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  • Do You Really Want to Write a Blog?

    May 30th, 2007

    Among all the crazy occupations anyone could dream of, I never thought I’d be running a tech commentary site on the Internet, not to mention those radio shows, of course. I actually got started in this crazy business in the 1990s, when I was writing books about — believe it or not — how to use America Online.

    Writing books like that must have seemed outrageous, especially considering the fact that a lot of folks regarded AOL is the kindergarten of the Internet. Why would anyone need an instruction manual for that?

    Up till then, my primary writing experience was confined to the broadcast and print mediums. I had written lots of books that few heard about, and hundreds of magazine articles for various tech magazines. During one of the book projects, I had to explain how to create a personal Web site on AOL, and thus The Mac Night Owl was born.

    After a while, I got the silly idea to actually put content on the site rather than just placeholders, and here I am.

    Over the years, lots of other people got the very same idea, to set up sites to post personal commentaries about one thing or another. You might chatter on about the weather, the horrible state of the planet, technology, UFO abductions — the skies the limit and then some.

    Blogging was once the province of amateurs, although some experienced print writers like me quickly embraced the new medium. Eventually, it all blossomed into a sort of alternative journalism, and, based on a certain legal action involving Apple in California, it’s clear the courts do regard us as real journalists.

    If you’ve ever had aspirations about writing, no doubt you’ve wondered just how to get started. Do you need a degree in Web programming, or can you get by with some simple tools that normal people can master?

    In my case, I do use a professional tool for some of my modest online efforts — Adobe Dreamweaver, but that’s an industrial-strength Web authoring application that probably much too complicated, although there are simple templates to help you get started. However, I use a different set of tools for this site.

    At the other end of the spectrum you might consider Apple’s iWeb, which is part of the iLife application suite.

    But there are other ways to set up a blog, such as WordPress, an extremely popular open-source bogging application that can be set up in minutes, but is powerful enough to manage content from such sources as The New York Times.

    I first discovered WordPress a little over a year ago, at the suggestion of my friend Brent Lee. During the time he served as our Webmaster, he easily migrated a fair amount of our recent content over to the new application.

    Starting from scratch is pretty simple. You can host your blog over at the WordPress site, at one of the hosting companies they list or thousands of others to be found all across the planet. If you’re looking for a place to host your blog, you’ll also want to read this article from our latest newsletter.

    In addition, there is also a rich selection of themes to help you customize your blog’s look and feel.

    After the basic setup process, content management is super-simple. You don’t need to install any software on your Mac, and you can access WordPress from any computer with Internet access, regardless of operating system. Just go online to the application’s Dashboard, and bring up its posting editor. In most browsers, you’ll see a simple formatting toolbar. Unfortunately, the toolbar’s visual editing element won’t work in Safari and OmniWeb until the next major release of both, which is expected when Leopard arrives.

    There is also a huge selection of add-ons or plugins that allow you to add all sorts of custom features, such as our stock ticker, archives page, online polls and lots lots more.

    Here are some of my favorites:

    • SRG Clean Archives: This terrific peace of work puts an index of your commentaries on a single page, sorted by month. By the way, the author of this plugin, Sean, known affectionately as the “Geek with Laptop,” is a long-time Web hosting consultant who is going to be a guest on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.
    • WP AJAX Edit Comments: Here’s the reason that you can click and edit your own comments on The Mac Night Owl for up to 60 minutes after they’re posted.
    • WP-Print: A clever plugin that lets you print a fully-formatted copy of our commentaries, complete with the comments, on any printer that I know about.
    • Star Rating for Reviews: Exactly what the name implies, although I’m working on changing the stars back to owls.

    There’s even a plugin to block comment spam. All in all, the WordPress universe is a wonderful place to enter if you crave a simple set of tools to develop your own professional blog. Oh, and WordPress also includes a spell checker, to help the spelling challenged.

    Of course, after you have the tools at hand, you still need something to say. In fact, that’s the most important thing of all, and I do hope you’ll value content above all if you decide to join the blogging world.

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