Most of What You Need to Know About Blogs

This posting was written to support the presentation given at the T4 session, February 15.

UPDATE:  I just switched to Google Reader as my primary RSS  feed reader.  I had been noticing the time lag before Bloglines picked up new feeds for some time.  Today I read Jennifer Macaulay’s post  and decided to make the switch to Google Reader.  As an added benefit, I discovered I was wrong about Google reader not suporting folders.  When I imported my OPML file from bloglines, there were my folders.  Not sure where I got the idea about Google Reader.

Blogs are hardly new so why am I flogging them in this post? Several reasons. This is the start of our (to be) regularly scheduled Third Thursday Tech Talk (T4) sessions for staff and I want to establish a foundation on which new technology issues can be discussed. Blogs are an important source of information about what is happening in technology, information management, and libraries. Blogs also can be used to support departmental activities and serve as a marketing tool for the library.

What do I like about blogs

Libraries spend a huge part of the budget on journals. There is a much shorter time to publish with journals than with books so the information is more current and, presumably, relevant. Blogs serve a similar function in delivering information, though the availability of new information is measured in seconds rather than weeks or months. Blogs are not a replacement for journals but what first appears in blogs may end up in a journal.

UPDATE: I just read a blog post that suggests that blogs might be an alternative to print publications in some instances. Look at the update under If You Want to Start a Blog below.

The Internet is a huge, world-wide, source of information. Trying to find the relevant bits ourselves would be impossible. With blogs, we have millions of writers world-wide posting and commenting and making the information more readily available. According to The Blog Herald, as of Feb. 2oo6, there were over 200 million blogs. This is a cool number to throw around but it doesn’t mean that there are 200 million bloggers. If you start looking for a URL for your blog in WordPress or Blogger you will find that a lot of names have been taken by people who made one post several years ago and haven’t touched it since. Since nearly all blogs support comments, a post can generate an interesting dialog between the readers and the blogger and between the readers themselves. Blog commenters can significantly add to the information presented by the blogger.

There are a large number of blogs devoted to family, pets, hobbies, celebrity antics, and current events but there are also a remarkable number of blogs that support library concerns directly and indirectly by posting on technology news.

I encourage everyone to read widely and don’t limit yourself to only those blogs that directly relate to libraries. Interesting stuff can appear in the most unlikely places.

Managing Blog Feeds

You can access a blog from your web browser’s bookmarks/favorites but that isn’t very efficient. Using this method you would have to visit each website not knowing if the has beesn updated recently and, more importantly, if it had anything of interest to read. By subscribing to a blog using an rss feed reader, it is much easier to manage the blogs you read. A blog reader will tell you if there are new posts to the blog and show you the title and first paragraph or so of the blog posts. You can decide if you want to read the entire post.

An rss feed reader can be web-based and accessed through your browser or located on your PC/Mac as part of email or as standalone client. I am not going to cover desk top feed readers for this discussion. I recommend that you try several of each to find the one that best suits your work style. If you think you might like a client rss reader, check out Blogbridge (in the Deliciosu bookmarks).

I use a web-based blog reader. The most obvious benefit of a web-based reader is that you can access it from any PC/Mac with Internet access — your work station, home, Panero’s, Aromas, hotels, the public library, while you are at the reference desk. Wherever. I’ve tried a variety of feed readers that could only be used from my office computer but have found that the web-based approach works best for me.

Here is a link to some del.icio.us bookmarks that describe feed readers.

Feed Reader Bookmarks

Subscribing to Blogs

When you land on a web site that has a rss feed, both FireFox and IE will display a symbol like thisFeed Icon

Clicking on it will start the process of adding it to your subscriptions. In FireFox, you can associate the feed icon with a feed reader such as Bloglines and Google Reader. Also, if you decide on a feed reader such as Bloglines, you will find that the service provides buttons for your toolbar to view your subscriptions and to subscribe to new ones. There are more nuances to the subscription process that you will discover as you explore.

