Meta: Getting Started with Blogging

I'm John Fischer and I run this blog, All About the Jersey. It used to be on Blogspot in 2006 as In Lou We Trust before moving to SB Nation in late 2008; and the current name came in last year. As I'm ever closer to being able to say I've done this for a decade, I want to share some of what I learned about the medium, what I wish I knew then, and what I think I know now. These aren't rules, guidelines, or anything representative other than my own opinion about blogging and what to do to make a good blog.

Last week, I wrote at length about what you should consider if you're considering to blog. Today, I'll write at length about actually getting started. For this, I'm assuming that you understand what you can get out of blogging, what it is you want to blog about, how you can fit it into your life, and what purpose your blog should have. If you haven't sorted that out or read that post, then I encourage you to do that first.

Before going any further, I want to sidetrack to those who are contributing to a blog that already exists. Since my experience has been mostly with creating and starting one, some of the last post, this post, and future posts may not apply to you. I will try to touch on that in a much later post from my perspective. But for those of you getting started, you will most likely not have to worry about getting contributors from the beginning anyway. You need to start a site, first.

My Biggest Piece of Advice in One Phrase

I write a lot about what I care about and I can just be long-winded in general. This is just how I am, so what follows are a ton of words. But this phrase is arguably one of the most important things I can impart. It applies to all of these meta posts I want to do about blogging. So if nothing else:

Make the blog something you would want to read.

It seems simple, but it's what I go by. When in doubt, revert to that phrase. Would you read a blog that keeps to itself and doesn't share anything? I wouldn't. Would you read a blog with a misleading or confusing name? I wouldn't. Would you read a blog that promises much but delivers on little? I wouldn't. So on and so forth. It may not be a perfect phrase, but it's worked for me.

Reading & Getting to Know the Scene

Given that this is the Internet, you're not likely the first one to start a blog or a site about your particular subject. It's a good idea to search around and understand what's already available. Some subjects are more popular than others, of course. Video games? There are tons of them. The Albany Devils? Not so many, but they exist. Regardless of what your purpose and what you want out of your own site, you'll become a part of a larger community. Your site will be read by the people who are interested in what you write about. To that end, it's important to recognize what others already do in that vein. It can help you narrow or expand your planned scope of the blog and get an idea of what it will take for your voice to be heard.

It's also important as a big part of blogging is collaboration. What others write about can and does generate more content. It can be a rebuttal to a post. It can be an agreement with further details as far as why you agree. It can build on something written, or re-appropriated for what you're interested in. For an example of the latter, I read up on Woodguy55's blog, Because Oilers, and saw a new metric of quality of competition. I didn't just find it interesting, I found it interesting enough to look into it for the Devils. When I sorted that out, I had an idea for a post. Then I wrote it and posted it. As a bonus, through Twitter, both Woodguy and G Money -€” who created the metric -€” liked it so I knew they read it. Not every post will or should be in reference to what others do, but it helps in the thought process as to what to blog about. It would not have been possible if I didn't make an effort to read what others say.

That may sound time-consuming and sometimes it is. Especially if you're like me and you prefer to put a lot of effort and information into what you want to write about. Fortunately, with the explosion of social media, this is easier than it was say, six to nine years ago. Many blogs output and promote their posts through Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. If you use those platforms, it's easy to follow a related hashtag or a group. In fact, I recommend it as it'll be easier to get your name -€” and your posts! - out there knowing what area of the platform has the people you'd like to read it.

In general, to be a writer worth reading, you need to read. Being aware of what others write, opine, and discover in your area of interest -€” what you should be blogging about -€” can inspire as well as inform you. And you can bring that about in what you write about. It is entirely possible to keep a blog just within a small, personal bubble. In a few cases, it may be understandable or preferable. But if the goal is to expound on a larger interest -€” and especially if you want an audience of some kind -€” then you need to expand that bubble and understand what's out there in the "scene" you're going to be joining.

Picking the Platform

Chances are, if you're considering blogging and you want to write about what you're interested in, then you're likely viewing it as a hobby. Which is good; I recommend that for some of the reasons I laid out in the last post. To that end, I would recommend starting out with a free service. This way if you give it a shot and something comes up or you decide you don't want to do it, you haven't lost out on anything. Knowing you don't have to put up any money up front to get started also eases some of the concerns to get started.

I started with Blogger, which is still very much in use and is quite reliable. It's got a fairly deep knowledge base for any technical questions. It's also very versatile in terms of adding HTML code as you see fit. It's backed by Google so you know it won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Chances are, you have a Google account of some kind and you should be able to sign up for a blog very quickly with it. I've used it before, it made the starting up process much easier back in 2006, and so I would recommend that platform as a good way to get started. If, for whatever reason, want to use a different platform, then there are other options such as WordPress, Medium, and Tumblr to name a few. My main point is that you shouldn't have to spend any money to get started. You really don't.

