Knowing that I had recently upgraded my blog, one of my readers wrote to ask, “You wrote a post a year ago or so, providing an overview of your then-current blogging tools. Has anything changed in the last year? What tools are you using now?” Rather than replying to him individually, I thought I would post my answer here.
The biggest change is that I have converted from TypePad to WordPress. I faithfully used TypePad for a number of years. It served me well. But several friends had converted to WordPress and encouraged me to consider it. I researched it over the Christmas holidays and then started searching for someone to help me with the conversion. I eventually stumbled upon John Saddington, who is both a web designer and programmer. He proved to be a God-send.
So here are my current blogging tools:
- WordPress—This blogging platform comes in two forms: hosted and self-hosted. “Hosted” means that you sign up for an account on WordPress.com and they host your blog. If you are just starting out, this is the way to go. It is free and easy to use. At this level, I think WordPress and TypePad are comparable.
“Self-hosted” means that you sign up for a hosting service and then install WordPress on your own server. This is what I have done. At John’s recommendation, I am using MediaTemple for hosting. I started with the Grid-Service option, but my traffic grew so quickly, that I had to upgrade to their Dedicated-Virtual option.
I like WordPress because it is open source and easily extensible. It has a vast army of programmers who write themes and plugins for the platform. There is something for everyone. If you want to customize and tweak your blog, so that you get it just the way you envision, WordPress is the way to go. I’m sure you can do almost the same thing in TypePad, but I found it increasingly difficult to get it the way I wanted.
Here are the the plugins that I am currently using:
- All in One SEO Pack
- Amazon ShowCase (I customized the plugin’s PHP code.)
- DropCap First Character
- Executable PHP Widget
- FeedBurner FeedSmith
- Optimize DB
- Quotes Collection (I customized the plugin’s PHP code.)
- Sociable (I customized the plugin’s PHP code.)
- Twitter Tools
- WordPress.com Stats
- WP Categories and Posts
- WP Greet Box
- WP Super Cache
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin
- ecto—I have used ecto as my offline blogging for several years. It worked flawlessly with TypePad, and I’m happy to report that it works flawlessly with WordPress, too. (I have only tried it with the self-hosted version.)
ecto is bascially a word processor for blogging. It allows me to blog offline. When you are done, you can publish the post to your blog site with one click. In fact, you can even schedule the post to appear on your blog at a certain time. (This is what I usually do. I write on the weekends and then schedule the post to appear through the week.)
One of my favorite things about this tool is that I can edit in WYSIWYG mode or HTML code. It gives me a lot of control. My only complaint is that it STILL doesn’t have a smart quotes feature. As a result, I have to enter true open and close quote marks manually. I was hoping that this would be added to version 3.0 when it was released, but, alas, it is still absent.
- iStockPhoto—I get asked all the time, “Where do you get the photos that you use in your blog.” Ninety-five percent of them from iStockPhoto. The service is very easy to use. I simply go to the site and search for words related to my topic. Usually, this yields hundreds of photos to choose from. I pay about $1.50 per image and can download them on the spot. (The price is based on the plan you choose.) I generally use the smallest photo size available, which is roughly 425 pixels wide.
I occasionally get images from Flickr, but you have to be careful that you use pictures that have a creative commons license. You can’t just post any old photo on your blog; usually the rights to the photo are controlled by someone else. This is why I like using iStockPhoto, because the images are royalty-free.
Once I get the image I want, I use ecto’s Media Manager to upload it to my blog and insert it into my blog post. It allows me to resize the photo, tag it, and even create a thumbnail with a link to the full-size image if I want. This is especially helpful if I include a diagram like I did here. Click on the image to enlarge it.
One final note: I am finding that Twitter is an incredible resource for driving blog traffic. I always tweet any new posts I have written. However, I don’t just say something like, “I just uploaded a new blog post. Check it out!” That’s not specific enough to drive any blog traffic. Instead, I try to be specific and write the tweet like a headline. For example, “Do you feel overwhelmed by email? I just posted ‘Yes, You can Stay On Top of Email!’ Here’s how: http://tr.im/iGHp.”