Recently I got an e-mail from someone – we’ll call him 'Olde' - who has only used the internet for research but in so doing came across my blog. Having found some useful things on it (he didn’t say which blog – presumably not this rambling creation) he asked if I could tell him “ What is a blog?” Gosh, how long is a piece of string? The latter may be unanswerable but for those like ‘Olde’ who haven’t visited blogs on a regular basis I thought I’d have a go at an answer. I’m sure that your comments will add to my thoughts. Here goes.
Basically a blog is the computer equivalent of a blank notebook. The background design etc. differs from blog to blog just as one notebook might differ from another but nearly all have a ruled column down one side of each page (called the side-bar) about which I shall write more later.
If you are given a blank notebook you may use it for whatever you like – the weekly accounts, a diary, a record of birds seen in the garden, a note of your visits to the doctor. Whatever. And only you can write in the notebook (unless you invite a friend to do so). But the notebook remains private. Here is where the difference begins. A blog is almost always public (though private blogs are possible). It is a way of sharing whatever is in your notebook with the world. It has the added advantage of you being able to illustrate it with photographs. Indeed the main objective for some people is to share their photos with the world.
If your notebook is simply a poorly-written diary of your day to day life mucking out the pigs or a whinge about your health issues it is likely to have few readers. If your blog is full of interesting snippets of information and is written in a style that people enjoy it often has more readers, some of whom become ’followers' – that is people who get notified every time you add a new page (a post as it is called). New people come to your blog by two main methods. Word of mouth tends to be the main one. One blogger will recommend another or mention that a particular post was of interest and link to it. The second is by people searching for a word or phrase or a picture on a search engine and being led to your blog. So someone putting in ‘Lewis Chessmen’ was led to my Isle of Lewis blog just yesterday even though the posting about them was done twelve months ago.
Just as your notebook may be subject specific so too may a blog. It may be about recipes, book reviews, collecting stamps, Harry Potter, household tips, gardening or any other subject under the sun. In my case, for example, I have various blogs (many of which are inactive – i.e. I have not posted in them for a while) such as one about Exeter, where one of my daughters lives, and one about the Isle of Lewis where I stay most summers with my brother who lives there. Other people, by writing about their home town and what they consider ordinary, may create a blog that fascinates me because their buildings, lifestyle, culture etc. appear so exotic compared to mine. And no doubt there is a vice versa to that. Someone in Malaysia may find the trivia of life on Merseyside fascinating.
My main blog is a general one appropriately entitled ‘Rambles from my Chair’. It rambles from being a diary to a reminiscence about things in the sixties or a cute baby animal I heard about being born in a zoo or maybe a brief note on an animal becoming extinct, a book review, or a recipe for fruit juice. I try to avoid politics and religion though the history of the occasional Saint’s Day might get a mention or I might comment about the badger cull. I try to keep it suitable for all ages and all backgrounds and, most of all I try not to offend people. I don’t see it as part of my job to denigrate anyone (though I did once have a serious go at the American politician Sarah Palin) or put down any particular race, colour, creed, etc.. After all, why should I consider my views in that regard to be of interest to others or more worthy of being heard.
By contrast some people write political blogs while others show the depth of their devotion to their religion. Some of these can be interesting, simply because they are so informative or so well written that their style appeals. Or they may be accompanied by photos that are excellent. I can happily live with these so long as the person doesn’t work too hard telling me off if I’m not a believer. I like them to offer me the same courtesy I offer them by not denigrating anyone who is not of their way of thinking.
So that is the basic concept of a blog and its posts. The blogger may post as frequently or infrequently as they wish but in most cases there is a comment box. In that ‘visitors’ to the blog are invited to make a comment. It is not compulsory and many visitors leave no trace of having been on the blog except as a statistic. (One can check how many visitors a particular post had, etc.) . Others, like myself, tend to comment on every visit so that the person is rewarded for the effort of writing, to make our views known, to answer a question of theirs (I love identifying people’s insect and animal photos), to relate a similar or dissimilar experience, or simply to say how interesting the information in their post has been or how beautiful the photos. Sometimes a comment will invite a reply and a mini-correspondence develops beneath the post itself.
As you will notice if you visit a blog there are often two columns – the main posting one and a side-bar. This side-bar can be used for all sorts of purposes. Most people include in it a lead to their profile (a description as brief or as complex as they like about themselves). There is usually a search engine which searches that particular blog for keywords. Some people include links to their favourite blogs or blogs done by other members of their family. Depending upon which server hosts the blog – most of mine are on Google’s Blogger (identified by the word blogspot in the address) – one may also list one’s followers. These are the people who have chosen to be notified on their blog ‘dashboard’ or ‘reader’ when you make a new post. In many cases the sidebar also allows you to subscribe to be notified by e-mail when a person posts, though the e-mail is a bit slow to be sent. There might also be advertising – either organised by Google or done privately (I advertise a friend’s vintage store), links to the titles of earlier posts, a link to one’s Facebook page or some other social network (if one has one). Indeed one can use the sidebar for almost anything.
Only when I’d finished did I realise the length of my answer but I thought – well you did ask!!!