Dale Carnegie's bestselling self-help book How To Win Friends and Influence People could have been written with blogging in mind. A well-designed blog can be an effective way to reach out to the world, strike up friendships and sway opinion.

Whether you want to push a political or social perspective, discuss golf or gardening or simply showcase your work so you can garner more of the same, an interactive web page is ideal. As well as being your public face, it can be an extension of your brand, an informal but visible platform for chatting with customers or simply an extension of your personality.

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A blog can help you manage your web life and act as a central contact point for all your separate interests. Few of us focus all our efforts on just one topic, and a blog allows us to maintain updates and interact with people from all these strands without having to dive into different forums, email accounts or Facebook groups.

If you're a Twitter fan who finds 140 characters too restrictive, having a permanent home for your thoughts can be invaluable. And using a blog to create associations with other bloggers and websites can help you establish yourself and give you credence among your peers, too.

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So, if you've got the slightest interest in Web 2.0 and in using the internet to keep up with like-minded associates, a blog may be your best bet.

Choosing a blogging platform

A blog is in essence a personal website - a web-based log of what you've been up to and what you've chatting about with other people. It combines text with photos (and videos, if you choose), along with weblinks and tags to aid blog visitors' navigation.

You can choose a suitable web address and get a dedicated email address to go with it. With luck, this will have a decent associated spam filter, since a public website and email will attract more spam than your standard email account.

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Your first step will be deciding on a suitable blogging platform. It's worth investigating several major ones - such as Blogger, LiveJournal, Typepad and WordPress - to get a feel for what each can do and the services they work with.

We've chosen to use WordPress for this workshop as we like the cleanliness of its approach combined with its ability to pull in content from a range of other Web 2.0 sites and make sense of various content types. However, if you only want to dabble in blogging for now and want to keep things as simple as possible, you might want to start by using Blogger. You can port your content to another platform later if you choose.

Blogger is a popular blogging service for novices

This more basic platform lets you choose between a limited range of colour schemes and templates. You're expected to use Google-owned tools to upload photos, video and so on. This may be a pain if you depend on a rival service; a photo organiser other than Google's Picasa, for instance. But most users will find this a convenient method of aggregating content for batch uploading. All such web platforms allow you to select a single file or photo from your hard drive for upload.

Another consideration with Blogger is that it displays Google AdSense adverts - again, something you will either relish as an incremental money-making opportunity or prefer not to bombard your readers with. Other free blogging tools, such as LiveJournal and WordPress, don't display adverts.

Ready your content for the web

Getting started with WordPress

Dale Carnegie’s bestselling self-help book How To Win Friends and Influence People could have been written with blogging in mind. A well-designed blog can be an effective way to reach out to the world, strike up friendships and sway opinion.

Ready your content for the web

As with a website, you need to get your written text, the design and layout of your blog pages, the navigational structure and the accompanying images set up correctly before you begin.

Set up a folder where you store everything related to your blog and save only blog-related items here. Keep to this rule even if you plan to use some of the same text documents and images elsewhere too. We've called our blog folder ‘Rosie Writer' and have created subfolders for our main topics.

This will help you keep track of what's where on your computer so you can easily lay your hands on it. It's a good habit to get into a set method of naming files depending on their content. WordPress and LiveJournal automatically add underscores between words in the titles of HTML blog pages. Do the same for your images so you can recognise them more easily.

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You should also resize photos and logos for the web. Use Jpeg or GIF images and make sure they aren't too large. Unless the image is to be the main point of a blog post, you shouldn't need an image larger than 400 pixels across with a resolution of 72 dots per inch (dpi) or 96dpi if you prefer. A PC or laptop screen won't show more detail than this, and a large file will take ages to load and may deter blog visitors from looking at what you've posted.

Images on your blog should be no larger than 400 pixels across and 72 or 96dpi

Bear in mind too that a large photo will quickly eat into your storage allowance - a major consideration if you're using a free blogging account with a limited monthly allowance.

The same principle applies to any video you wish to post: if your monthly limit is 3GB of uploads, video will be a bit of a no-no. YouTube automatically transcodes videos uploaded to its site into a format that most web browsers can play, but the YouTube site isn't hobbled by bandwidth or usage restrictions (it makes plenty of money from other avenues, after all). If you must embed video into your blog, keep clips short and convert them into a format such as Flash that most people will be able to view and that won't take ages to buffer and play.

Choosing a blogging platform

Getting started with WordPress

Dale Carnegie’s bestselling self-help book How To Win Friends and Influence People could have been written with blogging in mind. A well-designed blog can be an effective way to reach out to the world, strike up friendships and sway opinion.

Getting started with WordPress

Browse to wordpress.com to use the software online, or to wordpress.org to download a script-based application that you run from your PC and that offers more flexibility. The web-based version gives you templates and most of the creation and editing tools you are likely to need, and that's what we've used here.

