It seems that just about everyone wants a blog these days, but fewer have much of an idea about how to start one.
“It’s part of our public profile: how are you represented on the net?” says Gary Shilling, who will teach a weekend course next April about blogging and social media at B.C.’s Simon Fraser University. “It used to be, ‘Do you have a fax machine?’ and then it was, ‘Do you have an e-mail address?’ And now it’s, ‘Do you have a blog or do you have any videos up on YouTube?’ It’s become part of our social fabric.”
There are already millions of blogs on the internet and thousands more created every day as they make online publishing easier and cheaper than ever, according to the blog-tracking website Technorati.com.
And to help would-be bloggers — everyone from technical neophytes to professional writers looking to make the leap from the printed page to the web — how-to courses are popping up in continuing education departments at universities and colleges across the country.
“The people we’re designing it for are people who perhaps are not terribly comfortable with technology, who have an interest in the medium but haven’t made those first steps to actually push the button,” Shilling says.
The Simon Fraser course will focus on the technical aspect of starting a blog and posting text, photos and video, as well as writing for the web. Shilling, a communication design consultant, will focus on the technology, while co-instructor Vancouver-area writer Meg Walker will talk about storytelling.
Writing for the web, and blogs in particular, is different than traditional pen and paper, Shilling says.
“The most important thing is that we’re dealing with short concentration spans,” he says. “You go to a web page, what do you give it, five seconds, 10 seconds to catch your interest? It’s important to condense the storytelling to the point where you have to hook people in your first couple of sentences.”
Courses elsewhere range from beginner classes for basement bloggers — such as “Internet Storytelling” at Nova Scotia Community College or “Introduction to Blogs” at Ontario’s Centennial College — to the professional, like “Blogging for Business” at the University of British Columbia.
At the University of Toronto, local blogger David Topping is preparing to teach “The Art and Business of Blogging,” a three-week evening class that starts in February.
Teaching a course on a still-emerging medium like blogging is a strange task, says the 21-year-old university student who, after two years running the popular Torontoist.com group blog, admits he’s still trying to figure it out himself.
“It’s something that I’m still learning about right now,” Topping says. “I think society at large is figuring out what the proper role of blogging is, and people in it are still feeling their way around it.”
Aside from the art of blog storytelling, Topping will also talk about the business of running a blog.
And while he says there’s money to be made through advertising if a blog becomes popular enough, he cautions that financial success is rare — and beside the point, anyway.
“Anyone looking to get into a field to make money, it’s probably better that they look somewhere other than blogging,” Topping says. “The act of blogging is participating in this larger conversation — that’s one of the things that I really like about the internet, one of the benefits that it has over every other medium.”
The question about the role of blogs — along with how to run them — is also finding its way into professional post-secondary programs.
Ryerson University’s magazine publishing program offers a course on creating content for the web. The class covers the array of online possibilities for magazine websites, including blogs, which are becoming a must-have for publications moving online.
“In the same way that 10 years ago everyone had to have a website, nowadays everyone’s like, ‘Oh, we have to have a blog,”‘ says Kat Tancock, instructor of the course, who also works as a web editor and runs a blog called Magazines Online.
Tancock says she wants web editors to understand that traditional magazine or newspaper content doesn’t always translate online. But beyond that, she says, how best to use blogging and social media is still anyone’s guess.
“I’m leading a discussion more than telling people what’s what,” she says. “Copy editing, an apostrophe goes in a certain place. But using Twitter for your magazine? People are still experimenting.”
– The Canadian Press