What is a blog used for? Well, take it from a guy who’s been blogging since 1999. It’s used for a lot of things, depending on who is running the blog. It helps to remember that ultimately, a blog is just a web site. So you can use it for anything you would use any other web page for. But let’s explore it. My motivations for blogging certainly have changed over time.
What is a blog?
First, it helps to understand what a blog is, exactly. “Blog” is a shortened form of “Weblog,” or, web log. The first blogs were just online journals or diaries. The people who had the skills to run a web site posted their recollections of what they’d been working on every day.
I started blogging in 1999. The format was still young then, but I remember visiting Jerry Pournelle’s as early as 1997. And in many ways, the early blogs weren’t that different from what we called homepages in the early days of the Web. In the mid 90s, almost every college student with an account on their college’s Unix machine set up a simple web page that was a collection of links and comments about those links. One of my instructors in college liked to joke that there were only 12 pages on the Web, and all the rest of them were just links and comments about the others.
The blog was a natural evolution from those early homepages. It put a bit of structure and schedule to it, rather than the haphazard format of pages run by college students. Since entries had dates, visitors could spot new entries right away.
How early blogs were produced
Early blogs were sometimes hand-coded HTML, but that got difficult to maintain very quickly. Most of the pioneers used some kind of HTML editor. Microsoft Frontpage was a common choice. Some used Microsoft Word. Dan Bricklin used his own product called Trellix. I used a now-obscure product called Netobjects Fusion.
Blogging platforms like we know them today didn’t appear right away, but they made life much easier. Today I can crank out a quick blog post in a couple of minutes. In the early days, I don’t think I could have done a blog post of any kind of length in less than 15. A lot of people had no idea how tedious it was, and that led to a lot of burnout in the early days.
What is a blog used for?
Early bloggers were usually either hobbyists or people looking to promote their other work. Dan Bricklin used his to promote Trellix. Jerry Pournelle used it to promote his magazine columns and his books. In October 1999, I signed off on the final galley proofs of a book I published, and it seemed like the next thing to do was to start a blog to try to promote it. That’s still a common reason, but by no means the only one.
My current and previous three employers all had blogs, and those blogs served two purposes: Drum up new business, and provide useful information to current customers to keep them happy. The largest of those employers had another one that they use to recruit new employees.
The earliest blogs were individuals promoting themselves, and that still exists, but today if a company doesn’t have at least one blog, it’s a little weird. Just like companies put a lot of effort into their social media presence, they often put a lot of effort into their blogs as well.
This category still exists too, and for many years I probably fell into this category myself. Some people aren’t really looking to sell anything. They like writing and seeing if anyone reads it. Some are professionals who use their blogs as a personal reference site. Very early on I made a habit of writing a blog post any time I figured out how to do something. That way, I’d be able to find how to do it again when I needed to. My chances of being able to find it again there were better than my chances of being able to find it in any system we had at work at the time. And the nice thing was, in my case at least, people often did read it and comment on it, often adding some helpful information.
Some blogs are successful businesses on their own. The reasons for doing it on your own rather than writing for someone else vary, but speaking as someone who has done some freelance writing in the past, I often spent as much time trying to sell my writings as I spent writing them in the first place. It’s certainly a lot easier to just write something, put it out there on my blog, and see if it sticks. It can take a couple of years to make what I would make by selling the piece, but being able to spend more time writing makes up for it. And while I get less up front, some posts remain viable a very long time.
Blogging also allows me to write content that doesn’t have another viable venue. Some of the stuff I write is way too obscure for anyone else to be willing to take a chance on it. But the worst that can happen is that I publish it and nobody reads it. A successful professional blogger knows how to determine ahead of time if a topic has any audience, and write in a way to attract search engines. This isn’t my full-time job and I don’t expect it to be any time soon. But there are bloggers who make their full-time living at it. In some cases it can be more profitable than traditional publishing. I now believe that it takes about three years to go from making a dollar a day to making five figures in a year blogging.
If you’re interested, here are 11 tips on writing for a blog that I’ve found helpful over the years.