An Introduction to Weblogs/Weblog providers
There are many different providers of blogs, both free and commercial. There are some common factors which link all of the providers, but special features and facilities distinguish between them. There is a useful list of free blog providers at: http://weblogs.about.com/od/weblogsoftwareandhosts/a/topfreeblogs.htm
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Most available weblog software can be divided into two categories, hosted software and independent software. Hosted software resides on the server of the software provider and is normally accessed via a web interface. Independent software needs to be downloaded from the software provider and installed on your own Web server. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.
Whether you use hosted software or independent software, blogs may be hosted by the software provider, or hosted on your own web site. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.
Almost all weblog software stores your posts in a database, which controls how the content is displayed and provides functions such as searching and archiving. A weblog’s appearance and layout are normally determined by templates containing information about layout and formatting. Whichever blog software package you choose, there are a few features you may want to look for:
- Comments: most blogging software allows readers to comment on posts. Comments are normally time-stamped and identified by the author’s name and possibly a link to their weblog. Some weblog software supports the use of threaded comments, allowing readers can comment on other comments. Unfortunately, comments often contain spam and they may consist simply of a link to another web page. Some blogging software allows blog owners to review comments before they are posted.
- Categories: some software allows a blogger to allocate posts to one or more categories, helping readers to find posts on related topics.
- Pings: A method used to notify web tracking sites that you have made a new post to your blog. The tracking sit will include your post in its index and hopefully attract traffic.
- RSS/Atom feeds: These are two types of blog syndication. Many readers use RSS or Atom based news aggregators to pull in posts and read them, rather than visiting numerous weblogs every day. This can be a useful feature if you want to update your site with content fed by blogs.
- Blogroll: A list of the blogs read by the blogger whose site you are visiting. Lists may also be kept to recommend books, movies or music.
- Moblogging: Short for mobile blogging. Many blog services allow you to post from a mobile phone, PDA or anything else that lets you send e-mails.
- Post scheduling: Some blog software allows you schedule posts for publication at some time in the future. This can be useful if you are away on a business trip or a holiday.
You can find a chart comparing the functions offered by various blogging tools at: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/images/blog_software_comparison.cfm and another one at: http://asymptomatic.net/blogbreakdown.htm
Blogger is a free, hosted blogging tool. It was one of the first blogging tools to appear and now has millions of users. Blogger is free of charge and despite being simple to use provides a wide range of features. Unfortunately, it lacks the ability to categorise posts and you need to know HTML and Cascading Style Sheets to make custom changes to the templates provided.
Blogger allows you to FTP the files it has generated to your own Web site. This means that your readers may never realise that you are using Blogger and allows you to publicise your own domain name, rather than using a Blogger URL. Blogger is ideal if you want to set up a simple weblog quickly and cheaply, and it offers an amazing range of features, and professional-looking CSS templates (you can even make your own or customize one), for a free service. You can find full details of how to use Blogger to set up your own weblog later in this Wikibook.
Blogger is closely integrated with the Audioblogger service. You can post audio recordings on your blog simply by calling the Audioblogger number and recording your message.
TypePad is a hosted blogging service provided by Six Apart, who also provide Movable Type (see below). It is a paid service, with the pricing scheme and features divided into three levels: Basic, Plus, and Pro. Higher levels provide greater degrees of customisation.
TypePad has a novel feature called TypeLists that lets you build lists, associating each item with a URL. These lists can be added to the left- or right-hand column of your blog without touching the templates. They can be used to add your current reading or listening list, links to other blogs or links to new posts.
TypePad is a good choice for users who want to get started quickly but still want all the functions. TypePad Plus and Pro are good for configuring layout options without having to go into the templates.
WordPress is another hosted blogging service which is ideal for bloggers who have a limited budget but want full weblog functions. Comments can be moderated by the blog owner before they are published and you can filter comments containing certain words or more than a certain number of links.
Movable Type, created by Six Apart (see TypePad above) one of the best known independent blogging tools. It has every feature a blogger could want and continues to add more, often via the use of plug-ins. It is often regarded as a “bloggers blog”. Unfortunately, you need to rebuild the blog every time you make a change to a template, a configuration setting, or add a new category.
A free version of the software is available to download, but installation is fairly difficult unless you are already familiar with uploading and downloading files to a Web server.
Choose one or two of the sites above which sound particularly interesting to you and follow the links given above to find out more about them, or sign up for them. (Don’t bother with Blogger, as we’ll be looking at it in detail shortly.)
Using search tools to locate specific blogs
There are about 50,000 new blogs created every day, so it shouldn't be too hard to find one.
In addition to the normal World Wide Web search facilities, there are a number of specialised search engines which search only for weblogs. One of the biggest is Waypath. Another specialised search engine can be found at http://portal.eatonweb.com/. There’s a long list of blog search engines at http://deepblog.com/index.html, another one at http://www.aripaparo.com/archive/000632.html and yet another at http://www.faganfinder.com/blogs/
About.com suggests that blogs can be divided up into the following categories and gives examples of each: “personal blogs, art blogs, political blogs, news and current events blogs, hobby blogs, technology and computer blogs, photo blogs, sports blogs, travel blogs, commentary blogs, business or professional blogs, education blogs” .
Britblog lists fifteen different categories of weblogs.
For the purposes of this course, you should be able to locate a variety of different types of weblog, including:
- personal journal: an individual diary, usually recounting someone’s everyday life and their thoughts about what’s going on around them. You can find an extensive list of personal journals (more than 7000 of them) at http://www.diarist.net/registry/
- community weblog: a weblog reflecting the activities of a group of people acting in a common purpose. You can find a short directory of UK-based community weblogs at: http://www.britblog.com/directory/category/community.html
- corporate weblog: a weblog produced by a company to market their products or activities. This category includes “flogs” (fake blogs) which look as if they are produced by an individual, but are actually produced by a company for marketing purposes. One company which has made a major move into corporate blogging is Macromedia, now taken over by Adobe. You can read about what they’ve been doing at: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,52380-1.html?tw=wn_story_page_next1 and you can find further comment, and links to the blogs themselves at: http://www.macromedia.com/devnet/logged_in/ekrimen_blogs.html
- political weblog: weblogs produced by political parties, political commentators or other political entities. Political weblogs played a significant role in the US Presidential elections in 2004 and the Iraqi elections in 2005. This trend is likely to continue. Joe Trippi’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything” (Regan Books, 2005) gives a fascinating account of the use of the weblogs and the Internet during one US presidential candidate's campaign. You can find a good list of UK political blogs at: http://www.voidstar.com/ukpoliblog/index.php?cid=6
- special interest weblog: this could cover almost anything not included in the above categories, e.g.: weblogs relating to a particular sport or hobby. Many of the categories listed by Britblog could be regarded as special interest blogs, e.g.: humour, travel, design and photography.
These categories of weblogs are not exclusive, for example a blog produced by a Member of Parliament could be categorised as a political blog, a personal journal or perhaps even a special interest weblog.
Visit one of the indexing sites in each of the categories mentioned above and have a look at some of the blogs listed there.