So, you want to write a blog, huh?
Yes, and why do you keep saying “huh?”
Huh? Oh, yes, right. Sorry about that. Bad habit. At least one of my less bad habits.
There are a lot of blogging platforms, websites, services and software applications out there. And I really mean a lot. For example, if a squazillion if the approximate number of photons in a cubit, there’d be a few more than that. Not that I’ve worked that number out mind you (only because there are a few other parameters you need to make a good stab at it – ed).
So, Lots of options, Nigel, and you’re going to tell us which one is best, right?
Sorry to disappoint, but there are lots of options for a reason. The main one being that nothing’s perfect. Ok, ok, I should have said nothing apart from me, but I’m trying keep my ego in check at this moment.
Ah, I get it. You want us to use something that’s imperfect so you can look all cool and use the secret stuff.
Er, no (again).
And stop being so paranoid, otherwise we will be out to get you. The quest for perfection is tricky (is this guy for real? – ed). Not only that, but humankind doesn’t have a written in stone idea of what perfection represents. Even in those places where we could claim that we’ve got a pretty good idea, we keep changing out minds!
And this relates to blogging how?
Because we don’t know exactly what we want, we have to try a few of the options and see what we like best.
I can do that!
a) You’re beginning to sound worryingly like Dr Suess, and
b) Course you can. Might take you a week or two … or three. Or you could just sit down and learn from my mistakes, I mean experiences.
Ok, I sat down.
Spiffy. Then I’ll begin.
To start with you need a website to host your blog. There’s a bunch. Mashable has a list of 40 odd sites. Some of them pretty odd. Anyone for Bigcheese.com? I’m sure they’re very good, but the name puts me off.
To cut a long story short(er), I settled on WordPress. Yes, I know. Not exactly cutting edge but they do have some pretty well developed software and a good sense of style. But, before you rush off to their site and think up a witty username, take Kristen Lamb’s advice: USE YOUR NAME. In fact, you might want read some of her other posts and take that advice as well.
Actually, I am assuming here that you want to be a writer (or something similar). If you’re a Moldonian spy with a desperate need to spill the beans on their state secrets, you might want to go with a different moniker (in fact you might want to look up the survival rates for such activity before you even hit enter -ed). But for the rest of us, less clandestine people, use your name.
You can sign up for a blog on the WordPress home page, and shazzam, you’re a blogger. Or at least you will be, if you fill in that very blank page titled “Just another WordPress blog.”
That’s when the trouble begins.
To start with you’ll want to Tiffinize your blog.
Tiffinize? That’s a fancy acronym, eh, something to do with PHP scripts to index into reverse DNS lookup tables?
It’s the period of time you’ll spend changing display options and themes until your blog is so pretty you think you’ll call it Tiffany. And, boy, are there some options.
The appearance of a WordPress blog is determined by a Theme. A Theme tells the wordpress software where you want the text and pictures on your site, what fonts you want to use, what colors the title, background and text should be, and a mass of other stuff.
You’ll start out saying “that will do for now” and before you know it you’ll be up until 3am editing CSS and HTML code trying you get just exactly the right gap between the left hand margin and the left hand border – all without knowing which one’s which in the first place!
Alternatively you could choose one theme and go with it. You can change them whenever you want and (with the exception of white text on a black background) most people are too busy reading to bother too much about the aesthetics of your blog.
The white on black thing is serious. It does a number on your reader’s retinas that leaves them with the subconscious message DONT EVER DO THAT AGAIN (only in bigger letters). Such things may influence them they next time they think of your blog, and not positively.
Let’s assume you managed to fight off a serious case of the Tiffanies and have got down to the job of writing you blog. I’m going to skip the problem of what to blog about.
Why are you going to skip that?
You’re a creative writer, that’s your department.
Wow, that’s right. I’m just brimming with creative ideas. I’ve got this story, see. There’s this spaceship-
Can we get back to the plot?
Er, ok. I’ll tell you later.
A Blog is just a list of articles. Each article is called a “post.” Your posts will turn up on the home page of your blog. Every time you write a new post it will push the older ones down the page and place itself at the top. The theme you choose can make a difference to this, but this is the typical behavior.
