Starting a Blog


Foto: S.Charly / Fotolia

Starting a weblog can be as easy as to write an E-Mail. Content is King: Knowledge about technology or HTML is not necessary, the author can concentrate himself just on the content. 175,000 blogs are created each day – altogether 70 millions weblogs world-wide witness from the popularity of this idea (as of April 2007, doubling rate every 12 months). There are various tools for the creation and maintenance of weblogs. Most easy to use are free web sites like blogger.com (now Google) or wordpress.com. It really works as in the advertisements: 1, 2, 3, finished!

If you choose one of the freely accessible software packages such as wordpress.org or movabletype.org instead, it becomes somewhat more difficult, because they have to be installed on your own web site. But then you are much more flexible and could adapt the blog in accordance to your very needs and requirements. The WordPress software used by the author for various weblogs is open source, the most widespread blog software around, and based on the ubiquitous PHP script and mySQL database. Everyone with even some knowledge in IT can probably help if you encounter problems. If you choose to buy some server space on the web, it can be as cheap as 5 Euros per month to get PHP and mySQL support.

Tools

There is a multiplicity of tools to add value to your blog and thereby strengthen the interaction with your readers. Some are related to RSS (universal language to syndicate content): Tools to extract RSS, tools to merge RSS, tools to manipulate RSS. Some are coming from Google or other comopanies such as conduit.com. But most are Plugins, made available by the giant developer community of wordpress http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/. Many are just nice, some are useful, but that one is really indispensable: Akismet for filtering and deleting comment spam. Further useful Plugins are:

  • AutoClose Comments supports the protection against comment spam.
  • Get Recent Comments shows, like the name implies, the most current comments, as well as references from other Blogs (Trackbacks). Both promote networking and interactivity.
  • WP-Polls let you make votes on your blog.
  • Simple tagging permits the tagging of blog posts and the display of ‚related posts’. 
  • Amazon Media Manager serves announcement and discussion of new acquisitions and is very useful for libraries.

If you use one of the web-based blog hosts, there are less features. However, they offer little “functionality boxes”, called widgets or page elements, which you can drag&drop into the layout template of your blog.

Fig.1: Enhancing the blog with widgets

Feedscrapers

The so called Feedscrapers enable you to extract an RSS feed from literally every web page with list entries. This is extremely useful, if the web page does not offer a RSS feed. A typical example are the press announcements of my university clinic. They display the news to the clinic’s homepage by means of a PHP/mySQL script, however a RSS feed was not offered. After some failed attempts with various Feedscrapers, finally I manage to extract the news with feed43.com and transform them into a regular RSS feed. Now I can universally re-use these news, mixed them with other feeds, and offered them to anyone – in the library’s blog, in the library’s toolbar or in every web pages I desire.

Google Reader

Google reader can be used as a reader for RSS feeds only, but also you can publish public pages with it (“sharing/public pages”). You just define which of your own, subscribed feeds or posts you want to share with the public (“shared items”) by tags or by manually selecting posts. Like competing services such as feedburner.com or feeddigest.com, Google reader offers a HMTL code, which permits the imbedding of the feed into any web page. You will find a nice example at the sidebar of biomedbiblog.blogse.nl.

Yahoo Pipes

Only recently, Yahoo! started a Web2.0-service called Yahoo Pipes, which raised the idea of feed manipulation to a new level. It has a great flexibility; owing to the object-oriented interface you can arrange and work on every feed in the simplest way. The following image shows the Yahoo Pipe for the English translation of the weblog medinfo.

Fig.2: Yahoo Pipe for the translation of medinfo

Library Toolbar

Inspired by Guus van the Brekel of the UB Groningen, since 2004 our library is offering the free toolbar of conduit.com. The purpose was to promote our news feeds with this congenial toolbar, which could be easily installed by users and docks on their browsers. The library toolbar brought an powerful answer for two of the greatest challenges of today: The growing remoteness of the (scientific) user, and the fight for the browser’s start page. The toolbar supplies the catalogues and data bases of the library seaming less to the user. Independently of the very web site the user is viewing, with one click he can use the most important library services, were it catalogs, data bases, news feeds, or can immediately return to the library’s homepage. In order to gain the user, further useful sources were integrated: The German phone directory, the university phone directory, the Google PageRank, the University News, the University Clinics News, local weather forecasts etc. pp. – the toolbar permits almost unlimited extensions. Don’t miss Guus’ workshop at Krakow on Building a Library Toolbar!

First published in Journal of the EAHIL 3(2): 40-43 (2007)

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