There are those who say that blogging has reached its tipping point and that fewer and fewer people are starting and maintaining weblogs. Others will argue that the old style, word and images blog is dead and that audio and video podcasts are the way to go. That said, many people are still interested in blogging, and many of them have a lot to say.
The problem is choosing the right platform with which to publish their blogs. There are a lot of blogging applications and services out there. This TechTip looks at three of them, and offers some advice on choosing the blogging software that’s right for you.
Blogger is one of the oldest blogging applications around. In existence since 1999, it was bought by Google four years later. For someone who wants to quickly get blogging, Blogger is a good place to start.
The interface is very simple to use and understand. You create blog entries in an interface that resembles a simple word processor. With a mouse click or two, you can add paragraph formatting, tables, images, and lists. If you’re so inclined, you can also edit the HTML code directly.
You can choose any of 31 templates for your blog. These templates aren’t all that visually spectacular; some are kind of gaudy. Of course, you can find more templates on the Web. If you want to change the look of a particular template, you can edit the HTML code for it. Of course, you’ll need some knowledge of HTML and of Cascading Style Sheets (which enables you to apply formatting to HTML documents). Recently, though, the folks at Google introduced a feature that allows you to customize your template without getting your hands dirty.
You have two options for publishing your blog. Many Blogger users choose the first option: to host their weblogs on Blogger’s servers. You can tell which ones do that because the URL of the blog contains blogspot.com — for example, myblog.blogspot.com. You can also post your blog to your own Web server. When you create a blog entry, Blogger uploads your blog and its archives, via FTP or SFTP, using the login information that you provided when you set up the blog.
The Blogger developers are constantly tinkering with the service. In addition to the template customization tool, they’ve been adding support for more languages, the ability to include polls in your blog, and a feature called Enclosure Links that allow you to include audio and video podcasts in your blog. You can learn more about the new features being added here.
LJ_IM1LiveJournal is like Blogger in many ways. The service was started in 1999, and was bought out a few years ago by another company (in this case Six Apart). And, like Blogger, LiveJournal is a quick and easy way to start blogging.
But don’t think that LiveJournal is just a knock-off of Blogger. It isn’t. There are a number of differences. LiveJournal has both free and paid accounts (costing up to $19.95 a year) — users with paid accounts can do more, like upload images and post entries using a mobile phone or by email. LiveJournal also has a strong social networking aspect to it, and that feature attracts a lot of users. Like MySpace and Facebook, LiveJournal allows you to have friends who are allowed to access secret or protected content on your blog and get more information about you. You can also join groups of LiveJournal users in a community.
The interface for creating blog entries is bland, but it gets the job done. Much like Blogger’s interface, LiveJournal gives you point and click access to all formatting options.
LiveJournal also comes with a number of templates.The templates range from bland to a touch gaudy, but some are quite usable. However, LiveJournal doesn’t seem to have all the template customization options of other services.
WordPress is a very powerful and flexible blogging application. It can be easy to install, and you can customize it to your heart’s content. And once a WordPress blog is up and running, it’s easy to maintain.
There are three ways to get a WordPress blog. The first is to download the WordPress software from WordPress.org. Or, you can sign up for an account that hosted at WordPress.com. If your Web hosting company supports it, the other way is to automatically install WordPress using a Web application like Fantastico or cPanel, which many hosts provide.
One of the unique features of WordPress is its ability to import content from other blogging applications like Blogger, GrayMatter, LiveJournal, and TypePad. The process is quite simple, and WordPress guides you through it. I’ve migrated two blogs from Blogger to WordPress and the process was fairly smooth and relatively painless.
Like the other blogging services described in this TechTip, WordPress has a simple word processor-like interface and comes with a handful of templates (called themes). These themes are quite boring, but you can find more — either at the WordPress Website or by doing a Google search.
You can extend the functions of a WordPress blog using plug-ins. Plug-ins are like little programs that you can attach to your blog, or to the built-in editor. They enable you to add any number of features to your blog, like convert entries to a PDF document, add custom tables to a post, block spam comments, post entries using a mobile phone, or integrate a media player into a post. You can find a very large and comprehensive collection of plug-ins here.
The blogging applications discussed in this TechTip aren’t the only games in town; there are many other blogging tools out there. If you’re of a more technical bent, you might want to check out Drupal, Movable Type, or Bloxsom (pronounced blossom). They’re not all that easy to use and set up — requiring a Web server and a database. Some Web hosting companies, though, enable you to install them in your Web space using Fantastico or cPanel. If you have a little money to burn, then a good hosted option is TypePad. TypePad is based on Movable Type and is meant for businesses and professionals.
You can also blog from your desktop using a Thingamablog or Bash Blogger. Thingamablog is a multi-operating system graphical tool that makes blogging very easy. All of your information is stored in text files, which Thingamablog uploads to your Web site. Bash Blogger is a command line tool that runs on Linux or on Windows using software called Cygwin. It’s fast, simple, and outputs surprisingly attractive blogs.
Which to Choose?
That can be a difficult question to answer. It all depends on your needs, your technical skills, and your level of commitment to blogging. If you just want a simple blog and don’t want to worry about doing too much maintenance on your own, then Blogger and LiveJournal are probably your best bet. With them, blogs are easy to maintain and just about everything (aside from writing blog entries) is taken care of for you.
On the other hand, the hosted version of WordPress is a good option if you want a little more flexibility and a number of useful features. For the control freak, then, a copy of WordPress installed on a Web site is the way to go. It’s fairly easy to install, configure, and to expand upon. But you’ll need some knowledge of database technologies (like MySQL ) and Web servers to deal with any problems that may arise with your blog.
I’m quite partial to WordPress. I maintain two blogs using it (and another on Blogger). Using WordPress, I was quickly able to set up, customize, and publish those blogs. Of course, your mileage may vary.
There’s a wide range of blogging software and services out there. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Web guru or not — there’s a blogging tool waiting for you.