Tuesday, February 08, 2005
MINISTRY IN YOUR PAJAMAS: Blogging 101
By Paschal Baute and Alan Dix
For Corpus Reports, Dave Gawlik, ed.
Is there something you are passionate about? Do you enjoy sharing a conversation about that with friends, possibly even with strangers? Have you ever written or wanted to write a letter to the editor? Are you confident enough putting your ideas down in writing, just to see if you can find a “soul friend” on that topic or simply another curious person who might respond? Do you use the internet for anything, mail or news?
Ministry can take on different dimensions. Not for everyone is visiting jails, preaching, or pastoring a local faith community. Discipleship assumes many forms. Even if you are retired (mostly), sofa bound, restricted in mobility from your vintage bones or physically impaired, you can still have a barrel of fun– if you have a PC, like visiting the internet, have ideas and time to share, ‘druther stay in your pajamas all day, and are passionate about one single subject. Even if you are on a tight budget. Available now is an easy way to create your own newspaper or journal online or your own magazine.
If you have an itch to start writing, or if you already write on a regular basis, a weblog is the easiest route to publication with a potentially unlimited audience. If you would like to build a small faith community around your values, but no longer have the time and energy of the past, consider forming a virtual community of common interests and sharing. The motto of blogger.com (http://www.blogger.com) is "Push-button publishing for the people."
So what is this new internet phenomenon that is exploding in such numbers and with such possibilities? What is a Blog? What can Blogs be used for? Why should I Blog? How do I get started? What will make my Blog stand out? Finally, consider joining the Blogging tribe so you have more stories to tell your grandkids so they know how really awesome you were!
What is a Blog?
An easy way to publish your brilliant thoughts in your pajamas. Blogs have taken the Internet by storm. Basically, a Blog (short for "Weblog" or Web log) is an interactive, personalized Web site, chronologically organized, for posting your views–anything you want to share with the teeming masses. Each entry typically contains the main post, a date/time stamp, and title. The contents of each blog differ, depending on the interests and style of the author. Some common themes/topics of blogs include: personal stories/diary-like entries, news, website links, commentaries, reviews, rants and raves, politics, journaling and current events. Yet uses are still exploding. .
Blogs are free and easy to begin. You can make entries ("posts" or "updates") to your Weblog any time you want. A What's New page–from news updates, including humor, insights, enrages, outrages, loves, hates, true and fictional stories. Or simply react to a previous posted comment. A blog is easily updated frequently with links, commentary and anything else you like. New items go on top and older items flow down the page. Whatever you want. It's up to you. This is personalized grassroots journalism.
The blog form is unique to the Web. Already there seem at least ten types: Personal bloggers, Political bloggers, Family bloggers, Business bloggers, Organizational bloggers, Teaching bloggers, Hobby bloggers, Professional bloggers, and those simply in love with writing as a form of communicating. (Maybe also . . . Lovers ;) My own love is sharing my writings with others. It is like singing in the bathroom, and maybe someone will listen.
What can weblogs be used for?
Almost anything. Early bloggers were excited about the web and its potential. They embraced this global network for news, information and entertainment. They surfed, created heated, funny, and irreverent discussions. They connected with humor, punditry and lively conversation. They provided news links to current news from a diversity of sources. Some are still functioning this way. The weblogging community has now exploded into hundreds of uses. Weblogs have become personal journals, daily logs, notebooks, complaint logs, conversation topics, teacher aids, dialogue blogs, business blogs, customer service blogs, company blogs, team building blogs, career promotion blogs, collaborative writing blogs, etc. Rebecca Blood in The Weblog Handbook puts it this way:
Passion is the purpose of a weblog: passion for a profession or hobby, passion for telling stories, passion for punditry, even a passion for civil, well reasoned debate. The things you care about, the things, you can’t figure out, and the things you find interesting– all are colored by the extent to which you care; if you don’t care, you might as well not publish at all. (Blood, p. 131)
Most people love to talk about their interests and themselves. Salespersons learn quickly to determine your “hot buttons.” Basically, a weblog is a coffee house conversation between several or more persons, in writing, with yourself as headwaiter or, if the conversation gets a little rowdy, as bartender. One characteristic of personal blogs is they tend to be about inner world ruminations or running commentary on one’s work or personal life.
Why Should I Blog?
The number one reason is appreciating and sharing our differing gifts (Romans 12:6), that is, we are talented, original and each has something to say. Being part of the Mystical Body means that our communities are stronger when we participate and share our gifts to help and heal the whole. The task of the future is not to access more information, but to develop ways to enhance our understanding and mutual cooperation, risking our gifts, to empower people and their connectedness, while screening out the rest of the stuff that doesn’t matter. For an increasing number of people, weblogs provide a useful filter and spur to these activities
Although there are many kinds of web logs, there are probably four main motivations for starting and keeping one: information sharing, personal expression and outreach, community building and career enhancement. Any of these can be your primary aim. No matter what you write about, your avocation or vocation, dayjob, nightjob, your day, your business, your ministry, your spiritual views, your take on national or foreign affairs, you are sharing information.
As you research and write, your competence in your subject of choice grows. You summon yourself to know a subject better. You become more reflective and often more balanced as you consider what you have written. When you take time to do this, to say clearly what you want to say, this makes you not only a better writer, but more authentically centered yourself. Furthermore, you can't do this without noticing what you are thinking, without building awareness of your less-conscious self.
Evaluating sources of information helps one become a more critical thinker. You may even become an expert in a certain field. Your weblog can translate into appreciation from distant readers, and greater visibility for some career advancement or simply playful hobby pursuit. If you enjoy spending some time online most everyday, you may be a good candidate for weblogging.