Mack’s bookmarks about feed readers

The reader I use is Bloglines. It isn’t the most popular but it has one feature that I like. I can create folders into which blogs can be grouped. Google makes it attractive to use their reader which is one of the more popular. With one Google account you have access to their entire suite of products so you have a single login for everything. Other readers I have tried and liked include Alesti and Reddit which you will find in the del.icio.us bookmarks linked above.

Feed readers have a feature that make it remarkably easy to try different products. All of the feed readers that I have worked with have a utility to export and import subscriptions as opml files (outline processor markup language). If you have added subscriptions to a feed reader but want to try a different reader that you think might be better, then create an account on the new service, export your subscriptions from the current reader, and import them into the new one.

For a more technical explanation of how rss subscriptions work, Stephanie Quilao, a blogger in California and Enthusiast Evangelist for Microsoft for the Silicon Valley region has an excellent explanation:

How to Explain RSS The Oprah Way

Library/Information/Technology Blogs

Some of the blogs I follow are listed in del.icio.us with the tag, blogs, Some blogs that Mack reads.

When you start reading blogs you will discover that blogging is a very interconnected community. Bloggers refer to other blogs. I think I started with The Librarian in Black and The Shifted Librarian and built my subscription list by following references to other blogs which led me to other blogs and on and on. Additionally, many bloggers provide a blogroll – the blogs that they follow themselves. I always review blogrolls looking for new source. Check out Life as I Know It and The Shifted Librarian. They both have blogrolls that I have trolled. By the way, Life as I know It is the most excellent blog of a library science student.

Google’s blog search and Technorati are blog search engines. Be sure to look at the options under advanced search.

If you want to start a blog

Now that you are all pumped up about blogs you might want to start one to document the antics of your pets or your political button collection or a cause you are interested in supporting. But lets look creating a blog in the context of our library. Why might you want to start a blog?

One use of a blog might be to market library services such as highlighting new acquisitions with reviews. or describing a new service. Public oriented information.

Another might be internal, to inform library staff of on-going, departmental activities. We have quite a few work study students and such a blog could be used provide them a single source of information since they have widely varied work schedules.

To seed your thoughts along these lines, take a look at Meredeth Farkas’ post Blogs! Blogs! Blogs!. This post is part of the on-line course, Five Weeks to A Social Library. Working Blogs into the Library Structure is another interesting post by a different blogger on the same website.

UPDATE: This blog posts discusses blogging with regard to teaching faculty. The blogger gives a couple of examples where a blog might take the place of a print publication. Publishing Presentation on Academic Blogging.

This blog, Techview, was created as a means of communicating information about technology issues to the Swem library staff . Since we allow it to be indexed on the Internet we get readers from outside the library. Another local example is the TIP Community blog which is the collaborative product of the technology integratration program at William and Mary. The Reference department has The Compass. Note that Techreview, TIP, and The Compass are collaborative blogs which means that one person isn’t tasked to keep the blog current.

When you explore blogs note that a blog posting can take many forms. I can be as short as a sentence “Hey, look at what I found about whatever here.” Or much longer and more detailed. The point is that you shouldn’t fear that you have to write lengthy, finely crafted prose that takes you weeks to compose. Spelling and grammer are important, of course. Personally, I hate to write and if I manage to come up with something to blog about, any one can.

There are quite a few Internet services on which you can run your blog. Two of the best, Blogger and WordPress are free.

Here is a comparison of the top five blogging platforms. Blogger, the top one, is actually owned by Google. This means that Blogger would become another service in the suite of Google products to which you have access with a Google account. There is a real convenience factor here.

When you create a blog you are asked for an email address. For Techreview, we use our departmental email account. You could also create an email account using Google which would facilitate creating a Blogger blog.

Earlier I mentioned that the world of bloggers is very interconnected. That extends beyond beyond bloggers pointing readers to other blogs. Some social network sites allow you to take from their site and post it directly to your blog. f you have an account on Flickr, Digg, or Delicious, for example, you can send an image, story or bookmark to your blog.

I hope that the presentation I gave on blogs as part of our Third Thursday Tech Talk series will inspire you explore more. I also challenge you to consider the application of blogs within the library.

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