Digital Guyana

Posts Tagged ‘blogging

This was a half-day session aiming to build on the blogging lessons from the main course. The idea being to build on the students’ basic knowledge and introduce them to

Tools of the trade

We used WordPress.com in the lessons, but there are other blogging platforms, each with slightly different features.

There are comparisons of the various services at Online Journalism Review and TopTenReviews.

Other useful services that we discussed include:

  • Facebook – a social network
  • Twitter – a flexible micro-blogging tool
  • Delicious – a ‘social bookmarking’ website
  • Google Reader – useful for reading blogs via their RSS feeds
  • Firefox and Firefox plugins – a web browser that is preferable to Internet Explorer in many ways and allows for customisation via easy-to-use plugins.

Blog promotion

Four key concepts:

  • Write good content
  • Post regularly
  • Link generously
  • Comment on other blogs

We also looked at the concept of using other social media profiles as outposts.

It’s worth bearing in mind the basics of SEO – incoming links, keywords in tags and titles, relevant anchor text and regular content are all good.

Also, while online interaction is great, you can’t beat meeting people face-to-face for making longer lasting connections and building relationships.

We also looked at more traditional ways to promote a blog – by telling people about it, adding the URL to email signatures/flyers/posters, etc.

Other tips

The following is a random selection of hints and tips aimed at improving your blogging.

Develop an editorial calendar that will allow you to plan blog posts over the year (including any lead-in/previews).

Consider guest posts:

  • Writing on other people’s blogs will introduce you to a new audience
  • Having others write on your blog will provide your readers with a fresh perspective, a new writing style and it’ll help spread the load of writing new content.

Group blogs are blogs with several contributors. Each contributor may have different topics, days of the week to post on. A group blog spreads the amount of effort required from each person, as well as providing a place for structure and support.

Involve your audience – blogs and social media allow audience engagement in ways that broadcast media do not. By interacting with your audience you can strengthen your relationship with them and learn what content they prefer.

While asking your audience and listenting to them is important, you should be wary of pandering to the vocal minority, whose views may not be representative of all your readers.

Statistics – your can use Feedburner and Google Analytics to discover what your readers (including the silent majority) respond to.

Mix up your blog posts – use video, audio, text and photos to provide a rich and varied experience for your readers.

Write like a person – blogs work well as a conversational medium. It’s much easier to converse with a person than a press release.

Know your target audience – build up an impression of who your readers are, what they like, how they get their information and so on. This will help you write for them. Getting out and meeting your readers face to face (ie at events) will help with this.

Comments guidelines – if you have a lot of people commenting on your posts and moderation becomes necessary, it can be useful to have comment guidelines in place. This will explain to people what behaviour is not tolerated and what action (editing/deleting posts and banning commenters) may be taken if they are breached.

Finally, the best way to learn is to look at other successful bloggers and their blogs and see what they do.

WordPress Pumpkin

We asked the students to log in to their WordPress.com accounts and go back to the blogs they had set up the previous week.

In the HTML part of the course we looked at how to make static pages and link them together to form a coherent website. We explained that WordPress allows you to create static pages too and looked at the pre-existing ‘About’ page.

We edited this page to display information that was more appropriate.

We then created a second page called ‘Links’ and compiled a list of links to the other students’ blogs.

As well as being an exercise in creating pages and working with links, this gave an opportunity to look at how anchor text works and the difference between:

The first two being fine, if a little functional. The third being a good example of descriptive anchor text and the fourth being an example to avoid copying if at all possible.

This point was related to the idea of accessibility – allowing content to be accessed by as many people as possible. We also mentioned other examples such as using ‘alt tags’ to describe images.

We also the idea of transparency and being a good ‘Internet citizen’. For example, by being upfront about any reasons for bias (including potential or perceived), not representing yourself as someone else and crediting sources.

Next we ran through a list of recommended changes to a WordPress.com blog. The blog provided by WordPress.com is good but is generally considered to need certain initial tweaks, including:

  • Deleting the ‘links’
  • Updating profile information
  • Freeing up commenting
  • Adding social bookmarking buttons to posts
  • Changing the theme and sidebar widgets

Going through these changes with the students allowed us to provide a walking tour of the dashboard and the functionality WordPress offers.

Finally, we looked at ways of finding blogs and blog posts on any subject using Google Blog Search, Technorati and Ice Rocket.

