Thinking of Starting your own Health Blog or Web Site?

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Do you want to create your own CFS or holistic health blog or web site? I was inspired to create this web site back in 2006 because a lack of certain types on information on the web and nowhere that really put it all together in a cohesive framework. It started off as a series of blogs. I learnt a number of things over the years about running a web site and made many errors of judgement. If you are considering starting your own blog or web site, there are a few things you should consider. This brief note is meant to help you avoid making the same mistakes.

Before you publish anything on the web, you need to have some understanding of public domain, copyright and plagiarism. Do you know what these terms mean? Review some articles on these subjects on the web. Otherwise you may fall into the trap of simply copying and pasting large amounts of other people's material (copyright infringement), or altering some of the words without crediting the source (plagiarism). You may well feel that because the particular cause you are supporting is extremely important, if not a moral duty to share knowledge, you have the right to reproduce important material, whether printed or from the internet. That is understandable. Also it is easy to think that because information is available on a particular web site on the internet, that is already freely being distributed onto computer screens and thus you may borrow files, images or other content and simply display them on your (non-commercial or otherwise) web site rather than referencing or linking to them. This is no more the case than you can photocopy sections of a recently published book and hand them out to thousands of people, whether for free or at a profit. A web site is form of publication, like any other. You must still follow legal practices, respect the work of others and behave professionally. Your audience will take your site more seriously if you follow the rules. You may choose to ignore the above but years later you may well realise your previous lack of judgement and have to rewrite or recode a large part if not all of your web site (and the way you structured all your articles) - this could be a huge amount of extra work - possibly weeks or months of your time. You may even be contacted by the owners of the work/content you are reproducing asking you to remove it or they may threaten to ask you ISP remove your web site if things get nasty. Short quotes are acceptable for the purposes of literary review but one should contact the author or web site for any requests to make significant quotations or reproduction of other material, text, images or files.

If you do not cite any sources, it is hard for readers to validate your material. This is a mistake I naively made at the start. The best sources are academic papers and books. Links to blogs or web sites don't tell the reader that much about where their material came from unless they themselves list it. Try to list the original sources of the information or studies (using academic citations), not just where it was recently discussed on the web. Google will also lower your page ranking if you do not have any original material on your web site, so fewer people will read your site. If something is personal experience or gut feeling, then make sure that is clear and do not present it as a hard truth or line of causation without at least backing it up with something more.

Learn the difference between blog sites and web sites. Web sites require some moderate HTML coding knowledge, which is not that hard to acquire, unless you use a template software to create the pages. Web sites costs are: £5-10 per year for th domain name, and maybe £30+ per annum for the web hosting. US providers are much cheaper than UK based ones. Shop around. Choose a memorable domain name, preferably on a .com (org can work too). Blog sites use a content management system (a web interface) to input your material. Blog sites tend to be free - blogspot does not have adverts (but you can add your own google adsense adverts if you want) but wordpress does. You can pay wordpress to remove the adverts (and either keep it clean or add your own google adsense code for adverts). Blog sites are best for dated/diary type entries, but result in a rather chaotic structure - they do allow commenting though. Blog sites often tend to have multiple blogs on the same subject, differing in their relevance according to when they are dated, so many of the blogs will be out of date. Blog sites tend to be more chatty and lacking in references (although not always). Web sites are better for non-dated articles that you update over time. Web sites can give you full control over structuring the material, but try to create a clear template for structuring the content - this may need to be tweaked and revised over time as if the site just grows and grows within the same layout it can become very hard to navigate.

Resist the temptation to write too much initially! At the start, your understanding may be somewhat crude, understandably (that is not meant to be patronising) - and we are forever learning - so writing too much initially may well result in having to rewrite it all later. It is probably best just to brief write notes initially. Not all the detail will be relevant or interesting later as you learn more, develop a better understanding of anatomy and biochemistry, or as your treatment takes other directions. Large sites require a large amount of maintenance and re-editing - also people with CFS and other environmental illnesses do generally not have the energy or neurological faculties to read large quantities of text, and writing more briefly will be less tiring for you - so keeping it brief is best for everyone.

It is probably best to wait until you are recovered before publishing a web site or blog site. It is a large amount of work to write, keep up and update and your health and recovery comes first. It is tempting to want to communicate what you are learning to the world as you go along. However this is not a shrewd strategy if it slows or stops your recovery and is detrimental to your health. If you can reach a compromise, great, but as stated above, keeping brief notes or a treatment and symptom diary (unpublished) may be a better option which can form the basis of something later - and if not, could be something useful to show a new practitioner.

Remember that many of the articles on the internet are biased and unreliable. Many forum posts are unreliable, display a lack of anatomical knowledge, are collaborative guesswork with others trying to figure out an issue, are often vague and non-specific in their terminology and often without enough background information to draw any conclusions from. Question your sources and don't just accept something as gospel truth and regurgitate it on your blog or web site without validating or investigating it first. Not doing so can result in perpetuating misunderstanding or bias and damage your reputation if nothing else. The internet is full of people repeating what they read on Mercola or other web sites without citing a source, which is in most cases mostly correct but can frequently be exaggerated or incorrect. This can result in suffering patients wasting valuable time or even pursuing good treatments in the wrong way and doing themselves harm. We are all interested in 'truth' or at least understanding the context of what we observe so we can learn the underlying principles, that can be applied elsewhere.

Integrating your site with various social media networks such as Facebook and Google+ can be a large amount of extra effort and often with little reward and viewing footprint. It takes a large amount of effort to build up an audience and there is generally very little interaction bar one or two keen followers until you reach the 1000 mark - this takes a long time to achieve. Numbers of followers or likes are no guarantee that many of these people will actually look at what you post. Compared with visits to your web site, posting on social networking sites is an extremely inefficient way of reaching your target audience - when you could put this effort into improving the content on your site - although it is more 'sociable' and interactive arguably. This is why I have personally put my social media presence for this web site on hold. I don't think it makes sense for small web sites (in terms of numbers of visitors). If you are getting half a million visits a year or more then I think it's meaningful - then you are a household name!

Publishing health material on the internet will generate some level of viewing but will also result in your readers wanting to contact you to ask you questions. You may either enjoy this or find it stressful and tiring. You may wish to welcome people to contact you, whether they have actually read any of your site/blog or not ;-) Or you may want to avoid this altogether and bury your contact details deep into your site and only answer important or particularly desperate messages. You will likely receive large amounts of spam in addition whatever strategy you pursue (on top of your normal personal spam). Either way it is additional work on top of writing the actual material.

Good luck!

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