As far as things like domain names and other templates, those are all things to consider after you're really up and running. I got one for In Lou We Trust back in the day, but that was well after getting started, beginning an audience, and confirming to myself that this was something that I wanted to do regularly in my life. You can do it if you want, but if you're starting out, I think it can really wait.

Determining the Name

Oh, this is always a tough one. It's a fun thing to think about. But it can be a difficult decision. . At a minimum, the name of the blog should reflect in some way what it is about. If I called this John's Place way back when and I was the original Devils blog, then that may be fine. But the name doesn't say anything about the site. Even John's Devils Page -€” like the legendary Andrew's Stars Page -€” would have been far better. That said, it's still very plain and it doesn't sound/read well even though it's direct. There's some value to being a little clever or interesting with it. That gets to why coming up with a name in of itself is a challenge. What you name your blog will likely remain; especially if it becomes successful. I'm sure some are loathe to hear it become it really becomes a part of your brand. So this is not something to take likely, especially if you're serious about this endeavor. I'll admit I certainly didn't expect what my blog would become way back in 2006 when I started it. If anything, I fell into it.

Allow me to recount what I recall of naming this site. I was a mere graduate student working as a graduate assistant at Rutgers. I was in my office in front of a woefully out-of-date-but-it-had-the-material-I-needed computer. After mentally deciding and getting out of my own way to start a Devils blog, I kept thinking about the name. I don't remember what I was working on, but I remember that morning just thinking about what to call this site. I had a dollar in my hand because I was planning on getting a Pepsi from the nearby vending machine. And I looked at the dollar. No. I couldn't. That could be a name? No. Can I? Will people misinterpret it? What else could I come up with that doesn't sound bad? But it never left my head. I basically settled on that. Then on the evening of October 27, 2006, the first post went up at In Lou We Trust.

I've received a lot of compliments about the name. It's clever. It's not too long. Devils fans would get it. Eventually, further in the future, I realized it had two limitations. Non-Devils fans or fans who didn't know who the general manager was wouldn't get it. It had to be explained. Once explained, I would get a reaction like "Oh! Well, that's a good name." But I never liked the fact that it required some explanation. The second limitation came to fruition last Summer: Lou left the Devils. Back in 2006 and even back in 2014, I would have thought Lou was more likely to die as Devils general manager before leaving the Devils. Or, less morbidly, he'd retire outright than go somewhere else. But even then, the blog name had a lifespan. It had to go, and that was rather difficult. There were nearly nine years of In Lou We Trust and nine years' worth of readers and people who know it as that. It was, for lack of a better term, a brand. To me, it had to change. It would not be fair to the next GM, Ray Shero, and it would be a massive sign of resistance to the reality of the team. The Devils blog needs to be the Devils blog, not necessarily the Devils-Under-Lou blog. I credit and thank the SB Nation team to making the change even though so much was built under ILWT ahead of last season, particularly Tyler Bleszinski.

I will say how we went about naming this blog All About the Jersey made sense. Given that the site had an audience and got quite a bit of attention after Lou stepped down, it made sense to give the readers a say in it. As you may know -€” I did post about it -€” we came up with suggested names we were comfortable with and could secure, and we put it to a vote. You all made your voice known and picked All About the Jersey. I will admit I expected All About the Jersey to win. When coming up with suggested names, I used a "focus group" of sorts. Namely, I threw out a bunch of names to some people who knew of the site but weren't necessarily Devils or hockey fans. All About the Jersey got the most positive reaction in that it was about a New Jersey team and it rolled off the tongue. It helped a lot that it was easy for me to say "I'm John Fischer of All About the Jersey," as it was to say "I'm John Fischer of In Lou We Trust." Most of all, it removed the two limitations of the In Lou We Trust name -€” there's no explanation to be given beyond saying it's a hockey blog (which I always introduced ILWT as) and it's not tied to a person that could leave. The other two names would have worked; but I thought it was the best and so I'm not surprised most of you did too. It even led to this sort-of manifesto of what the blog is about. (Remember in the first post about having a purpose? That speech spells out most of it.) So that's the full story behind this name. Agiain, it's not easy to re-brand, but if you're wondering for a way on how to do it when you already have an audience, then you can follow that path.

