external image 365709563_2374a439e2.jpg?v%EF%BF%BD2%EF%BF%BD0Blogs (or Weblogs)

Brief Description:

Adapted from the ODI Toolkit: A blog (shortened from weblog) is an easy-to-publish web page consisting primarily of periodic articles posted by date, usually with the newest entry at the top. Blogs can give the world a window on your work. In places where there is access to the Internet, blogs provide an easy way to communicate knowledge. Blogs have the power to help you foster relationships with colleagues, partners, stakeholders, donors, and the community you belong to. And relationships are the much-needed ingredient for effective impact, but only to the extent that they are managed effectively.
Blogs are rapidly being adopted in international development. SANGONET has created a blog toolkit with good advice on how to start a blog.

  • You don’t have to know any special computer programming to write or read a blog.
  • Blogs often have tools that allow readers to comment on a blog post.
  • Blogs often have RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication) that allow people to subscribe to new blog posts.
  • Blogs can have one or many authors.

Here is a brief video explaining blogs.

Blogs in plain English: http://www.commoncraft.com/blogs

blackboardblogging.jpg
From http://whiteafrican.com/2009/03/12/the-blackboard-blogger-of-monrovia/
History

"Early blogs were manually updated components of standard websites. However, the evolution of tools to facilitate the production and maintenance of web articles posted in a chronological fashion made the publishing process accessible to a much larger, less technical, population. Ultimately, this resulted in the distinct class of online publishing that produces blogs we recognise today." (ODI)

People have been publishing their journals online for many years, but the advent of blogging meant it was easier. Blog software allows anyone to create a blog without having to know how to program or write in computer code. It allowed researchers and academics to learn, share and collaborate, all at a fraction of the time such activities used to take. Beyond the obvious time-saving, researchers gained from a wider network of peers.
Blogging celebrated it’s 10th anniversary in December, 2007.If we think beyond technology, there are examples of blog-like things that people have created offline... so there is precedence for this practice. The image of the blackboard blogger of Monrovia is from a great blog post - take a read at
http://whiteafrican.com/2009/03/12/the-blackboard-blogger-of-monrovia/

When to Use:

  • Project blogs: project participants share frequent updates, reflect, ask questions of the larger community and create a "learn as we go" record.
  • Leadership blogs: leaders share their ideas, reflect, pose questions and concerns to their staff, and model knowledge sharing.
  • Social Reporting from Events or Event Blogs so those who can't be at the face to face event can still learn what is happening. See http://rightsandclimate.org/ >
  • Thematic blogs like this one on desertification http://desertification.wordpress.com/
  • Public Community blogs: community members invite partners and stakeholders to add their voices to an organization's work.
  • Blogs are less formal than reports so people can offer quicker, less polished communications if that is desired.
    Blogs allow readers to respond, giving feedback. So you might ask a question on your blog and get answers that others can read and benefit from as well.
  • If you get into a regular blogging habit, you can increase others’ knowledge of your work and make useful connections with others. If you find other blogs useful, you can subscribe to them to easily know about new blog posts.
  • Organizational benefits of blogs (from http://intranetblog.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2005/10/24/1318816.html):
    • Improved internal communications (77%) – If it is easy and quick to share and read information, people will be more informed.
    • Replacement of other exiting work processes (41%) – Reduce the amount of time spent in meetings “reporting,” support ongoing reflective practices that can help in M&E
    • Replacement of email (39%) – instead of sending emails to everyone, publish news to a blog. Be clear what blogs are “must read” and which are “if they interest you.”
  • Institutional blogs. Readers can immediately sense the distance and lack of personal commitment that come from ‘ghost writers’ and politically-correct writers/ bloggers who use blogs as a channel to give out information that can already be found in websites and newsletters. It is advisable to create a zone of blogging comfort for new 'institutional' bloggers:
    • Blogs allow several means for communicating your ideas. People who aren’t comfortable with writing may find it easier to record a podcast or a video and post that in their blog with a short summary.
    • When leaders in an organization are asked to blog, a good way to get the juices flowing would be to ask them to ‘tell a story’. It sets a more conversational tone to the blog, cutting out the formal-speak, making it more appealing.
    • Encourage frequent, short updates that aim to keep in touch.

Who can blog?

  • The benefit of blogging is that anyone with internet access can blog - the software is that easy. So you can have a personal blog, an organizational blog, a team blog, internal or external blogs. There is a lot of flexibility.
  • The person who creates the blog is the primary author. You can add other people as authors, or you can let others participate by commenting on your posts.

Why should an international research organization care about blogging?


Blogs are often associated with amateurs and popular culture. Many examples tell a different story, be it social activism (e.g. Global Voices) or raising awareness on global issues (e.g. blogs.worldbank.org).

