Saturday, December 10, 2005

Fear Not! A Basic Guide for Blogger Novices

I've fielded a few questions over the past couple of weeks, and seen others publically posted, about photos and counters, html and css, RSS and atom, and FeedBlitz and Bloglines and Bloglets (not sure what this last one is). At the other end of the spectrum, I've seen some stunning things done by people who have worked extensively with various blogging tools and add-ons, stuff I don't know how to do myself (yet). Me, I'm somewhere in the middle. I know most of the basic HTML tags, and although I have no clue about CSS (cascading style sheets), I've managed to mess around with templates a bit.

If you already know how to customize the heck out of our blog, change the background, add cool things to your sidebar and so on, feel free to skip to the end of this post. But if you are a total novice on Blogger, looking with despair on other blogs because you don't know how to do any of that stuff, then I have one simple message for you.

Don't be afraid. You can do this!

Maybe AOL Journals seemed easy to you, until Black Tuesday ruined everything. But was it easy for you when you first tried it? Did you know how to add a photo or a link, or make your text the size and color you wanted? You figured it out, though, didn't you? Eventually you learned to do the stuff that mattered to you, until it all seemed pretty easy.

(Or, if you never did learn to do photos and such, you at least managed to post your words. And maybe that was enough.)

Well, Blogger isn't much different from AOL Journals in terms of ease of use, and the learning curve involved. If you just want to type words, you can do that, and it will work. If you want to do more, you can - and it's not all that hard to learn the basics. Here's your first hint:

Use your toolbar. At the top of the window in which I'm typing this entry, I see a row of helpful buttons and drop-down menus. These are very similar to what you saw on AOL when creating an entry. From left to right, these are:

This one is pretty straightforward.
This is a little less buggy than the AOL one.
Bold bold
Italic italic
Text Color Text color. Click on the T button to bring up a color palate, just like on AOL.
LinkThe chain link-and-globe button is for links.
Align LeftMake your selected text flush left.
Align CenterCenter your text.
Align RightMake your text flush right.
Justify FullJustifed text.
Numbered ListMake a numbered list.
Bulleted ListMake a bulleted list.
BlockquoteMake a block quotation.
Check SpellingSpellchecker
Add ImageAdd pictures.
Remove Formatting from selectionEraser thing for removing formatting
Preview Preview your entry. (But don't expect it to be identical to what appears when you actually post it.)

(Note: the table above has been unusually buggy tonight. My apologies if it comes out a little weird.)

Are you curious about any of these buttons? Just try them. Nothing terrible will happen, and it's the best way to learn.

Chances are good that you're already familiar with most of these from other programs. Nevertheless, a couple of these deserve a little more explanation:

The Size button interacts with the default size setting of your template, and also with any size formatting already applied to that text. This can lead to unexpected results. Also, the text is often different sizes in different browsers at different screen resolutions.

If your pop-ups are blocked, the photo button probably won't work until you unblock it. One you do get the window, you can use "add another image" to upload up to five pictures at once. No matter what you do, these will always appear at the top of your entry, but that's no big deal. Select the picture, and then use Cut and Paste from your edit menu to put it where you want it.

Okay, that's the basic stuff you can do with entries themselves, without learning any HTML at all. For the rest of the blog, here's your second hint:

Explore. To customize your blog description, profile, etc., manage comments, and even learn a little bit about blog syndication - don't be afraid to explore all the tabs under "Settings." Here's one screen in particular you might find helpful:

If you decide to mess around with your template, which is on a separate tab of its own, be sure to save what you've already got as a text file first.

The same basic advice applies to Bloglines, FeedBlitz, counters, BlogExplosion, and anything else you care to try. The key is to look around on different screens, read what it says, try stuff, and refuse to be intimidated. This isn't computer programming, let alone brain surgery. If you don't understand some of the terms, look 'em up - or better yet, just follow directions and learn by doing.

Next time: quick and easy HTML. For now, here's one quick clue - the buttons I mentioned above still work in "Edit HTML" mode. The difference is that instead of the word going bold, you see the HTML tag for bold around the text in question.

The End of the Post:

1. I posted Part Five of Heirs of Mâvarin, Chapter One over on Messages from Mâvarin early this evening. For those who like this sort of thing, I think you'll find this is the sort of thing you like! (That's a paraphrase of Abraham Lincoln, in case you were wondering.)

2. I'm up to Page 208 in my final edit of Heirs of Mâvarin. I must be paying attention, because I've spent a good bit of time agonizing about sentences that stood intact for years, but suddenly aren't good enough any more. For example:

Old version, part of a speech by Shela to Jord:

"Now, however, it is necessary that we be honest with each other. Del has reached the point when the withholding of such knowledge is dangerous rather than protective."

Hand correction:
Crossed out "when," wrote in "at which"


Ran "point" through thesaurus. Considered "a time when," "a moment when," and "the stage at which."

Possible new versions:
"Now, however, it is necessary that we be honest with each other. In the present circumstance, Del's ignorance is becoming dangerous rather than protective."

"Now, however, it is necessary that we be honest with each other. Del's ignorance has become dangerous rather than protective."

"Now, however, it is necessary that we be honest with each other. In the present circumstance, Del’s ignorance is becoming more dangerous than protective."

I went with the last one.



alphawoman said...

How do you add music? i can't remember where I heard it on one expatriate's blog. It was very cool.

Shelly said...

Bloglet (no s) is another email blog reader. Only the blogger has to register the blogs and I discovered that when Blogger has the hiccoughs, the feed won't get read and Bloglet actually suspends the emails til the Blogger goes in and reactivates the blog on account. It was very annoying. That's why FeedBlitz sounds good: the blogger doesn't have to do anything.

The button table looks good. A few things. Tho it's used incorrectly, justification is really FULL justification. Left and right and center are other forms of justification.

Add pictures is for adding them via Blogger. If you want to add from elsewhere, ie Photobucket, you'll have to get the URL and copy it into the Edit Html option for the Create Entry window.

Mary, if you add music to come on automatically, I won't be able to visit your blog. I hate that. It interferes with the music or tv or whatever I'm listening to. I hate automatic audio on blogs.

Chris said...

Hi Karen! I've missed any posts of yours for three days because I'm not getting any notifications from bloglines when anyone has added to their blogs! Very frustrating, to say the least. Any other suggestions??

Georganna Hancock said...

An easier way to move photos after uploading them is to click on the "Compose" editing tab. Then you can just drag the photos to the locations you want. Advance planning helps, however, because the instructions that the uploader inserts depend on whether you select "left", "center", or "right" for positioning. If you have access to the server hosting your blog, you can ftp the images and call them into your blog post with the img tags.

Shelly said...

Re: what Georganna said: Sometimes, I've lost the graphics in compose. Depends on the quirks of one's browswer sometimes.

Also, you can easily go into the html to change the position. Just find the left, right, or center tag, delete it and type in what you want. I don't like to use Blogger for anything large because it resizes things too small. I much prefer setting my own photo size, then using Flickr (or you could use another photohost) to copy in the URL. Flickr lets you blog it in directly or to copy the URL.

BTW, with a photohost, you can always find your photo for reposting. With Blogger, I suppose you can get the code from an earlier post it appeared in, but if you deleted the post or the pic, near as I can tell, you have to upload all over again. I have no idea where those images really are.

Carly said...

Hey :)

You are wonderful. Thank you for the help, Ellipsis is now celebrating the season in style. You are a very cool friend. :)

Always, Me :)