Introduction to Blogging

Recently a friend of mine asked me a few questions about blogging and I told them I would write an entry about blogging. I’m thinking I may start a new category and turn this into a series of articles because there are so many things I could talk about! Let’s get started!

Blog Ideas

  • Recipe Blog – Instead of having scraps of paper with recipes on them floating around your home, why not take those recipes and put them on a blog? With most blogs you can put each post into a category. Your chicken casserole could be in a chicken category, a casserole category or both. You could post photos of the food with each entry. This is a great and inexpensive way to share family recipes. Printing costs can add up quickly.
  • Computer Maintenance – You’ve finally fixed that nagging dialog box that keeps popping up every time you reboot your system. Why not make a blog entry about it so others can read how to stop it too!

Those are just a couple of the possibilities you could use your blog for. There are a ton of ideas out there. The sky is truly the limit.

Reasons for Blogging

  • Save Time – How many times have you sent an email to someone explaining how to do something to only have someone else ask you the same question. Instead of emailing the person wouldn’t it be better or much easier to direct them to the entry on your blog where you already have the answer waiting for them? If you make an update to the blog entry every one can see the change and you don’t have to resend the information to everyone who wanted it.
  • Discussion – Blogging software and services give you the option to allow comments on your entries. Your blog entry isn’t just a blog entry anymore, it becomes a discussion. Going back to the recipe blog. Your family and friends could comment on your recipes telling you how they prepared the dish and how it turned out for them. Maybe they had to use a substitute ingredient or they omitted an ingredient and got something totally different or a disaster!
  • Syndication – Blogging software and services allow you to syndicate your entries across the Internet using using “Really Simple Syndication” (RSS). RSS allows your entries to be listed on thousands of websites across the Internet. If you’re wanting to get noticed this will definitely help.
  • Subscription – Using RSS, readers of your blog can subscribe to your content using your blog’s built in RSS feed. Every time you post a new entry onto your blog the reader will be notified. Reader’s can subscribe in a variety of ways: using RSS reader software, an online feed reader or by subscribing to the feed in an email program that supports RSS feeds. With WordPress your users can even subscribe to the comments of each article. This lets your readers stay on top of the discussion and notifies them if you respond to their comment.

Blogging Options

Free Solutions

  • Blogger.com – This service (offered by Google) allows you to set up a blog in a very short amount of time. It’s free and it’s hosted by Google. It is limited, however. Google doesn’t use categories, instead they use labels. Their themes are out of date. Their service is plagued with outages. However, for a basic blogging it’s okay.

If you have a hosting account you can use Blogger as your blogging software and have it publish your entries to your hosting account. This is a great option if you are using a free or premium hosting service and have a domain name connected to your hosting account already.

WordPress.com Administration Area

  • WordPress.com – This service (offered by Automattic) like Google allows you to set up a blog in a very short amount of time. It too is free and hosted by them. You can upgrade your account on WordPress.com so that you can customize your blog’s CSS file. WordPress.com blogs offer users a lot of great features.

If you must go with a free hosted option then I would highly recommend WordPress.com over Blogger. I use the free, open source version of WordPress which you can install on your own server (more on that in a moment) and I absolutely love it. The interface on WordPress.com is exactly like the software you can download and install.

The major reason I would recommend WordPress.com over Blogger.com is the fact that if you decide to install WordPress on your own hosting account in the future, you can easily export your entries into a backup file and import them in your self-hosted installation very easily.

Note: You can import entries from a Blogger blog into a WordPress.com or self hosted WordPress blog. The only problem is that after you have imported your posts from Blogger you have to go through all of the posts and make sure that the formatting is how you want it. The way Blogger and WordPress display entries is different.

There are other free hosted blog solutions out there. The two that I have mentioned above are the ones I have used the most and are most comfortable in talking about their feature sets.

Other services that you might want to look into include: LiveJournal, TypePad, MovableType, MySpace or Twitter.

Self hosting benefits

If you want your own custom branded, custom designed blog then you’ll definitely want to look into self hosting your own blog. Most businesses would want to do this for branding reasons. This type of scenario would require you to install the blogging software or content management system onto your web server.

There are a lot of CMS packages out there. The one I’ll be discussing in great detail is WordPress CMS. I have been using it for quite a while now and am very happy with it. I started off using Nucleus CMS and was quite disappointed with it’s features. It left me begging for more. WordPress offered all the features I wanted right out of the box. It’s continued to get even better over the past couple of years.

