The best blogging platform isn't a blogging platform, but a social network, writes columnist Mike Elgan. He explains how and why he uses Google+ for blogging.
Most of these products or services let you customize the appearance of your blog, moderate comments, add widgets and do other bloggish things.
They're appealing because they make you feel like a pro -- you're managing a brand. You're "curating" content. You're "designing" a website. It feels like your own personal publishing empire.
The problem is that bells and whistles can distract you from the reason you're blogging in the first place. In fact, they can get in the way, creating a psychological wall of separation between you and your readers, and preventing you from growing your audience as big as you could.
Why do you blog?
There are all kinds of reasons to blog: To share your thoughts and opinions with anyone who might be interested, to get feedback on those ideas, to influence people, to cultivate a community, to start interesting conversations, to practice writing and to teach, learn and grow.
Those are the reasons I blog, and probably why 99% of all blogs were started.
In olden days (five years ago), blogs were "open" and social networks were "closed."
Blogs let you put your ideas out on the wild, untamed Internet for all to see. Social networks, on the other hand, were "walled gardens." Blog posts were public; social networks were private.
In the past year, that situation has essentially reversed, although many bloggers haven't realized it.
The social networks have knocked down the garden walls, encouraging public posts accessible to anyone, even if they're not "friends" and even if they're not members of the social network.
Social sharing has become the de facto way for people to discover content.
Now, if you want to really promote your blog posts, you've got to promote them on social networks. Why? Because social sites like Facebook, Reddit and Pinterest are where the viral sharing of content takes place.
In fact, people now have so much content in their social streams that they're less likely to click over to that blog post. So posting on blogs, then promoting it on social networks, doesn't work as well as it used to.
If you post something on a blog, fewer people are likely to find it. It's like nailing a printout of your post on a tree in the forest.
Hybrid sites that combine social networking features with blogging, such as Tumblr and Twitter, are a step in the right direction (especially Tumblr, because it's a real blogging platform and it lacks Twitter's character limit).
If Tumblr is a small step, then Google+ is a giant leap.
As is the case with Tumblr, people who discover your Google+ blog can follow or "circle" you. But follower growth happens faster on Google+ for several reasons. First, people share more actively -- by clicking two buttons, anyone can repost what you posted to all of their followers. If enough people do that, your post could make it to the Google+ "What's Hot" list, and a million people might read it.
Second, your readers can share you as part of a circle. Good bloggers end up on circles that are shared and reshared -- circles with names like "Technology Women" or "Home Beer Brewers" or "Foodies." Once you start getting shared in these circles, it never stops, it only grows and grows, as more people add the circle and reshare it themselves.
Blogging on Google+ sets you free. You can write entries of nearly unlimited length and post an unlimited number of pictures. Readers can click a button to discuss your post in a Hangout (a group video chat). You can edit, re-edit, share, reshare and link to anything (including Google+ Search or Google Search). You can narrow the readership of your post if you want by simply addressing it to circles rather than "Public." You can toggle commenting on and off, delete comments, mute or block users and much more.
Blogging on Google+ has become popular with the Internet's biggest tech bloggers, including publishing mogul Tim O'Reilly, technology evangelist Robert Scoble, marketing genius Guy Kawasaki and Digg founder, angel investor and serial entrepreneur Kevin Rose.
O'Reilly wrote, "G+ is my favorite blogging platform" and he said Google+ is "like a Tumblr 2.0, but more social."
Google+ blogging isn't for every blogger. If you really need custom design, traditional archives, widgets and other nonblog functionality or advertising, you're better off with a regular blog platform.
But for everyone else, Google+ is the by far the best place to blog.
How I blog on Google+
Here's my advice for how to blog on Google+. First, create a "headline" by bolding the first sentence. Type an asterisk on either side of the headline to bold it.
Google+ offers a place to add a link, which auto-generates a thumbnail picture and "blurb" at the bottom of your post. This is fine for the personal social sharing of links. But when you're blogging, never use this option. The thumbnail is too small to attract the eye, and the blurb is an extraneous element that competes for attention with your headline and post.
I believe that accepting the auto-generated thumbnail and blurb is the single biggest mistake that some Google+ bloggers make.
Upload a full-size picture. Don't accept the auto-generated thumbnail.
Alternatively, add a video by simply pasting the YouTube or Vimeo URL anywhere in the body of the post. Google+ will automatically add the video. Once the video appears at the bottom of the post, you can delete the URL.
Once your picture or video is in place, paste in any links you want to add at the bottom of the post. Google+ will convert them into live links for readers.
If you refer to an organization, publication or person, try plus-mentioning them. By typing a plus sign and then the name, you'll get a drop-down menu of possibilities. Choose the right one, and that plus-mention will point your readers to the party's Google+ page with an auto-generated link, and those mentioned will probably be notified the post. Never assume that organizations or people aren't on Google+. I've found that 95% of the people or organizations I refer to have Google+ profiles or pages.
One of the great things about Google+ is that you can add email addresses to the addressing, and your blog post will be delivered as an email. So if you mention a company, or want to bring your post to the attention of people via email, just add their email address.
Give credit at the bottom of posts. I credit the source of the picture or video, credit the source of the story idea and also use the Google+ search feature to find out who was the first person to mention the news on Google+ and credit them for that as well.
Address your post to "Public" -- that delivers the post to people who have circled you, and makes it available on the Internet just like any blog post or other Web page.
Actively moderate. Engage with constructive commenters and block spammers and trolls. Circle the people who are particularly interesting. Cultivate community.
If you want to see how many people have read your post, you can open Picasa Web Albums (the photo service that Google uses on the back end for all Google+ photography) click on the picture that accompanied the post in question and it will show you how many times that picture was viewed (the same number who viewed your post).
I've blogged extensively for more than a decade, using Movable Type, TypePad, Blogger, Posterous and Tumblr. And I think Google+ is by far the best blogging platform I've ever encountered.
Sure, you give up design customization, archiving and widgets. But you gain more of what you were looking for when you decided to blog in the first place: Readers, community, influence and learning.
If you're not sure, why not try it as an experiment for one month? Announce your experiment on your blog and add a link to your profile.
And please drop me a line on Google+ to let me know you're doing this!
Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free email newsletter, Mike's List. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.
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