Easy jumping-off points
LiveJournal may or may not cost you. If you get an account code from a current member (members earn giveaway codes over time), you can sign up for free. The paid service costs $25 per year, $15 for six months, or $5 per month, though LiveJournal won't push you to upgrade from the free version. That's quite a bit cheaper than the $40 Radio UserLand and the soon-to-be $50 Blogger Pro. Once you register, LiveJournal creates a hosted site for you with this URL: http://www.livejournal.com/~username/. If you already have a site, you can embed your LiveJournal blog into your own server, but the process is complicated and requires some tricky coding. Blogger and Radio UserLand, on the other hand, let you simply FTP your files to your own server, a much easier method.
Once you sign up, you can edit your blog through either a Web-based interface, which you can access from any online computer, or a downloadable client. To edit online, log in and use links on the left side to navigate. Unfortunately, LiveJournal doesn't offer word-processor-like buttons for formatting, so you'll need HTML skills for color, font styles, alignment, and the like. This app features a spelling checker, as do Blogger and Radio UserLand, but LiveJournal's tool serves up lots of error messages.
If you want to download client software and work on your blog offline, you can choose from several options, depending on your platform. And if you're a developer, you can create your own client software for others to use. (Note: Due to variations in user-created client software, we reviewed only the Web-based version.)
LiveJournal offers five predesigned templates with 13 color themes. Frustratingly, there's no thumbnail preview, so you must blindly pick a template based on its name, click Save Changes, then check your live blog to see those changes. Plus, with template names such as Leprechaun and Bumblebee--and no text description--it's a pain to find one you like. Even then, none look as nice as Blogger's. Of course, if you don't mind coding, you can customize your templates.
Great community; unreliable app
If you're looking to make a personal connection, LiveJournal lists members randomly, by community, or by interest. You can also enable public comments on your blog, so readers can talk back. And you can use the comments to create a community, which is basically a discussion board that you moderate. LiveJournal's group effort makes up its support group, too. You'll find tech help through an online FAQ, and you can use Web-based submission forms to ask other members your tech-support questions. This grassroots effort serves up helpful answers, but LiveJournal remains unreliable, nonetheless. In our tests, pages were down more often than with any other tool.
All of these features come free, but you can upgrade to a paid account, which provides a few extras. Since LiveJournal doesn't push for paid accounts, the extras aren't really worth your money. Fork over the dough, and you'll get e-mail forwarded to your account (firstname.lastname@example.org), a shorter URL (http://username.livejournal.com),and text messages, and you can upload 10 user pictures for use on your blog or in communities. However, if you want to include images within your posts, you must reference the source file; LiveJournal offers no image hosting. LiveJournal's best extra, by far, is its wizard-based Poll Creator, which generates code for you to plop into your blog. Slick.
If you're bent on open-source blogging and its community spirit, LiveJournal tests your patience but delivers some satisfaction. However, Blogger remains the easiest, fastest, and most reliable blog tool around.