Originally created 05/16/04

Product review: Easy-to-use software can launch your life as a blogger



NEW YORK -- After years of seeing friends, co-workers and strangers start Web journals on current events and everyday life, I decided it was time to try blogging myself.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that blog readers outnumber blog creators by a 7 to 2 ratio. But with blogging software so easy to use, I really had no excuse, except perhaps a lack of time.

Two of the most popular blogging products, Blogger and Movable Type, have hosted offerings, which I recommend for starters. You can always move your blog to your own Web site later if you have one.

Both packages run off Web browsers, making blogs easy to update from cybercafes and Macintosh computers as well.

Blogger's BlogSpot service is simpler to use and free - your blog carries an ad on top - but Movable Type's TypePad is much more flexible and well worth the cost, which begins at $4.95 a month.

Setting up a Blogger account was straightforward. An automated wizard walked me through naming my blog and choosing a template. Four clicks later, my blog was off and running.

Posting was just as easy. I typed some text, selected phrases to put in bold or italics and clicked on an icon to link to a Web site I was commenting on. There's even a built-in spell-checker.

I can edit existing entries and specify friends who can post. I also can now let visitors comment on postings, under a redesign launched Monday that addresses a major shortcoming. Blogger automatically archives older postings by date.

With the hosted service, I couldn't upload images or create passwords to keep strangers out, though Blogger developers say those features are coming soon. For now, you'd need to blog on your own Web site or use a premium service that Blogger no longer sells.

Blogger supports automated feeds using a format called Atom, but to use Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, you need the premium service. But with a free account, you can have Blogger automatically e-mail new postings to a mailing list.

Sadly, Blogger often exposes you to too much HTML, the programming language for Web sites.

Highlight a word in bold, and you get the HTML coding for bold rather than seeing the text displayed in bold as you would in a word processor. And to edit the list of your favorite blogs, which runs to the side on some templates, you need to change the template's HTML.

Blogger stresses ease of use, but HTML coding is beyond the capability of most Internet users.

Visitors also can't search postings, a disappointment given that Blogger's owner is search engine powerhouse Google Inc.

Nonetheless, Blogger gives you a nice, free introduction to blogging.

Soon enough, you'll be left wanting more, and that's where Movable Type and its TypePad service come in.

A basic account costs $4.95 a month. For $8.95, you get an online photo album and advanced blogging features, and for $14.95, friends and family can post.

Setup was simple, as was posting and editing. You can time-delay entries to appear tomorrow or next week, a feature that disappeared with Blogger's redesign. The medium and high-end accounts let you post by sending e-mail from a cell phone or PC, something Blogger added Monday as well.

Besides Blogger's formatting options, Movable Type lets you underline text, add clickable e-mail addresses and upload images, documents and music files. But there's no spelll-cheecker (whoops!).

Like Blogger, Movable Type also displays HTML when formatting posts. But through TypePad, you can create lists of favorite sites, music and books without messing with the coding. It even adds icons and links to those albums and books available for sale at Amazon.com.

Movable Type offers RSS and password protection, as well as TrackBack, which tells you what other blogs link to particular postings.

TypePad doesn't let you send new postings to a mailing list, though. To do that, you'd need to run the full Movable Type software on your own servers, something not recommended for newcomers (With Blogger, you need not install anything to blog on your site).

Same with searching - you need the installed version.

Movable Type, incidentally, was to announce a software upgrade Thursday, but the new features, again, are for the installed version only.

With Movable Type, you can create archives by date or category, such as "film." You can even choose both. You can also track traffic to your blog.

Because Movable Type can do so much, it's not always easy to use.

After adding date and category archives, for instance, nothing happened until I went to a separate tab to enable archives. Then I realized to get both, I also had to check a second box. I could have used a wizard to guide me.

That is why I recommend Blogger for starters, but soon enough, once you get the hang of it, you'll want to spring for Movable Type.