Review: Shareware Roundup
Now that the once geeky pastime of keeping a Weblog has entered the mainstream, the number of tools available has proliferated. This is good news for the budding Web writer. From “push-button publishing” to highly customizable content management systems, the personal publishing scene has exploded and now offers a wide selection of options for starting and maintaining a Web presence. We’ll look at several publishing systems, from the popular classics to the upstart newcomers.
This may be a less than typical shareware roundup, simply because each of the programs is being used by lots of “bloggers,” so there is really no good or bad rating. But before we begin, we’d better try to explain the phenomenon of blogging.
What’s a Weblog?
Basically, a Weblog (or “blog”) is a Web page that consists of journal-type entries listed chronologically, with the most recent entry at the top. Bloggers publish a wide variety of things: links, news, personal ideas, journal entries, poetry, photos, etc. Really, the list is endless. It’s that personal. We’ve listed several representative blogs in this roundup so you can click on them and see for yourself.
Tools for Blogging
Creator: Pyra (Evan Williams, Meg Hourihan, Matt Haughey, Paul Bausch)
Example: www.consolationchamps.com (James’s blog)
Blogger was the one that started it all. This is great for those who are not tech-savvy, since all the files reside on Blogger’s servers and you don’t have to write any HTML code. It’s also a great way to discover blogging since the service is free (it even offers free hosting). Blogger automatically publishes your blog, without your having to install any server software or scripts. You simply post to your blog through a form on the Blogger Web site. The post then shows up immediately on your Web site. If you want a few more bells and whistles, try Blogger Pro. But you have to pay for this one (currently $35/yr, but eventually will be $50/yr).
Creator: Noah Grey
Unlike Blogger, Greymatter is a set of files that are installed on your server (i.e., where your site is hosted). Currently at version 1.2.1C, Greymatter requires an FTP client, full support for Perl 5, and some knowledge of HTML (this is simply to help you customize the templates). This is another free program, but donations are welcome. Greymatter has lots of features, including a built-in comments system, search engine, and karma voting where visitors can rate your entries (however, you control which entries can be voted on).
Creator: Brad Fitzpatrick
LiveJournal began as a free service to create and host online journals, but is included as a Weblogging tool as the line between journals and Weblogs has blurred. Unique among blogging tools, LiveJournal is an open source project, with contributions made by the members of its user community. You can update your journal using either a Web-based or downloadable client, and journal files reside on LiveJournal’s servers. LiveJournal’s users have created a very tight-knit community around this service.
Creator: Ben and Mena Trott
Example: www.blogwidow.com (Brooke’s blog)
Husband and wife team Ben and Mena Trott created Movable Type in Perl simply because they wanted more control over their Weblogs. With Movable Type, your files are stored on your Web hosting server. Among Movable Type’s cool features is the ability to assign multiple categories to blog entries, e.g. on my blog I do a Quote of the Week every Monday, so when I blog my quote I assign it the category, Quote of the Week. There’s also space for an excerpt of your blog entry, should you want to give your readers a preview of a longer piece. Additionally, you can pre-date or post-date entries, let your readers e-mail entries to their friends directly from your site, and import entries from other Weblogging systems. This last option could be important for people switching an existing blog to Movable Type. Requirements include an FTP client, Perl 5.004_04 on your Web host’s server, and the ability to run CGI scripts on your Web account. Currently at version 2.1, Movable Type is free for non-profit use, though donations are gladly accepted.
Creator: Rick Ellis
This blog program was written in PHP and runs on any server that has PHP 4 and MySQL installed. With the recent upgrade to version 2.0, pMachine has added 40 new features. Here are just a few:
1. Statistics—visitors to your site can see your stats, for example the number of comments, the number of entries, etc.
2. Collective Weblogs—by creating a collective Weblog, visitors to your site can submit entries, then other visitors can submit entries to those entries, and so on and so on.
3. Curse word censoring—pMachine can censor words contained in a “user-definable library.”
4. pBlocks—these can be used to store info that doesn’t change very often, like your Favorite Links or About You sections.
pMachine comes in two flavors. pMachine Free is, as you guessed, free for personal use. pMachine Pro, priced at $45, adds event calendars, multiple Weblogs, and XML parsing.
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Each of these tools will attract its share of fans, and the fact that all of them were developed by such small teams of programmers is encouraging. Each of these programs developed out of a need confronted by someone who was actively engaged in publishing to the Web. The programmers all have their own Weblogs, and this personal touch accounts for some of the fierce loyalty fans have toward each particular tool, which consists only of pages of code.
If you are interested in discovering the world of blogging, by all means try out some or all of these tools. Beginners would be wise to try one of the Web-based services first, and as their comfort level increases, migrate to one of the more customizable options. Remember to reward the creators by making a donation. And by all means, whichever tool you choose, make your blog your own.
Also in This Series
- Count Your Pennies · February 2003
- Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic: Educational Tools · January 2003
- Scrabble and Boggle · August 2002
- Weblog Tools · June 2002
- Financial Help · January 2002
- Games for Mac OS X · December 2001
- Screensavers · October 2001
- Stickies and Notepads—Part Two · July 2001
- Stickies and Notepads—Part One · June 2001
- Complete Archive