New Tools Help Take Your Blog to the Next Level

With WordPress blogging software and a compatible host, you can customize your blog pages and gain greater control.

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Send your questions and tips to nettips@spanbauer.com. We pay $50 for published items. Scott Spanbauer is a contributing editor for PC World.

Scott Spanbauer

Thu, 16 Nov 2006 09:00:00 UTC

If you’re a new blogger, Google’s free Blogger service will meet your needs. But if you’re a born-to-blog pundit like me, you want additional features, personalization, and control.

Blog-o-Matic

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Top-flight bloggers are increasingly moving to WordPress, Automattic Productions’ no-cost, open-source blogging software. Unlike the basic blogging tools found in Blogger, Microsoft’s Windows Live Spaces, and Yahoo 360, WordPress offers tons of plug-ins and widgets for customizing your blog. One of my favorite WordPress features is its spam filter, which weeds out spam posted as comments. You can also make your blog private, allowing only the people you specify to read and comment on your postings.

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But WordPress gives you more than a simple chronological Weblog: The program’s pages feature makes it a full-blown content-management system supporting complex Web sites. For example, WordPress templates let you keep your bio, contact info, or other static content easy for your blog visitors to access.

WordPress’s PHP script files require the MySQL database and PHP software running on the host server. After editing one of the scripts to include your MySQL and PHP user names and passwords, you upload the scripts to the server–and just like that, you have a blog.

If this seems like programming voodoo to you, relax. WordPress and most of its hosting partners provide point-and-click tools that have you blogging in minutes.

If you’re happy using a subdomain (such as scottspanbauer.wordpress.com) rather than your own domain (www.scottspanbauer.com, for example) and don’t mind an occasional text ad among your postings, you can create a free account on Automattic’s WordPress.com, a blog-hosting service much like Google’s BlogSpot. At the time of writing, free WordPress.com blogs were limited to 25MB of images, PDFs, and other files. The amount of text that you and your readers can post is unlimited, however. (Automattic plans to add commercial account options that increase storage.)

If you choose WordPress.com as your host, setup is a breeze. When you log in, a toolbar of configuration options appears at the top for creating posts and pages, changing themes, moderating comments, and adding links to a page’s sidebar (see FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1: Customize your WordPress blog by using the point-and-click options that are available on the service’s toolbar.

). You can receive e-mail support from WordPress’s creators, too.

For collaboration, create additional author and moderator accounts and set the blog to be invisible until it’s ready.

Try the Hosts With the Most

To use WordPress to publish a blog or site on your current Web host, your hosting service must support PHP and MySQL. Independent services such as Blue Host and Laughing Squid offer WordPress support and charge as little as $7 a month; go to wordpress.org/hosting to see a list of such services. A personal note: I adore my local mom-and-pop ISP for its high levels of customer service, technical savvy, and stability, but when I broached the subject of supporting WordPress blogging, the company wasn’t prepared. If I were to create a WordPress blog using my own domain name, I would probably select one of WordPress’s recommended host services.

Blogging for Dollars: Cash In With Google’s Adsense

If your blogging consists of posting pictures of the kids for Great-Aunt Millie to see, or detailed accounts of your bunion surgery, don’t expect to strike it rich as a pro blogger. But if what you say is interesting to even a modest audience, you could receive a check each month by placing ads on your blog. One of the easiest ways to test the Web-ad waters is with Google’s AdSense service, which context-matches Google text ads to your blog’s content and optionally places a Google search box on your site.

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