What is a blog?

Blogs are a powerful publishing platform. Did you know that about 1/3 of all websites use blogging software?

The reason they're so popular is that they're extremely easy to start, and they're very flexible in what they can be used for (more on that in a bit).

But first, let's answer the question: what is a blog?

Definition of a blog

A blog is a website that is regularly updated with different types of content or words. It is typically written in a casual or conversational style, and often cover a single subject or topic.

The word blog comes from the term weblog, or "web log".

Each blog post (or entry) often has interactive features like comments, which can make blogging a very social publishing platform.

Many bloggers build social relationships from their readers and other bloggers because of their topic of posting.

Blogs started out primarily consisting of a single author's text entries, in a format that resembles a diary.

The term "blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to add or update a blog. "I haven't blogged in a fortnight!"

Blogging formats

There are many different types of blogs now, based on the content they produce. Microblogging (like Tumblr or Twitter), video blogs (or "vlogs"), photo blogs, podcasting, and music blogs, to name a few.

Today, blogs vary infinitely in usage and focus of website, but this wasn't always the case. Blogs started out more like online diaries.

History of blogging

Robot Wisdom: the first weblog
Jorn Barger's blog "Robot Wisdom" was one of the earliest weblogs.

Blogs first began in the mid '90s, and since then the term has shortened to just "blog". They were built as a desire to chronologically order a series of updates about a topic. Blogs were originally called "weblogs", but the name was shortened to "blogs" in the late '90s.

Prior to the weblog, the Internet used forum software and email lists to send or display messages. They used these tools to create online diaries about their personal lives.

Eventually these online diaries transformed into the blog that we know today. As the Web began to grow, so did blogging. Ev Williams, (the eventual Twitter founder) would start Blogger.com, a hosted platform for blogging.

Changes in blogging over time

When people first started blogging, it was often used as a more personal platform, with daily thoughts or updates from an individual.

Now blogs can be single or multi-authored, and they can be focused around a single topic or a wide range of topics.

Today what makes a website a "blog" is less about content or direction, and more about the software being used.

Unique characteristics of blogs

Blogs have some unique characteristics that make them a bit different than a traditional website.

  • Posts- It sounds like the most basic principle, but before blogs there really wasn't the concept of posts. These are single entries for the blog.
  • Archives Blogs introduced the concept of a date-based organization of posts.
  • Comments. Commenting allowed blogs to be a more conversational platform, allowing people to reply and build relationships.
  • Trackbacks - Trackbacks allow blogs to talk to each other, letting them know when they link to each other's posts.
  • Pings. Blog software can "ping" (or send a message) to servers to let them know when they're updated with new content. When this was introduced, this made the platform more live and real-time.
  • RSS Feeds

The rise of multi-author blogs

While blogs are still used in this diary format today, blogs are typically centered around a subject or topic, and can have multiple authors and media formats.

Thanks to advancements in blogging software, now it's much easier to have multiple authors contributing to a single blog.

This has exploded recently with media and news organizations switching to blog software to power their websites.

Who uses blogs?

The blogging platform is popular right now. Of sites that use a content management system, over 60% are powered by blogging software. The technology behind blogging is usually open source, which means it's free to use.

Here are some examples of people or companies using blogs.

  • Media corporations. Some of the biggest media companies like The New York Times use blogs for their journalists to publish their own columns online.
  • Startups. Startups use blogs to help gain attention through blogging about the industry that they're trying to enter. Example: Groove
  • Online businesses. Online businesses use blogs to give a voice to their companies, and provide a way to showcase products. Some businesses use shopping carts inside of their blogs to power their entire business. Example: Patagonia
  • Local businesses. Even local businesses can use blogs to their advantage. Blogging can provide a boost to local search engine optimization, as well as showcasing products, talking about events, and adding voice to their company.

  • Performers. Bands like U2, The Rolling Stones and Blondie all have blogs. In fact, many performers have blogs to help connect with their fans and talk about performances and upcoming tours (among other things).

