The ultimate guide to blogging

Find the best blogging services and add-ons

These days, you can find a blog for just about anything. Looking for affordable art prints? Weheartprints.com has them. Interested in Craftsman, Mission, and Prairie furniture? Check out Hewn & Hammered.

In fact, according to the blog-tracking service Technorati, there are some 70 million active weblogs. And for good reason: blogs are a fun and easy way to communicate.

They can even be profitable. Some blogging services (such as Blogger and TypePad) include tools that automatically publish advertisements, based on the topics you write about on your site, and send you the cash via PayPal.

No matter what your reasons for blogging, there are plenty of tools that can help you get started and keep readers tuned in. But not all blogging services are the same. We'll give you the inside scoop on five great online services that appeal to different types of bloggers, as well as 13 add-ons that let you customise your blog with music, games, headlines, and more.

A blog for everyone

Some bloggers just can't stop themselves, and have blogs all over the web. If you're a multiple blog blogger, you'll probably use several platforms to run them all. That's because different blogging services have different strengths.

So it makes sense to choose the one that works best for the type of content you're creating. While some services offer pure ease of use, others are geared toward business blogs or social networks.

For the personal blog

If you want your blog to serve as a journal - that is, a place to share your thoughts and daily musings - keeping things simple is important. If blogging is a chore, you won't bother to do it.

A pioneer of push-button publishing, Google's Blogger is hard to beat for ease of use. Before Blogger, almost all blogs required that users write their own code. While that's no longer the case, Blogger remains the gold standard for simplicity.

Getting started is a cinch. If you already have a Gmail address or a Google account, you're ready to go. If not, you'll need to sign up on Blogger's home page. Once you have an account, you can give your blog a title and choose a URL on Blogspot, Blogger's free hosting service (you can also move the blog to your own domain).

Under the Settings tab are numerous options for customising your blog; for instance, you can choose how many posts appear on the main page, and set default rules for who can comment (anyone, registered users, or just authors of the blog). The Template tab lets you tweak your blog's colours and fonts, select a new design, or enter your own code.

You can also find ready-made templates at sites such as BlogSkins.com. Just be sure to include Blogger's proprietary posting tags in your template; otherwise, your site won't publish correctly.

For the proper formatting, click here. To use the service's what you see is what you get (wysiwyg) tools for formatting text and adding links, you'll need Safari 3 or a third-party browser such as Firefox.

Another good option is Automattic's WordPress. It's easy to use but powerful and quite tweakable. WordPress offers a much wider selection of templates than Blogger.

You can choose from templates with one or two colours and clean lines, or you can opt for one of the bolder designs that look like something straight out of a modern-art museum.

WordPress also offers some basic protection from comment spam with Akismet, a service that filters out junk before it bothers you. If something does slip through the cracks, you can banish it from your site by clicking on Comments and marking it as spam. And for $US10 a year, you can even publish your WordPress blog to your own domain.

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