One of the best ways to make a big leap in your career is to blog. Blogging allows you to create a high-quality network for yourself based, not on the old model of passing out business cards, but on a new model of passing out ideas. Contrary to popular opinion, blogging is not for college kids holed up in their dorm room posting photos of themselves. Blogging is so text-intensive — in terms of both reading and writing — that the amount of time required of a blogger makes it unattractive to college students. (Here’s a funny video about how time-consuming blogging is.)

However, to the curious and driven who are passionate about their careers, blogging is a great way to keep learning after college is over. So when you go to Google to search for blogs, most of those that come up will be from professionals who are using a blog to establish themselves as a thought leader in their field.

Most of the time you spend blogging will be reading other peoples’ blogs and linking to them and writing commentary on your own blog about what others in the blogosphere are talking about. It’s a constant course in your specialty and keeps you on the cutting edge. Moreover, the linking between blogs keeps you in touch with the other thought leaders in your industry, even if you do not know them personally.

One of the best things about blogging is that the benefits are huge, but the barrier to entry is very low. The software is free, and easy to use (try Blogger or WordPress) and it takes about 10 minutes to get started.

Minh Luong wanted a career in food writing, but found breaking into the industry was very tough. Instead of waiting to find an offline connection and nurture it and wait for the right opportunity and then make her move, Luong opted for taking more direct initiative to create the life she wants: She started blogging.

Almost immediately, her blog, Minnie Eat World, became a local Boston favorite, and the credibility she gained by blogging led to offline offers for work she would not have had access to had she not built a quick network for herself via blogging. The blog has replaced not only paying one’s dues, but also the network that comes from that.

The most efficient way to build a brand name for yourself is via blogging. Not just because blogging is so linked to one’s own ideas, but also because the tools for blogging encourage people to measure the reach of their personal brand. You can measure the number of people who are talking about you (via Technorati) and the number of people who are visiting you (via SiteMeter), and you can see who is telling their friends to read you (via Mint). But the commitment to a blog like this is intense — writing blog posts at least four days a week is a basic requirement, for example.

Harleen Kahlon recognized that while blogging is a great way to feel part of a smart, informed community, the time it takes to blog is often at odds with the time it takes professionals to manage the career they already have. So Kahlon founded Damsels in Success, which is a community for professional women that includes a group blog — a place where about 50 professional women are contributing to a blog that serves as a connector for all of them.

Many people are finding that group blogs provide both an outlet for ideas and a foundation for community, but the demands are much less than blogging on their own.

Another group blog that provides similar benefits is Employee Evolution. Led by the intrepid duo Ryan & Ryan, this blog provides a place for generation Y to spout about workplace issues to a wide audience without having to blog frequently enough to build that audience for themselves.

Another limitation of blogging is that you need to decide what sort of expertise you want to be known for before you start blogging. A blog needs a topic, and the only topics worth investing in are topics that are very meaningful to you. If you are not sure about a topic, you might just start blogging and find that you gravitate toward the topic that’s right for you.

But if that seems too disorganized to you, start by commenting on other peoples’ blogs. The bloggers are knowledgeable, committed, and passionate — just the kind of people you should add to your list of friends. Pick the bloggers you enjoy reading the most, and comment. Don’t just say, “great post.” Suggest an angle the blogger might not have seen, or present some information the blogger might have missed. Have a conversation with the blogger, because this is, after all, what building a network is all about: conversations.

Which brings us to Ben Casnocha, teenage entrepreneur and author of My Start-up Life. Ben blogs at ben.casnocha.com, and he has a loyal following of people who are fascinated by the thought process of someone who could launch a successful Internet-based company in sixth grade (check it out: Comcate.com). But Ben is doing something that is both in the realm of forward thinking and conventional thinking: He’s meeting people face to face. Ben took a tour of the United States meeting people each day who have become part of his electronic network.

Ben’s tour of the United States reminds us that each connection we make — either electronically or face to face — is just a starting point for something deeper. And he reminds us that for all the hoopla and fantasy building of the “new amazingly networked Web 2.0!”, it all comes down to good, old-fashioned connecting with people we want to hang out with.