another reason to use Firefox: Active Bookmarks.

    If a site has an RSS feed, Firefox will display a small icon at the bottom right of the window. Click on that and you can subscribe to a feed as if it was a bookmark. Now, under your Bookmarks, you can see the last few entries in a blog as if they were bookmarked individually. It automatically updates. I love this feature and it got me hooked on blogging.

  • http://librarysupporter.blogspot.com Marianne

    Very nice article! I do a Library Support Staff blog with a Bloglines feed and would like to feature it, then link permanantly.

  • http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady sogrady

    thanks to all the new visitors, and please, feel free to link and/or repost (with credit, of course) as you see fit.

    the more folks that migrate to aggregators, the better.

  • http://www.mindsharer.com/ Leon

    Very good article! I hope I can introduce something that really related to this topic on blog, sogrady – http://www.mindsharer.com/articles/category/blog/

  • Eric

    Could you please be more specific about how this saves so much time. I read blogs all the time.
    I go to my own list of blogs at del.icio.us/EricOse/blog, then using that list open the blogs in new tabs. With my broadband loading them in the background it takes no time at all. Then if nothing has been updated it takes just seconds to notice that. Some blogs don't update frequently, those I just click on occasionally. I got myself on bloglines as you described to try it out. So from what I can tell; you click on the feed, whereas I click on the web page, correct? So where is the time savings?
    I'm not technically an idiot, or a technical idiot; I'm just not understanding why this is so great.

    OK so I was looking at your website more, and noticed your blogroll (um…yeah). Your surfing and mine are not the same. However just how does 2 hours get done in 30 minutes? Because I have to tell you I surf for more than 3 hours sometimes (unfortunately, not professionally).

  • http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady sogrady

    basically it works like this: i only ever see the sites that are updated. i don't need to open each and every site as you might. and it's not once a day; say i want to check in multiple times per day. with your way, you open each and every site multiple times per day. with bloglines, i do one quick scan and know exactly what's been updated.

    del.icio.us is a great service, but not an aggregator and thus doesn't have the ability to simply show updated posts.

    if you only read a couple of sites, it probably won't make a difference, but as soon as you start getting above the 5-10 range it makes a big difference.

    but in the end, use what makes sense to you. if you don't like using an aggregator, don't. in my experience, it's a big time saver; maybe for you it isn't.

  • Dennis

    I need to start at a more basic level.

    1) What is a BLOG

    2) How do I start my own and make it available to others

    3) Why should I do this?

  • bil

    Great info on blogs here – thanks a lot.

  • Stephen (Toronto)

    great article! thanks for "unmuddying" it for me

  • Applet

    Hi, this is a great post. I was directed here from your wikipedia posting.

    But my question is (as a non-programmer / non-expert blogger), is that on Bloglines, I find posting links doesn’t seem to work? How do you get yours to work?

    For example, if I copy & paste the coding that is in your blog (for a link) into mine, my blog only shows the code and doesn’t show the link?

    i would say hyperlinks are pretty integral for a blog. So for a beginner, how do I get this to work? (or simply, why doesn’t it work?)