2 Blog Or Not 2 Blog?

clip_image001I’ve noticed recently a marked increase in queries though the DICTAT and CESI mailing lists regarding the potential use of blogging platforms as replacements for traditional static type html websites. Though I read with interest a straw pole conducted by Simon Lewis a few months back, of one hundred teachers over at www.anseo.net, suggesting that just over 20% of the sample claiming to post to blogs versus over 86% posting to online fora (Read the full article). Simon (A long time champion of the medium) suggests the particularly low uptake of blogging by Irish teachers is down to inherent concerns around the safety of blogging particularly for pupils. So are these genuine concerns? How can they be addressed? or should we just stick with the tried and tested Dreamweaver/Web X5/etc. generated sites currently being used by most schools? Personally I believe dynamic websites offer huge possibilities to schools looking to develop an online presence particularly when it comes to cost and management but I’m not going off on a tangent talking about the plethora of different dynamic sites that can be built (Blogs, wikis, Open source CMSs, social networks etc.). No lets focus on blogs particularly in the light of the free blogging service soon to be offered  through ScoilNet, allowing all schools nationally access to powerful blogging and content management tools.

What exactly is a blog?

A Blog (Short for Web Log) is an online diary updated regularly by an individual or collective, primarily comprising of text, graphics and links (Though photo and video blogging are gaining popularity). What distinguishes a blog from a traditional website is the ability for readers to leave comments and native RSS feed support which allows users to subscribe and receive site updates without having to visit the site continuously. Also other web 2.0 tools such as podcasting, wikis, social booking etc. can be effortlessly integrated.

Current estimates suggest there are in excess of 150 million blogs out in the ‘Blogsphere’. This phenomenal growth and popularity is primarily down to the availability of feature-rich and easy to use blogging tools which in the main are Open Source (Free). WordPress (www.wordpress.org) is currently the most popular platform but other popular tools include Blogger (www.blogger.com), TypePad (www.typepad.com) and Windows Live Spaces (http://spaces.live.com). In addition the availability of a plethora of third-party plugins for many of these platforms enable users to add functionality to their blogs that would be difficult (And expensive) on a traditional website.

But I don’t want a blog I want a website?

This was often a question I asked myself (A long time advocate of the static type html driven site) particularly in the early days of the blogging phenomenon. Well that’s exactly what you can have by demoting the blogging aspect to a news page or the like (Or completely removing it if you wish). The latest versions of the WordPress platform are just as at home creating pages as posts and the huge number of plugins available allows you to easily to customise the site to your requirements, making the platform an extremely powerful Content Management System (Granted not as powerful as the Joomlas and Drupals of this world but coming with far less of a learning curve). Check out some of the sites below for further info on WordPress as a CMS.

Things To Consider When Using WordPress as a CMS
WordPress as a CMS – Content Management System
WordPress CMS modifications

How safe are blogs?
My own thoughts are… as safe as you want them to be. Granted you can never guarantee 100% safety when publishing online irrespective of how you go about it but blogging can be just a safe as all the other mediums if it is configured appropriately. My advice is to firstly configure the Discussion settings so all comments are moderated by the site administrator (Alternatively commenting can be disabled) and secondly install the excellent free spam filter plugin ‘Akisnet’ from the makers of WordPress.

Get Blogging?

I’m not sure how good of a sales pitch this post has been for the benefits of blogging but hopefully will encourage those out there dubious of the medium to give it a spin? If you do and go with WordPress (Like the ScoilNet service) make sure you check out www.wordpresstraining.com for superb step-by-step video tutorials on getting started. Happy blogging!

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