Home > Course Content > Blogs: April 20th-26th

Blogs: April 20th-26th

April 19th, 2009

Introduction

In the last few years, if you’ve attend a MLA meeting, followed listserv threads on Medlib-L or looked at the library literature, you feel like blogs are following you everywhere. Patient education blogs. Journal club blogs. Library newsletter blogs. Librarian blogs. Blogs, blogs everywhere. Or to quote MLA’s own T. Scott Plutchak, “I see blog people.”

Last year, in our online CE, the Social Networking taskforce introduced you to blogs and RSS.  For a quick refresher, you can view the two common craft videos below.

Blogs in Plain English:

RSS in Plain English:

But how are we using them now?  What can we do with it now that we’ve got it?

Chapters: Some MLA chapters are using it to keep their members update (see NAHSL blog).  Others, like the Philadephia Regional Chapter, have moved their chapter website to a blog format.

Libraries: Libraries have been using them as newsletters, frequently asked question replacements, ways to keep homepage content fresh, replacements for manuals and lots more.

Individuals: Aside from keeping up with our friends who live in other towns and the latest happening on [insert your favorite TV show here] , librarians are getting the latest library news quickly and testing out topics for future articles.

But why? How is this going to save me time?
Blogs can be used in so many forms and add much flexibility with the way you communicate with the professional and personal world.  Don’t like web ads? Use a blog reader like (Bloglines or Google Reader) to import your RSS feeds and remove extra advertising.  Don’t know much HTML but need to publish a webpage? Blogs require minimal knowledge of HTML and usually have a graphical interface similar to word processing program.  Click, type and publish.  That’s all it take.  Need a place to bounce ideas off of a larger community?  A blog gives you access to the world of internet users interested in your subject.  It’s an automatic audience and feedback loop.

Preliminary Setup

The following exercises will require that you have a blog that you can experiment with.  If you have a blog set up already, feel free to use that one. If you don’t, there are several options for hosting sites out there.  For those new to the blog world and for the purpose of these exercises, we recommend using WordPress. If you need help getting started with WordPress, take a look at last year’s class on Blogging and RSS.

You can sign up for a free WordPress blog at WordPress.com.

Discovery Exercises

Discovery Exercise 1: Customize for Functionality

  1. Change the theme and customize the about page.
    Play with the themes (designs) in WordPress to change the appearance of your blog. Themes can be found under the Appearance tab in the Administration area of your WordPress blog.  Choose one (not the default) that best represents what you’re trying to convey with your blog’s focus.
  2. Add relevant professional connections through a blog roll.
    Who are you reading in the blog world? Who do you think other people should be reading?  Your blog role gives your readers insight into who you are and what is relevant to you.  It gives context.  In WordPress this can be done using the Links tab in the Administration area of your WordPress blog.

Discovery Exercise 2: Plugins and Widgets

  1. Choose a Plugins or Widget
    Plugins are part of what brings your blog alive and makes it manageable for both you and your reader.  Plugins are often used on WordPress blogs that you have uploaded to your own server.  Widgets are similar to plugins and are used on free hosted WordPress blogs.  Often you will make sure you activate a Spam filter plugin or widget on your blog to reduce the possibility of malicious or unwanted commenting.  A preferred spam filter among several SNSTF members is Akismet.

    1. Go to WordPress (or your blog software of choice) and read about Plugins and Widgets.
    2. Browse through the Widgets or Plugins and choose to download a Plugin to your server.  If you are using a freely hosted version of WordPress go to Appearance tab and click on Widgets.
  2. Add a post to your blog that utilizes the fun/practical plugin or widget.

Optional Exercise:

  1. Further customization your theme
    Try adding a meebo or skype widget in your side bar, both of these might require editing the php or html. Note that instructors will not be able to help you diagnose HTML or PHP problems.  This option is for the more adventurous among the group who want their theme to look like their favorite blogs.
  2. Claim your blog in Technorati.
    This will get your blog indexed in Technorati and make it easier for others to find. Only do this if your planning to keep up your blog. Otherwise, you have a bunch of dead content out there.

A Final Note: Microblogging – Twhirled Tweets of Twittery Goodness.

A more recent trend in the social networking world is called Microblogging.  Maybe you saw Oprah’s Friday (4/17) episode where she discussed the phenomenon with Ashton Kutcher. Wikipedia also has a good introduction. One of the most notable services in this area is Twitter.  Twitter can be installed as an app on your phone or used via the web to send short 140 character updates (aka Tweets) to your subscribers.  Services like Twhirl help you aggregate your Twitter feeds through a desktop client (for those of us without data plans on our phones).

But why would you do this?  In a connected age where people are on the go, microblogging becomes a way to share short bursts of news to a larger community.  Did you miss your friend at the session you were both planning to attend at MLA? Oops … wait, it’s not a problem. He just sent a Twitter that he was going to your sections business meeting.  At last year’s MLA annual meeting, several people were Twittering and adding to a common MLA thread.  You could sign up for to receive the feed on your Phone or computer and see information about where to get good free wifi, what paper session was hot or whatever else people were posting.   The MLA 08 twitter feed is no longer live, but the MLA 2009 feed is available at http://twitter.com/mla2009

Some medical libraries are using Twitter to send short news feeds to users. Some of these libraries are: CMHSL, fiumedlib, MDAndersonLib, and ucsf_library.  Some library companies and vendors are also using Twitter to send news feeds or alert followers of new journal articles or resources.  Some of these companies are: MatthewsBook, LibraryJournal, mdconsult, and natureblogs.  Don’t forget their are librarians on Twitter discussing issues at medlibs.

Submit your work.

To get credit for this course, please fill out the Blogs Course Progress Report.

