A blog for everyone

I am currently the owner of six blogs, which cover everything from birding to books—and I use several platforms to run them all. That’s because different blogging services have different strengths. So it makes sense to choose the one that works best for the type of content I’m creating. While some services offer pure ease of use, others are geared toward business blogs or social networks.

For the personal blog

If you want your blog to serve as a journal—that is, a place to share your thoughts and daily musings—keeping things simple is important. If blogging is a chore, you won’t do it.

A pioneer of push-button publishing, Google’s Blogger is hard to beat for ease of use. Before Blogger, almost all blogs required that users write their own code. While that’s no longer the case, Blogger remains the gold standard for simplicity.

Getting started is a cinch. If you already have a Gmail address or a Google account, you’re ready to go. If not, you’ll need to sign up on Blogger’s home page. Once you have an account, you can give your blog a title and choose a URL on Blogspot, Blogger’s free hosting service (you can also move the blog to your own domain).

Under the Settings tab are numerous options for customizing your blog; for instance, you can choose how many posts appear on the main page, and set default rules for who can comment (anyone, registered users, or just authors of the blog). The Template tab lets you tweak your blog’s colors and fonts, select a new design, or enter your own code. You can also find ready-made templates at sites like BlogSkins.com. Just be sure to include Blogger’s proprietary posting tags in your template; otherwise, your site won’t publish correctly. (See more on proper formatting.) To use the service’s WYSIWYG tools for formatting text and adding links, you’ll need Safari 3 (still in beta at press time) or a third-party browser such as Firefox or Camino.

Another good option is Automattic’s WordPress. It’s easy to use but powerful and quite tweakable. WordPress offers a much wider selection of templates than Blogger. You can choose from templates with one or two colors and clean lines, or you can opt for one of the bolder designs that look like something straight out of a modern-art museum. WordPress also offers some basic protection from comment spam with Akismet, a service that filters out junk before it bothers you. If something does slip through the cracks, you can banish it from your site by clicking on Comments and marking it as spam. And for $10 a year, you can even publish your WordPress blog to your own domain.

For the business blog

If you’re looking to push the boundaries of what you can do with a blog—especially if you want to use the blog as a part of your business—check out Six Apart’s TypePad. This service is more flexible than Blogger and WordPress, and it gives your blog room to grow. In fact, several professional media outlets, including MSNBC, Time, and Wired, rely on it for their Weblogs. TypePad is not for people looking for a free trip through the blogosphere, though: plans start at $5 a month for the basic level, which gets you one blog for a single blogger, and run to $30 a month for a plan with multiple authors, unlimited blogs, and lots of bandwidth and storage space.

One feature that makes TypePad ideal for businesses is that it lets you set up static pages—for example, a home page or a bio page—with designs that match your blog’s theme. Meanwhile, you get incredible control over your blog’s layout; for instance, you can set the number of columns, specify whether your sidebar is on the left or right, and more. For multimedia-heavy blogs, TypePad offers a selection of mixed-media layouts that prominently display photos or videos.

TypePad’s protection against comment spam goes beyond the capabilities of Blogger and WordPress. For instance, you can restrict comments to authenticated users, or require that people type in a code, which ensures that a human being and not a computer program is doing the commenting. You can also ban commenters and report spammers to TypePad to help weed those users out.

But one of TypePad’s biggest draws may be its tech support. When I’ve had problems that I couldn’t find an answer to in the knowledge base—rare occurrences—I’ve always been able to get an actual living, breathing person to give me a hand.

For the community blog

Vox is another blogging service from Six Apart, but it focuses on multimedia and social-networking features. It’s a great service if you want to keep in touch with a like-minded community, or if you simply want to correspond with a group of friends. There’s one catch: Although Six Apart claims that Vox will work with the final version of Safari 3, it wasn’t fully compatible with the beta available at press time. However, you can always use Mozilla Firefox or Camino.

When you set up a blog on Vox, you have your pick of hundreds of designs. Many themes complement specific interests, such as cycling, music, and travel. Some focus on cities (such as Las Vegas, New York, and Kiev), while others are associated with seasons and holidays. There are several layout options, but unlike with Blogger and TypePad, you can’t completely overhaul the design and layout. Also, Vox doesn’t allow you to publish to your own server; you’re stuck with the yoursitename. vox .com naming scheme.

When you create a new post, you’ll see buttons for inserting photos, audio, books, and videos. If you click on Videos, for example, Vox will let you upload a new video from your Mac or embed one from iFilm or YouTube. There’s also an Amazon.com tab that lets you search for a film and insert its poster art along with a link to the DVD. As for images, you can upload your own, search for a stock image at iStockphoto.com, or have Vox pull pictures from Flickr or Photobucket. Vox embeds these items in your post, allowing you to specify their size and alignment.

Of course, there may be times when you don’t want the entire world to see one of your photos or videos—say, when it’s a snapshot of you at a party, and you appear less than sober in it. This is where Vox’s community tools come in handy. You can assign people as contacts (or neighbors in Vox’s parlance), friends, family, or all of the above. Then you can designate posts as accessible only for friends, family, or neighbors. Also, since Vox’s front page gives you a view of your neighborhood —posts and media uploads from all your contacts—Vox is an easy way to keep tabs on friends or other users with whom you share interests.

For the mobile blog

To get the ultimate in simplicity, turn to Tumblr, a publishing service designed for tumblelogs. A tumblelog is a type of blog designed for quick hits—short posts, pictures, Web links, and videos—rather than long-form text entries. This makes it ideal for posting from a mobile phone.

Enter your e-mail address, a password, and a desired Web address (you can later change it to your domain if you want), and you’re ready to publish.

When it comes to posting, you’ll see buttons for different types of entries, including text, photos, quotes, links, chat transcripts, and videos. Tumblr also imports feeds from various sources, such as Flickr, YouTube, Digg, Del.icio.us, Twitter, Vox, Blogger, and LiveJournal. In most cases, you can select whether to import content as full entries or as links that go back to the original post. You can also import an RSS feed, and Tumblr will publish it to your blog.

Want to blog from your phone? Tumblr can post entries sent via e-mail—great for quickly uploading camera-phone pictures and short Twitter-style observations. Just send a message to the unique e-mail address that Tumblr assigns you, and your photo or text will show up in a post, with the subject line repurposed as a caption. Although this isn’t a unique feature—most of the aforementioned services let you post from the road—Tumblr does it better than most, and the tumblelog format is perfect for all those short entries you’ll be tapping out on your iPhone.

[ Mathew Honan has been blogging since 1998. His blogs include Emptyage and the tumbleblog Emptyagr. He also writes for Wired and National Journal’s Technology Daily.]

Blogger: Blogger’s what you see is what you get interface makes for easy posting and formatting—no HTML required. TypePad: TypePad gives you control over who can comment, and it lets you easily manage spam.Vox: Vox’s community features make it a snap to keep tabs on your friends.
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