Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blog mechanics: becoming a part of it all

I could have called this post "Be My Shill," but that would have been ... unsubtle.

I only started to blog, regularly and under my own aegis, in mid-February. After a couple of posts I started asking friends and colleagues and reading group members to please add me to their RSS readers, to "follow" my blog, to comment, to cross-link, and to otherwise help me make it look like somebody cared, at least until someone actually does. It takes a while to get a blog going.

Alas, I was met by a lot of blank stares. Some of the blank stares were virtual, some were face-to-face. People asked, "What the heck's an RSS-reader? What is this 'follow' thing you speak of?"

This blog post, in the guise of a helpful orientation to the blog-o-verse -- with a bit of emphasis toward Blogger, the service that hosts One Finger Typing -- is an attempt to make it easier for you, gentle reader, to become a better shill. For me. Thank you very much in advance. (To those of you already following or commenting on my posts: thank you for being a One Finger Typing pioneer. I only wish I had a stash of secret decoder rings to offer.)

This Post in Sound Bytes

This is the 'tell them what you're going to tell them' section. Skip this if you already know you want to read the full post.

  1. Interested in seeing posts from multiple sources in one convenient place, using a 'feed aggregator'? Check out Tracking Posts You Kinda Sorta Care About Without Going Nuts
  2. Want to get in on the conversation, which is what makes blogging interesting? Check out Commenting on Blog Posts
  3. Prefer to keep your conversation out of the public eye? Check out Commenting on a link to a Blog Post on Facebook (et al.)
  4. Are you ready to declare your interest in a blogger publicly, boosting her/his cred by sharing yours? Check out Becoming part of a blogger's community

Okay, here we go:

Tracking Posts You Kinda Sorta Care About Without Going Nuts

Quoting Wikipedia, which purports to know everything,
"In computing, a feed aggregator, also known as a feed reader, news reader, rss reader or simply aggregator, is client software or a Web application which aggregates syndicated web content such as news headlines, blogs, podcasts, and vlogs in a single location for easy viewing" [emphasis added].

That says it all. If you like to keep convenient track of who's posting what, an aggregator is for you.

You can set it up an aggregator to show only a teaser -- generally the title and source/author of posts to blogs (etc.) you are watching. You don't have to dive into the post itself unless it looks interesting. Not unless you're in the mood.

I use Google Reader myself, and I display it as a "gadget" on my iGoogle page. I use iGoogle as my web browser's home page, so I don't have to go out of my way to keep an eye on the stories and posts I'm likely to care about as they come over the wire. That makes it easy to keep track of a bunch of blogs without bouncing around a bazillion websites. I read the ones I choose. I've included a screenshot of what the Google Reader gadget looks like so you can get the idea.

If you're interested in the Google Reader there's an easy way to learn about it: just check out the Google Reader Getting Started Guide, which is a pretty straightforward introduction with plenty of screenshots.

There are lots of other aggregator/reader choices. A mind boggling list of them can be found on Wikipedia's Comparison of feed aggregators page. I'd love to see recommendations from readers of this blog -- just leave a comment, below.

By the way, the easiest way to subscribe to One Finger Typing if you already have a commonly-used aggregator is to go to my blog (you're probably here already, unless you're already using an aggregator...), then click the "Posts" button on the left side of your browser's screen. This allows you to choose from Google, Bloglines, NetVibes, NewsGator, or MyYahoo readers, as well as Atom feeds (Atom is another syndication format, a relative of RSS).

Aggregators will generally let you subscribe to a feed by supplying the feed URL. If you were using Google Reader, you'd simply click on the "Add new subscription" button in the upper left corner of the browser page, and type or copy-paste the URL, e.g., ... simple as that.

Commenting on Blog Posts

Unless the author of a blog doesn't want to hear from readers, you'll find a simple web form at the end of each post that permits people to talk back to the blogger (you might need to click the post's Comments link to see it). Talking back is a lot of what makes blogs worth reading. It keeps a blogger honest. It gives readers alternate points of view or more information about a topic they care about. It tells the blog author that what s/he's blogging about is interesting. To somebody, at any rate.

