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The best blogging tools for the Mac

According to one recent estimate, a new Weblog is created every second. Everyone from your geeky IT coworker to your Uncle Marvin has one already. So why don’t you? If you’ve got something— anything —you want to share with the rest of the world, a blog is the place to do it. And it’s never been easier to jump on the blogging bandwagon. The tools and services required are inexpensive (and often free) and as simple (or as powerful) as you want.

Right now, the blogging tools most popular with Mac users are TypePad and Movable Type, both from Six Apart; Blogspot and Blogger, from Blogger (now part of Google); and WordPress, an open-source tool.

These five tools range in power and complexity from simple-but-limited (TypePad, Blogger, and Blogspot) to do-pretty-much-anything-but-may-require-coding (WordPress). Movable Type is somewhere between these two extremes.

Two of them—TypePad and Blogspot—also provide the hosting services you need in order to put your blog on the Web. The other three require that you arrange the hosting yourself (though that’s not especially hard to do).

Here are the tools I’d recommend for different sorts of bloggers.

Hosts with the most

If you’ve never set up and maintained a Web page, you may want to start your blogging career with one of the two hosted services, TypePad or Blogspot. Simply put, this means that your blog will have the address example. typepad.com or example. blogspot.com.

TypePad - Of the two, TypePad is more straightforward: with it, you can have a new blog online within a few minutes. Click on a few buttons in your browser, enter your credit card number, and choose a design, and your site is live. But even with all that simplicity, TypePad offers some decent extras. It allows readers to comment on your posts, and it lets you categorize your posts by topic (or whatever) for easier navigation. Like all the services mentioned here, it supports XML syndication (so readers can keep track of your blog in their RSS news readers).

Blogging tools compared

HOSTED NOT HOSTED
Blogspot TypePad Basic TypePad Plus TypePad Pro Blogger Movable Type Movable Type Basic Movable Type Unlimited WordPress
Comments Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Categories No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Full HTML Editing Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
RSS/Atom Support Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Multiple Blogs Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Multiple Authors Yes No No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Image Uploading Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Automatic Thumbnail Creation No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cost free $5/month or $50/year $9/month or $90/year $15/month or $150/year free free $70 * $100 * free
Drive Space Provided Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No No
Custom Domain Names No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

* Personal licenses; terms vary for commercial, educational, and nonprofit licensees.

But TypePad has drawbacks. For one, it’s the only blogging service described here that doesn’t offer a free version. You can try it out for 30 days; after that, you’ll have to pay $5 to $15 per month (or $50 to $150 a year), depending on the service level you choose (Basic, Plus, or Pro), to keep adding to your site. At the Basic level, TypePad is pretty limited unless you know some HTML. For example, its Mixed Media Layout designs look like promising ways to share photos and even video—but you can’t use them without learning some HTML tags. The Plus and Pro accounts offer more flexibility and power, letting multiple authors contribute or letting you run multiple blogs yourself. But, again, you have to pay for the increased level of service.

Blogspot - For a simple solution that doesn’t cost money, check out Blogspot. If you just want to enter plain text and upload images, it’s got everything you need and doesn’t require any HTML knowledge. Just start an account, name your blog, choose a template, and start posting. You can adjust your blog’s settings, and you can even tweak its layout (a bit), without digging into any code. But to go further, even to do something as simple as change the links in your sidebar from the default ones (links to “Edit Me” are sure signs of a blogging newbie), you’ll need to learn some code.

Serving yourself

The other three tools (Blogger, Movable Type, and WordPress) let you put your blog on whatever Web host you want. The most immediate advantage of this is that you get to use your own domain name, instead of a lengthy URL that includes the name of your service. Beyond that cosmetic effect, using your own host with Movable Type or WordPress means that you’re running the blogging software on your own server, not someone else’s, so you have complete control over your blog. However, it also means that you’ll have to fix problems yourself if any occur. (For more on hosting, see “Blogging Tips and Tricks.”)

Blogger - Of the three tools that come without hosting, Blogger is by far the simplest. In fact, the only difference between Blogger and Blogspot is Blogspot’s hosting service. Otherwise, they supply the same tools for building a blog and posting to it. If you’re using Blogspot and want to move to a host of your own, the transition is easy: just click on the Switch To FTP link and fill out a form, and your existing blog will be moved (see “Blogger Upgrade”). With other blogging tools, you’ll need to export and import your posts. Because it’s basically identical to Blogspot, without the convenience of the hosting service, Blogger has been waning in popularity lately.

Movable Type - Like TypePad, Movable Type costs money. Unlike TypePad, it has a free version that lets you (and only you—no multiple authors) run as many as three blogs; however, the drawback to the free service is that it does not include customer support. The $70 Basic version supports as many as five authors and unlimited blogs; the $100 package supports unlimited authors and blogs. Note, also, that Movable Type is now offering blog hosting through partners: Pair.com (a well-known hosting company), for example, sells Movable Type blog hosting for $6 a month on top of its standard fees. In the long run, it’s the most expensive option of them all, but it’s by far the simplest if you need a high-end tool.