The version of WordPress that you download and install onto your own server gives you all the functionality that WordPress.com blogs have while giving you the freedom to customize everything about your blog. You can install any plugin or theme you want. You can customize the themes to your heart’s content. You get free support from the WordPress.org Support Forums and it’s really good support, too. Once you start learning more about WordPress you can start helping out in the forums which will help the community grow and the software to get better.

Custom themesWordPress.com offers a lot of themes that you can choose from. However, if you install WordPress onto your own server you can design your very own theme so that it looks exactly the way you want it to. Learn more about designing your own WordPress theme.

Movability – If you decide that you want to move your blog you can easily do so by backing up everything and moving it.

Branding – You can customize your website theme anyway you want. You can make it look like your current website by using the same styling and simply adding a few lines of PHP code.

Plugins – There are a ton of freely available plugins that you can install in your WordPress installation. The plugins allow you to easily extend your blog’s functionality.

Community Blogging – Want to set up your own blogging community, for free (hosting not included)? You can use the WordPress MU version and set up your own blogging community. Each member of the community can have their own blog. This is basically a free, open source version of WordPress.com

Other self hosted solutions: Joomla, Drupal, Movable Type, Nucleus.

Setting Up WordPress

The steps for installing WordPress are very similar to installing Nucleus CMS or any other content management system (CMS). Most CMS software comes in a ZIP file. You unzip the file, upload it and click the install button.

Requirements

  • Web hosting – WordPress does not require a lot of space. The initial size is is roughly 3 megabytes. Remember, as you go you’ll probably be uploading pictures, possibly audio & video files. So keep that in mind.
  • Database – Your web hosting account will need to provide you with a MySQL database. Keep in mind as your blog grows your database will grow too. Most hosting providers allow you to set up several. Set up one and write down the username and password.
  • PHP – PHP is the scripting language that WordPress is built on. This must be available to you on your hosting account otherwise WordPress will not work.
  • FTP Client – I prefer FileZilla FTP.
  • Latest release of WordPress – Get WordPress here.

If for some reason you can’t get web hosting with the requirements above, don’t fret, you can still play with WordPress. It won’t be online but it will give you some experience. You can download XAMPP and install WordPress to a local installation. This is great if you’re new to this and don’t want to mess something up on your web hosting account.

Installation Instructions

  1. Extract the WordPress compressed file that you downloaded.
  2. Rename “wp-config-sample.php” to “wp-config.php”
  3. Open “wp-config.php” and enter the database name, username, password and the host location.

    NOTE: WordPress says that you usually don’t have to change the server location, “localhost”. In my experience you usually do. Just check with your hosting provider or when you set up the database look to see what the location address of that database is. On GoDaddy it usually looks something like “servername123456.secureserver.net”

  4. Upload the WordPress files to your web server in the directory you would like to host your blog.

    NOTE: If you upload into your root directory and have another website in the root directory, more than likely the WordPress blog will be the first thing that appears. If you do have something else on your hosting account then I’d suggest creating a new folder and uploading the WordPress files into that folder.

  5. Navigate to your domain, IP adress or folder on your server where you installed WordPress and you should get a page that gives you a link to install WordPress. Use that link to install WordPress. Once you do you can login and begin blogging. You should also receive an email with your username and password. If you don’t receive an email it means you’re hosting provider has disabled PHP emailing.

If the instructions above are not enough, look at the installation instructions on the WordPress website. There you will find much more detailed information.

Post Installation Instructions

Spam Prevention

SPAM! If you don’t have a way of preventing it, your blog will become full of spambots leaving comments or trackbacks on your blog posts. If you don’t prevent them it may become un-bearable to delete each spam entry. Luckily, with WordPress there is Akismet. Unfortunately, you’ll have to sign up for a WordPress.com account to get an API key to activate your copy of Akismet.

  1. Akismet Configuration – Login to your administration area, click on Plugins and activate Akismet.
  2. Get your API key – Even though you are hosting your own WordPress installation. Sign up for a WordPress.com account and retrieve your Akismet API key. Take the key and copy and paste it into your WordPress installation.

Two other plug-ins that I would highly recommend are Peter’s Custom Anti-Spam Image Plugin and Spam-Bam.

Spam-Bam keeps spammers from posting to your blog by limiting the speed at which they are capable of posting comments. Sometimes I’ll even get the “Slow down Cowboy” message if I’m posting comments too quickly on my own blog.

Peter’s Custom Anti-Spam Image Plugin requires commenters to enter the word or phrase in the captcha image. It’s not as cryptic as a lot of the captcha images out on the web. They’re quite clear. It’s one of the best captcha plugins I’ve seen.

With those two plugins and Akismet I have eliminated 99.9% of my SPAM comments and trackbacks. Depending on the popularity of your blog your success at eliminating SPAM with those plugins may vary.