It's neighborly to comment on blog posts. Don't be shy!

Some blogs require that you be logged in to leave a comment. Some allow anonymous comments. Some allow you to declare who you are without logging in, which allows you to be as anonymous as you want to be.

That is, I could comment as "Steve M" or "T. Rex" without giving any other identifying information; and then others could rant and rave about what I said, calling me out by pseudonym; but I -- by my real name -- am not held accountable for what I wrote. Cowardly? Well, you could put it that way. But sometimes it's a choice good people want to make. It's a matter of debate whether anonymous comments are a good or bad thing in general ... in fact, a recent article in the NY Times described ongoing consideration of the question with respect to news sites.

If people put something seriously unsavory in a comment on my blog, whether anonymously (because my blog currently allows that) or signed, I can always delete it. So fire away! I'll worry about requiring logins if and when I become such an attractive target for trolls that it's a pain to clean up after them. For now that's a problem I'd be happy to have.

If you're signed in with your Google ID (etc.), a Subscribe by email link shows up in the comment posting area. This lets you sign up to receive email notices when other people comment on the same blog post (perhaps in response to your comment). A dialog is born...

Commenting on a link to a Blog Post on Facebook (et al.)

I have a Facebook account. This is no secret, it's linked from my website's home page. I don't accept "Friend" requests from people I don't actually know, though, so please don't bother to ask. Unless I know you, of course.

On Facebook, I notify my friends that I've published a blog post by linking to it in the great Facebook stream-of-trivia that captivates so many for so many hours of so many days (if you have no idea what I mean, you really should have watched the episode of South Park described by Brenna Ehrlich of

Why do I notify folks via Facebook? Because it gives those of my friends who don't use a feed aggregator, or don't include my blog in the aggregator they do use, a chance to decide, "hey, that might be a good read, I'll check it out."

Some people respond to my blog posts by commenting on the links I publish on Facebook. That's cool. I get to see it, and so do my Facebook friends. But the rest of the world is left out, and that's sad. Well, maybe the people who respond only in Facebook-space don't want their response to be visible to the rest of the world. Maybe they're shy. That's cool too. (Note that this same general principle applies in other socially networked communities that permit only a restricted group to see what's posted.)

What could be better?

Well, I think it'd be better if they responded directly on my blog. That way the conversation would be More Open, Bigger, and Better. If the responder is shy, s/he can respond anonymously (because my blog allows that), or by just typing some initials or an alias ("Phantom of the Opera" or "Sauron" or something like that), because my blog allows that too.

It's neighborly to comment on blog posts.

Becoming part of a blogger's community

Some sites/tools allow you to become an explicit part of a community that forms around a blog. The blog site I use is called Blogger (catchy, eh?), which is part of Google's burgeoning empire. If you have a Google ID (which lets you use stuff like Gmail, Google Docs, etc.) or a number of other online identities (Yahoo, AOL, OpenID, etc.) you can become a part of my blog's community by clicking the Follow button that appears alongside all my blog posts. I'd love to have you be one of my Followers. It's not like going steady or anything, you won't get cooties, and it doesn't mean you agree with a single thing I write. But it's a great way to shill for me. C'mon, won't you please be my follower?

Followers can display a picture or not, and can show just a first name or nickname if they like. Or a follower can be completely out there about who s/he is, providing a way for others to find one's own online presence through interest in another's. If you're into that sort of thing.

(This follower business is fueled by something called Google Friend Connect. Bloggers who use Wordpress can take advantage of this same Google-provided feature if they want to, using Google Friend Connect integration. No need to worry about that unless you're a Wordpress blogger who doesn't know about this already.)

Your turn

Okay, now it's your turn. What the heck, take a chance ... leave your comment below. And don't forget to click the "Follow" and subscribe buttons too!

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