Course Content , ,

  1. April 20th, 2009 at 15:32 | #1

    I haven’t downloaded WordPress; I’m just having it hosted there. I don’t see a way to upload a plug-in of my choosing. Help?

  2. Rebecca Landau
    April 21st, 2009 at 18:17 | #2

    I have the same concern as Rachel. I also have a blog on WordPress and am unable to download a plug- in. For this class are we supposed to download WordPress 2.71 and host on our own computer? The plug in Askimet shows up on my Dashboard and is already on WordPress.com
    Rebecca Landau

  3. Michelle_K
    April 22nd, 2009 at 11:42 | #3

    Hi everyone. There was some confusiong because the directions and assignments were accidentally written for people who are uploading and hosting their own blogging software on their own server. The assignment has been adjusted so people do it using free already hosted blogging software.
    Please let me know if there are any questions and I will answer them as soon as possible.
    Thanks,
    Michelle

  4. Christine Dziedzina
    April 22nd, 2009 at 13:31 | #4

    I guess Michelle’s reply helps explain things a little. I have had a lot of trouble trying to use WordPress. It is so slow. It can take several minutes just to backspace over a letter in a word. I have successfully set up a couple of blogs using Blogger. I thought I would be able to learn something about using WordPress but it has been so frustrating to use it.

    Also, will we get some idea of how you will check our progress? Will we be required to submit the URLs for our blog? If so, by when and at what address. It’s already Wednesday and I feel as though I’ve lost some time to work on this.

    Thanks

  5. April 22nd, 2009 at 13:52 | #5

    Similarly, I can’t add a blogroll, and I suspect that that’s also because I’m not hosting my blog; the defaults that come up are for WordPress only.
    Where’s the link to report the URL of our blogs, indicating that we have completed this assignment as best we could under the circumstances?

  6. Michelle_K
    April 22nd, 2009 at 14:13 | #6

    Christine,
    There could be several reasons why WordPress is slow for you. If you are using it at work, it could be getting hung up at the firewall for some reason. I know I had this problem using Wetpaint (wiki software) at my work.
    If you are using it at home then it could be the WordPress server that you are being routed through could be having some issues. WordPress was having some problems the first week of March. http://tinyurl.com/dbd7da If you scroll down to the very bottom of the page you will see the issues they had. This could very well be happening again.

    Blogger and WordPress are very similar but WordPress has more robust features and widgets. Usually these features first show up in WordPress then are later adopted on Blogger.

    We will have a survey at the end of the week for you to fill out so that you can get credit for the course.

  7. Michelle_K
    April 22nd, 2009 at 14:18 | #7

    Rachel,
    In order to create a blogroll in WordPress you need to go to the Links tab in the Administration area of your WordPress blog.
    From there you need to click Add New and then enter the URL in the box under Web Address. You can add a name to the URL and a description too. Then you check the Blogroll box. Then click the blue Add Link button on the right.

  8. April 22nd, 2009 at 14:49 | #8

    Michelle, thanks very much. That worked.

  9. Jean
    April 22nd, 2009 at 15:33 | #9

    Do we need to post what we accomplished with the blogs lesson? Do you need our wordpress blog URL?

  10. Rebecca Landau
    April 22nd, 2009 at 18:37 | #10

    I am still having trouble with adding a plug in. I am using the theme Contempt ( My blog is at http://rebeccal.wordpress.com/. I go to Appearance, Widgets, Click on add for Del.icio.us, Edit , (Fill in: widget title, log in , click done, save changes)( I am not sure what to put in Number of links, Must I put in tags?) I go back to Rebecca’s Weblog. Everything on the right side of my page disappears( Archives, Categories, Blogroll, Meta) except for the widget delicious. Am I missing a step?

  11. Michelle_K
    April 23rd, 2009 at 07:35 | #11

    Rebecca,
    I changed my theme on my test blog to Contempt to try it out and I don’t see anything off hand with the theme that prevents delicious widget from behaving properly.
    For the number of links, you probably would want to put noting larger than 5. That number is the number of items in your delicious account that you want links to. So if you have 50 things in your delicious account you theoretically could have 50 links but that is messy and long. You don’t need to put in any tags if you don’t want to. Tags acts like a filter and only displays items on your blog that have a specific word as a tag in your delicious account.
    You went through all the right steps. The only thing I can think of is that you might want to change the order in which your widgets display on the right hand side and see if that makes a difference.
    I also don’t know if you are doing this at home or at work but if you are doing it at work, you might try it at home. Sometimes institutional firewalls play havoc with the way things work and display. For example, I can view everything in my test site at home but the meebome widget really screws up everything when I view the blog at work.

  12. Rebecca Landau
    April 23rd, 2009 at 09:12 | #12

    Thanks for your rely. I am working at home on the Safari Browser. I have only 1 widget at a time that I placed on my sidebar and each time I put either Delicious or Calendar widget it removes :archives, categories, blogroll and Meta. I am on the appearance screen and I do not see an option which allows me to choose where to place the widget on my blogpage. When you say change the order in which my widgets display where do I do this?

  13. Michelle_K
    April 23rd, 2009 at 09:23 | #13

    Rebecca, Safari might be your problem. I use primarily use IE and Firefox. Unfortunately I only use Safari on my iPhone which is not the best place to test this sort of thing. I honestly don’t know if there are any issues with versions of Safari.
    Your theme dictates primarily where your widgets display (left or right of the screen). However you can move the order from top to bottom. On the right hand side of your account’s widget page you see your widgets listed in blue (just above the save changes button). If you hover your mouse over those widgets your pointer will turn into directional arrows. Click on widgets and drag and drop them in the order you want them displayed on your side. For example you might want Links above Archives.

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