Blogger, the popular free blogging service owned by Google, hasn't changed much since its major redesign some two years ago. However, Google's preview release of the next-generation Blogger beta offers key new features that include tagging, drag-and-drop page editing, and the ability to make your blog private.

Unfortunately, without a beta-testing invitation from Google, most current Blogger users won't be able to use the Blogger beta updates for their existing blogs. Instead, you'll have to create a new account at to use the new features, and Blogger will allow you to merge the changes with your old-school blog later.

Blogger beta
Blogger beta allows you to build a page template by dragging and dropping elements, such as link lists and feeds.

Blogger beta looks and works just like the existing Blogger service, which is good but not as full-featured as TypePad, which has more layout templates and easier photo uploading. However, Blogger beta introduces features that, when final, should make Blogger much more convenient to use.

Using Blogger beta, no longer must you either pick from among Blogger's 31 layout templates or hand-code your own layout tweaks. Blogger beta lets you customize your blog's layout by dragging and dropping elements on the page. During our tests, Blogger beta offered 16 prebuilt templates, most with multiple versions in varying colors. The WSIWYG palette of font colors is a no-brainer, and it's cool that you can click Shuffle Blog Colors to preview variants of the layout with slightly different color themes. It's also easier to insert lists of links, feeds, JavaScript or HTML coding, and other elements.

Blogger beta
You don't have to broadcast your blog to the world. Blogger beta lets you make your blog private so that only select other Blogger users can read it.

The tabbed interface of Blogger beta echoes the current version of Blogger. Unfortunately, a giant Delete button still makes it too easy to wipe out all of your content. On a positive note, the Settings tab gets a new Permissions section that lets you choose who reads your blog, a feature enabled already by TypePad. You can limit your Blogger beta readership to the not-so-exclusive club of millions of other Blogger users or list specific people to invite into your trusted circle. This is great if you're looking to build a walled garden of content--if you're looking to track a confidential project with colleagues, say, or you just want to kvetch through your blog about topics that mom and dad might not want to know. Unfortunately, whoever receives your e-mail invitation will have to sign up with their own Blogger account before getting to read your secrets.

If you're having a hard time reaching passionate readers for your blog about, say, 1930s movie posters, Blogger beta lets you immediately tag your posts with topics to help make your blog easier for niche audiences and search engines to find. Even TypePad needs to make tagging easier. And when you publish a post, Blogger beta doesn't make you wait for an "in progress" message. Another welcome addition to Blogger beta is its support for RSS 2.0 and Atom 1.0.

From what we've seen of Blogger beta, we still find that TypePad offers a wider array of features (many of which aren't free but are worth their price in convenience) in addition to excellent e-mail tech support. However, this could change if Google continues to roll out additions to Blogger. We hope that the updates in store for Blogger will bring the service up-to-date soon, helping to automate the blogging process so that Blogger's millions of users might be able to spend more time writing and less time figuring out the tools.