Blog! No, it's not something to order at a pub
Shawn P. McCarthy
You've probably read blogs without realizing it. 'Blog' is short for Web log. These logs are popping up on government Web sites but are usually restricted to small groups and projects.
Blogs started as online diaries published daily by Web developers who wanted to share their observations with others as they worked. Now blogs have morphed into something else because developers'being developers'invented faster ways to publish single thoughts on their sites.
Instead of editing and republishing a page whenever they scribbled a new comment, they built blog tools to add a paragraph or two to an existing page, complete with signature and time stamp.
Blogging has turned into a fascinating hybrid of message board, Web publishing system, content-management tool and community-building effort. No longer a personal diary, the blog is a functional business tool.
Managers use blogs to update their staffs on projects daily or hourly. Rather than maintain an e-mail distribution list, they publish quick lines such as, 'Quality assurance testing completed, 2 p.m.,' with links to the test results. It happens as fast as typing and clicking to publish.
For an example of how Australia's Perth Observatory uses blogs for its staff, visit www.wa.gov.au/perthobs/astronews.html
Blogging started nearly two years ago and has gained popularity. It's reaching critical mass now that new tools permit multiple authors to control the same blog. Plus, users have written Extensible Markup Language and Flash interfaces to enhance the way data is imported and displayed in blogs.
The community pivot point is Blogger, at www.blogger.com
. The site has free templates, tools and advertiser-supported hosting. You can set up your own server to autotransfer all Blogger updates to you by File Transfer Protocol.
It takes five minutes to sign up, step through the Blogger process and publish a Web page with an embedded blog. There's even built-in archiving. After your page goes live, you use Blogger's management system to maintain and publish your pages, even when they reside on another server.
It's essential to know a little bit of HTML. You can tweak a template for a distinctive look with graphics, adjusted column widths and static links on the page.
So far, Blogger is the most popular site because its updates are fast, it has tools to reference your blog from other blogs, and it lets you blog text from sites you visit.
Here are some other Blogger-style publishing systems:DiaryLand, at www.diaryland.com, has a too-cute interface, but you can edit your pages for a slicker look. Your blog must live on the DiaryLand Web site, however, a disadvantage for government users.
LiveJournal, at www.livejournal.com, has a nicer look and feel but seems aimed primarily at community building. Again, your blog lives on the site. The basics are free, but some functions require payment.
GreyMatter, at noahgrey.com/greysoft, is more than a tool. It's a downloadable environment you can install on a server.
If you want to try blogging, start at the Blogger site, set up a page and see if it's right for your office and colleagues. If you find it works well, but you hesitate to manage it on a third-party site, you might want to migrate to the more self-contained GreyMatter system.
Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.