Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
Explorations of personal and community journalism...
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2002-2009 blog page archive

Web Tools Overview


Tools for Pages and Weblogs

I first used weblogs as a way to get students started making Web pages, beginning with the basics of 1994-era HTML, and gradually getting to forward-looking standards-compliant page coding. Their assignment was to keep a diary of "online news" or "digital culture" sites that they read during the week, pointing out strong points and topics for discussion. In a sense, that's what most weblogs do -- and specialized tools have become available to make collectios of dated links and comments very easy to do.

You can still keep a weblog as a series of pages made with general-purpose software -- a word processor with HTML export, a plain text editor like Notepad (Windows) or SimpleText (Mac), a "real" HTML editor like NoteTab (Windows)  Arachnophilia (any) or BBEdit (Mac), or a feature-rich near-WYSIWYG page editor like Dreamweaver or Netscape/Mozilla Composer (successors: Nvu and Komposer).

For more dedicated daily log-keeping, many people use a specialized weblog program. See this slightly-dated Weblog Madness list of over 100 tools, or this  CNET comparison of four. The DMOZ Open Directory project listed 51 weblog tools when I looked in October 2003. On a separate page I've mentioned the handful of blogging programs I've tried, including Radio (which I'm using here). I still subscribe to an old programmers' advice: "Use the same tools as your nextdoor neighbor so that you'll become part of a mutual-support network.

Many weblogging tools are open source projects using software clients made by volunteer programmers. After a little browsing around, (for instance, at you'll see that you may be able to pay a small fee to help support an open source project or pay for server space. Through the home page for a blogging tool, you usually can locate other users, possibly by topic or location. Live Journal and other diary-oriented sites may give you the option of restricting readership to a list of friends or subscribers.  With some tools, you can set up pages so that readers can reply to your blog entries and build a message thread or group discussion.  In the case of Live Journal, you can search for people who are interested (if not specializing) in a topic, and how recently they have posted something new -- down to the second. Results: close to half a million journal-keepers in the U.S. and hundreds of thousands in dozens of other countries with this one tool. (Although it's possible that many tried the system and abandoned it.)

Question: Why choose to read something written by an amateur writer and total stranger when you could be reading a "Great Book," or even a "banned book? One answer might be the chance of stumbling on something interesting, like that Banned Book Week link, which I found in someone's Live Journal.

Writing style tips

Writing for the Web should be readable, and the most popular webloggers have a variety of personal styles. They entertain; they share; they are clear and colorful; they have an idea of their audience. (I assume the bloggers whose pages read like junior high diaries know their audience as well as the bloggers that write things that read like dotcom industry-insider newsletters.)

Mark Bernstein, who has been publishing hypertexts since before the Web, has ten good tips in an essay on Writing the Living Web. It's part of an online publication called "A List Apart," which has talked about weblog writing before.

One point these writers and their readers emphasize is brevity, so I'll stop right here, just in case you haven't disappeared into one of those links already!

... Bob
.. originally written as discussion notes for Emerson College classes, 2001-2002
.. minor updates, August 2003 & October 2003, but some "cobweb" links may remain.

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Last update: 7/27/09; 3:57:17 AM.