When Netscape first popularized the Web in the mid-1990s, the Web offered people a way to self-publish information of any kind in an unprecedented way. Web users responded accordingly by creating an amazing array of Web sites dedicated to everything from their love lives to far more technical topics.
The problem, however, is that Web self-publishing still requires a needless amount of technical sophistication and proficiency in HTML coding. To counter this difficulty, companies including Microsoft have developed friendly Web-page-creation tools—such as Microsoft FrontPage—that largely shield users from coding HTML.
But even if you've mastered HTML, you'll face other hurdles when you attempt to publish information on the Web. You must learn about and understand server operations, such as the type of server you're accessing, which services it offers, and how to access it. Depending on your Internet provider, you might get a free Web site or you might not. You might be forced to pay for Web site hosting, too, which can be expensive. If you're simply interested in self-publishing (especially in a noncommercial sense), the Web has largely been an empty promise—interesting, but still untenable even after several years of refinements.
Enter the Web log or "blog," as it's more affectionately known. Designed to be the online equivalent of a journal or diary, blogs are all the rage on the Web these days, thanks to companies such as Pyra that offer free hosting, attractive design templates, and no HTML learning curve (although people who are familiar with HTML can edit their sites' designs—a nice feature). Blogs can be anything—a daily diary of events in your life; a dated set of information about technical topics; or even a family Web site, complete with pictures of your latest vacation. When it comes to self-publishing on the Web, nothing is as inexpensive, easy to use, and full of promise as blogging (the activity of editing a blog).
Many bloggers—people who blog—engage in an activity called blogrolling, which involves linking to interesting blurbs in other people's blogs. This blogrolling often evolves into a series of interconnected cross-links; you can start reading one person's blog, jump to a link elsewhere, and be off, racing across the Web, going from blog to blog and topic to topic. Blogrolling has created a sense of community for bloggers and an engaging way to spend time, reading about other people's personal experiences and interests.
Blogs can also take different forms. The most popular type of blog consists of short blurbs about a particular topic, generally with a link to another site. For example, a blog author might make comments about the latest news, then link to an article on a major news Web site. These blogs are generally updated quite often, sometimes several times a day. Other blogs consist of long essays and are updated less often, usually once a week or every few days. Many blogs stick to a particular topic. For example, some of the people who develop the open-source Mozilla Web browser contribute to blogs that describe bugs and UI concerns. On the other side of the interest chart, amateur photography blogs are also quite popular. And, naturally, blogs can mix and match styles. That's the point: It's your blog, so do what you want.
After months of testing various blog interfaces, I recommend Pyra's Blogger. A free version is available in addition to a paid service, which has more features (other blog resources are listed below). Blogger will host your blog for free, which is the easiest route, or you can have Blogger redirect people to your own Web site if you're a more advanced user. Blogger's interface is entirely Web-based and easy to use; most people simply write their blogs directly into the company's Web forms, hit a publish button, and watch their creations instantaneously appear online by using a premade template. This type of self-publishing, with a real community of people and a way to reach readers with similar interests, wasn't possible before. If you've ever considered Web publishing but were put off by cost or technical concerns, or you're simply interested in maintaining an online journal, blogging is a great way to go.
Other Blog Resources