An astronomers guide to writing a blog

With the International Year of astronomy on our doorstep this is a great time to promote astronomy and of course in the technological world we live in this also means online. There are a large number of fascinating websites offering astronomical delights but few really have a personal touch. For IYA there is a global project called “Cosmic Diaries” that will involve a few professional astronomers writing about their daily lives (as a blog). Sounds interesting, but I’m a bit unsure if this is entirely a good idea, for example will people be so open to tell us about their latest theory? I doubt it. Also professional astronomers tend not to have a huge amount of time spare and don’t really do science that is readily accessible to the public. If I was to tell you about a double-double radio galaxy I’d discovered at 610 MHz with the GMRT then I’d have to spend an awful amount of space describing what this all meant. Now some might do that, but I doubt all would. For those that know the stuff I’m sure it would be interesting, but for those that don’t they will just leave with an impression of astronomy being impenetrable. This, as you all know, is not true. Amateurs are the foot soldiers of the astronomical community, you are the people who do this for fun… and make it fun for everyone else – you aren’t the ones worrying about data analysis (well you might be but probably not of the astronomical kind) when you go to bed. Thus, I’m going to suggest that you would be much better placed to run blogs for IYA. You will be able to put over that enthusiasm in a different way. So why not run a blog as an astronomy society? With 10 of you blogging content will be easily produced and will vary nicely – making an interesting read.
So how do you write a blog? Well if you where to use a popular search engine you will find countless documents on this, so I’d encourage you todo this.. but here are a few ideas.
The actual site – do I need my own website? Personally I run my own webserver with Moveable Type installed (if you are that way inclined then this is a rather simple installation) but if you are not or don’t want the added cost of webspace then I’d suggest using one of the following (there are of course many others): Blogger.com, tumblr.com, livejournal.com, freeopendiary.com, wordpress.com, MuseCrafters.com, http://www.vox.com. For ease of use and setup Blogger and Tumblr can’t be beaten in my opinion (I’ve run blogs on both). Be careful with your identity. Remember, you can be anonymous to most of your readers. This is one of the best aspects of blogging. No one has to know who you are!
The content, what do we put on here? Anything you like – just what you have observed might be interesting, or even just what your society is doing / has done. I’d always suggest using pictures when possible (but do remember copyright rules and give credit when appropriate). Don’t expect to get too many visitors to begin with – writing a popular blog doesn’t happen overnight. The essence of the blog stems from journalling which means the blog is FOR YOU. Work it how you feel most appropriate but with multiple authors you will quickly amaze a range of interesting stuff. Since we are talking about writing a scientific blog then I’d very much encourage you to ensure that you try and explain every term you use, or at the least create a link to another website (wikipedia can normally do the trick) that has more details – and hopefully penetrable for all. Oh and don’t forget to tell people about it. Register it with blogging monitors like technorati.. and tell you friends!
Just to give you an idea about a few blogs, here are two I maintain http://www.krioma.net/blog (my personal one) and starrydude.tumblr.com/(my completely astronomy one). I’d also suggest taking a look at other peoples such as orbitingfrog.com/blog/ or blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/

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