April 15, 2004

What you need to do this

I've had a few questions recently about how I write this and what it would take to do something similar - how much technical knowledge is required, what it would cost, what equipment, what software, etc.

The software I use to manage this site is called Movable Type. To write an entry, I open up a web site that presents me with a form. I type my entries directly into those forms, and pick categories. I can also customize the way that the information is presented and the way the site looks generally, which I do every once in a while. (Wordpress offers similar features.)

For the most part, I use very simple HTML in the entries - probably seven or eight pieces total - so I just type it in directly. You can get by without knowing any HTML to start with, as Movable Type can manage basic formatting for you, and learn the bits of HTML you need along the way. Alternatively, you can use an HTML editor and copy and paste the HTML into the forms.

I already had a web site, so setting this up was a matter of asking my provider to get it going. (More recently, I manage it myself, on a server in Ithaca.) If you don't have a web site, there are other ways to do it. You can set up a site through TypePad, a service provided by the same people who create Movable Type. Similar tools and hosting options are available through Blogger and Radio Userland.

A digital camera is really helpful, if you want to include photographs. You don't need a fantastic camera to create pictures to display on the Web, but you'll probably want to use it for other things as well. Pictures of people at meetings are surprisingly difficult to get, largely because of flash and distance issues, but most pictures are easier. (Sports photos are always hard.)

You'll also want software for editing those pictures. I use Photoshop Elements, which came with my camera, but PaintShop Pro and the full version of Photoshop are also good alternatives, as is the GIMP, a free program. Much of the editing I do is to correct flash pictures that didn't get enough light because I was too far from the subject.

On the reporting side, if you wanted to do that, note-taking is really important, though I'm also using a voice recorder. Listening to two or three hours of meetings isn't much fun, especially since the recorder always seems to pick up more noise than I hear when I'm there. Notes help me minimize that repeat listening. The notes are the foundation, and the recording the backup.

There are a few things more important than the technical stuff, though. The first is interest - there are lots of weblogs that ran a week or two and ended because their creator didn't find it exciting enough to pursue. Time is similarly critical. There's no obligation to update a site every day, but it does keep readers coming, and helps to build a rhythm. The last thing I'd recommend is a theme or personality of some kind. This site has a tighter focus than most weblogs, certainly, but readers like to come back based on what they found before.

It's also worth noting that most weblogging systems support multiple authors, so if a group of people wants to share a site, that's possible too, and it's one way to avoid the time and interest drain.

Posted by simon at April 15, 2004 3:50 PM in
Note on photos


peterg22 said:

FWIW, if you need to edit pictures but don't need all the extra functionality of Paintshop Pro, Photoshop etc, check out Irfanview. It's free, and can be an extremely sophisticated utility when you need it to..