I received a question from Don in my email this morning, apparently from today's article on the Contra Costa Times. Dan asks, "How is a blog (short for "web log") different than a website?" Here's my take:
- A blog is a way to publish to the Internet frequently, without technical skills. If you can send an email, you can blog. Most websites require technical skills.
- A blog is updated frequently, with chronologically-ordered, dated posts. A website is frequently static information, and the order and sequence depends on the purpose of the site.
- A blog is written in a personal voice - like if you were having a conversation with me over coffee. I didn't slave over this text, and sure, it could have been buffed and polished better. It just came out that way, and it's that way in my blog. Conversational. From one person. To you. A website's text has the whole teams in the marketing department analyzing every word and link on the home page. Tweaking and testing here, graphics over there - more expensive, requiring more specialized technical skills.
- A blog allows the audience to interact - so they can post comments to your individual posts, and link from their blog to your posts. This allows a conversation to occur between the writer and the audience. If someone in the audience also has a blog, or several do, the conversation can get very interesting. They can ask questions. I wouldn't be writing to you now had this not happened...
- As a publisher, your content is distributed much more broadly than on a website. A blog decouples the "content" from the "presentation". If I did an HTML page, the content and presentation would be coded all together. In a blog, the content is separate from the formatting. Even better, it's encapsulated in its own message envelope that can be read by other sites on the Internet. This envelope is an extension of XML, an open standard for Internet messages, called RSS. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication". So what? This means, for example, if I'm a software company doing a press release, I can publish my press release using a tool that supports RSS, and anyone else who is watching for "software industry news" can automatically receive and display my press release on their site. If you've used newswires, it's like that, but on an open standards platform instead of a proprietary and expensive newswire platform. So anyone with an Internet connection can receive it - not just newswire subscribers. So this applies not just to "press releases", but to every update you do, for any kind of content - it is automatically updated everywhere. On a traditional website, I have to wait for Google to come and crawl my site before anyone will know I've done something new....2-3 weeks could pass by then! On a blog, it's a few minutes.
- You tend to get better search engine results with a blog. In fact, some people joke that "Blog" stands for "Better Listings on Google". Many of the features listed above - content syndication, frequent posts, linking from other sites - play to Google's algorithms to get your better listings.
- You can keep up with hundreds of blogs much more efficiently than hundreds of websites. Because of the RSS feature, you can monitor many blogs by syndicating them, and automatically receive updates whenever their website changes on your PC. The updates come to you, you don't have to go look to find out which websites were updated last night. Muuuuch more efficient. How do you do that on a website? You have to go each day and check to see what's new. If you use an RSS aggregator, the updates are sent to you each day, much like an email.
- You become part what's happening right now. Curious what people are blogging about? Visit www.technorati.com. Check out their news, books and Top 100 links. This is what people are posting about right now. They do searches across these RSS-enabled sites only. Your posts, in RSS format, will appear there also.
But in many other respects, a blog is no different than a website. My mom might not know the difference between my website and my blog. (Do you, mom?) You still access it in a browser, it uses regular URLs, there might or might not be advertising, some have good content and some have bad.
What blogging does do is make publishing on the web something mere mortals can do. And therefore, they can do it more frequently. This allows staying in touch and enhancing relationships.
If you have a family, a blog can improve your relationships by staying connected and letting your family know what's on your mind -- or your camera. You can also password-protect some blogs, so the pictures of the kids won't fall into enemy hands. Even soldiers in Iraq are blogging about their first-hand experiences in war, and letting their families know they're OK. If you run a small business, a blog can help your customers find you online, help you listen to them, and be more responsive than your larger competitors.
Could websites do that? Sure. You'd have to pay someone to develop a tool that does all this. A blog does it out of the gate, is available right now, and all you have to do is sign up. You can do it or a fraction of the cost - from "free" for some blogs (advertising supported -- which means ads from others will appear next to your content) to $5-15 a month for others (with no advertising showing up on your blog).
Does a blog replace your website? No. You still need a way to introduce yourself and your company. For example, I still want people to know I do consulting to help build software startups - that's what you get when you go to my website. If you come to my website, you hopefully learn more about my personality, how I think, if I have a clue, and how I might help you.
Do blogs work? I believe they do, and they're here to stay. But don't take my word for it, ask Don!