First, you need to sign up by entering a username, password and valid email address. If you wish, you can choose a username with no associated blog. Don't forget to check through the terms and conditions of use.

Next, enter a blog name or accept your username as the blog title. Note that you can change the blog title but the domain (its online location) is fixed, so choose this part with care.

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Verify the default language and choose whether you want your blog to be publicly listed, then click Signup. You'll get a verification email with a link to click on to activate your blog account. You need to perform this verification within two days of signup or restart the process.

We've given our blog the name ‘Rosie Writes Here'. As you'll see from the screenshot, the username is listed at the top right and the name of the blog is given in large letters at the top left.

Your blog title can be changed at any point

The ‘dashboard' page gives a summary of activity on your blog, from comments and traffic to number of pages and posts and their status. You can preview a post before making it live and sharing it with the world.

Before you start publishing any content, however, you'll probably want to experiment with the look and layout of your blog. Click the Change Theme lozenge beneath the Right Now pane and you'll be taken to a screen full of design options.

You can filter the available theme layouts by colour and, by scrolling further down the drop-down filter list, by number of columns, the type of widgets supported and, at the bottom, the type of blog it is. This includes a simple ‘holiday' (aka Christmas) template and one for photoblogging. You can preview as many themes as you wish before making your final decision and pressing the Activate button below its thumbnail.

Experiment with the design of your blog

Adjust your template using the Screen Options box at the top right to change the number of columns and the Tools, Appearance options from the vertical toolbox to the left of the dashboard.

If you already use other web tools such as Facebook, Flickr or Twitter, you can easily add these as automatic feeds to your blog. Just drag the appropriate widget to the top of the Sidebar menu on the right. To deactivate any widgets, go back to this menu and drag the item out of the sidebar.

Before activating a widget, consider how personal the information that appears will be - for example, do you really want the whole world to see your entire collection of photos? It may be better to post images to your blog individually, depending on the stated purpose of the blog itself.

It makes sense to keep more personal information, such as your holiday snaps and Facebook quiz results, on those sites where you can more carefully control access to them, either by email invitations or by designating groups of friends. Remember that your blog is very much a public space.

>> NEXT PAGE: Targeting an audience and building your blog

Choosing a blogging platform

Ready your content for the web

Dale Carnegie’s bestselling self-help book How To Win Friends and Influence People could have been written with blogging in mind. A well-designed blog can be an effective way to reach out to the world, strike up friendships and sway opinion.

Having made a few design decisions, it's time to find an audience. Presumably, you decided to set up a blog because you had particular information to impart to the world or topics you wanted to discuss.

Targeting your blog to appeal to a particular group of people can help it quickly gain followers and fans; if you want to employ a more scattergun approach and simply comment on the ways of the world, you'll need to be strict about how you categorise your blogs so visitors can easily find their way to the content that interests them. A tag cloud will help, as will making judicious use of the Category or Topic filters.

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Alternatively, you could set up separate blogs reflecting different interests. You can then drive traffic to them using Twitter.

Now we're ready to start giving the blog some structure and to add some content. You'll notice that WordPress creates a standard ‘Hello world' post that you can edit, delete or publish.

You'll notice, too, that this initial trial post is automatically assigned a blog post name - in this case the post is named ‘Hello world'. As with the main body text, this is editable. Use the publishing status tools on the righthand side to alter the post to pending review or draft and then make any changes you wish. Until you've populated your blog with some content, you may not want anything to be visible online.

We've started with a ‘Why I'm going to be blogging' post explaining that we're tweeting too much for the sanity of our Twitter followers, so a more structured communication platform is being set up. We'll tweak this once we've more to say.

WordPress saves your text as you go, so you needn't worry about forgetting to press Save. To be sure, you can always press the Update post button on the right. You can also check on your work at hitting Preview.

Preview your blog

As you'll see from the screenshot, WordPress automatically generates the first blog comment - a useful prompt and one intended to get you to think about what you're writing and how to engage other people. These comments can be edited or deleted.

Comments on your blog can be edited and deleted

Rather than writing paragraph after paragraph about a broad range of subjects, it's a good idea to establish what you're going to cover and make it clear to anyone who stops by.

Topics and categories will help you impose some structure to your blog and make it easier for people to navigate. You'll see tools for this on the lefthand side of the WordPress dashboard.

Not every blog post has to run into thousands of words, and you should vary the type of content you use. For example, we've posted a two-paragraph introduction to a photo story, with a link at the end to our review of the Olympus camera we used to take the shots. We've tagged this story with keywords, including travel, camera, photography, Berlin and Olympus, and included links to associated blog posts.

Choosing a blogging platform

Ready your content for the web