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Everybody is a Star

Blogging, vlogging, and podcasting: How to become an online celebrity.

Blogs, podcasts, and video blogs (vlogs) are making big waves these days. What are these hot new trends and how do they work? We’ll cover the basics and help you understand how to get involved. With your own stage, you might even turn yourself into a star.

The concept of blogs (the word is a contraction of “Web logs”) dates back to the Internet’s early days. Old personal Web pages are the precursors of today’s blogs, which provide personal commentary on specific topics, often linked to other information sources online. Blogs cover the gamut of subjects, from consumer electronics (such as Gizmodo to politics (like Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. Most blogs also invite readers to contribute and comment, creating additional discussion and communities of interest.

One reason for blogging’s immense popularity is how easy it is to begin. All you really need is an Internet connection and a subject you love. Of course, success isn’t so simple. The technology may be easy, but the discipline to write well and regularly is a little harder to master.

“The real hurdle is patience. You need to post every day, no questions asked. You need to be there for people,” advises John Biggs, a personal blogger and editor of the gadget blog Gizmodo.

How do you do that? “Write about what you love. Start out focused and expand as the blog grows. And have fun with other bloggers,” adds Biggs.

OK–you’re committed. Now how do you get started? In the early days, you had to handle your own design, coding, and hosting. Today, though, several free or inexpensive services take care of the technical work. We’ll use Blogger.com (a Google site) as our example, though the process is similar with many other services.

Start by creating an account at www.blogger.com. Name your blog, decide on a URL for your site, choose a design template, and you’re in business. Type your first post, perhaps introducing yourself and describing your blog. Then return as often as possible, clicking the Create New Post or Edit Posts links to add or update material. The Settings and Template tabs help set up archiving, control reader commentary, or include banner ads to generate a little income from the project.

Think of podcasts as blogs’ audio offshoots. A clever transmutation of “iPod” and “broadcasting,” podcasting involves recording and posting regular audio commentary for audiences to download and listen to at their convenience, often on portable digital media players. Like blogs, podcasts are available through subscription and syndication feeds that provide the ability to download new or updated material from your favorite sites automatically. Many bloggers create complementing podcasts or offer abbreviated audio summaries of their written posts. Todd Cochrane, the author of Podcasting, the Do-it-Yourself Guide and the head of Geek News Central , saw podcasting as a way to enhance his blog’s offerings and reach new audiences.

“Our podcasts and our blogs have grown together,” Cochrane says. “They wouldn’t have grown as fast without each other.”

Getting started with podcasting requires the same things as blogging–something to say and the dedication to saying it often.

Cochrane advises aspiring podcasters to “start humbly, be enthusiastic, and be committed. Enthusiasm and consistency will take you further than anything else.”

Dedicate a little more time than for blogging–Cochrane spends about two to three hours in production for each twice-weekly hour-long podcast. Obviously, you also need some audio equipment for recording. A decent sound card, microphone, and some basic editing software are prerequisites.

Finally, you need a place to host your podcasts. Because audio files are so much larger than blogs with just text or images, free blogging sites don’t usually offer the ability to add audio (or video) files. But several services, including Our Media, Liberated Syndication, and Audioblog, offer free or low-cost hosting options for media files along with the tools for creating syndicated feeds and promoting your podcast to various directories (including iTunes). Select a service, upload your files, set up syndication and promotion, and either create a new blog or link from an existing site to your podcasts.

Vlogs (also known as vodcasts) take podcasting up a notch or two. By now, you won’t have any trouble figuring out what videoblogging is: video commentary, often interspersed with other visual imagery and highlights from around the information universe, posted in bite-sized pieces for subscribers and browsers to download and watch at their leisure. Check out Rocketboom for quirky news or DL.TV for tech talk examples.

Videblogging adds more equipment and complexity for its authors. You need video cameras, plenty of storage space, and editing software at a minimum. If you want to ensure commercial-grade quality, you’ll need lighting equipment, people who know their way around a studio, and high-end computing resources. Whatever route you take, you’ll need plenty of time. Plan to spend hours preparing, performing, and producing each videoblog segment.

Videoblogging, like podcasting, requires dedicated hosting to serve up your large files and provide the bandwidth to deliver them. The more popular your videoblog becomes, the more storage and throughput you’ll require. Check out Our Media or blip.tv for attractive alternatives to paying for commercial hosting services. Visit Freevlog for detailed tutorials on filming, editing, compressing, and uploading videoblog episodes.

Whether you work in text, audio, or video there are plenty of opportunities to express yourself online. And with blogging, podcasting, and videoblogging tools helping put your ideas in front of the world, it may just be a matter of time before it’s your turn to soak up those fleeting 15 minutes.

Gregory Anderson is a technology writer based in Philadelphia.

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