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Thursday, 15 September 2011

Your Blogs' Graphics And Images

Are Graphics and or Images Necessary When Blogging?

When designing a blog or blog entry, one of the immediate questions that will arise is whether it will demand a picture or image to give it “life” or “zest.”  If your blog is an art blog that will feature visual presentations, the answer is obviously in the affirmative.  But what if your blog is a political or technology blog?  If your blog’s content is mostly information rather than visual art, an image can occasionally help get your message across, especially if it helps to illustrate your content. 

In that case, an image, which will necessarily be small in order to fit on your page, can be hyper-linked to a larger version in order to give your readers access to more information or detail should they desire it.  In this case, it’s helpful to have the image open a separate browser so the original story remains in the main browser.

Images, like your entries themselves, should be consistently sized.  They do not have to be exactly the same, however, because not every image will be the same shape and should not be forced into an arbitrary mold, especially at the expense of proportion. A skewed image is generally worse than none.  However, it is important to avoid haphazard sizing, especially when you feature multiple images close together.  Images of vastly differing sizes will scream ‘unprofessional’ at your readers.

Successful bloggers will occasionally use humorous or “cute” pictures to illustrate content or to make a point.  This is acceptable so long as it is used only occasionally and does not detract from the image you’re trying to create for your blog.  It also provides a nice break for your readers if your content has been heavy, repetitive, or intense.  They deserve a break just like you do. 

A look at the successful political blogs, for example, will illustrate the acceptable use of images in blogs that seek to be taken seriously.  When introducing someone (e.g. a new musician or an obscure, state-level politician) to your readers, a small photograph is helpful, as it is in the newspaper, to give them a visual reference point.  When discussing documents, it’s helpful to present a copy of the document, either hyper-linked (.PDF files are best for this) or as a small .JPG or .GIF image.  Making your own illustrative notations on the images where appropriate (so long as they are done in a professional manner) will help to make your content even more original.

However, unless your blog is a humor blog, overuse of humorous or ‘cute’ pictures can damage your blog’s reputation.  Because you seek to be serious and taken seriously by your readers, it’s important to design every entry in a way that supports and furthers your reputation.

Of course, if your blog is dedicated to holidays or cheerleaders, then by all means, load it up with as many pictures as will fit on the page!

Hosting Images In Your Blog

When a small-time blogger or diarist finds an image that looks like it might fit his post, he’s likely as not to simply link the picture where it exists, leaving it on someone else’s server, but displaying it on his page like it’s his own.  For those who are not taking credit for the work, or whose blogs are not “professional,” it’s generally a non-issue.  However, occasionally an image will appear on their site which is not the image they displayed, but which instead informs all their readers of what they are doing.  It will say, in obnoxiously large letters that can’t be missed by the reader, “This person is stealing bandwidth.”  It’s not a reputation you want your blog to have, and many sites are creating technological locks that that display such warnings or keep people from doing it altogether.

Stealing bandwidth is, in short, linking directly to another’s site in a way that causes the reader’s browser to download others’ content as part of your page.  When a browser asks a server for a web page, the page points to the locations of other components of that page so that the browser can assemble it for viewing.  If every word and image your page displays is stored on your server, then the bandwidth used for that page load is charged against your account.  That’s fine; it’s your traffic and you should pay for it.  However, if some of those components are hosted on the servers of others, your bandwidth is charged against their account.  Once your traffic starts to grow, they will notice your theft and will be rightly upset with your practices.  The solution is to take responsibility for your own bandwidth by hosting your own images.

In addition to being honest business, hosting your own images allows you to re-size or reformat those images to fit your page.  While many blog programs allow you to do that when setting up the entry, unless you have physically re-sized the photo or image, the browser will be forced to download it in its original size and then fit it to the page.  This can cause slow loading times, which are to be avoided at all costs.

The final advantage of hosting your own images is that you know they’ll always be there.  As your blog grows in popularity and your archives spider their way into search engines, people will visit your prior entries as an entry point into your blog.  Those entries will also be linked to and commented on by others (remember, what you’re saying is important).  Ensuring that the images in your entries are under your control will eliminate the possibility that others will move or delete the images, rendering your entries less useful.  Of course, be sure to respect all copyright laws when copying or modifying the work of others. 

The easiest way to host your own images is to simply lease space from an internet service provider, uploading the images as you place them in entries.  Check with your current provider first: you may receive a significant amount of server space assigned with your regular internet account.  If you decide to lease space (and you’ll probably need to as your blog grows) be sure that the amount you have will fit the growth you plan for your business.

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