Based on what we see happen on the web, is there a case for blogging in agricultural research? Let’s consider this:
  • Share and learn as you go. Enrich your ideas and validate your work before finalisation. Intranet blogs are a great avenue for informal knowledge sharing. Knowledge can be shared within a secure environment. Security options can be built-in so that different users have different access rights.
  • Reach out to interested people outside your regular circles. Regular blog posts help to increase readership, as a complement to your newsletter and website.
  • Build your network beyond the usual suspects. Comments allow for greater interaction between authors and readers which over time creates a sense of community.
  • Spread the word about your work. Blogging is direct and current, and can be used to announce newsworthy items much earlier than the time it takes for it to be published in a newsletter or press release. For example, you can share news of your article’s acceptance in a reputed journal, or an award/grant that your work has received. The potential is limitless. Information is shared instantly, and discussion threads can generate tangible knowledge.
  • Get your name out there even without publications or while preparing a publication (which takes you back to the first point on sharing and learning).

A blog can help you ensure more interaction and increased visibility around your work.(From Blogging for Impact by ICT-KM)

How can a blog work to your advantage?

  • A primary source for news. Blogs are ideal for sharing breaking news with a wide audience online; instant reporting on events and conferences. Event updates that get out to people are current and provide personal perspective.
  • Let the human voice be heard. Interviews, reviews and commentaries are written by real people, based on first-hand experience. A well-written blog post connects with readers on a personal level, it is the blogger’s personal voice that readers ‘hear’.
  • Project and personal information management.Blogs can double as your daily digest of activities and news. Yes, the versatility of blogs can no longer be denied – imagine a one-stop store for your photos, videos, documents and web links; your blog posts with valuable comments/ discussions. And imagine this, every entry has a permanent link and can be searched easily.
  • Conversations. Blogs can be used as the sounding board to debate and voice opinions. Blogs are an avenue for people to step away from conventional communication modes that tend to conform to organizational red tape. Blogs give you a sense of how people think and what is of value to them. Comments to controversial blog posts can be used to gauge reactions and opinions in a less intimidating setting.
  • Knowledge sharing. Blogging style dictates that authors provide abundant links to additional resources and information. This information is selected, distilled and organized to help elucidate and improve a reader’s understanding of a specific topic. When a reader comments with her own experiences, her own stories, what we have is a charming example of, dare I say…knowledge sharing.
  • Website management. Blogging software are content management systems to all effects. You can build a fully-fledged website on this technology. A regular, constant flow of information and exchange would, in this case, be the core of your institutional presence on the web, while still allowing you to manage information that remains stable over time.
  • More traffic = more visibility. Search engines crawl (i.e. discover and include results from) sites that are updated frequently and regularly. So in effect, every time you post to your blog, search engines will visit it, boosting your website’s search engine ranking, which is a good thing!
  • Blogs have the power to help you foster relationships with colleagues, partners, stakeholders, donors, and the community you belong to. And relationships are the much-needed ingredient for effective impact, but only to the extent that they are managed effectively as much as in real life. (From Blogging for Impact by ICT-KM)

What are my alternatives and when should I use them?

Blog weaknesses.
  • Like any tool, just because you can have a blog doesn’t make it always useful.
  • Blogs waste time and attention if they are not updated regularly. If you have a blog on a workspace and no one is posting to it, remove it.
  • Blogs put the most recent information in view but are less useful when you have to dig back and find something. If you want to organize often-used data, use a wiki, a library or a database.
  • Blogs can be a good base for a discussion, but the blog author tends to have more influence and power which can disturb the dynamics of a conversation. You might want to use a discussion instead.

Alternatives to Blogs?
  • Is a blog a discussion forum? People often ask about the difference between blogs and discussion forums.
  • Blogs focus on the blog owner as primary author so they are useful for sharing ideas. Since they are chronological, they are useful for time sensitive news, or to track the progress of something over time.
  • Discussion forums focus on the group and their conversations. The focus is more on the conversation while in blogs there may be more focus on the primary author.
  • Libraries allow you to organize information any way you want. You are not limited to chronological order and the emphasis is on the data, rather than the author.
  • Wikis focus on the content, rather than the date or the author. While blogs are good for publishing, they would not be useful for co-editing or simply update a webpage when a wiki would be quite useful.


couldshouldmust.jpg
From Sue Waters at http://aquaculturepda.edublogs.org/files/2007/09/bullseye-thumb.jpg
How to use:

Key steps to starting a blog include:

