It's easy to tell when an idea or a thing has made the jump from fad to standard - it becomes a verb. For instance, a fax, short for facsimile, became faxing. The same thing has happened to blogging, a word now heard so often that it seems as though everyone is doing it - that everyone has a blog and is blogging.
In the past few years, blogging has become, next to e-mail and instant messaging, a common way for people to spend countless hours on the Internet. And why not? A Web log (which quickly became "weblog" and finally "blog") is an online continuation of the desktop publishing phenomena that started in the 1980s and changed forever the hierarchy of the information flow. (Suddenly, you didn't need a printing press to say what was on your mind.)
Truth be told, blogging has been around for centuries - or at least the idea behind it has, in the form of diaries and journals. You can see that in this definition of a weblog found in the online Wikipedia: "A weblog or blog is a web-based publication of periodic articles (posts), usually presented in reverse chronological order. It is an online journal with one or many contributors."
Only now you don't keep that "journal" for yourself, you keep it for your audience.
Blogs can address any topic: politics, gardening, your high school reunion, how to wax your legs - you name it. Technorati (www.technorati.com), a website that allows people to list their blogs for other people to read, says it has 21.5 million blogs in its searchable database. And that's only a collection of blogs by people who have taken the time to register with the site.
The truly daunting task, then, is not writing a blog. It's getting anyone to read it.
But first, how do you build a blog? You have several ways to begin. Google offers Blogger (www.blogger.com/start), a free service that lets anyone set up a blog in "three easy steps."
Same with services like Blogster (www.blogster.com). AOL users can create free blogs as well.
Those seeking something a bit more robust can use a fee-based service like Typepad (www.typepad.com), which for $5 or more a month offers blogging extras, such as allowing you to update it from anywhere using your mobile phone. Another feature called QuickPost sits on your desktop. Entries typed into the QuickPost window will automatically appear in your blog without your having to go to the Typepad website.
Once you get a blog started, here are a few tips to keep it going and create an audience.
• Write every day. A blog works best when it has a steady stream of content. If you only blog once a week, or even once a month, chances are your potential audience will be following someone making more regular postings.
• Think about your topic and audience. If you create a blog about your high school reunion (not that there's anything wrong with that), you can pretty much count on the fact that this will limit the size of your readership to your former classmates.
• Keep entries short. While not always necessary (sometimes a body just has to say what's on his or her mind), shorter posts are usually easier to create and easier for readers to follow.
• Spelling and grammar count. Some in the blogging community believe that you should just let it all flow, typos and all. It's not true. Readers hate poor English and sloppy writing. And they will not hesitate to tell you so.
• Use lots of links. Hypertext is the raison d'être of the Internet. Link to stories, other blogs, interesting websites. They will often return the favor, and visiting your site becomes a more enjoyable experience for your readers.
These are only a few suggestions. Google's Blogger site (URL above) offers a great guide to blogging. (The advice is angled toward using Google's service, but many of the tips are universal.)
Blogging works best when you're passionate about it. The key is just to do it.