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Becoming a Blogger with iBlog

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Programming

Becoming a Blogger with iBlog

by Maria Langer

Blogs, the latest Internet craze, have become a wildly popular way for people of all backgrounds to share ideas, opinions, and information. A blog, which stands for Web log, is basically an online journal of frequently added, chronologically organized entries. Although most blog entries are short and to the point, they can be any length. They can also include hyperlinks, pictures, movies, and sounds.

Blogs, the latest Internet craze, have become a wildly popular way for people of all backgrounds to share ideas, opinions, and information. A blog, which stands for Web log, is basically an online journal of frequently added, chronologically organized entries. Although most blog entries are short and to the point, they can be any length. They can also include hyperlinks, pictures, movies, and sounds.

I got my first look at blogging about a year ago. I'd just renewed my .Mac membership and was surfing the .Mac site for software perks. That's where I downloaded a special version of iBlog for .Mac users. iBlog offered a very Mac-like interface for creating blogs, blog categories, and entries. It then enabled users to publish their blogs on their .Mac Web space on Apple's server. I downloaded iBlog, set it up, and started publishing my own blog. Within a remarkably short time, I was hooked.

iBlog makes it easy for me to share my thoughts with Web site visitors without HTML coding or fiddling around with Dreamweaver (my current authoring tool of choice). iBlog entries are automatically put in chronological order, with the most recent on top. Old entries are automatically archived by date. All I have to do is type in my entry and publish it. iBlog does the rest.

If you want to start your own blog and you don't feel like putting a lot of effort into programming or paying a blog hosting site to host your blog, iBlog is the answer. Here's how you can get started.

Download and Install iBlog

That special version of iBlog that I downloaded from .Mac is no longer available. That's the bad news. The good news is that newer, more feature-packed versions have been released since then. And although the software is distributed as shareware with a 2-week trial period, it only costs about $20 to buy. (Payment is in Indian rupees, so the exact amount varies.) You can download a copy from the Lifli Software Web site at http://www.lifli.com.

iBlog comes as a disk image. Open it up and drag the iBlog icon from the disk image's folder to your hard disk to copy it there. That's all there is to it.

Using iBlog creates an iBlog folder in ~username/Library/Application Support/. Depending on how you configure iBlog, it may also create an iBlog folder in ~username/Sites/. So if you decide later that you don't want to use iBlog after all, just delete the application and the two iBlog folders. That'll remove it and its data files from your computer.

Getting Started

Double-click the iBlog application icon. iBlog opens and displays its Blogger Mode window. Figure 1 shows what my well-established iBlog window looks like. When you first launch iBlog, this window will be empty.


Fig 1: iBlog Blogger Mode with lots of blogs, categories, and entries.

(iBlog has two modes: Blogger Mode and Reader Mode. You use Blogger Mode to create and publish blogs. You use Reader Mode to read other people's syndicated blogs. This article covers Blogger Mode only.)

iBlog's interface should look familiar. It's a lot like iPhoto, iTunes, and other Apple software. A pane on the left side of the window lists blogs (gold folder icons) and their categories (blue folder icons). When you click a blog or category, a list of its entries appears to the right. When you click an entry name, the entry appears in a window beneath it. A calendar beneath the Blogs & Categories list offers a way to view entries by date. Click a date to see its blogs.

Create a Blog

The first step to using iBlog is to create a blog. I like to think of a blog as an online book. You need to create the book before you can fill it. Although I have lots of blogs, you really only need one to be a blogger.

Click the Add New Blog/Category/Entry button at the bottom-left of the window (Figure 2). Choose New Blog from the menu that pops up. A dialog sheet with options for the new blog appears.


Fig 2: The New Blog/Category/Entry button displays a menu.

If necessary, click the Attributes button (Figure 3). You must enter information in the Blog Name and Blog Description fields. This information is used for the Web pages iBlog creates automatically for you.


Fig 3: Blog Attributes include the Blog name, description, and other settings.

There are a few other important settings in this dialog. Make sure Blog Type is set to Public and that the Publish Blog option is set to Yes. The Author Name appears at the bottom of the page in a copyright notice and the Author Email is used for a feedback link.

Click the Display Settings button (Figure 4). This dialog sheet determines how the pages of your blog will appear and offers some customization options. iBlog has many other powerful customization options, as I'll discuss briefly later. For now, just set the What to show in blog page option to Abstract and Body.


Fig 4: Display settings offer some page customization options.

When you click Save, your new blog appears as a gold folder in the Blogs and Categories list. You can repeat these steps to create multiple blogs if you like.

Create a Category

If a blog is like a book, then a category is like a chapter in the book. Although you don't have to create categories, I recommend it. Categories offer a way to organize entries in a way other than by date. iBlog creates category pages that list entries for just that category.

Click the Add New Blog/Category/Entry button (Figure 2) and choose New Category from the menu that pops up. A dialog sheet for the new category appears (Figure 5). If you have more than one blog, choose the name of the blog the category belongs to from the Select Blog Name pop-up menu. Enter a name for the category in the Category Name box. And, if you want to get fancy and assign an image to the category, drag the icon for an image file from the Finder to the Category Image well. The image appears in the well.


Fig 5: A the category settings sheet with some information entered for a new category. (Yes, that's my mug.)

When you click Save to save your settings, the category appears in the Blogs & Categories list as a blue folder beneath its blog. If you can't see it, click the triangle beside the blog folder to display it.

