Monthly Archives: July 2011

Blogs and Commenting

Learning for Life Online tool #1:
The Learning for Life Online blog (and website)

What Is It?

So, what is a blog, anyway? Blog is a contraction of web and log, and a web log is a series of posts (articles) displayed on a website in reverse chronological order, with the most recent at the top. That’s it — nothing too fancy. This post that you’re reading right now is part of the Learning for Life Online blog.

How Is It Useful?

Originally developed as online diaries, blogs have become a way to share information about almost anything in a format that’s easy to read and follow. Blogs are more useful and interesting than websites because readers can add comments that create a conversation between the original poster and anyone reading along. Blog posts are easily shared by copying and pasting the web address, by sharing directly through social media like Facebook and Twitter, and by subscribing to a blog’s feed (a stream of new blog posts is sent directly to your email or to a service like Google Reader).

In fact, a blog is such a good format for sharing information online that many websites now use many of their features on all of their pages. Newspapers are a great example, where every article encourages comments and sharing. In fact, some websites started off as just a blog and have added other pages as they’ve grown.

Try It Out

There is a blog out there for every topic you can think of: recipes, diy fashion, gadgets, book reviews, opinions and more. Use a search tool like Google, Bing or Yahoo to find blogs on topics you’re interested in. Make sure to look for posts with dates on them to know you’ve found a true blog.

Reading a blog is as easy as finding one and scrolling down the entries. However, some definitions may make things easier:

  • The Home link will get you back to the main page of the blog, where the most recent entries are. You can also click on the title of the blog to get you there.
  • The About page usually describes the who the author is or what the blog is about.
  • Categories or tags are ways to organize a blog’s content by topic. Think of categories as chapters in a book and the tags as posty notes on individual pages — quick ways to find something you were looking for. Click on a category or tag link on the side of the blog to read more entries about those topics.
  • Subscribe will sign you up to have the latest posts on a blog sent directly to you by email or RSS.

Commenting on a blog post or article is as easy as typing in the comment box below the post, but you may also need to prove that you’re a real person by typing in a reply to a captcha. Be patient with these; captchas protect blogs from automated spam comments that may be obscene, selling something, or linking readers to a malicious site.

Starting a blog is as easy as signing up with a blog platform like WordPress or TypePad and writing your first post. Before you do, consider who you want to write for, what you want to write about, and how much time you have for keeping your blog fresh and interesting. Try reading and commenting for a while before you commit to maintaining a blog. In a future Learning for Life Online lesson, we’ll highlight some Best Practices for Blogging.

Easy, right?

Help & Resources

Wikipedia article about blogs
Common Craft video explaining blogs
Technorati, an excellent place to find blogs to read

Playing with online tools

Just like any other tool, the best way to learn a new online service or website is to play with it. Push the buttons, click the links, enter some information – it’s by using a tool that we figure out how it works and how it might be useful to us.

Here are some guidelines to work with:

  1. Read the screen. Most times, all the information you need about using a site is right on the screen. Even if the page is cluttered, take your time and read from top to bottom and left to right. If something big jumps out at you, read that first and then start at the top left. No, you many not know what all the words mean now, but you’ll figure it out by using the site and looking up a few things later. Keep a notebook or paper handy to write down words to look up later.
     
  2. Push the buttons. Just reading the screen alone won’t teach you anything about how the tool works. Carefully, deliberately, push a button or click a link and see what happens. Did the page change? Did a new box or choice show up? Did you go back to a page you’d been on before? Take a moment and read the new screen to see how it relates to the previous one. Work your way through different pages and options one by one.
     
  3. Take your time. If you’re learning a new tool, find 15 minutes or a half hour to slowly work through it. Don’t rush, and don’t click blindly — that won’t help you learn.
     
  4. Don’t be afraid. You can’t really break anything on the internet. Even when you accidentally delete an email, there’s often an Undo option right there, so you can change your mind. You also can’t share any information that you don’t type in, so don’t worry too much about your privacy. It’s by slowly learning a tool that you also learn how to use it safely and well.
     
  5. Do the ‘driving’ yourself. Watching someone else navigate through a site is good, but doing the clicking yourself is much better for learning. Work with a partner if you’d like – someone else who’s learning – and take turns at the keyboard and mouse. You’ll both benefit from the workout.

When you get a new car, phone, or refrigerator, you use what you know about how these things work and figure out what the buttons on this model does. It’s the same with online tools. Once you’ve seen how one works, you’ll learn the next one more quickly, and the one after that even faster still. The goal of Learning for Life Online is to make using those first few tools a little less intimidating, and then to introduce you to the best of the rest that’s out there waiting to be found.