Other plugins I recommend

  • Dean’s Code Highlighter – I use this plugin here on TechButter when I want to display code on the blog without having to take a screen shot. So far, I’ve only used it once but think it’s a great plugin.
  • Lightbox2 – If you’ve been looking through some of my older or newer articles you may have clicked on a screen shot or photo and been presented with a larger version. This plugin makes that happen. You have to write some HTML for each entry to make it work but it’s not that hard.
  • Subscribe to Comments – I wish this plugin was built into the base install of WordPress. I love being able to click “Subscribe to comments via email” when I leave a post on other blogs. I read a lot of blogs and can never remember all of the ones I have commented on. I enjoy staying up-to-date on the discussion.
  • Contact Form ][ – This plugin hasn’t been updated in over a year (as of the latest update to this article). However, it’s still my favorite plugin for contact forms. If you’re looking for a contact form with more options you might try cforms.

Permalinks

The purpose of a permalink is so that when someone wants to link to an article you wrote, they can link to the individual post instead of your entire blog. It makes it a lot simpler to get to the information.

The default installation of WordPress gives your entries a unique number in the address field of the browser.

Example: http://domain.tld/?p=147

For search engine optimization it is best to have something that is a little nicer looking, such as:

Example: http://domain.tld/2006/11/19/synergy/

How to set up permalinks:

  1. Create a blank text document (.txt extension)
  2. Upload this file to your fresh WordPress installation and make sure there is no file listed that says “.htaccess” You may have to instruct your FTP client to show ALL files to make sure it is or isn’t there.
  3. If the file isn’t there, upload your text file and rename it to “.htaccess” (without the quotes). Nothing before the “.”.
  4. Login to your WordPress administration area, go to Options and then choose Permalinks. Choose the permalink structure that looks best to you. I usually go with Date and Name based URLs.
  5. Go to your blog and select one of your posts. The title of your post will direct you to the permalink. If you can click on that link and load an individual post without errors then you have correctly configured permalinks. If not, check with the WordPress support forums.

Database Backup Plugins

To ensure that you’re website is backed up regularly you’ll want to get a WordPress plugin that you can install and do one click backups and then have WordPress email that backup to you. The backup plugins that I use are Il Filosofo’s WordPress Database Backup and WP-DBManager for more advanced backup options.

  1. Download the plugins
  2. Extract the plugins
  3. Upload to domain.tld/wordpressdirectory/wp-content/plugins
  4. Login to you administration area, go to Plugins and activate the two plugins you just uploaded.
  5. For the Il Filosofo database plugin go to Manage >> Backup. For the WP-DB-Manager plugin there should be a new tab at the top called Database.
  6. Get familiar with making a backup using each of the plugins. Also, set up a scheduled database backup. If you update often or get comments often you’ll want to backup daily.

Promote your blog

Tagging

With the latest version of WordPress you can insert tags into each of your posts. Whenever you make a new post onto your blog WordPress pings Pingomatic which tells syndication services that you have updated your blog. When anyone goes to a site like Technoratiand does a search for a tag that you gave one of your entries, your entry should show up in the results.

Blogrolling

If you read a blog that is along the lines of your blog, you might email the author and do a link exchange. They put your link on their blogroll and you put their link on yours. This will help somewhat in increasing traffic as well as help you to get acquainted with your fellow bloggers.

Link to stories on other blogs

Whenever you link to an entry on another person’s blog your blog will usually send out a trackback which will be placed in the comments section of the blog entry you linked to. That will tell the blog owner that you mentioned them in your latest entry.

Note: With statistics software it’s possible to see where traffic is coming from and you can tell if people are linking to your site and you can stay on top of the discussion.

Interface Suggestion

If you’re familiar with HTML then I would highly recommend that you turn off the default WYSIWYG editor that WordPress provides you with. For some reason I have a lot of trouble with it. I always change the editor from WYSIWYG to the HTML editor. I’m just much more comfortable with that style of editing and in my opinion it works a lot better. You can change this setting in your user profile.

Conclusion

Thanks so much for looking through my blog post about getting WordPress up and running. I truly hope this entry was helpful to you! If it wasn’t please let me know so I can update it and help you out even more. If there is a specific question you have about WordPress please ask me! Thanks again!

Article update: Thursday, September 12, 2008: I updated this article with new screen shots. I also updated this article with updated information regarding my suggested plugins.

Article update: Tuesday, October 21, 2008: Added links to contact form plugins.

Introduction to Video Blogging

A lot of people have been getting into video blogging lately. Rightly so because it is becoming much more popular. Once upon a time downloading a video on the Internet was atrocious because it took forever to download a 2 or 3 minute clip.