If your blog does become a success of sorts, then that name is what people will know. They'll know what to tell others about it, what to type in their address bar on their browser, and how they'll share it. So naming it isn't an easy decision and it shouldn't be treated as one. From my own experience, if you have a name that you can't get out of your head, then it may be a sign -€” from whatever you choose to believe it's from -€” that should be the name. If I knew then in 2006 what I had to do in 2015, then I would have incorporated what I did then. No, I didn't have a second opinion from someone who had a big hand in building a blogging network and was also a devils fan. But I would have sounded it out to a few various people. I would mentally or verbally state "I'm John Fischer and my site is ________" to see if it's something I was comfortable with and the listener would get it more easily. Soliciting suggestions is one thing, but at the end of the day, this is your blog. You should be the most comfortable with it as well as it representing, to some degree, what the blog is about.

Determining Your Name

This is the Internet. You don't need to post under your real name like I do or like I require other writers to do on this site. Handles have been used since the beginning. Despite a more general acceptance towards merging real life and the Internet, handles will continue to be used for one reason or another. Maybe it's a way to protect yourself, whether it's from others or from what you're writing about. Maybe you need one as other parts of your life may frown upon blogging or what you blog about. Maybe you just want to let your work stand on your own rather than having your name, your picture, your background, or something else to give readers a chance to pre-judge you before they read the post. In time, they'll do it anyway as your handle will be associated with something; but it can at least separate you from what you are online. Maybe it's a nickname and how you want to represent yourself. These and many more are valid reasons to use a handle. This is all well and good.

In this day and age, though, more and more people are using their real names. Mostly on social media like Facebook or Twitter as they want to connect with people they know. A name can command some kind of credibility that a handle may not. With your name, people know you're putting your name on it. That it's something you stand by. It may not as big of a deal as the content itself, but it helps - if that's what you're seeking. I'm the sort of person where it won't be long before you knew I was a Devils fan and that I have a lot to say about them. More importantly, I have no issue putting my name on what I write. I've developed a pride in what I write. Every post isn't a masterpiece and my mind can and does change and I can be plain wrong, but as I explain where and why I think the way I do, I've got no qualms with associating my name with the blog. I'd like the other writers to feel in a similar way such that they have no issue having their name out there with the post.

This is ultimately an issue of comfort. If you write well and post good content about what your blog is about, then you'll get respect -€” and readers -€” regardless. But you will have to determine this question as you start the blog. One note that may impact this: I believe you can change your handle to your real name; it may be harder to go the other way around.

Writing the First Post

So you know what platform you're going to use, you know what the larger community has going on, you've got the platform, and you've got the name for yourself and the site. What's left? Oh, yeah, an actual post. It's easy to get caught up in setting everything up that the important part of a first post takes a backseat.

I will say while there's only chance to make a first impression, you shouldn't be so concerned with your first post. It's going to be more important for building an audience and building the blog up that you set a tone in time, you show commitment to what you're writing about, and you have something of value to say about what you're writing about. That's why I believe it is so important to have your passion be what you're writing about. It'll make all of that come more easily. But people change over time and so will your writing skills. It's a craft, not a talent; it'll improve with practice and persistence. As you contribute to the larger community of your subject, you may branch off into specific areas within that topic. Such as analyzing the Devils through stats, or writing about prospects ahead of a NHL Draft. And you may change from that in time. So if nothing else, I wouldn't stress too much on crafting the most perfect first post. As you continue to blog, you'll grow in some direction from that first post.

I will say it is important early on to have at least something good up. You can get away with a simple "Hello, world!" style post. An introductory post that states who you are and what you intend to do is a good idea. You can state what the blog will be about and how you'll go about doing it. You may even want to explain what the blog's name may mean or provide some background information as to why you're doing this. Whatever you're comfortable with and whatever is relevant to the site, of course.

What I did was a hybrid. Here it is, from the night of October 27, 2006. There's an introduction, an explanation of the name, and then I jump right into an actual Devils topic. If I were to do it all over again, I would have ended it right after the explanation and make the post about the Devils the second post. This way there's a divide between the two and I still immediately establish that this is a Devils blog by having a post about the Devils on it. I also would have written some or all of it earlier to make sure I'm happy with it as I recall writing it right off the top of my head. But I'm used to doing the latter anyway, so it was fine for me. For you, you may want to consider it.

So What's Next

With that first post done, you can now say you're a blogger! You've blogged. You've posted something. You have begun to make your mark on the Internet. Great! So what's next? Let's go over that in the next meta post, where we will get to discuss setting a tone, keeping up with a schedule, promoting the blog without being an outright advertiser, finding ideas for content, and more related to that.

All FanPosts and FanShots are the respective work of the author and not representative of the writers or other users of All About the Jersey.