Tips for starting your own blog

I had been anonymously scribbling notes in my public wiki for about a year now. Last year my wiki started getting some traction. So far I have received 28,936 visits from 130 countries with about 100 visits per day.

Last weekend, after listening to Jared Richardson’s keynote “Career 2.0″ at NFJS Boston, I decided to phase out my wiki in favor of a formal and official blog. I think there are a few advantages of blogging as compared to maintaining one-person wiki. The most important reason is that blogs are more common these days and are well understood by the reader community. Blogging software also provide easy way for readers to provide feedback by writing comments. Blogs encourage your to write well written articles at a given point in time, whereas wikis are mostly suitable for collaborative and changing (though mostly converging) content. Lastly, most blogging software like wordpress and blogger create a URL for each post which includes the date the blog was posted, so people get a quick sense of how old / new a post is. This feature is very useful when you find a blog post link a search result and get a quick sense of whether the article is dated or recent.

There are many blogging tools and software available these days. I tried blogger.com and WordPress and I decided to go with WordPress, as it is very customizable and has tonnes of free third-party plugins. You can host your blog at wordpress.com for free and get free hosting upto 3 GB of content space. Moreover, you can host wordpress on your own server and have complete access to the content. You can skip the next paragraph unless you want to host your own blog.

Host your blog on your server

Hosting with wordpress is an easier option to get started but I wanted to have full control over my blog and therefore decided to buy my own domain and host it on my virtual server. I bought my domain from google domains (which uses GoDaddy behind the scenes) and bought the virtual hosting from eapps.com. You can get a cheap virtual server for as low as $10 / month and you get a static IP address and a root ssh access to your machine. Once your virtual server is provisioned, ssh into your box as root and follow the famous 5-minute wordpress installation instructions here. Please note than these days most servers come with WordPress installed, so you might not have to do this step unless you wanted a newer or a different version of WordPress. I decided to unzip the wordpress software in the document root of my web server so www.vineetmanohar.com points to wordpress as opposed to www.vineetmanohar.com/blog pointing to wordpress. And yes, before you can access your blog through the browser you will need to login to your domain name nameserver control panel (at godaddy, or which ever domain name provider you went with) and create an A-name entry for www.yourdomainname.com and point it to the IP address corresponding to your virtual host.

Market your blog

Once you blog is up and running please register it with blog search engines like technorati. If you blog is related to java, do register it at javablogs.com and artima.com. This will make your blog searchable and let other people find your content.

Find out who is visiting your blog

See you is accessing your content by adding google analytics to your blog. Open a Google Analytics account, then add the javascript snippet in the footer.php file of your selected theme at <document root>/wp-content/themes/<your theme>/footer.php.

<script type="text/javascript">
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www.");
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));
</script>
<script type="text/javascript">
try {
var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-XXXXXXX-X");
pageTracker._trackPageview();
} catch(err) {}</script>
</body>
</html>

Use syntax highlighting

If you are pasting code snippets in your blog, use syntax highlighting as it makes your code more readable and makes it easy for other people to copy paste the snippet. I use the syntax highlighter plugin for wordpress which supports java and many other languages.

Lastly, blog often. I intend at least once a week and more if possible. If you are reading this line and if you don’t have a blog yet, start one now!

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