(Pic is WordPress Pumpkin by Eric M Martin)

WordCamp 2009

In the first of the two sessions on blogging we introduced the students to WordPress, explaining that it’s a very popular, free blogging service that comes with several useful features including:

  • A visual editor similar to Microsoft Word (with WordPress handling much of the HTML required)
  • A professional look
  • Flexibility to add static pages as well as blog posts
  • RSS feeds

We also explained some of the basics of search engine optimisation, showing why blogs are effect tools for making content more easily discoverable via search engines.

We introduced the students to various bits of blog-related jargon, including:

  • blog – a type of website where the most recent content typically appears at the top of the page
  • post – the name given to an individual article/piece of content on a blog
  • embedding – taking content hosted on another website and displaying it on your own
  • link – an element on a website (often a bit of text or an image) that, when clicked upon, will send the reader to another website
  • permalink – whereas the blog itself will have a domain name, each individual post will have it’s own unique URL, allowing people to link directly to that post, rather than sending people to a page that will change as soon as new content is published
  • ping – a notification, sent to various directories, that a new blog post has been published
  • comments – on most blogs, after each post, readers are able to leave feedback via the comments box
  • trackback – an automated comment that will appear if someone links to an individual blog post from their own blog post
  • sidebar – the strip down the side of the blog which may contain
  • blogroll – a list of links to related and/or relevant websites/blogs that is often found in the sidebar
  • RSS – a clever bit of technology that puts blog posts in a machine-readable format. Allows people to subscribe to the blog so they receive new updates without needing to return to the blog itself
  • uploading – adding a piece of content (photo, audio, video or document to a website from your computer

After signing up to WordPress.com, the students logged into their new blogs’ dashboard and clicked on ‘Visit site’ to see the website that had been created.

We then talked the students through the process of deleting the ‘Hello world’ post and then writing their own first blog post. These were published so that the student could see them on their blogs.

In the next exercise we asked the students to write another blog post, this time including links to other websites (in some classes they linked to each others’ blogs in order to demonstrate trackbacks).

For the students’ third blog posts the students included an image, taken from Flickr.

In some classes, where time allowed, we introduced the students to the various themes available, letting them pick one they preferred.

Having several students all logging in to WordPress at the same time put a certain strain on the internet connection, meaning that these steps took slightly longer than they would if someone was following on their own at home (for example).

(Pic is WordCamp 09 by seanosh)

We sadly had to say goodbye to one our team members on Friday. Pontus, who was only able to participate in the project for two weeks, is now back in London and his job with Futurebuilders.

Before he caught a bit of a kip on Friday night (his taxi pickup to the airport was at 2.30am) we had a few drinks and an unfeasibly large amount of food at a Brazilian restaurant in downtown Georgetown. At said eaterie (we’re not sure if the Brazilian restaurant is its actual name but that’s what everyone calls it) you can either pay 2,500 Guyanese Dollars (about £7.50) for an all you can eat barbeque buffet or pay by the weight. Unsurprisingly, the place is a hit with local volunteers looking to stock up on cheap (and light) veg. The caipirinhas ain’t bad either.

On Saturday, Chris, Matt and me and a dozen or so VSO volunteers travelled to the frontier town of Bartica on the Essequibo River for VSO-er Derek’s 60th birthday party. Derek and his wife Trudie, who also works for the charity in Bartica, had rented out a huge house owned by a logging company on the banks of the river. We shared the building with a nice mix of friendly local volunteers, colourful Barticans and eccentric ex pats, and, all greased by Carib lager and Five Year Eldorado rum, lazed by the pool and the river before dancing into the wee hours.

Swimming pool at large house in Bartica

A memorably fun time was had by all – even if it did feel slightly wrong partying in a former slave house on Emancipation Day with a group of mostly white people. And on the speedboat leg of the journey there and back we passed Eddy Grant’s pallacial residence on his private island – a highlight of the whole trip so far for me!

Teaching as a threesome on Monday felt a little bit strange. But with two of us leading and one of us floating between the two school groups things went really well. Sadly, the local IT technician we’d lined up to help support the last two weeks of workshops now has other work commitments, but if today is anything to go by we should be absolutely fine.

Expect to see this week’s course outlines (Further Blogging and Content and Design Skills) posted in the coming days by Chris and me.

Call me a two-timing rascal, but I’ve been blogging elsewhere since I’ve been out here in Guyana.

The kind folk at Apples & Snakes (the national poetry organisation in the UK) have asked me to contribute some guest posts to My Place Or Yours, a blog-based project they’re billing as:

A new kind of writer residency, exploring real and virtual places across five regions of England

…and now Guyana too.

Anyway, I’ve just written three posts so far:

More to come, especially if the long-promised poetry night ever happens (Tuesday next week, we’re now told).