Presidential candidates have them, actors have them, journalists have them and so can you. They are called ''blogs,'' which is short for weblogs.
For prices ranging from free to a few dollars a month, we can all bear our souls, share our thoughts and chronicle our lives on the Internet.
A blog is basically a web page organized and accessed in such a way as to make it easier for the creator (the ''blogger'') and the viewer to enter and access information. Though blogs can be organized in all sorts of ways, they typically are viewed with the most recent information (or posting) at the top. Depending on the blogging service you use, blogs can also include photographs as well as links to other web pages.
I have a blog that I maintain for listeners of my radio programs at (radionews.pcanswer.com), where I post links to news stories that I'm covering that day. I don't use it to muse on my latest thoughts on the world, but my radio listeners can use it to read news stories that I'm likely to talk about that day.
Blogs are accessed as web pages, and most people who maintain their own blogs also use the web to create and edit them. In other words, you don't need any special software to create or maintain a blog.
That means it is very easy to update your blog from anywhere, as long as you have access to the Internet. Some blogging services even allow you to update via e-mail and even from a cell phone or PDA. So, if you come across something interesting while you're whizzing through New York City in a cab, you can post it to your blog while you're stuck in midtown traffic.
You create a blog by subscribing to a blogging service, which allows you to post, delete or edit items and to manage the way your blog looks and operates.
One of the most popular blogging services is blogger.com, which is operated by Google. The site offers both a free and a paid service, with the free service displaying a banner advertisement at the top of your blog. If the ads bother you, you can get an ad-free blog for $15 a year. Blogger also offers other paid options including a $50 per year option that can accommodate more visitors (necessary for a very popular blog).
If you're new to blogging, my advice is to sign up for a free blog just to test the waters. You can do that by visiting www.blogspot.com.
Other free blogging services include blogcity.com and pitas.com.
Once you have your blog set up, you can quickly start to post to it. A lot of people use a blog as sort of a public diary where they share their thoughts and experiences. Some can be pretty personal, but they don't have to be. Some professional people use them to keep their clients or prospects posted on what they're doing. Presidential candidates typically use their blogs as an adjunct to their web site but with more up-to-date information. Links to presidential candidate blogs can be found at www.pcanswer.com/candidateblogs.htm.
One of the features I like most about blogger and some other blogging services is the ''blog this'' button that lets you quickly ad a web link to your page. That's how I keep my radio listeners up-to-date. When I find a news story on the web that I want to share with them, I simply click on the ''blog this'' button and the page is automatically added to my blog. It also gives me the option of adding an annotation.
Blogger is good but if you're willing to pay a few dollars a month, you can do even better with a new service called TypePad from Six Apart, a San Mateo, Calif., company that helped pioneer blogging with its popular Moveable Type service that's used by companies, nonprofits and several presidential candidates. Moveable Type requires that you operate your own web server but, TypePad is hosted by Six Apart on its own servers. Prices start at $4.95 a month with a 30-day free trial.
Unlike Blogger's fee service, TypePad doesn't display any advertising on member pages. It also allows you to upload photographs, and, if you choose, makes it possible for users to add their own comments to your blog, which means you can use your blog as a forum of sorts where you share your ideas and your visitors share theirs. TypePad's main strength is that it is easily customized. You have a great deal of control over the way it looks and operates. You can sign up at www.typepad.com.
TypePad's Plus service, at $8.95 a month, is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to share photo albums as part of their weblog. There are plenty of other services that allow you to post pictures on the web but, by adding pictures to a blog, this allows you to include them as part of your posts or as a general public photo album.
TypePad, can be used for both public and private blogs. Company co-founder Mena Trott expects that many users will want to create blogs for family members, friends, co-workers or perhaps fellow members of a club or team.
Both TypePad and Blogger will point others toward your blog if you care to list it.
Whether you create a private password-protected blog to share with a few intimates or care to be intimate with the entire world, a blog is a way for you to set up your own soapbox.
A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid