5.18 Blogging for Business

Weblogs, or blogs for short, began quietly when webmasters began sifting material on the web and noting the more interesting sites. Blog were then simple webpages, and listings might have a few comments. Blogs have become more specific by:

1. Providing a standard appearance, often created through templates.
2. Arranging entries in reverse chronological order, i.e. latest topic at the top.
3. Tagging each post or content entry with its own URL — easy to link to, and for search engines to index.
4. Forming communities around common interests: weblog traffic exchanges.
5. Offering blog 'search engines'.
6. Insisting on a personal perspective: interacting more with readers.
7. Adding RSS technology, allowing automatic update of information.

Blogs have become a useful adjunct to business, their importance lying in seven areas:

1. Blogs give a company a human face, and so help to build customer trust.
2. By being packed with honest, hard-to-find information, blogs can turn a company into a recognized authority on some topic, increasing traffic and sales.
3. Blogs are an ideal place to announce new products, or to increase existing product awareness.
4. Blogs often achieve better rankings in the natural search engines than comparable webpages — because blogs are inherently search-engine friendly: multi-linked and frequently updated.
5. Selling advertising is often easier on blog pages, especially with Google's AdSense.
6. Blogs are easier to maintain than newsletters, though possibly less effective: most companies employ both.

Blogging Today

Over half Fortune 500 companies, and businesses of all sizes, are currently engaged in business blogging, usually as a supplement to their daily emarketing campaigns. In February 2003, Google bought the leading blog site www.blogger.com, and has since added search technology to favor blogging. Many hosting companies now offer blogging, either as add-on software, or blog hosting as such, with easy setup and maintenance. Blogs make ideal community boards, which therefore offer marketing opportunities for companies that — as with newsgroups — do not abuse the situation: i.e. provide help and information rather than hype and hard sell.

Blogs are not difficult to install. There are three options:

1. Use a specialist blogging service: e.g. Blogger, or Escalate.
2. Install blogging software on the company server: e.g. WordPress or MovableType.
3. Use third-party hosting providing a choice of systems: e.g. Blog Hosting Search

Modern blogging systems come with a wealth of features. To illustrate the sophistication of Internet services today, below is a list of requirements that may help selection of the right platform.

1. Template Editing: Can templates be edited offline and then upload by FTP? This is useful for complicated layouts, though a good online editor will probably be preferable.
2. Template Tagging: How does the system recognize the insertion points for post data, etc.? By:
      a. PHP functions. Template contains actual PHP functions that insert post data at that point.
      b. Proprietary. Template contains proprietary HTML tags that are replaced by the system with post data.
      c. Smarty. Template uses the Smarty library to insert post data.
      d. Underlying engine. Template uses the underlying sever-side scripting engine to insert content.
3. Security: Companies generally restrict posts (and often comments) to approved users. Several permission systems are in force:
      a. Numeric levels. Users are assigned a level by number. Users at one end of the range have all permissions, users at the other have few or none, the range between allows different permissions.
      b. Permission groups. Users are assigned to a group and inherit their permissions from that group. There can be any number of groups, with different permissions defined by an administrator.
      c. Single user. There is only one user account that can log in to the software control panel.
      d. User permissions. Users are assigned all permissions individually.
4. Open Registration: Can users can create their own logins for posting on the site via the system. Possibilities:
      a. No. Users cannot register their own logins.
      b. Toggle. Option is available or not based on an administrative setting.
      c. Yes. Option is always on, or must be disabled by hacking or removing sections of the system code.
5. Skins: Can the appearance or layout be changed by simply changing 'skins'? The change may be effected by templates or CSS coding.

6. Multiple Sites: Can information and data across several sites be managed through a single point of entry, setting user permissions as necessary?
7. Blog Control Panel: Is the blog run from a control panel — writing the post, editing it, moderating comments, etc. — and is that panel easy to master?
8. Data Storage: Blog pages are usually stored in a database, one of these types:
      a. Flat file. Data for page is pulled from a flat file and is not built on-the-fly by the blog software.
      b. Data file. Data for the page is pulled from a flat file and inserted into a template for delivery.
      c. Database. Data for the page is pulled from a database and inserted into a template for delivery.
      d. Type of database affects the speed at which pages are displayed, and ease with which they are backed up and can be copied across to another blog if necessary. Some blog systems use the MySQL backup facilities of cPanel.
9. Languages: Blogging systems will generally display the common European languages. For Asian languages it's usually better to use a hosting company in or specifically catering for the countries of interest.
10. Plugins: The better blogging programs add functionality with plugins, which in inverse ease of use are:
      a. Drop-in. Administrator installs the plugin files to a specific directory. The system automatically integrates these files with no configuration changes.
      b. Push-button. Administrator installs the plugin files to the system, then activates the plugin from an administration console.
      c. Configuration. Administrator installs the plug files to the system, then alters a configuration file to inform the system that the plugin is available.
      d. Hack. Administrator must replace or patch an existing system file.

11. Visitor Logs: Server logs can always be consulted, but some blogging systems show the recent visitors to the site, including such information as pages visited, user agent, IP address, IP nationality, etc.
12. User Profiles: Can the system employ user profiles, and can these be customized by administrator and/or users?
13. Post Ordering: Posts are generally arranged in descending chronological order — i.e. latest first — but some systems allow these options:
      a. Descending. Newest at the top.
      b. Ascending. Oldest at top.
      c. Alphabetical. Ordered alphabetically by post topic.
      d. Category. Ordered by the category in which they appear.
14. Categories: Can posts to be classified by categories? Multiple categories help in blog promotion.
15. Keywords: Can keywords be added to each post, allowing keyword search of the site?

16. Draft Mode and Editing: Most companies check and edit posts before they go live. Many systems exist:
      a. Textarea. System accepts post data directly from a plain HTML <textarea> tag with little or no modification. The data can include HTML markup, and there may be scripted controls that automatically insert these markup tags, but the system does not process the tags.
      b. Texturize. System accepts post data from a <textarea> and processes it through Texturize.
      c. Textile. System accepts post data from a <textarea> and processes it through Textile.
      d. HTML. System uses a browser-integrated WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) solution.
      e. Java. System uses a WYSIWYG Java applet.
Plugin:
      a. b2Evolution provides a choice of plugins (included: Textile, Auto-P, Greymatter, BB Code, Texturize, graphic smilies)
      b. bBlog and allows use of an editor via plugins (included: Textile, bbcode, plain)
      c. Serendipity also allows choice of an editor through different plugins (including Textile, wiki, BB Code)
17. Post API Support: Which blogging API (application programming interface: a small software program that enables interaction with other software) does the system support?
      a. Blogger
      b. MetaWeblog
      c. MovableType
      d. b2
      e. Atom

18. Post Moderation: Can the system impose an editor, or administrative-level, approval of a post before it is published to the site? A useful safeguard for corporate sites.
19. Book Marklets Employed? A bookmarklet is a small JavaScript program stored as a URL within a bookmark in most popular web browsers, or stored within a hyperlink on a web page.
20. Pings: Can system initiate a pingback to a site when a new post is added? Not essential as third-party sites provide a fuller service.

21. RSS Aggregation: Can the system amalgamate RSS from other sites? (Really simple syndication uses an XML format to have text, audio files and images automatically sent across the Internet)
      a. Through an aggregator. System includes a full-featured RSS aggregator that can display feeds from other sites, commonly through a separate interface.
      b. Through feed. System reads RSS data from a site and integrates that information with the standard posting methods available in the system.
22. Search Engine Friendly URLs: Some systems replace something like http://www.myblog.com/index.php.?id=seo654g by http://www.myblog.com/index.php/seo_companies. Possibilities:
      a. Mod_rewrite. System uses the Apache server extension mod_rewrite to create SEF URLs, the settings being automatically determined.
      b. Path_info. System uses the path_info environment variable to parse the use of SEF URLs.
      c. Filesmatch. System uses the Apache <filesmatch> directive to match regular expressions in URLs, similar to mod_rewrite.
      d. Filenames. System writes flat files with names that are search-engine friendly by default.
23. Spam Filtering: Some filter is an unfortunate necessity if the blog is not be overwhelmed with unwanted comments. Many systems exist:
      a. Login. Users must login to leave comments.
      b. Filtering. Comments are searched for spam suspect words and eliminated if found to match.
      c. Captcha. Users leaving comments must replicate the text that appears in a generated image.
      d. Duplicate. System does not allow duplicate comments.
      e. IPban. System can ban commenters by IP. (Pivot IP bans are checked against both the user's IP and their referrer.)
      f. Userban. System can ban comments by username.
      g. Moderated. System can require that comments be reviewed by editors/administrators before publication.
      h. Blacklist. System uses a list of URLs or IPs that indicate spam comments. (Pivot blacklists are checked against both the user and the referrer. b2Evolution blacklists are centralized on a remote server and are contributed by the b2Evolution community.)
      i. Delay. System requires that a reasonable amount of time passes between adding comments.
      j. Shutoff. System will turn off commenting for a post automatically after a preset amount of time.
      k. Redirection. System will replace commenting users URLs with local URLs that redirect to the specified site. (Prevents the link from garnering pageranking.)
      l. Linkcount. System will reject or hold for moderation all comments containing a minimum number of links.
       m. Massedit. System will allow the deletion of a batch of comments simultaneously.
24. Trackbacks: Can the system to initiate a trackback ping to another weblog when a new post is added?
25. Forum: Does the system include an integrated bulletin board-style forum, or can the blogging software can be configured to behave as such?

26. Email Posts Can users add new posts to the system by email?
27. Blogroll: A list of sites relevant or of special interest to visitors. Most systems allow these, sometimes through a plugin.
28. Search Facility: Visitors generally wish to search the archives for information or articles of interest.
29. Photo Galleries: What facilities exist to post photos to the site, and can these include thumbnails?
30. Audio Clips and Podcasts: Many blogs now include audio clips.

31. Video Clips and Vpods: Video is readily added to many blog programs.
32. Subscribe Buttons: How easy is it for visitors to subscribe — through a simple button?
33. Server Type: If the hosting company doesn't offer a blogging service with all the features needed, and third-party software needs to be installed, then Unix/Linux hosting and the ability to run PHP are generally needed, preferably with a cPanel interface.
34. Ease of Maintenance: A critical consideration, often overlooked. Wordpress is powerful software, but customization needs facility in PHP coding. Expression Engine similarly requires some CSS mastery (Cascading Style Sheets) to create pages as wanted, particularly if the templates adopted don't employ tables for layout. Neither PHP nor CSS is difficult, but smaller companies prefer to spend their time writing the blog rather than programming. The XML format of some systems (e.g. Expression Engine) is unforgiving: the slightest error in text entries may cause the page to break: another frustration for the busy blogger.

Blogging Systems

A brief comparison of the more popular blogging systems.

Functionality

Blogger

WordPress

TextPattern

Movable Type

Expression Engine

Price (US $)

free

free

free

free

$100/300

Minimum Server

Requirements

hosted

hosted/PHP


MySQL

PHP


MySQL

PHP/Perl

MySQL 4.0

PHP 4.06


MySQL 3.23

Comments

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Categories

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Subcategories

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Trackbacks

Yes (Backlinks)

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Pings

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

RSS

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Atom

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Search

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Blogroll/Lists

No

Yes

No

No

No

Number of blogs

Unlimited

1 (more with

WordPress MU)

Unlimited

Determined

by license

Unlimited

News Aggregation

No

No

No

No

Yes

Extras

Blogger

WordPress

TextPattern

Movable Type

Expression Engine

Moblogging

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Photo galleries

Plugin

Plugin

Plugin

Plugin

Plugin

Audio clips

Code

Plugin

Plugin

Plugin

Plugin

Video clips

Yes

Plugin

Plugin

Plugin

Plugin

Tag cloud

Code

Yes

Plugin

Code

Yes

Subscribe buttons

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Plugin

Non-blog pages

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Maintenance

Blogger

WordPress

Movable Type

Movable Type

Expression Engine

API

Blogger

Blogger,

MetaWeblog,

MT

Blogger,

MetaWeblog,

MT, Atom

Blogger,

MetaWeblog,

MT, Atom

MetaWeblog,

Blogger, MT

Logs

None

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Data Storage

Database

Database

Database

/No database

Database

/No database

Database

Spam Fighting Tools

Blogger

WordPress

TextPattern

Movable Type

Expression Engine

Blacklist

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Visitor registration/

login

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Captchas

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

Moderation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

URL NoFollow

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

IP/User/URL banning

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Comment Notification

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Design

Blogger

WordPress

TextPattern

Movable Type

Expression Engine

Skins

33

2

7

7

27

Admin panel design

configuration

No

No

No

No

No

Admin panel layout

configuration

No

No

No

No

No

Publishing Interface

Blogger

WordPress

TextPattern

Movable Type

Expression Engine

User Levels

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Multiple authors

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Image uploading

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Image thumbnailing

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Post scheduling

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Save without posting

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Bookmarklets

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Edit Templates Online

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Edit Templates Offline

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

File uploading

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Password Protection

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Localization

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Work offline

No

No

No

No

Partial

Questions

1. What technical advantages do blogs have over web pages?
2. How are blogs used in business?
3. How do blogs differ from content management systems?
4. Your boss wants a blog that fits neatly into the company website. Even those with no IT skills will take their turn in writing posts. She is most concerned about spam and derogatory comments from rival companies. What would you recommend, in terms of procedures and software?

Sources and Further Reading

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