A few years ago there were only a handful of beer-related blogs, but that number has been steadily growing, thanks in large part to the availability of free weblog-hosting services such as Blogger and WordPress.com and the low barrier to entry these services have introduced
In fact, today it’s easier than ever to start a beer-themed blog, and over the next several Beer Hacker articles, I’m going to cover just that. The focus will primarily be on the free online services that have sprung up around blogging to get you accomplishing this goal—writing about beer.
Part 1 of this series will focus on setting up a new blog with two of the most popular and easy-to-use blog hosting services, the ones I already mentioned: Blogger and WordPress.
Selecting a Name
The first thing you’ll need to decide on is a name for your blog. There are two things to consider here: first, you’ll want something catchier and less-generic (i.e., unique) than "The Beer Blog"—something easy to remember but not a mouthful; and second, you’ll want to apply this to the domain URL for the site, so the less cumbersome, the better.
What do I mean by the "domain" of the site? Well, both Blogger and WordPress.com host their blogs with the URL form of "name.blogspot.com" and "name.wordpress.com", respectively—"name" being the URL-friendly version of your blog’s name. Going with my (poor) example title of "The Beer Blog" above, the domain version might be "thebeerblog"—so the URL for each service would be, respectively, "thebeerblog.blogspot.com" and "thebeerblog.wordpress.com".
(Incidentally, both of those are already taken, though whoever started them so far has not gotten past the "First Post" phase.)
For our purposes, I’ll keep using "The Beer Blog" as the example.
For each service, you’ll need to have a valid email address to sign up. Depending on which service you’ve selected, the respective experience is a bit different.
Blogger is part of the Google suite of services; when you sign up for a Blogger account, you’re actually signing up for a Google account (which gives you access to the gamut of services that Google offers).
Signing up is a multi-stage process. The first step asks for your email address, password, and display name (how you’d like your name to appear). There is also the inevitable "captcha" to figure out to prove that you’re not a robot or script.
The following screen prompts you to name your blog, and enter the blog address. This blog address is the domain address I discussed above. A handy feature here is the "Check Availability" link just below the blog address field; it tells you in real time if the address you’ve chosen is available or not without reloading the entire page.
Finally, on the last screen you can choose a template for your blog—how it will look. You are offered a dozen basic templates to pick from, with the ability to preview each one (in a separate window). Don’t worry too much about the design at this point, you can change this template later at any time, with more choices to select from.
After this step, Blogger creates the blog for you and you’re ready to go—literally! You are taken directly to the "Create Post" page.
The sign-up for WordPress is even simpler. The first step asks for your WordPress.com account name and email—no password is necessary, they will provide you a password once you’ve signed up. (You’ll be able to change your password later.)
The next step allows you to select the address and name for your blog, just as with Blogger. If you select an address that already exists, you’ll be prompted to try again.
The final stage in the process is the actual email verification—you’ll receive the confirmation email at the address you provided, and once it comes, you click through on the confirmation link. This will activate your account and your password will be sent to you in another email. Once you receive your password, you can log in at wordpress.com and you’re ready to go.
Writing That First Post
The process of actually writing a blog entry is so similar in both platforms that I don’t really need to cover each individually.
From each system’s "Dashboard", you click "New Post" (Blogger) or "Write" (WordPress) and you’ll immediately be taken to the entry form.
The first field to fill out is the "Title"—this will be the title of your post. You can leave this field blank, but I generally recommend you enter something—not only will it make your blogging more readable, but it will ultimately show up better in search engines if you have good titles for each entry.
Next, and most prominent, is the field in which you will actually compose your writing. Both services offer this as a basic WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) form, meaning you have a series of formatting tools, similar to a word processor, that let you format the text the way you want it, and it shows you in real time how the formatting (mostly) looks.
(In the old days of blogging, users often had to compose their blogs in plain text or—worse—HTML code. This was a time-consuming process and a barrier to entry for non-techies. Allowing users to enter text as they’ve grown accustomed to—using the WYSIWYG tools to do the heavy lifting—opened the floodgates to popular blogging.)
So, you write your entry—it can be short or long (there’s no practical limit on length), with images or without (uploading images is an advanced topic for another day), with links or not, and more. Once you’ve finished, there are two essential buttons at the bottom of the form: Save and Publish.
"Save" will save the current state of your work—typically as a draft that won’t be live on the blog without explicitly publishing it. It’s prudent to save your work often, but both Blogger and WordPress include an important (essential!) feature when writing a post: autosave. They periodically save your work automatically, so in the event that you forget, or your browser (or computer) crashes, there will still be a version saved for you.
"Publish" does just that—saves the entry and makes it live for the world to see. Once you’ve clicked "Publish" you can still edit the post later, of course—or even delete it—but typically this would be the end-stage of the blog writing process.
And just like that—you’re done. You’ve set up a blog and written your first post, and there’s nothing to stop you from writing more—writing as much as you want. So the question is, what will you write about on your new beer blog? Beer reviews? Brewery visits and reviews? Random or odd beer news? Commentary on other beer blogs? Homebrewing?
It’s a good question. What you write about—and more importantly, how to find it—will be the subject of the next Beer Hacker article. In the meantime, get those blogs started—and send me a link to them when you do. I’d love to read them!