You surely have heard of blogs, and maybe take a peek at one now and then. It is a new enough phenomenon that spell checking doesn't even recognize the word 'blog'. However, IT related blogs are popping up daily. If you have a teenager, they probably have one -- whether you know it is another story.
But do you have one? More importantly, should you have one?
If you are looking for long-term career advancement, blogging is an opportunity that can be used to your advantage. It now is common for job interviewers, customers and partners to Google your name before engaging with you personally. If your blog is found in the search results, they can get a feel about your disposition and experience regarding the subject matter of the potential engagement.
Like most new trends, the hardest part is getting motivated and figuring out where to begin. So I found Shahid Shah, CEO of Netspective, who has three IT blogs, including HealthCareGuy, where he pontificates about ancient healthcare software and how to effectively apply more modern technologies.
Shah said he got started blogging in 2003 because he found himself sending out the same email about the latest trends or simply saying, ''Hey, have you seen this article?'' to his clients. Now his clients know where to go to stay current on health care IT trends, some of them using RSS to easily track his blog. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is an XML format designed for sharing headlines and Web content. Think of it as a distributable ''What's New'' for a blog that can be easily added to your favorite Web portal, like MyYahoo.
Before you get started, decide on a topic that is near and dear to your heart. Write about what you know -- what you do every day. ''Since blogs are quite informal, conversational and can be short, they are quite easy to write,'' says Shah. ''I even keep a backlog of ideas that I can post anytime I don't have something particular to write about.''
Now this is a professional blog we are talking about -- so keep your Simpson's commentary blog separate. You may even want to use a 'pen' name for a hobby blog if you think it may negatively impact what you are trying to accomplish professionally.
Once you have your topic in mind, Shah recommends searching other blogs on that topic with a blog search engine like Technorati. This will provide you with more thought ammunition and you can even comment on what others are saying in your own blog.
Now that you are bursting with ideas to share, you need a place to blog.
To get up and running, Shah suggests creating your own domain. You can more easily start a blog on a community site like blogger.com, but Shah cautions that it has pitfalls. ''Although you own the content copyright, a blogger site will own your links forever -- you can't move them. Whereas having your own domain name provides you with more control.''
According to Shah, it costs about $8 per month with a blog domain hosting service, such as Dreamhost. These services give you access to Web publishing software like WordPress, as well as development tools so developers can customize sites.
Ready to write and write often?
Shah steals from Nike and says ''Just do it!'' but contends it's important to do it consistently. ''I watch my traffic regularly and when I write regularly, my traffic is stable. But if I go away for a few days due to extra workload, the traffic goes down and it takes a few days to come back because the readers aren't sure when I'll be back.''
After a month or so of publishing your thoughts, you can now embark on getting the notoriety you need to leverage your blog for professional advancement. ''I got the word out mainly by visiting other blogs and asking them to add me to their blogrolls and by doing the same for them,'' says Shah. ''Link exchange is the currency of blogs, so when I started I linked heavily to other sites, which made them more valuable. Then, as my writing increased I asked them to link to me and they were kind enough to do so. It's important to recognize that it's a two-way street. You have to help people first before they will help you.''
But should you care about your traffic? Shah thinks so.
''I think it's terribly important to drive traffic and very important to measure it. I run my blogs for credibility and name recognition for my expertise. So, I try and measure my links to other sites and vice-versa. I keep an eye out for what others are saying about me to make sure I'm being helpful and friendly.'' It is worth mentioning that Google ad-words for successful, high-traffic blogs can bring in some spending cash or even be quite lucrative.
Although Shah agrees that blogging is an excellent way to augment a resume, he stresses that bloggers must be very careful about what you write.
''If you're writing a 'professional' blog to help market yourself or build credibility, you need to stay very professional and not get personal with companies or products,'' says Shah. This is because finding a job or engaging in business development with a company you happened to slam a year ago has obvious consequences.
Certainly, you should write thought-provoking ideas, but be careful about your tone. ''Honesty in a negative way can get you in trouble,'' he adds. ''Honesty in a positive way can gain readership without getting you in trouble. Simply tell your readers the good and the bad without getting personal about a product or company.''
I asked Shah what he would do differently if he was starting a brand new blog.
''I would be even more focused,'' he says. ''Try to have a point of view, espouse specific ideas, and give people a reason to come to your site for something they can't get elsewhere. The more opinionated you are and the more focused you can be on specific industries or topics, the better and more loyal your readership will be.''
Finally, verify that your current employer or client doesn't have restrictions about blogging publicly and be careful not to post any confidential information. Think how your manager, or worse -- legal department -- would react to you leaking technology flaws or security holes on a product you are developing.''
You now are ready to jump into the blogosphere, which I think is a word, but my spell checker still doesn't know it. By showing off your smarts, using common sense, sharing links and simply writing about interesting things, your blog will open doors for you well into the future.