Newbie Blogger Initiative

nbilarge

Once again we start off a new month.  For some it means celebrations for May Day, others Beltane, some are anxiously logging in for the official launch of Tera, and for me I am still reeling from the Guild Wars 2 beta weekend.  Regardless of what your perspective on this new month, there is an interesting thing in the works.

Justin Olivetti, best known for his prolific work on Massively and his excellent personal blog Bio Break, has begun a brand new project.  May 2012 proves to be interesting for the blogosphere, because it launches the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  The goal of the project is to connect veteran bloggers, with folks with the will to write and hopefully spawn a number of excellent new gaming blogs in the process.

It is debatable if I actually qualify as a “veteran” blogger, but I have signed up as a sponsor nonetheless.  Years ago, were it not for Fimlys and the BlogAzeroth community, I likely never would have gotten Tales of the Aggronaut up and running.  I am very much in favor of creating a general purpose community to mentor and support up and coming bloggers.

Getting Started

A blank slate is both a blessing and a curse.  Ultimately if you want to start blogging you have to start somewhere.  There are a few decisions you need to think through in the process.  The biggest of these decisions is going to be will you self-host, or use an existing hosted blogging platform.  Both are completely viable options.  Using an existing service allows you to get up and running within moments and start your posts flowing, but choosing to self host requires a little planning.

Hosted Solutions

  • Blogger.com – It has been years since I have personally used blogger, but it is a great no frills option for blogging.  If you just want to get your message out there, without a lot of custom management, this is probably your best choice.  The biggest nicety is that if you are already a Google user, it pretty much integrates with everything Google makes.
  • WordPress.com – Just as easy to use as blogger, but you have quite a few more configuration options.  WordPress also gives you the functionality of tracking statistics, dealing with spam, and providing a certain measure of extensibility.  There are tons of guides out there to using WordPress such as this one.

Self-Hosting

If you find yourself wanting more control over the look, feel and functionality of your blog then the next avenue is to actually acquire a hosting provider, and configure a custom website.  I am a big fan of WordPress, and it is both a hosted solution, and a software platform.  You can acquire the version of WordPress for self-hosting from WordPress.org.  Granted this will require quite a bit more technical experience, but if you do not mind getting your hands dirty, it gives you the most flexibility in the long run.

Pointers for Self-Hosting

  • Update Often

    when you choose an existing platform like WordPress, there are always going to be known exploits in the wild.  WordPress and most plugin authors are good about quickly patching these problems, however in a custom hosted solution you need to actually run the updates.  I would suggest logging in at least once daily to the dashboard and making sure you have no outstanding updates.

  • Stay Away From Package Deals

    I’ve been dealing with websites on a professional level since around 1994, and over the years one of the biggest pitfalls I have seen with projects is the hosting package deal.  Originally domain name registration was an extremely expensive process, and as a result hosting providers would defer the cost of the domain registration when a user signed up for a hosting contract.  However now days you can get a domain name for $5 a year through namecheap.com for example.  The big gotcha is, that unless you have an extremely amiable host, when they register the domain “for you” they are actually registering it under their name.  If at some point down the line, you choose to move to a different hosting provider, they have no legal requirement to allow you to take your domain name with you.

  • Google Analytics

    WordPress has some nice built in statistics, but there will come a time when you want to see more detail than they provide.  It is best to go ahead and sign up for a Google Analytics account from the start, so you have data to refer to when you actually want it.  Configuring it with your website is a relatively simple process that involves inserting some JavaScript into the header of your theme.  However in the case of WordPress, there are a number of plugins that do this process for you. 

  • Develop Good Relationship With Your Host

    Web hosts vary drastically in quality.  You can always find a cheaper provider, willing to host your website for next to nothing.  The problem is, you get what you pay for.  I would highly suggest that you find a webhost that offers good support, takes nightly back-ups, and that is willing to work with you through any customizations that you might need.  Recently my websites were defaced through an exploit in a forum that I run.  Within 10 minutes Cyberwurx, my hosting provider, had all of my sites back up and running.  Within 20 minutes, they had identified the source of the exploit, and within 45 minutes they had mailed me a complete log of everything the hacker had done, action by action, and what data exactly was accessed.  You will never find that level of support from a “cut rate” host.

Welcome to Blogging!

In closing I just want to take a quick moment to welcome all the new bloggers who choose to start up during this program.  The blogging community is a pretty wonderful place.  I highly suggest that you reach out on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ to your fellow bloggers.  I’ve been a pretty sporadic poster, but I never would have gotten started in the first place were it not for the welcoming community.  I would never call myself a veteran, or an expert, but I am always willing to help folks with any issues they have.  I just want to take a moment to thank Syp for starting this process.  I truly think it is a noble cause.