Despite the growing popularity of blogs, lots of people still don't get what they're about.
With millions of bloggers out there and even more blog readers, you might think everyone knows how to read a blog, or how blogs work. From my blogging experience, I can say that this is definitely not true. This short article—intended for the readers of blogs—will describe the process for newcomers.
There are two categories of blogs. One is the traditional weblog, where a Web surfer shares his online discoveries.
The second is the Web diary, where a person shares his or her thoughts of the day. Often, blogs of one style have elements of the other. A diarist might discuss a link, while traditional webloggers will commonly ramble on about something that happened to them that day. Though the discussion here applies to both types of blogs, it focuses mainly on the weblog style.
Blog layout. Blogs are laid out in a last-in-first-out style. This means that the last item posted or written is at the top of the blog. Very few blogs violate this model, since it earmarks the site as a blog, and the mechanism of the software encourages it by default. Online magazines that purport to be something else are actually blogs if they use this style, and are probably laid out with blogging software.
So unlike a diary, where you would read from the beginning to the end, with a blog you read from the end to the beginning. Highly advanced bloggers with programming skills can alter this as much as they want, but most have accepted the model and most readers expect it.
The post element. The blog post is also fairly standardized, with minor -idiosyncrasies stemming from the various kinds of blogging software systems and the options chosen within those systems. Generally most blog posts do not stray too much from the model I'm going to describe below.
A post tends to consist of nine possible subelements: headline, primary link, summary, commentary, image, blockquote, permalink, comments link, and comments (if any). Any combination is possible, and repeating elements are often used. Multiple blockquotes and commentary, for example, are common in lengthy, elaborate posts. Any of these subelements, except the headline, can be optional; the blog can substitute a summary or commentary for the link to the primary source. Some bloggers do nothing more than use a headline (which may be lifted from the primary source) and a link to the primary source. This is very bare-bones, but it is not uncommon. My typical post consists of a headline, which may or may not come from the primary source, a link to the source, a short comment about why I think it's important, spot art in the form of an image that reemphasizes the point, a pull quote from the primary source and a comment link. The headline created with the software I blog with, WordPress, is also the permalink.
The permalink, short for permanent link, is a link to the specific database location of this specific post. It never changes. The URL of the permalink is what you want to obtain if you want to forward the post to a friend or refer to it in your own blog. The general blog URL will bring up the whole blog, and not the specific post—which is often further down the page or gone the next day.
The headline is the title of the post, and it is usually presented automatically in a large typeface. Some people write their own headline, while others use the one from the site they are linking to from their blogs.
The primary link, which takes you to the source of the item under discussion, is what much of blogging is all about. This is most often why the blog post exists. You read something interesting, and you blog it for others to see.
The summary usually appears right after the link, but comments can be scattered throughout a longer post. These elements can be left out altogether. They should pertain to the post, but some experimentalists disregard this rule.
The image is optional. Many bloggers use few, if any, images. Others group them into albums found elsewhere on the Internet and link to those groupings. The blogger may or may not choose to caption the pictures. Most pictures are taken from the same page as the link. The image is often just a reference link to an image on the Web site that the blogger is pointing people toward. It may sometimes be a link itself. Sometimes the image needs to be fixed or shrunk, and many bloggers will capture the image and host it on their blog systems. In all these uses copyright issues exist, but the argument that "fair use" mostly applies here seems to be generally accepted.
The blockquote, which in publishing parlance would be called a pull quote or call-out, is an excerpt from the item being blogged. It might be a paragraph from a newspaper article, for example. It is usually offset in some way so it appears different from the rest of the text. This element seems to confuse newcomers who haven't seen blogs before, because it is not always obvious that the element was not written by the blogger. On my blog, I usually indent it and change the font and the background color—and people still don't perceive it as a pull quote. They sometimes seem to think it is just an emphasized point of mine.
Usually at the bottom of the page is the comments link. Some blogs will incorporate all readers' comments on the main page, creating an ongoing, never-ending discussion. Most hide the comments on the permalink page. Clicking on the comments link usually brings you to the editing box on that page. Some bloggers disable comments, since they have become a source of spam. Others use outside forums, and link their comments to other sites where these forums exist as standalone systems not controlled by the blogger.
The comments element applies to reader comments, not summary or comments done by the blogger. The comments are part of the individual posts and often require either registration or moderation. Most open-post blogs with no controls tend to be inundated with spam. The editing toll on blogging systems is typically straightforward, with a few buttons that visitors can use for linking to other sites or adding emphasis to a post. Some blogs allow the uploading of images, too.
Collateral features are the automated elements that come with the blogging software. They are fairly universal, so blog readers expect to find and use many of them. They include an archive list, a calendar, a search box, a blogroll, an "about" page, a log-on page for members or the sysop, and blog categories (if any). Most blogs also have an RSS feed listed someplace for users who like to receive information via an RSS reader (for more information about RSS, see "
You will see other elements, too, as bloggers can easily create their own. But the ones we've listed are the common ones that readers expect. To me the most important are the calendar, the archive list, and the search box. The latter is a valuable tool for tracking topics from past blog postings, but some blogging software does not make it available. The calendar is handy but something of a gimmick, since the search box works better at finding old posts. And there should be an archive list that the reader can click to see all the posts from the entire month. The blogroll lists other blogs the blogger finds interesting. Other collateral elements are often informational and tend to be self-explanatory.
John C. Dvorak is a contributing editor of PC Magazine. You can read his blog at www.dvorak.org/blog.