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How to blog safely

It's as easy as falling off a (b)log

A blog? What's that?

All the cool kids have one and now I do too. Yes, I've started my own blog. It's called Bad Language and it's about writing in business. I figure the best way to learn how to blog was to do it and you can start your own free blog in a few minutes using MSN Spaces.

A blog is a website with regular news or diary-like posts. While you can read a blog online many people use a program called an RSS reader which will display new entries from selected sites as they appear.

Business blogging

I hope that my blog might be a good advert for my writing business and might generate some good karma by helping people to write better. Some people even make a living by blogging. They do this by including advertisements on their site, almost like online magazines. Since the main advert of my blog is my own site I don't want to confuse the message by including adverts from other people.

Many businesses use blogs as an adjunct to PR (see, for example, Scobleizer by Microsoft's Robert Scoble, arguably the world's best-known corporate blogger). It's a more human way for a company to talk to customers. They are also a useful way of building a relationship with customers particularly in building user communities. They can also be used as a way of providing technical support information.

Blog conventions

Unlike a web site or a press release, blogs are generally personal. The idea of blogging began with online diary and that is still the most popular use today. This confessional style is part of their charm.

Blogs are part of a wider community called the 'blogosphere.' Connections between different blogs help people find interesting new sites and avoid bad ones. A good place to start looking for blogs is Technorati. It's also a good place to find out what bloggers are saying about your business.

Like anything new on the internet, there are risks to blogging:

Spamming. Because search engines rate sites that are widely cited and linked to, spammers will try to use the 'comment' feature on blogs to include links to sites they are promoting. Use your blogging software to restrict anonymous comments.

Privacy. The laws of libel apply to blogs too. Also the rules of common sense. Don't post anything you wouldn't want your mother to read. Even if your blog is anonymous or pseudonymous your privacy isn't necessarily guaranteed. For personal or family blogs it is especially important to keep personal information away from the site.

Confidentiality. Employee blogs and company blogs could inadvertently (or deliberately) be used to disclose confidential information. Conversely, if you blog about your employer, be discreet. Don't join the list of bloggers who have been fired because of their online comments.

Backup. Make sure you keep a backup of your blog contents. Losing a year's worth of daily postings would be as bad as leaving the only copy of your first novel on the bus. And blogs do get turned into novels. Two examples: Mil Millington's Things My Girlfriend and I have Argued About or Jessica Cutler's sex-and-politics blog set in Washington.

However, I don't think there's much risk that my blog will turn into a novel but I am taking time to learn how blogging works, to write some decent stuff, studying other blogs to see how experts do it and paying attention to security. This seems like a reasonable approach.

What next?

How can your blog improve your business? Find out the five ways an online diary could deliver business benefits.

Microsoft Product Manager Peter Williams took a week off work for a tour of Great Britain, chronicling his epic trip on a blog. Read about how he did this and look at his AutoRoute 2006 blog

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has further advice on blogging safely.

You can use an RSS reader to keep track of blog postings. Read about RSS here.

Matthew writes a new column every fortnight. Subscribe and get each edition direct to your inbox.

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