What Is a Blog?Blogs technically began in 1997, when someone first called a posting a "blog" - but really blog style posts were being done way back in the early days of the internet. I know in the 80s when I was at an engineering univerity and we were accessing the internet that we would make diary style posts. We just wouldn't call them blogs. In the late 80s and early 90s when I worked for biotech companies and was doing heavy internet / telnet / ftp work, diary style entries were quite common.
So in order to understand a blog, it's important to understand the "normal" style of updating a website. I am of course vastly oversimplifying to keep this easy for newbies to understand :). When a website is created and updated, it consists of a series of HTML files. Each HTML file correlates with one webpage a visitor sees when they come to a site. So for example this page here is "whatisablog.html" and it is an actual HTML file on my server. That server file has that name. When I want to update this content, I edit the file with this content in it and then save it again. Now my new changes to this file are seen by millions of visitors.
The content is not dated. It is "evergreen". It is always useful and timely. It doesn't talk about "last Wednesday" something happened, or that "in two weeks" something else will happen. Those sorts of notes would be meaningless to you, the reader, since you have no idea when I wrote this. All content is timeless and is always helpful.
In comparison, blogs came about to be all about "this moment in time". A blog post says, "Today is May 1, 2010, and this is what I am doing today. Hopefully by next week I will be done." When a reader visits a blog they are seeing a snapshot in time. It is critical for them to know when the snapshot is taken! That way the references about "tomorrow" and "last week" make sense.
Each type of writing is well suited for different circumstances.
If I am posting a review of Pride & Prejudice, it doesn't matter when I wrote it. My review simply talks about the book and its strengths and weaknesses. That will be of value to readers tomorrow and in ten years.
If I am posting day by day updates about how the Hurricane Katrina cleanup is progressing, then that is perfect for a blog. By having each entry date and time stamped, readers can see and understand where I am in the story. My statements about "hopefully tomorrow we will get food delivered" make sense. They know when I wrote it and what situation I was in.
Using a Blog as a Content Management System
As more and more newbies joined the web, a portion of them wanted to create and maintain web content but did not want or have the capability to learn web coding. So they wanted to jerry-rig the blog system to have it act as a content management system (CMS). That is, they wanted to add and update fairly static content on their website, but use the blog system to do that. Now, of course a blog system CAN do that. A blog system doesn't care what you enter into it. You type in letters, it saves them and assigns them to a file name. Because blog systems were designed for a blog style purpose and not a CMS style purpose, it won't be as efficient or optimized as a true CMS would be in presenting data. Still, we all make trade-offs in life.
If you're choosing to use your blog in order to add and update evergreen content on your site, it's a good idea to try to turn off all date references in the system. That way your content doesn't become "dated" quickly. Web readers tend to judge very heavily based on how new content is. That is, if they are reading an article on a topic and it says it was written three years ago, they tend to judge it as "old / not as useful" even if the content is still quite meaningful. If there is no date at all on the entry, they tend to think "fresh" which is a better impression.
But even if you're using blog software as a CMS, you should still HAVE A DATE-BASED BLOG :). Don't let the fact that you're using one as a CMS have you think you're blogging. Static content and blog content have very different looks and feels, and both are important. So, if necessary, have two blogs on your site! One can be how you update your static pages. The other can be your actual blog, in the true sense of the word.
To summarize, a blog is meant to be a time-based diary. This distinguishes it from evergreen style content which is typical web content. Some people are using blogs to maintain their web content, which blurs those lines a bit. Still, even if you do use your blog software as a CMS system, it's still good to consider having a "real blog" - i.e. a time based stream. Both a time-based set of entries and an evergreen content-based set of entries are important to provide an overall experience for your visitors. I'll cover why that is in the companion article -
Why Have a Blog?
Creating an Active Blog - Main Page
Marketing your Small Business
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