  • Companies. Companies like PlayStation use blogs to offer a less-formal way to spread company news and information. Some other notable big companies that have blogs: Disney, Whole Foods, Allstate, Coca-Cola.
  • Non-profits. Because non-profits often have limited resources, they utilize free software like blogs to spread the word about their causes and create awareness. Example: Feeding America
  • Political groups. Even politicians use blogging to spread their campaign's message and solicit donations. Example: The White House Blog
  • Individuals This is where everyone else falls in. You'll find blogs in just about every sort of industry: cooking, photography, health, science, business, religion... the sky is the limit. Some of these blogs are massively popular, generating millions of readers a month.

How do people use blogs?

There used to be the mindset that a blog had a singular focus; as an online diary of sorts.

Today, blogs can be used many, many different ways. You can use them to share photos (or photoblogging) share videos (video blogging) to post news around a particular topic as way to write about a hobby around a niche a way to teach or develop an audience post smaller, bite-sized updates (microblogging)

Blogs can be written by one person, or entire news organizations. For example, Forbes uses Wordpress (a popular blogging platform) for their entire news organization.

What can you do with a blog?

Aside from posting lots of unique and diverse types of content on a blog, blogs can be the vehicle for many different outcomes.

Inform or educate

Blogs are great vehicles for providing information. If you're wanting to raise awareness for a cause, for example, blogging is an excellent way to do that.

For example, two girls used blogging to highlight the sub-par conditions in their schools. Their blogs were picked up by mainstream media, resulting in improvements for their schools.

Non-profits and organizations use blogs to convey their messages and to evoke action from their supporters.

Grow an audience or become and authority

Blogging is a great way to grow an audience. Because blogs that are often focused around a topic (like "photography" or "Harley motorcycles"), people interested in those topics are searching for them.

This means that when you build a blog over time around a topic and Google indexes you, people will find you.

And these aren't random people... these are people that are actively looking for you. and want to hear from you. They are your tribe.

Become a published author

Many current accomplished authors first started a blog before they first submitted a book proposal. Many bloggers like Chris Guillebeau ended up on the New York Times bestseller list only after building a successful blog first.

Blogging helps prospective authors a couple of ways. For starters, having a blog means that you're practicing the craft of writing, which makes you a better overall writer.

Blogging also helps build a following of people who want to read your work. If you have readers already, it's easier to pitch a book agent with an idea when they know that you've already got loyal readers who would buy your book.

Some bloggers even go the non-traditional route and use the audience that they've built to self-fund their books. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has done this with his Zen Habits book.

Book speaking gigs

Blogs help build audiences, and this visibility can be used to land speaking gigs. Many bloggers are paid thousands of dollars per speaking engagement thanks in large part to their successful blogs.

Land a job

Writing with authority about a topic can be much more effective for landing a job than the best-typed resume. Employers no longer look just at resumes; they want to see proof of your ability.

This is especially true in "knowledge work". If you have a blog that a potential employer can leaf through, they can learn more about you and your abilities and knowledge than any resume or CV could hope to show.

Making Money with a blog

Aside from landing a job or speaking gig, blogs can be great for making money. There is a whole industry dedicated to making money online, thanks to the numerous ways to generate income with a blog.

Aside from the above examples, bloggers can make money by: selling advertising affiliate programs selling digital products premium content (like newsletters, blog posts, ebooks)

These are only a few examples.

The Technical Aspects of Blogs

Now that we've touched on a bit of what blogs are capable of, let's take a closer look at the technical side of blogging.

What is blog software?

Blog software is the software that powers each blog. Some blogging platforms are for only singular blogs, other can power multiple blogs with one installation.

There are typically two types of blogging software: hosted and self-hosted. Hosted means that the service (ie. Medium, Blogger) will provide the hosting for free.

Self-hosted means that only the software is provided, and the blogger needs to acquire their own hosting.

Popular Blogging software and platforms

  • Wordpress. The biggest and most popular. Used by over 60% of all websites using content management systems, and over 25% of the entire Internet. It's a behemoth. Wordpress is both hosted and self-hosted.
  • Typepad. One of the earlier blogging systems, made popular by the business author Seth Godin. Typepad is hosted platform.
  • Blogger. The first of the blog hosting platforms, and one of the biggest. Owned by Google.
  • Medium. A new platform, founded by Twitter and Blogger co-founder Evan Williams. It's main feature is social journalism.
  • etc.

How can you get started?

If you haven't started a blog yet, you can check out our recommendations by going here.