It was extremely annoying, however, today with much faster and lower cost Internet access, videos are becoming more popular, especially with video services like Google Video, YouTube, Vimeo and others. I have been asked how I produce my videos so I thought I would make a blog entry about it. Now, I have to make a disclaimer. The way I do it is probably different than the way everyone else does it. There are many ways to go about video blogging.

NOTE: Please see article update below to see the changes I have made to my video blogging process over the two years that this article has been online.

Recording Video

So what can you record with? Well, obviously you can record with a camcorder. What if you don’t have a camcorder? Do you have a digital camera? Do you have a webcam? Most new digital cameras record video and do a decent job of it. Most of them don’t offer zooming while you record a video and a lot of them are very poor in low light situations, however, if that’s all you have then make the most of it. When I record my videos I use my Sony Cybershot (DSC-P93A) digital camera. With it I can record as much video as I want as long as I have the storage for it on the memory card, so, the larger the memory card, the more video I can record. I’ve also recorded video using my old web cam (circa 2002). Regardless of which method you choose, there are many ways to record video so don’t let not having a fancy camcorder get in your way.

Importing Video

Luckily, for me, when I record videos on my Cybershot it is a really painless task to pull the videos from the camera. I simply hook up the camera, turn it on, navigate to the folder and drag and drop the files where I want them to be on my hard drive. If you’re recording with a web cam you’ll be saving directly to the hard drive which will make the next part of this process one less step away.

I have imported videos using a camcorder before, not using anything fancy like firewire though. A couple of years ago I purchased an ADS Tech Video Capture device that allows you to plug in an analog camcorder or any analog video source such as a VCR and pull video from that source and put it onto your computer. It is slow because you have to do it in real time (meaning you have to sit and watch as you record it to your hard drive). The capture device that I purchased came with easy-to-use software to record your videos. The only major problem with this technique is that the file size will be huge after you have recorded all of your footage onto the computer. Usually, for me, it is at least a couple of gigs.

Editing the masterpiece

Once you have all the footage onto your computer the next step is to piece everything together, add your effects, transitions, star wipes, etc. You can choose not to, it is obviously up to you, you are the artist. A lot of times I will simply put the videos together and then export it for lack of time and better software.

Speaking of software I should tell you what I use. I use a program called InterVideo WinDVD Creator. It came with my DVD burner and is more geared towards burning videos to DVD, however, it works for my purposes. I should say though that there is much better software out there, I simply use this because it came with my DVD burner.

Encoding

You’ll probably scream when I tell you this, but, I encode my videos twice. The first time I encode my video I am exporting the file out as an MPEG2 file using the highest quality setting so that there is not a lot of compression happening and the video exports a lot quicker. To encode the video the first time I am still using InterVideo WinDVD Creator.

Before you move on to the next step you might consider burning this file to a DVD for archiving purposes.

Once I get the video encoded the first time I am ready to compress it down into a much, much more reasonable file size. For this I use a program called Videora iPod Converter. It converts the video file down really nicely without taking away too much quality. It also has a one-click transcode feature which is really nice and easy. You simply tell it where the file is and hit the button and it spits out a nice MP4 file. Now, some people may throw up their arms and say “BUT WAIT A MINUTE, I don’t have an iPod to play iPod videos!” Don’t worry, I don’t have an iPod either and I use a program called VLC Media Player to play the video files and iTunes will also play them which is what most people use to subscribe to podcasts (unless they’re like me and use Podnova, but, I digress). So, don’t worry! A lot of people use to fuss about file formats however Linux, Mac OS and Windows are all capable of playing the same file formats (with the proper software).

Publishing – Where to host the file

OK! You’ve got your video recorded, imported, edited and encoded! Now, you need to get it published which means you’re first going to have to have a place to put the file online.

There are several resources available to you. If you want to pay for web hosting you can purchase some web hosting at GoDaddy or another hosting company.

The second option is a free option. You can upload your videos to PodShow and use their network to host your videos. Currently, they are doing the same thing with audio and only adding an ad to the beginning of the show. In my opinion this is acceptable because you are getting free hosting. Currently, to my knowledge they are not placing ads on videos that you upload to the network. If you’re strapped for cash then the free option from PodShow is a great service. Also, take this into consideration, you’ve got a REALLY good service like PodShow worrying about all the bandwidth. You don’t have any limits like you would with your web site hosting company. In my opinion I think it is a win-win situation. Now, if you’re still not comfortable with them placing ads onto your content there is a second option and it is free as well.

