How to make a Blog
I know pretty well that this topic is no news on the Internet. It is sufficient to google for a couple of minutes and find out hundreds of web sites talking about it, but I am very optimistic in bringing something new here. Something that you might not find in any guide because it comes from my own experience, something unique to help you learn what I have learnt and to help you avoid those mistakes I made before you. So let’s start this little trip in the world of blogs with new eyes and with a very simple approach, which is the only thing you really need.
What is a blog?
Before starting explaining to you what you have to do to open you personal blog it is important to know what a blog is. A blog is a web diary, or at least it used to be some years ago. Having a blog firstly means updating it on a regular basis. A blog is the contraction of web-log, something where you could write about your life. This is what it was originally, when the first blog appeared in the States on the 18 July 1997. Nowadays a blog still keeps its structure of diary but on the main page you find a series of date-ordered-logs (called posts) but these don’t speak about people’s private matters anymore (well, in many cases they still do) . Most of the times they talk about specific topics. Look at this blog. It talks about Internet and technology in spite of the fact that it is structured in a series of logs. A regular web site doesn’t come like that. As a matter of fact you will find a Home Page that introduces the site itself, and a series of links that drive you to other pages. That’s it. Practically speaking having a web site requires less effort than having a blog because once you have set up the web site with all its pages you don’t need to update it on a regular basis (apart from specific cases).
Let’s say that you want to let other people know about your job, your studies, about your family, your own company, or specific topics requiring many pages. You don’t need a blog but a “regular” web-site because once you have written all the information on the above subjects, in most cases you are done. No need for daily updates. If instead you want to speak about what you do day-by-day, about news that come out in a fast pace, that you want to keep track of all of them, and you don’t mind the way they are shown, a blog is what you need. Of course there is no rule that says what you have to use to write on the Internet. In fact you will see companies showing their own activities on blogs and people talking about their daily life on regular web-sites. Let’s say that blogs and web-sites are tailored to show certain kinds of infos in the best way, even though this doesn’t mean anything.
Let’s make a little summary:
Web-site = Easy to make (sometimes a little HTML and CSS knowledge may be required), many information to write (not necessarily), use it if you want to show your infos in an old fashioned way (page-by-page, like in a book), make it if you don’t want, or there is no need to update it frequently.
Blog= Easy to make (in most cases no HTML and CSS knowledge is required), few pages (in fact the main structure is the front page), more work to keep it daily updated.
Of course these are not the only differences because, for example, having a blog also means letting other people comment on what you write and letting them communicate and share a variety of things (thoughts, ideas, pictures, writings, etc.). Apart from this the blogger has to interact with his readers and has to treat people gravitating around his blog as a little community. He also has to moderate and filter what his readers write. All the above things are no necessary if you have a web site because it can be considered a one-way form of communication. It just gives you the infos you need and there is no space for interaction.
Choosing your Blog name
Choosing your blog’s name is no easy task for you. Mainly because mostly names on the Internet are already taken. Usually the only names which are still available are those composed by three or more words (i.e. www.myblogname.com). You can choose to put your name and surname such as: www.johndoe.com but I would avoid doing so since it is not always a good idea to show your sensitive information on the Internet. Keep in mind that people want to find you easily. They don’t want to remember hard names. Giving your web site an address like: www.thisismyweblogvisitme.com is the key to cut out lots of visitors. The main idea here is to look for something short and easy to remember. Take my blog name for instance. I could not pick up what I wanted because it was not available so I just played a trick. My blog’s name is Web Talk and my blog address is www.webtlk.com. I abbreviated the word “talk” into “tlk”. Usually initials, acronyms and sometimes numbers work best when it comes to look for a nice short address. Here is a few examples: www.jdblog.us, www.greatnyc.info, www.nyc4us.com , www.mkblog.us, www.looking4sun.com
Choosing your server
Once you have decided that what you need is a blog, you have to know how to make it. Many thoughts could be crowding in your mind so far. Is it difficult? Am I able to? What kind of knowledge do I need? What is the first step? How much does it cost? Making a blog is very simple, don’t worry, and it is cheap too ( around $100 per year). The only thing that matters it is where you blog will be hosted.
Everything found on the Internet is located on servers. A server is a PC (a pretty big one indeed) which is able to elaborate large amounts of data and also manage its huge hard disks in special ways. This PC has a big case, a screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. It runs an operative system such as: Windows 2000, Windows Xp, Windows 2003, Linux etc. Special Internet companies called hosting providers own big servers which have big hard disks. If you want to run your blog you need to borrow a portion of one of these hard disks from them. Luckily for us these Internet providers lend their servers to whoever needs them: big companies, local store, you etc. So, you need to pick up one of these hosting providers. The choice is hard because there are lots of them out there, so you have to be careful. In fact you have to pick up those having specific features, because you blog needs particular requirements to run. To avoid future issues, be wise and choose those companies running servers that have these features:
Apache 1.3.x or above
PHP version 4.2 or greater
MySQL version 4.0 or greater
Make sure your server runs Linux operative system. Linux offer stability, security and maintainability which means: no problem. If you don’t know if a hosting provider has the above specs you can send them a mail. I am pretty sure they will reply to you right away. From my experience (and I beg you to keep it in mind) I can tell you that the best hosting provider I have found is Bluehost.com. Apart from having the above specs and other features, its support is formidable and their guys assist you in every issue you may have.
