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Friday, March 19, 2004

My Blog is the Borg 

When I started my blog, it was not only an outlet for me to express my thoughts; it was also an experiment -- an attempt to create a fully-featured blog using nothing but free software, sites, and services. I began assimilating services I found on the web and at other people's blogs. And, now only about a month into it, I have a pretty feature-rich blog. So, I wanted to write about my experiences doing this, in case other people out there are trying to put together a good blog too. Plus, it gives me a chance to highlight the people that are letting me put up my blog (besides the links to their sites in my blog's "Tools" section aren't even in the RSS feeds anyway).

Here is a list of all of the free stuff I'm using to produce my blog, and some other alternatives that I tried:

  • First was finding a blogging engine and hosting site. There are a plethora of blogging engines and quite a few are free. Of those free blogging engines, many of them needed components to be installed on the web server, so that the blogs could be published. However, the combination of blogging engine and free hosting are what attracted me to Blogger and BlogSpot.
  • Second, nearly all blogs support syndication of some sort. Blogger just produces Atom; however, many of the news aggregators out there only support RSS feeds, so I found a few services on the web that convert Atom feeds into RSS feeds. I settled on the one from 2Rss, but also tried Rssify and Feedster's converters. I liked 2Rss better because it actually uses the title of my blog entries as the title in the RSS item. The other two converters use the first 20 characters of the entry as the title; otherwise, they worked well too. I know it's minor, but it looks so much better to me in the news aggregators.
  • Then, you can't have a fully featured blog without comments. People love to leave their thoughts about blog entries, so I had to add that. Blogger doesn't natively support it, but there are other services out there that integrate in their functionality. I blogged about them earlier, but decided to go with HaloScan because they were free, ran as a service so I didn't need to install anything on a web server (not an option since I'm using BlogSpot), were still accepting users (there were a couple that were full?!?!), allow me to manage the comments on my site, and also provided Trackback functionality.
  • Trackback (also provided by HaloScan) is kind of cool. It allows others to link their blog entries to yours if they're talking about the same topic or responding to you. This is great because I can follow it back to other bloggers who are talking about something that I'm interested in. Many times after returning via Trackback a few times to the same blog, I add it to my news aggregator because obviously they talk about things that I'm interested in.
  • And, I wanted to find some measure of how many people were coming to my blog. I found a page counter service provided by Sparklit, which counts my visitors. It works very well, lets me pick the look of my counter, and create multiple counters. Of course, this doesn't count people that read my blog through a news aggregator, but I thought it would be too annoying to add the page counter in the RSS item...
  • Although Guestbooks aren't common on most blogs, I found one on Sparklit too, so decided to add it to my blog. We'll see if anyone enters their information in it.
  • Finally, my news aggregator is RSS Bandit. It's a free, .NET based, Windows desktop aggregator. It lets me keep track of feeds and blogs that I'm interested in, categorize feeds, and flag entries that I need to read more about, follow-up on, or respond to. Overall, pretty useful. And, it's still under development by a community of developers, so they're good about accepting feature requests and bugs.

The main thing I still need to find is a good place to host my images. The ones I posted earlier are on a workspace on GotDotNet, but folks can't see them without accounts there. I've thought about moving them to a public MSN community, but haven't done it yet. Do you know of any good, free spots to save images? Let me know.

So, are there any other features that my blog is missing?

Obviously, the experiment is just beginning, but so far so good...

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