Blogging is so 2001. Live blogging, the supercharged version of online reporting, is gaining momentum across the world, and it's bound to pop up this week and next at the Republican and Democratic conventions in the U.S.
Live blogging is the act of posting real-time information to readers. As soon as you write the text, it pops up in a blog page or widget. Sentences appear in point form and are often riddled with spelling errors.
Absolute perfection, though, is not the goal. Readers want instant info. Whether it's at the Oscars, an Olympics finals match, a Macworld conference or a court trial, bloggers and reporters now have another tool in their online arsenal.
But how do you effectively live-blog? First, figure out if the event you're attending has Internet access. It's an obvious point, but bloggers often forget that not every venue offers WiFi. A wireless card or modem is essential.
Second, keep your audience in mind when you select what events to cover. If you're attending a tech conference like Toronto's Mesh (on all things Web 2.0), think about which speakers will appeal to your readership. Seek the unique leaders, the lecturers with strong ideas, the entrepreneurs who can offer noteworthy advice. If you want to live-blog a sports match, pick the playoffs or finals. Regular season games might not be too interesting.
Choosing the right software is the most important step. You can draft a post in your favourite blog editing software and publish it as you normally do. Readers can hit "refresh" as you update. Tech weblog Engadget favours this process when it covers a major conference like Macworld. Thing is, readers have to keep hitting "refresh," and that can get frustrating.
Alternately, opt for smart software like CoverItLive. Based in Toronto, this new company is the ultimate tool for blogging events in real time. CIL is free to use and simple to activate. Create an account and within minutes you can embed the CIL "box" on your blog, typing in comments while allowing your readers to post comments in the widget as well.
The publisher can also add images and video, or throw out polling questions to an audience. Once the event is over, CIL converts the live blog into a block of text that readers can scroll through at their leisure.
CIL looks to be the software of choice for publishers big and small. The L.A. Times, Newsday and gaming blog Kotaku have used it, and Marvel Comics introduced the software to its online followers when it covered the panel discussions at last week's Fan Expo in Toronto. CIL's membership has already reached 10,000.
"We've had local TV stations use it to update weather reports," says Keith McSpurren, president of CoverItLive, "and we have the guy in the basement using it. We've noticed many countries using our software during the Olympics to report on various events."
Once you have the software, how do you write your entries? There are two options: go play-by-play, covering minute details, or just showcase the highlight events. For events like the Oscars, McSpurren suggests adding value with informed opinions, because everyone is watching the marquee event already. For conferences or court trials, where public access is limited, play-by-play coverage could be best.
Live blogging is customarily the domain of independent blogs and writers, but it would be wise for mainstream media to jump on board. Why wait for Christie Blatchford's 24-hour-old column about the Pickton trial when she could be live-blogging about it instantly? Wouldn't you want to see a political debate come alive in real time, complete with images of the finger-pointing and eye-rolling?
Although the software may be new to some people, live blogging isn't hard. It can draw more readers to a blog or media site, and so far services like CIL are free.
There's no reason not to do it. Reporters and prominent bloggers have ignored this burgeoning trend for the simple reason that it takes more effort than slapping together a 500-word article.
Let's hope that laziness ends.