To get started, simply create an account at Blogger.com and choose whether to host your new blog or blogs at BlogSpot for free with ads or for $12 per year sans ads. You can also choose to FTP to your own Web host. (If you host through BlogSpot, you'll get a URL like this: http://username.blogspot.com/.) During setup, you choose a design template that determines your blog's look; you can change this setting as often as you like later. The 38 available templates range from simple to funky, with tantalizing names such as Fat Kitty, FlameBreather, Robot, and Rusted Geodesica. They're all much more attractive than the templates offered elsewhere. And if you're comfortable with HTML, you can customize your template or even create your own and save it using Blogger's Template tool.
When you're ready to update your blog, just sign on to Blogger.com and click your blog's name in the right-hand column. Blogger's straightforward, Web-based interface displays a blank form in the top half of your browser window, which is where you enter text. We love Blogger's search capability; it lets you find and edit old posts without clicking through your live blog. In addition, Blogger offers a small but crucial selection of HTML buttons that automatically insert bold, italic, and anchor tags, which create hyperlinks. That's nice, but if you want any additional formatting, you'll have to insert the HTML yourself. Radio UserLand, on the other hand, offers more formatting buttons, including those for text alignment, size, and color.
Blogging for posterity
Blogger provides easy tools that determine how many posts appear on your home page (by either number of days or number of posts), and you can set Blogger to archive posts weekly, monthly, or not at all. (An archive is where your older posts go when they're no longer on the main page.) Blogger's archiving is a bit flaky, though; it occasionally misplaces posts, and you must republish your archives in hopes of retrieving them. Blogger says it's producing a new archiving engine to fix this problem.
Blogger also lets you allow others to post to your blog, so you can use it to create a discussion board among family members or coworkers--a nice option. However, the service offers no public comments feature, so you must personally invite friends to contribute. Blogger sends them e-mail; they then create an account on the system so that they can access your blog. By contrast, Radio UserLand and LiveJournal support public comments on any entry, with no login necessary.
If you're devoted to your blog, seriously consider upgrading to Blogger Pro. The paid version ($35 per year for now, $50 per year once all the features are complete) adds some spectacular options and lets you publish up to 100MB of text per month. We love the tools that we tried, though not all were functional as of this writing. Our favorite? Pro lets you type an entry and set it to post automatically at a later date. That means you could write up seven days' worth of posts ahead of time--awesome if you're going on vacation or if you publish a site that depends on daily updates. You can even type an entry and save it for later as a draft or upload images--as long as you use your own Web host.
Despite these first-rate features, we found Blogger Pro occasionally unreliable. The new spelling checker, powered through SpellCheck.net, failed to load several times, and although Pro claims it can past-date entries, we couldn't get the tool to work; entries always posted with the present or future date. Still, Blogger Pro can only improve, and it's already worth the money. Get the standard or Pro version and get blogging.