Web logs, colloquially called blogs, are popping up everywhere. They range from useful to frivolous, and they’ve become a popular forum for those who want to share their opinions. Now you can have your own blog or, better yet, use some of the content management packages that have popularized this trend to get a solid code base for that Web application you’ve been meaning to write. This article will give you a quick tour of the blog underworld and get you started looking for valuable, reusable resources.

A summary of blogging
Originally, blog sites digested news from other Web sites and posted updates about them. Single users or groups of users maintained the earliest ones, which reach back to the beginning of the Internet. Eventually, blogs evolved into the community-created discussion drivers prevalent on the Web today.

The term “Web log” suggests a distinct purpose, but summarizing news and events from around the Web is only one role blogs play. As a blog centralizes on a theme or type of content, the participating community gives each blog instance a personality. Users latch onto their favorites, and suddenly opinions and comments are presented that add up to much more than a collection of reused content.

With the introduction of prewritten blogging software providing content and community management systems, Webmasters have stretched the definition of blog to include any Web site run within a blogging framework. Many of these include journals and collections of original content submitted by a community or other clever deployments that may exclude the community altogether, taking blogging back to its roots. Some blogging applications serve as a great user-centric framework for custom applications.

Those who are interested in starting a blog have a number of options. If you have access to a Web server and database, you can install and run your own blog site. Alternatively, several sites offer blog hosting, where you can run your community without having to deal with system administration. Below, I’ve summarized some prevalent options in these two areas to get you pointed in the right direction.

DIY blogs
There are many products you can install on your server to manage your blog. Below, I’ve listed a few popular free ones, in order of their introduction.

One of the most popular community blogs today is Slashdot, receiving about 30 million visitors a month. Slashdot started in 1997, is written in mod_perl, and runs on MySQL database. The software, Slash, is open source under GPL, and if you like to get your hands dirty, you can download and deploy it free. The Slash developer community is active, and new features are added every few months. As with each of the applications presented in this article, developers are able to create their own plug-ins to enhance functionality.

In 1999, Blogger was released, facilitating Web content management. Recently, PYRA Labs introduced a pay version, Blogger Pro ($35), with more features and support. Blogger is recognized as the driving force behind blog popularity; it promises ease of use while still holding gear-head appeal. ZDNet recently wrote a review of Blogger and has W.bloggar, a Windows interface to Blogger administration, available for download.

Another popular blog application is PHP-Nuke, written by Francisco Burzi. PHP-Nuke has a large community following and offers numerous modules to easily extend site functionality and themes to customize the blog’s look and feel. This free application is a popular choice for would-be bloggers.

An offshoot of PHP-Nuke, PostNuke, opened core development of the content management system to the community and delivers a more sophisticated user permissions system than its precursor. PostNuke is still in its beta phase, as it further enhances administrative tools and simplicity of design. Currently, PostNuke’s development focus is on application architecture over bells and whistles, but new themes and modules are being created all the time.

Movable Type, written by Benjamin and Mena G. Trott, is a personal publishing system that has been around for about a year. In addition to blog-style content, Moveable Type natively supports graphics display and management. This product is free for personal use and charges a $150 licensing fee for businesses.

Hosted blogs
If you don’t have access to a Web server or aren’t interested in maintaining the systems behind your community, you can always opt for a hosted solution. Here are a few popular sites to consider:

  • PYRA Labs maintains a site hosting Blogger Web logs. blog*spot gives you the option of a free service or you can pay $12 per year for access to Blogger Pro. Hosted sites have all functionality included in Blogger.
  • Salon blogs allow users to host their content and community for $40 per year. This is a recent venture and seems to have taken off quickly, but it limits community participation to comments.
  • Xanga.com offers free personal blogs for individuals and advanced features for $25 per year. It doesn’t allow community-submitted content but provides an easy way to post your own material.
  • For an extensive list of other blog hosting sites, see the list on the Weblogs Compendium page.

Blog away
Regardless of the route you choose, little is standing in the way of creating your own blog. The products listed above, among others, will allow you to easily create a full-blown community environment. Content management systems have greatly facilitated Web publishing. So whether you need a solution that can be up and running in minutes or just want a site that’s easy to maintain, a blogging framework will provide huge returns on little effort.

Getting the most from blogs

Successful blog deployments include documentation hosting, event journaling, intranet announcements, and much more. How have you used blogging to facilitate your job? Post your responses in the discussion below, or send our editors an e-mail.