When "Web" and "log" were combined to form the word "blog" in 1999, few foresaw the power these online journals would wield. Now, blogs number near 4 million and deal with every conceivable topic -- from favorite recipes to education reform to Mick Jagger sightings. The influential commentary of political bloggers earned them invites to last summer's national party conventions, and in September, bloggers pulled the curtain on Dan Rather and those spurious National Guard papers. Want a piece of the action? Running a great blog and gaining loyal readers isn't easy, but use these tips as you hop on the bandwidth bandwagon and you'll be on your way.
PICK THE WRITE STUFF. Combine the Internet with a free society, and there's no limit to the subject matter of blogs. A personal diary or a news outlet? A platform for activism or a conduit for scuttlebutt? Whatever it is, write what "you are really passionate about," says Rebecca Blood, author of "The Weblog Handbook" (Perseus Books, $14) and proprietor of the eclectic blog Rebecca's Pocket (www.rebeccablood.net) since 1999. "Your enthusiasm shows through in your writing, and people respond."
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Bill Ardolino, 29, started the political blog InDCJournal.com in January this year because he "had something to say that wasn't being said." Ardolino, who helped expose Rather's gaffes, advises neophytes to "provide material that is unique somehow." Do that, agrees Blood, and people "won't be able to wait to hear what you have to say next." Once you have a topic, just register with a provider such as Blogger (free) or TypePad (fee), and use their simple templates to set up your site.
POST OFTEN -- AND WELL. When a blogger adds new material, it's called a post. And good blogging demands frequent posting. Biz Stone, 30, Blogger senior specialist at Google (www.bizstone.com), recommends you "post at least as much as you eat." That's "three times a day [with] some snacks," he says. But that requires a lot of time. So perhaps more important is to make your posts worth people's while. Jason Novak, 33, who's hosted the Washington entertainment guide LifeInTheDistrict.com since 2001, says that "what brings [readers] back is that every time . . . there's something good." And "good" extends beyond volume, which means you'll want to avoid the dreaded "blogorrhea" -- aka incessant prattle about your jerk boss or second-rate love life.
PROLIFERATE YOUR OPINION. The best way to get readers, Stone says, is to "participate in the blogosphere." First, visit other blogs and add your comments (many sites have a comment function built in). An incisive remark can direct traffic back to your own blog -- mainly through the link you can include when you sign your name. Ardolino, who runs one of the 100 most-visited political blogs, according to tracking site TruthLaidBear.com, says his many comments on other blogs triggered an increase in exposure. Second, add links to other bloggers' interesting posts. "Linking really is the currency of the blogosphere," Stone says. "It's an instant way of . . . social networking." Third, create an extensive "blogroll" -- a roster of recommended blogs, usually listed on your own site's main page. Those blogs' authors may just return the favor, bringing your site to the attention of even more readers.
PROMOTE THYSELF. There are other easy ways to pump up traffic. One, be smart when naming your blog. Jennifer Book, 24, who runs The Real World: DC (trapped_urbanite.typepad.com/the_real_world_dc), says, "People randomly Google 'Real World DC,' and they wind up coming back to my site." You can also register with search giants like Google and Yahoo, and with a blog-only search engine, such as www.blogwise.com. For local eyeballs, add your site to the D.C. Metro Blog Map (www.reenhead.com/map/metroblogmap.html) and MetroBlogs.com. And include your blog's URL in your e-mail signature. Blood says people should "associate your name with the name of your Web log." Mike Peed