Of course, you can repeat this process for as many categories as you'd like to create. Figure 6 shows the Blogs & Categories list with three categories created.


Fig 6: A single blog with several categories.

Create an Entry

If a blog is a like book and a category is like a chapter, then an entry is like a page. Well, something like a page. Entries are what make up the contents of your blog.

Click the Add New Blog/Category/Entry button (Figure 2) and choose New Entry. Use the New Entry form window that appears to create your entry (Figure 7).


Fig 7: A blog entry.

This window is pretty self-explanatory. You set options at the top of the window to determine which blog and category the entry should be associated with. The Post Date is entered automatically, but you can set it to a different date to change the order in which the entry appears or set it to publish at a later date. Then you enter the entry's title in the Entry Title box and the entry's body in the big box at the bottom of the window.

The Entry Abstract is a shorter version of the entry. The Auto Abstract option, which is relatively new, will create an abstract based on the entry body. I don't like this feature, so I turn it off. Instead, I manually enter a one-sentence description of the entry in the Entry Abstract box. That's just the way I use iBlog, though. You may prefer real abstracts and think the Auto Abstract feature is great. Give it a try and decide for yourself. It's easy enough to turn off if you decide you don't like it.

The toolbar at the top of the window has buttons for the usual formatting options, as well as options to add features to your blog entry. For example, you can select text in the blog window and click the Hyperlink button to display a dialog like the one in Figure 8 for turning the selected text into a hyperlink. Enter the URL, turn on the check box if you want the page to open in a new Web browser window, and click Save.


Fig 8: Use this dialog to create a hyperlink.

If you use iPhoto to organize your photos and other graphics, you can click the Photos button to insert a photo into the entry. Choose an iPhoto album in the dialog that appears (Figure 9) and click the photo you want to insert. The Width and Height boxes work a little weird; the size of the photo is determined by the height and the width is adjusted proportionally. Click Import to insert the image into iBlog. Once the image is inserted, you can double-click it to display a dialog sheet (Figure 10) for setting other image options. Although you won't see those options in the iBlog entry window (Figure 7), you will see them applied on the Web page iBlog creates (Figure 13).


Fig 9: Use this dialog to insert an image from your iPhoto photo library.


Fig 10: Then use this dialog to set image options.

When you click the Save button to save your entry, it appears in the Blogger Mode window (Figure 11).


Fig 11: A completed blog entry in the Blogger Mode window.

Preview

You can use iBlog's preview feature to get a look at your entry before it's published. Just click the Preview button (which looks like a magnifying glass) in the bottom of the Blogger Mode window. iBlog launches your default Web browser and displays the Home page for your blogs (Figure 12).


Fig 12: iBlog creates a home page for all of your blogs.

Click the link for a blog name. The blog page for that blog appears, with the entry you created at the top (Figure 13). As you can see, iBlog also creates a navigation bar complete with calendar and links. Try out the links to see what other pages iBlog created. You should be impressed. I was. iBlog is a heck of a lot quicker than creating all those pages manually.


Fig 13: Previewing an entry.

Publish

Publishing with iBlog is just as easy as previewing. But first you have to set up a publish location and match the blog to the location. You do this just once and iBlog remembers your settings for each time you want to publish.

Choose Preferences from the iBlog menu. In the dialog that appears, click the Publish button, you should see a dialog like the one in Figure 14, but it'll be empty.


Fig 14: Publish preferences with a publish location already set up.

Choose a location type from the pop-up menu at the bottom of the screen (Figure 15). For this example, I'll choose FTP to publish on an existing Web server. Then click New Location.


Fig 15: Use this menu to choose a location type.

Use the New FTP Location dialog (Figure 16) to enter the usual information for accessing the appropriate FTP server. Then turn on the check boxes beside the name of the blog you want to publish to that site. As you might imagine, if you have multiple blogs, you can publish them to multiple locations. Click Save and your settings are saved as a Publish Location (Figure 14). You can close the Publish preferences window.


Fig16: Enter FTP site information in this dialog.

Back in the Blogger Mode window, click the Publish button, which looks like a little planet Earth. If you have multiple blogs, a dialog appears so you can specify which blog(s) you want to publish. But if you have just one blog, iBlog goes online and uploads all the pages and related files it has created for your blog. While it's doing this, it displays a Publish Status dialog. When the dialog disappears, your Web browser launches, displaying the blog page that has been uploaded to your site.

Simple, no?

Going the Next Step: Customization

While I admit that iBlog isn't the perfect solution, it's pretty darn close for a non-programmer like me. Although the pages it creates are perfectly acceptable "right out of the box" as discussed here, iBlog can be customized to change the appearance and layout of pages and the items that appear in the navigation bar. You do this by creating or customizing templates, style sheets, and navigation bar contents. A complete discussion of this is far beyond the scope of this article, but if you're familiar with HTML and CSS, you already have the knowledge you need to make the changes. If you want a good idea of what can be done with iBlog to create a truly customized site, check out the support Web site I've created for my books, www.langerbooks.com. That entire site is iBlog-generated and it's a heck of a lot easier to maintain than the old sites I managed with Dreamweaver.

iBlog. Do you?

As you can see, iBlog offers a simple solution for someone interested in blogging. As it continues to be developed and refined, it may well become a leading product for Mac bloggers everywhere.


Maria Langer is a freelance writer who has been writing how-to books and articles for Macintosh users since 1992. You can read her blogs at http://homepage.mac.com/mlanger/iblog and visit her on the Web at http://www.marialanger.com.

 
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