But if you use your PC only to check your email and buy an occasional book, or if you spend your working day with a computer, you will probably be better off spending time with your favorite hobby. Do not read further.
But when a weblog is an extension of something you already do, such as web browsing, writing, journaling, or connecting with others, you will likely to find the time spent rewarding. If you love reading, writing, connecting with others and exploring new ideas, the new user-friendly weblog you will create may become a new home place for your centering of yourself.
How Do I Get Started?
"But I have no idea how to publish a website, and I don't know any HTML (hyper text markup language)!" Be not fearful, future blogger, you don't need any knowledge of either. One of the reasons online blogging has become so popular is the relative ease with which an non-technical, or even computer illiterate person can start.
Although blogger.com is probably the most well known blogging engine with an easy start up menu, there are many more. Here is a quick list of sites that will have you presenting your creations to the blogosphere in no time:
Visit any of the sites listed above and you will see a link with the words "Start blogging" or "Create your Blog now!". What lies behind that link is a step by step instruction guide to creating, hosting and posting to your blog. Usually the first step is to fill out a form with the information about you and your blog. What is it called? Who are you and what will you write about? You type in a few short sentences and move on to the next step.
Where is your blog going to be? Not everyone has space on a webserver to publish their own blog. Even some people that do get web space from their Internet Service Provider have no idea how to use it. Once again, fear not, the blogosphere is user friendly. You simply choose a name for your blog, and your chosen blog host will create the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) for you.
For example, if you started your blog on blogger.com and wanted the name "myrockinblog", you could type that in to the publishing form. Provided no one else has already chosen that name, your Blog's address would be http://myrockinblog.blogspot.com - and viola! your blog is online.
The last step in setting up your blog is to decide how you want it to look. Here is where most people start to shudder and say things like "I can't make web pages, this is going to look terrible." Have no fear, there are people (like me, Alan Dix, for example) that design templates for aspiring blog artists such as yourself. A template can be as simple or as complicated as you wish, but its job is simply to provide the layout and colors for every page of your blog. The start-up blogging sites usually give you a choice of templates and it pays to shop. Once you set it up, you are done and don't have to worry about it again until you decide to change the look of your blogsite.
That's it, believe it or not! You are now ready to start entering your thoughts, dreams, rants, links or whatever you wish to your blog and to the world. Writing is a journey of self-discovery, a diving into the deep well of your inner landscapes.
How do I promote my Blog?
What will make your web log stand out? For all kinds of blogs, we can give the same answer: point of view, good linking and good writing, and the life experience of the writer. It is your unique contribution of interests, outlook, values, frames, humor, zest for life and prejudices that will make your web log compelling. One of the best advertising for your blog is word-of-mouth.
Most blogs offer the built-in ability for your readers to email a link to an particular post directly to someone they think might be interested. As with any web site, there are also several steps you can take to increase the visibility of your blog. Submitting the address to search engines and the proper use of "worm food" to ensure your site is listed correctly. Worm food refers to the correct use of META tags, especially the DESCRIPTION and KEYWORDS META tags. These two tags should be in your template file, so that they are included on every post.
The description should be a short 20-25 word description of your blog, and should include 3-5 of the keywords you want to be linked to your site. When people type in those keywords in search engines like Google, you want your site to be included in the ones returned. The same applies to the keywords tag. This tag is a list of keywords, 15-20 of them that are potentially what people will enter into a search engine when looking for content like you provide on your blog pages.
Web-blogging -- creating online journals that range from the too intimately personal to the smooth mature professional -- is certain to stay. Blogging Made Easy courses are proliferating. Like it or not, we're in the middle of another revolution in online networking, a new means of gathering and disseminating information and also, of keen interest to our kind, of sharing values and building community.
Blogs dedicated to spiritual and religious discussions are also proliferating. Beliefnet.com ran a special article last fall listing “Best Spiritual Blogs.” Google will find it for you. A few others are listed below. Then I discovered there was no married priests blog to illustrate this article, so I created one in five minutes. We named it the Married Priest Coffee House Blog: conversations about “dappled things: all things counter, original, spare, strange; whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)” from Gerald Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty. You may visit to talk about this article. If you join that blog and become a member, then new postings come directly to your mailbox. Reference below
Some day your grandkids may crawl up in your lap and ask, “Grandpa, Grandma, Where were you when the great Blogging Revolution came along?” Well, maybe they won’t--really, but if it did happen, wouldn’t you want to be ready to say, “Kiddo, I was there! I was a blogger! In fact, I was one of the first bloggers in our family!” Some enhancement is permitted to vintage storytellers. But you’d better hurry! There are an estimated million bloggers already, and many more joining daily.
So if you haven't imagined yourself yet as one of the Blogging Tribe, you should reconsider. As a mechanism for publishing information, whether personal opinions or official announcements, and for connecting across distances, nothing's more efficient than a Weblog, or as easy to establish. Become your own editor and publisher now and completely control your editorial page. For the world to view!
And let the rest of us know so we can visit online, happily linking with each other from our couches in our pajamas! FUN! ‘n also cool! “All God’s talents are within us, to discover and to share.” –Hafiz.
Paschal’s writing blog: http://www.paschalbaute.com/writing
Alan’s website: http://www.dixbert.com/services/
Married Priests Coffee House http://marriedpriestscoffeehouse.blogspot.com/
Blogging Made Easy. Bob Bastian and Mark Hendricks. Omniwebmarketing.com, 2004
The Psychology of Cyberspace. John Suler, http://www.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/psycyber.html
The Weblog Handbook. Rebecca Blood, Perseus Publishing, 2002.
“The Best Spiritual Blogs,” Beliefnet.com. Use your browser.
Examples of Catholics using blogs:
http://donjim.blogspot.com/ (Fr. Jim Tucker lists several in his right sidebar)