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June 2005

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The Blog Phenomena: We Need to Talk

by Glen Emerson Morris
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The cover of the May 2, 2005 Business Week magazine had the word "Blogs" in large letters, and the cover story went on to say the blogs were the most significant communications development since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. At worst, that's not much of an overstatement.

Communications is undergoing an equivalent of the pre-Cambrian life explosion, with new and wildly unexpected variations appearing almost faster than they can be kept track of. Blogs, podcasting, video search and RSS were barely on the radar in January 2004, now they are radically changing the nature of mass communications.

Simply put, a blog is a content publishing system. It allows people to publish, or as it's called "post," self written articles on the Internet with little if any understanding of HTML code. Blogs also allow the blog's readers to add comments to articles, which both encourages traffic on the blog, and adds additional content that draws even more traffic. People have a built in need to talk, and now they have a platform to do it from.

There's no escaping the fact that blogs have become a social phenomena. A Google search on the word blog returns 80,900,000 results, and Business Week estimates that there are now over 9,000,000 blogs. However, a search on blog related jobs on only returned 57 jobs for the entire country. Therein lies a problem.

Privately operated blogs probably outnumber business blogs by at least a thousand to one. This is unfortunate because, properly used, a blog can be a very effective way of promoting a company's products and services, or getting feedback about them. The downside to blogs is that they can also cause a number of problems for advertisers, including bad publicity and the release of sensitive information, as in the recent case of Apple.

Setting up a blog really isn't that difficult, as we discovered. In early April, Advertising & Marketing Review began the work of creating a blog with the intention of having it online June 1. Our initial problem was that Earthlink, our ISP for many years, doesn't support blogs. Fortunately, there are a number of Internet service providers that do offer a variety of blogs, frequently at no additional cost. Our approach was to sign up with the ISP that offered the most number of blog packages, and try them all to see which best suited our needs. After going though about 20 different blog packages, we settled on phpWebSite.

PhpWebSite bills itself as a "very powerful Content Management System with document manager, announcements, menu manager, photo album, block maker, FAQ, web pages maker, polls, information categorizer, calendar, link manager and form generator. Founded and hosted by the Web Technology Group at Appalachian State University, phpWebSite is developed by the phpWebSite Development Team, a network of developers from around the world. phpWebSite is free, open source software and is licensed under the GNU GPL and GNU LGPL ." PhpWebSite is equal to, or more powerful than, many expensive commercial blog packages.

A prerequisite for installing most blogs is that they require a SQL database, and the ability to execute php code on the server. Not every ISP provides these critical components. The SQL database stores and keeps track of the different posts and comments, and the php code does the work of handling issues like registration, authentication, and displaying the posts and replies in the right format.

Like many blogs, PhpWebSite does a lot of the work for you. When a user creates a new account, phpWebSite automatically sends them an email with a password it has created. This acts to verify their email address is legitimate without requiring additional work on the blogmaster's part.

The manual work in setting up and running a blog falls into two areas, appearance and structure. The initial configuration of appearance requires modifying a cascading style sheet and theme page to match the general appearance of the rest of the site. Once that is complete, the main work is in setting up the different forums or discussion areas, and then setting the permissions required to post, edit and delete posts.

With most blogs it is possible to appoint one or more users as moderators of specific forums. This is particularly useful when a blog has a lot of different forums. Generally, registered users on blogs can post comments, but they can't delete them. The main role of a moderator is to delete posts that may be improper, libelous or spam.

Another feature of many blog packages is a poll module. In the case of phpWebSite, creating a poll requires little more than giving the poll a name, a question to ask readers, and a choice of answers. Once again, the php code handles all the work. The user's choice is recorded and the results of all previous responses are displayed. The poll feature could be highly beneficial in a number of ways. Polling is usually labor and cost intensive. With a blog, the poll results come at no additional cost. The poll could be used to find out how consumers view your company's products and services, including features they'd like to see added or removed, how good they think the quality is, how they rate the price and many other issues.

With this kind of information gathering ability, there are few businesses that would fail to find a blog cost effective. However, blogs have even more potential. Articles published on many blogs can be syndicated using RSS (note: some blogs don't create user friendly URLs, and if they don't, RSS may not be an option). With some blogs RSS is built in, if not the RSS feed can be created manually. The result would be that press releases, reviews and favorable comments about a company's products and services could be made available to a far larger audience than the blog alone would provide.

With these features, there's no doubt that blogs are here to stay. Businesses can't afford to ignore them, or the impact they have on the market. It's time our industry started talking about blogs, and June 1, the Advertising & Marketing Review Blog ( will be one of the hosts of that discussion.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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