After you’ve written a few posts the oldest ones will be removed from the home page of your blog and relegated to the archives. They’re not lost, they’re just taking a nap after a long squawk (I’m really hoping you know your Monty Python at this stage, otherwise that’s going to seem like an even odder remark than it really is).
So, how do I write my posts?
Ah, glad to see you not sulking. Yeah, writing. That’s what kicked me into writing this particular post.
You’ve got a couple of options
1) The WordPress website. This involves using a sort-of word-processor through a web browser.
2) A software package. This involves using an application on your computer and then uploading your posts when they’re complete.
There are pros and cons with each, but I prefer the software package approach. Using a word processor in a web browser works, but it’s slow, unresponsive, and, if the gods of the internet decide today’s the day for your hard work to be thrown away when you hit “publish,” then so be it. Images can be embedded into your posts, but you’ll have to go through extra steps to upload them to WordPress before you can use them.
Using a software package has none of these flaws. Everything happens when you expect. You enter text and drag and drop images in a familiar word processor style environment and the software takes care of uploading them to WordPress for you.
For my blog I’ve tried 3 Mac applications.
Visually they’re all different, but in function they’re similar. They all allow you to write posts that can be uploaded to your blog. You can be on-line of off-line. Obviously off-line you have to save the post on your computer until you reconnect to the internet. You can embed images, insert links and format you text in all the usual ways. Here’s a quick look at the three.
Blogo does everything with one window and a drawer (the thing on the left hand side). the interface is not the traditional Mac style, but its easy to get used to and is beautifully simple. It’s also cohesive, meaning that everything’s done in the same style.
Just to ruin that cute look here’s the same application with lots of annotation to give you some clues about how much they packed into this minimalist interface.
Yep, there’s lots going on there.
(yes, they seem to write it all in lowercase, so I’ll stick with their style). ecto has two windows, one main one and one for editing. No slide out drawers here. It also has a lot more options, and, to me, they weren’t exactly self explanatory.
MarsEdit is the most Mac-like application here. Stevie J would approve, I’m sure. When you’re not connected to the internet and save a draft, its saves it away for you. You don’t have to give it a filename. It keeps the draft in a list. Its a small thing, but I like applications that manage their own data and don’t require me to name everything twice (Post Title File Name). It helps keep the namespace down.
In this case the formatting is done through the dropdown list on the top-right. It’s slower than using buttons, but they do have options to use the Theme defined CSS styles (heading1 etc), which gives a more consistent look to your site. Mind you if you write the sort of cods I do, no one will notice.
So is there a winner?
Ahhhhh, still awake are you. No, like I said, I don’t have a winner.
I read all this and you don’t have a winner?
Sorry, not yet. It’s difficult to choose.
ecto has the list of tags and checkboxes, it’s a great feature that I wish the other two had. WordPress, for example, will create a new tag if you use different case, ie Writing is different to writing. Even if you can remember all you tags, the chances of making a typo is always there.
Blogo has a wonderfully clean interface, but shows inline images as grey boxes. Good, because they’re small and allow you to see your text. Bad because you have to click on the grey box to get a look at the actual picture.
MarsEdit is the most Mac-like and feels the most workman-like. So far, I’ve written most of my posts with MarsEdit, but the features of the other two are each tempting.
I’m going to have choose one soon as I’m nearly at the end of my trial download period. I’ll decide in the next couple of days and then do a run through of using it. They’re not that complicated, it’s more a case of understanding the terminology.
If you really want to know what these are like, you’ll have to download them yourself. But just one word of warning. Don’t try messing with them all at once. At least, if you do, make sure you create a new post just to test out. It’s heartbreaking to find out you just uploaded three lines over the top of a finished post. On the bright side it hasn’t taken half as long to type it all in again…
You’ve got really quiet through the last part of this. What’s the matter? Am I nuts using an application to write posts? Should I stick to the tried and true web interface and quit whining? Do you hate the idea of paying for software? Feel free to vent, I can take it.
I’m bracing myself already.