Getting closer and closer
You are just a few steps away from your blog. You know a blog is what you want, you know what your blog’s name is and you have already picked up your hosting provider. Now you have to pick up a platform, a software that makes your blog work almost out-of-the-box. There are dozens of CMS (Content Management System) able to run your blog, but since I am talking about my own experience I will take into consideration an easy-to-use CMS named WordPress. A little parenthesis. Before using WordPress I started my experience using Mambo. Mambo is a CMS letting you build a web-site in few steps. It used to be a very well-known and reliable open-source platform, but after a few years it was born, something happened that led to the creation of a new CMS known as Joomla!. Reading from Wikipedia we learn that: “Joomla came into being as the result of a fork of Mambo by all of its then-core developers on August 17, 2005. At that time, the Mambo name was trademarked by Miro International Pty Ltd, who formed a non-profit foundation with the stated purpose to fund the project and protect it from lawsuits. The development team claimed that many of the provisions of the foundation structure went against previous agreements made by the elected Mambo Steering Committee, lacked the necessary consultation with key stake holders, and included provisions that violated core open source values.” By then Mambo was doomed and its reliability was compromised. I must tell you that with Mambo I had many, many issues. I spent hours trying to solve issues that most of the time where not fixed with the next release. That meant that its developers were not working properly and they where not listening to Mambo users. I hope things have changed so far. After that I decided to move on and I start using Joomla! What do I have to say about it? It is a perfect, free-bug CMS. No issues, excellent community, great developers and tons of add-ons to add your site new interesting features. But this was not what I was looking for. In fact if you want to fine tune Joomla! you have to spend some time trying to figure it out how. In others words: it may not be that simple. Too many features, too many options. All this may be a little tricky and sometimes very frustrating, above all if you don’t want to spend a lot of time before the PC. When WordPress started hitting the web it was known for its easiness right away. Simplicity leads to few bugs, less hours trying to solve issues, less things to know and more time to dedicate to your ideas and to what you have to write. What do you want more? WordPress was the reply to my quest.
Understanding the server (a little bit)
There are two ways to reach your server:
- Server control panel
- FTP server
Server control panel
Usually on the hosting provider web site there is a form asking your username and password (they were sent to your email address when you bought your server). Sign in to access the control panel that should look like this. The control panel lets you configurate your server, create your emails with the extension of your domain (email@example.com), check how many people visit your blog, access the file manager to manage the files included in the server, manage your database, backup your website, renew the account etc. To tell you the truth I use this part to backup my blog and my database, to create emails and check blog statistics. That’s it. I prefer not to get involved in other features I know very little about.
The FTP server is the part of your server which can be seen as a group of files and folders. It is like when, on your PC, you click on “computer” on your desktop and you go to your “C:” drive, you should see many files and folders, right? As a matter of fact, if you remember well, your server is just a PC and its hard disks are composed by folders. On your server you will see many folders but the one you really need is called public_html because it is here that your web site will be hosted. To gain access to your server you can use the control panel. It provides you with a nice file manager you can use from your internet browser. Personally I prefer dedicated softwares because they have more options, even though when I have to delete large quantity of files I use the file manager because it is faster. A good free FTP software is Filezilla. If you want something professional and easy to use you can buy CuteFTP which is the one I use.
Creating the database in your server
What is a database? A database is a big file containing lots of data. In your case the database will contain all that you will add in your blog etc. Posts, articles, links to pictures, positions of the different parts of the blogs. Everything contained in your blog will be collected in the database. Without it a blog is just an empty box. From this statement you understand that a batabase is the heart of the blog and it is important to make regular backups of it as well as the entire blog. How do you create a database? Simple. Go to your control panel, look for the database section, click on MySQL Databases and follow the istructions. Just keep in mind that a database is composed by: database name, username and password. When you create them, use 6-8 alphanumeric characters. Why? Because on the web hackers and malicious automated softwares could try to force your database to insert bad codes, steal information or mess up your blog and the first thing they do is to look at their lists containing the most common used usernames and passowords.
Installing your Blog
Now you are ready, I mean, you are really ready to install your blog and make it work.
- Go to WordPress.org and download the .zip file of the software.
- Unzip the file on your desktop. It should come out as a folder called WordPress.
- Open the WordPress folder and rename the wp-config-sample.php file into wp-config.php.
- Open wp-config.php by using Windows notepad. Find these code lines and write inside them your database name, user and passoword:
define(‘DB_NAME’, ‘putyourdbnamehere’); // The name of the database
define(‘DB_USER’, ‘usernamehere’); // Your MySQL username
define(‘DB_PASSWORD’, ‘yourpasswordhere’); // …and password
define(‘DB_HOST’, ‘localhost’); // 99% chance you won’t need to change this value
- Open your FTP software. To access your server you have to create in the software a new account and write down the host address, username and password. Usually the host address is something like that: ftp.yourblognname.com. Anyway you should know everything since an email was sent to you when you bought your domain and server.
- On your FTP software you should see all the folders that are contained in your server. Open the one called Public_html which should be empty.
- From your FTP software reach your desktop, open the WordPress folder, past all the files and foders that contains and copy all this into Public_html.
- Now open your Internet browser and go to: www.yourblogname.com/wp-admin/install.php
- Follow the easy instructions.
If you want a visual guide of this procedure go here. At this point there is not a lot to add. You are ready to write your first post. Happy blogging!