  1. Decide the purpose, topic or focus of your blog.
  2. Don’t duplicate unnecessarily. Check and see if there is an existing blog you can contribute to.
  3. Get inspired. We recommend the blog search site, Technorati. See what others are doing. Get ideas.
  4. Choose one of the free blogging services, like Blogger (and a nice guide here) or Wordpress. The free blogging services usually include advertisements. Ad-free blog are available for a fee through services like Typepad.
  5. Start posting and continue to post regularly.
  6. Tag your posts meaningfully with categories so that you are able to find older posts.
  7. When people comment on your blog, respond with your own comment. People like to know they have been heard.
  8. Link to related blogs - cross-links help readers learn about useful related resources and create another way of sharing knowledge.
  9. Consider adding more than words - visuals, embedding audio, video or slides (via http://www.slideshare.net). For some ways to find copyright free photos, see this article http://smackdown.blogsblogsblogs.com/2009/01/12/how-to-find-the-best-free-imagephotographics-downloads-for-your-blog-posts/
  10. More tips for combining blogs with other social media tools, particularly with Microblogging
    1. http://www.blogtips.org/tag/twitter/
    2. http://www.visionaryblogging.com/blog-twitter/

Key elements for effective management of blogs.

  • Blogs should be updated regularly
  • The tone should not be too formal
  • Ownership: give blogs a personal voice with perspective
  • Link to what other people say or do
  • Answer each comment

Blogging policies, ethics and codes of practice

Blogging Tools You Might Use


How to promote my blog?

You can promote your blogs by:
  • Sharing links to your posts via social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and through your skype status. These sites allow you to post short messages which you can use to promote your content. You can also share the link to your blog by bookmarking it in social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us and CiteULike. (see this great post http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/03/25/how-i-use-twitter-to-promote-my-blog)
  • Start interacting with your possible user base by commenting on others blogs on similar content/topics, answering comments that are posted on your blogs, or simply by emailing links to your blog to your potential users.
  • In case of availability of funds, blogs could also be promoted through advertising in sites such as Google AdWords and Facebook.
  • From Matt Cutts at Google, advice for search engines finding your blog posts:
    • Think carefully about the keywords you want to rank for in your title tag
    • Keywords should be well placed on the page
    • Excellent content about the subject you want to rank for on the page
    • Fresh content posted in a blog
    • Links from other sites that recommend your site as an authority on that subject

No matter which method you use, try to monitor the usages statistics of your blog to ensure that each of these methods, especially if you are paying for it, is bringing the right audience to your blog.

How to measure the impact of my blog?

  • Track traffic to individual posts – find out how many times a blog post has been viewed by using your blog software or a tool like Google Analytics.
  • Read any comments you might get when you post entries that specifically ask for feedback. People are more likely to respond to open-ended questions.
  • Monitor incoming links to your individual posts. You can monitor traffic sources (i.e. referrers in your traffic analysis reports) and keep an eye on the sites that link to your blog, simply by leveraging the search engine indexes. For example, you can set up a Google Alertto check who has linked to a specific URL or to your site, as their pages are registered with the Google index. You can also use Yahoo Site Explorerto monitor incoming links.
  • Analyze those blog posts that are more popular and, accordingly, adjust your posting style, choice of topics, areas you want to focus on, etc.
A great starting guide for measuring traffic generated by social media can be found at HOW TO: Track Social Media Analytics. Another article about reputation monitoring focuses on the tools you might want to set up to find out what is being said about your organisation, project or initiative so that you can participate in the conversation. (From: Social Media: how do you know it’s working? by ICT-KM)

Tips and Lessons Learnt

  • FARA's Blog Lessons
  • "Blogging Good Practices" from Web tastings blog.
  • Use http://www.feedreader.com to redirect a feed to a new site
  • Aggregate personal Blogs into a Group Blog in your organization to achieve greater transparency
  • Start small, don’t try big and massive rollouts: Experiment a bit ands talk about it, think of it as iterative investments of time.
  • Roll out when you have a concrete application/need for a tool or method (vs. 'hey, here is an interesting tool.")
  • Harness examples
  • Sow the tool and how to use it
  • Sare lessons learned
  • Sometimes we are asked to use a tool because it is "in vogue" (Hey, we have to have a blog! What for? I don't know!) so we may have to find a reason.
  • Sometimes an individual innovator/early adopter helps us discover a need
  • New blog with real-life tips for bloggers: http://blogtips.org/
  • CGIAR change management blog learning curve: http://ictkm.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/changemanagementblog-the-eight-step-learning-curve/
  • Tips on "the art of blogging" from a UNDP blog editor Going social: 10 tips for bloggers

Examples&Stories


Examples of blogs in international NGOs or on development topics


Some CGIAR Blogs


Some FAO Blogs


Who can tell me more?

  • Simone Staiger-Rivas (s.staiger [at] cgiar.org)
  • Gauri Salokhe (gauri.salokhe [at] fao.org)
  • Romolo Tassone (http://gplus.to/RomoloTassone)
  • Petr Kosina (pkosina [at] cgiar.org)
  • Gerard Sylvester (gerard.sylvester [at] fao.org)

Related Methods / Tools / Practices

Resources

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Photo by Wicho