You can set up an account on archive.org and upload your videos there. Now, I have used archive.org and it is a great service and I really like what they’re doing (archiving everything, hence the name), but, IT IS SLOW!

The last option that I know of for hosting your video is to use a service such as YouTube, Vimeo or one of the other online video publishing services. Most of them are free and allow you to upload whatever you like as long as it is not copyrighted. With these services you also have to be careful about nudity and language because there are a lot of people who get offended very easily who traverse these websites.

So keep those in mind as you are looking for a place to host your file.

Publishing – Uploading the file

Now that you’ve decided on a location for the file, how are you going to get it there? Well, if you’re using either the PodShow, Archive.org or “YouTube like service” option then you will upload your content using their transfer utility on their website. If you purchased web hosting somewhere then you’ll need to FTP your video up using an FTP client such as FileZilla.

Publishing – Blogging

Now that you’ve got all that work done, there is even more! Don’t worry, there is only one more step after this one! If you’ve got a blog you’ll definitely want to make a post about it, otherwise, how would people know about it? So, what you’ll do or I should say, what I do is I go and make a post as normal and then I simply link to the video file. Sometimes I will take a screen capture of the video at an interesting part of the video and upload the image to my blogging software and link the image to the video file. To take a screen capture of a video I again use VLC Media Player, which, on Windows, saves the picture to the “My Pictures” folder by default.

Publishing – RSS Feed

Now you need a way for your subscribers to subscribe to your content so that they can plug it into iTunes, Podnova or whichever podcatcher that they use. You’ll need some software to do this. If you’re on Windows you can download free software called FeedSpring which is what I use for my audio & video journal. If you’re on Linux you can use FeedSpring as well you’ll just have to use it through Wine emulation. If you’re on the Mac you can check out my friend Steve’s software called Feeder which allows you to create RSS feeds on the Mac.

If you are uploading your videos to a service like Podshow, archive.org or your own hosting account, use the software I mentioned above to create a link to the file once it is uploaded. If you are hosting the video on a service like Vimeo, you can still create an RSS feed that will take users to the page that you are showing the video on.

Once you’ve got your feed created the next step that I would highly recommend to everyone is adding it to FeedBurner. The reason I say to put your feed on FeedBurner is so you can much more easily submit your feed to services such as iTunes. Also, the most important reason for using FeedBurner is because you can easily change the location of your feed. Lets say you have your feed in a directory on your server called “blog” and you decide later on you want to move it to another folder called “feed” you can do so and then you can simply update the address in your FeedBurner account, that way, your users won’t have to re-subscribe to anything.

FeedBurner will also give you statistics for your feed, however, don’t count on them too much, at least, that is how I feel about them. The counter always seems a little inflated. To get a true look at the people who have downloaded your video you need to look at the statistics for your website, not the RSS feed. Robots brushing up against your feed will cause your numbers to rise.

Publishing – Statistics

Now that you’ve got the video online you’ll probably want to know how many people are downloading and watching your content.

If you purchased web hosting you should be able to log in to a statistics area for your website and track the total number of downloads for your file. Most services offer this as a free package. Some don’t so you’ll have to check with your hosting provider.

If you uploaded to a service like PodShow, Archive.org, or a YouTube like service then most of those services will display a “viewed” number.

In Conclusion

Finally, I want to leave you with a web link to a blog that talks about how to get the most out of your recording experience.

8 Ways To Shoot Video Like a Pro (from Lifehacker)

I hope this entry has helped you! If it has, let me know. If it hasn’t, let me know and tell me how I could make it better. If you have any questions you’d like answered on this blog feel free to contact me! Thanks for reading!

Article update: Wednesday, December 17, 2008: It has been a couple of years since I have published this article so I have changed the way I record and publish my videos. Not a whole lot but I think it’s worthy of updating this entry to reflect the changes.

The first change that I have made is that I am now recording with a DV (Digital Video) camcorder (a Canon ZR800) in addition to my Sony Cybershot DSC-P93A. The camcorder records video at a much higher resolution and I have more options for recording. Importing video is more time consuming than dragging and dropping a file from a memory card. To pull video from the DV camera you have to pull it off in real time, meaning you have to watch it as it comes into the computer. DV video also takes up a lot more hard drive space. One DV video cassette takes up 20 GB of hard drive space.

The second change that I have made is that I am now using different software for editing and encoding. I am now using Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum edition for editing. It’s really great software but it’s not free. For encoding my videos to iPod format I am now using MPEG Streamclip, which is free.

The only other change that I have made is the way I publish videos to my RSS feed. I am no longer using FeedSpring and am now using Reinvented Software’s Feeder, which is a great way to publish enclosures to an RSS feed. I highly recommend it.