Using the Internet for Your Home School Group (Part 3: Blogging)

Alright, so your home school group has mass email and it has a Facebook account; what now? If your group is extremely active—or if you personally are, and you want to tell the world about it—then I suggest you start a blog.

The Basics
First things first: Let’s get a few semantics out of the way. “Blog” (like many internet-terms) is an abbreviation. It’s short for web log. I know it doesn’t seem like that much trouble to write the letters W and E, but for some reason internet gurus thought better, so the term was shortened. Today, “blog” is the only term you’ll hear thrown around on the net.

Alright, so what exactly is a blog? Well, a blog is nothing more than a diary kept online. Some people use them to catalogue their daily lives (in a true diary-manner); some use them to report news or write articles about topics of interest; either way, it’s a very versatile type of website that has many applications.

Every blog is unique; they each have their own sets of tools, features, layouts, and uses. However, the two components that every blog shares are:
1. They have a serial-format (i.e. just like a diary).
2. They allow visitors to leave comments on the topics discussed.
This second feature is not present on every blog, but that’s usually because the blog’s author has somehow disabled or limited visitors’ ability to comment.

Now, the big question I get when it comes to blogs is this: What separates a blog from any other website? Well, a blog is a special type of website that (I believe) is much more user-friendly.

A good example of this is our very own Education Alliance website. If you go to www.arkansashomeschool.org, you’ll see the static website: The information only changes if we update it, and changing it usually involves re-writing code in a web-design program, uploading files, and managing directories. Switch over to our blog (you’re reading it now—www.arkansashomeschool.org/blog). The blog is a very simple, set-it-and-forget-it platform. I set up the blog; now, if I want to change something, I log on to my blog-management service (aka blogging platform), make my changes (or write my new article), and press “Post”; that’s it!

Blogging is a very basic web design that almost anybody can use. Blogs can be as intricate or as simple as you want—it all depends on how comfortable you are with a computer and how much time you want to invest in blogging.

Some people make their living writing for blogs. They usually have several blogs that they manage, and they earn their money by selling advertising space on their site (we have ads on our site that help us cover some of the very basic expenses we incur). You probably won’t be able to earn serious money with your blog, but it’s always a possibility.

Applications for Home Schooling
Blogs are a great way for home school groups to post daily updates about upcoming events, make announcements about past activities, keep each other informed on current events, and make their presence known to the world. Besides that, remember: Home school websites that look well-ordered, are updated regularly, and have a lot of followers are a good way to remind lawmakers that we’re out here, we’re organized, and we keep up with what’s going on in our world.

Alright, so you’ve established that your home school group (or you personally) must have a blog. Where do you begin?

The first thing to do is decide whether or not you want to spend any money.

The Free Route
If you want to set up your blog for free, you’re in luck. There are more free blogging services out there than I can list! My personal favorites are WordPress (it’s what I’m using right now) and Blogspot/Blogger (services I used to blog with). There’s also Live Journal, Xanga (pronounced “ZANG-uh”), MySpace, and Facebook’s Notes (although the Notes offer virtually no custom features).

Most of these blogging services will let you pick a blog username that will determine what your blog’s web address will be. For instance, if your username at WordPress is ARHomeSchoolMom99, your blog’s web address will probably be something like ARHomeSchoolMom99.Wordpress.com. This is good to keep in mind when you set up your free account with them, because you’ll want your username to be fairly memorable.

Pick your free blogging service, set up your account, choose a layout, and your done!

The Cheap Route
For less than $10/year you can purchase a domain name from GoDaddy.com. (Note: “Domain name” is Internet-Guru for “whatever.com”; for instance, our domain name is arkansashomeschool.org). Your domain name should be easy to remember (Please note I did not say “short,” although short can be better).

Most free blogging services allow you to link your free blog directly to your purchased domain name. Now, instead of telling your friends to go to ARHomeSchoolMom99.Wordpress.com, you can tell them to go to www.HomeSchoolMom.com. Do a little research; most free blogging services make it very easy to set this up.

The Expensive Route
I use the word “Expensive” rather loosely here, because this can still be done for just $10 per month (or less).

Go to GoDaddy.com (or your favorite domain-name-registration service; I prefer GoDaddy, because they’re the cheapest I’ve found), purchase a domain name, and set up what’s called a “hosting package” for the name you buy. This will probably run you around $5-$10 per month, and you’ll probably have to pay for two year’s worth of hosting up front. Altogether, you will incur a one-time cost of about $120, but you won’t have to pay another dime for at least two years.

When you set up your hosting plan, you have two choices: Linux Hosting or Windows Hosting. If you choose Windows, be sure you set up IIS 7.0 or greater (I know that sounds really technical, but don’t worry; it’s not difficult to do). It really doesn’t matter whether you choose Windows or Linux, because you aren’t going to do any computer programming through this website; you’re just going to set up a WordPress blog.

Alright, once your hosting account is set up, log in, find your account’s control panel (GoDaddy keeps moving it around, so I won’t give you too much detail here on how to find it; suffice it to say GoDaddy usually makes it very obvious). What you want to do is install WordPress into the root directory on your hosting account. WordPress will be found under the Add-Ons sections of your hosting account’s control panel (look for a big button near the top). If you don’t feel like hunting for it, call GoDaddy’s tech support people, and have them walk you through it; they’re very helpful (trust me; I deal with them regularly).

Setting up your blog this way will give you maximum control over it. Once you’ve installed WordPress on your GoDaddy account, you’re ready to begin blogging.

This method is the most taxing on the front end, but it’s great in the long run. It’s the same method I used when I set this blog up, and I haven’t regretted it one bit.

The Bottom Line
Whether you go the Free Route, the Cheap Route, or the Expensive Route, setting up a blog is a fairly simple, rewarding process.

What do I write about?!
This is the question that plagues every blogger. I would suggest you type “How to Blog” into Google; it should give you some really good tips. However, here are the ones I try to live by:
1. Blog regularly.
2. Encourage visitors to leave comments.
3. Interact with visitors who do leave comments.
4. Find a good way to let visitors keep up with your blog without having to check it every day (e.g. I have an email form on the left-hand side of this page that lets people choose to receive an email when I post something new).
5. Pick a theme and stick with it. I blog about home-school-related topics (for the most part); Art of Manliness blogs about macho things; Get Rich Slowly blogs about money. It wouldn’t make sense if I suddenly started blogging about the daily weather patterns in Chattanooga or GRS began writing about the migratory habits of humpback whales. Once you’ve established the things you blog about, stick with it.
6. Have fun!

Once you’ve set up your blog, have fun with it. Tell your friends about it. Tweet about it on Twitter. Post a link to it on Facebook. Ask your friends to do the same. Get a few readers, share your thoughts with the world, and have a good time.

That’s a brief overview of blogging and how to use it. In the future, we may do some installments on maxing-out your blog.

Next week, we will talk about micro-blogging, and other services out there that blur the line between Social Networking and blogging.

Have any blogging tips? Want to let us know what you think of this article? Please tell us! Leave us a comment below, and let the world hear from you!

About David Cox

David is a former home school student. In 2007 he graduated from John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, with a bachelors degree in Business Administration. He currently works as Education Alliance's primary IT employee, webmaster, and blogger. David and his wife live in Little Rock.
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