Whichever license you choose, Movable Type is substantially more powerful than TypePad. While it lets you easily create multiple Weblogs (by clicking on Create New Weblog and filling out an online form), it also supports advanced Web technologies such as dynamic publishing. Because it’s written in Perl and the source code is available to anyone who wants to play with it, there are many third-party plug-ins that can enhance your site. In part because of that sophistication, initial installation of Movable Type can be difficult, particularly for Web newbies.

WordPress - By contrast, WordPress is known for its easy setup. But at the same time, it’s the most powerful of these blogging tools. While WordPress is accessible enough for intermediate bloggers, advanced Web authors will really appreciate it.

WordPress is written in PHP and is an open-source app, so its code is freely accessible. And an active developer community works constantly to improve and enhance it. If you want something unusual, there’s a good chance that somebody has already written it (see “WordPress Plus”); if not, you’re welcome to write it yourself. WordPress’s biggest drawback is that if you want to run more than one blog, you’ll need to install additional copies of the app. And like so many other open-source tools, WordPress’s documentation is in sore need of some volunteer help.

Powered by Mac

Site Blogging Software
43 Folders TypePad
Andy Ihnatko's Yellowtext custom
Backup Brain Moveable Type
Complete Digital Photography WordPress
Crazy Apple Rumors Site Movable Type
Daring Fireball Movable Type
Engadget Blogsmith (proprietary)
Mac OS X Hints Geeklog
MacMinute custom
macosXrumors WordPress
Mac News Network WordPress
mrbarrett.com Movable Type
The Unofficial Apple Weblog Blogsmith (proprietary)

Get blogging

In choosing the right blogging tool, it all comes down to what works best for you. Do you just want to dip your toes into the blogging waters? Try Blogspot. It’s the perfect (and a very common) place to start, it’s free, and, because it’s hosted, you don’t have to worry about maintaining it. Want more functionality without the hosting pains? Go for one of the paid TypePad accounts. Want to put several blogs on that unused domain name you’ve had all these years? Try Movable Type. Want to dive into the code and tweak your blog to your heart’s content (and help out the open-source community at the same time)? Then you’re a WordPress user.

No matter which blogging tool seems best for you, time’s a-wasting. In the time you spent reading this article, 600 new blogs were created.

Blogging for photographers

If all you want to do is share snapshots, you can use a photo-sharing site such as Flickr. But if you want to supplement those snaps with text, you’ll be better off with a photo-friendly blogging tool.

All the major blogging tools will let you show off your photos in a small blog. TypePad delivers a lot for mini-mal effort (see first screenshot). Its album-publishing tool lets you upload a zipped folder of images. The tool then opens the zipped file and puts the images into a folder that you name. It creates thumbnails of each image; you can then go in and add a caption to each photo. Unfortunately, even though Movable Type is related to TypePad, many of these features haven’t yet migrated to Movable Type (as of version 3.2, which was just released at press time).

Blogspot and Blogger aren’t there yet either. They let you upload a maximum of five images at a time (see second screenshot), and neither creates thumbnails. WordPress handles photos the same way it handles so much else: with a plug-in. There’s a wide variety of choices, so you’ll have to experiment and see which one works best for you.

Blogging tips and tricks

- Why can’t writing text for a Weblog be like writing text in a word processor? If you’d rather just choose styles, such as bold and italic, than remember tags, such as <strong> and <em>, you can—if your browser will let you. In OS X, you’ll need Firefox (see bottom screenshot). All the blogging apps mentioned here offer additional editing tools in Firefox that aren’t available in Safari (yet).

- TypePad puts some of its most useful functions in its sidebars, so be sure to check them out. You can create lists of sites, books, music, or photos and add them to your blog’s sidebar. You can also add a calendar of posts and other fun tidbits (such as your iChat status). And you do all this by filling in online forms—no HTML required.

- You don’t need your own domain name in order to host your own site with Movable Type or WordPress. But you do need an ISP or hosting company that gives you FTP access and the ability to run your own server-side applications. This leaves out .Mac users. If you want a blog on your .Mac account, check out iBlog, from Lifli Software.

- Want the convenience of hosting but also want to use your own domain name? TypePad’s two higher levels of service (Plus and Pro) let you do domain mapping—your site is on TypePad’s servers, but anyone can get to it by entering your domain name or surfing to your site. And I know some very technology-savvy people who have chosen TypePad because they don’t want to have to worry about regularly installing the latest software fixes—they’ve found that letting Six Apart deal with those headaches is worth the annual fee. If you modify the templates and use your own domain name, people might not even realize that you’re using TypePad.

- A personal license for two people to jointly author a single noncommercial Movable Type Weblog starts at $70. Instead of purchasing that license, consider the Six Apart Professional Network. It’s free to join, and it comes with a free commercial license.

[Dori Smith is a coauthor of the Backup Brain Weblog. She has been blogging since 1999.]

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