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Update aims for a friendlier Blogger

Beta includes new features such as tagging, friends-only posts, and templates designed to be easier to use.

Blogger, a self-publishing platform owned by Google, released on Tuesday a beta with features such as tagging, friends-only posts, and templates designed to be easier to use.

The site has long been a fixture of the self-publishing world. But now that blogging has become a genuine cultural phenomenon, Blogger has had some catching up to do.

The beta, or test version, has three major components:

• Blogs now feature labeling, which is more generically known as tagging. This means people can categorize their posts with keywords in the same manner of Flickr or Delicious.

• Posts can be "locked" and viewable only by readers whom the blog owner designates.

• Some drag-and-drop capabilities have been added to Blogger's template-editing functions--previously only controllable by a few yes/no buttons and HTML.

Only a limited number of existing Blogger users will be able to immediately download the beta, according to the company. Newly created accounts, however, will have access to beta features. So if existing Blogger users want to test-drive the beta, the company said, they can try it out with a new account that can later be merged into an existing one.

The makeover for Blogger--whose parent company Pyra Labs was purchased by Google in 2003--comes at a time when blog software options are not only expanding, but also changing to accommodate Web users who want to blog but don't have a full suite of HTML skills.

In October, San Francisco-based software company Six Apart plans to launch the full version of another called Vox. Six Apart, which also owns blogging platform TypePad and online journal software LiveJournal, is marketing Vox toward the growing sector of the population that's older than the crowd but nevertheless still wants an easy-to-use self-publishing service with social-networking features.

Microsoft, too, has jumped on the easier-blogging bandwagon with the beta of Windows Live Writer, a piece of desktop software that aims to make the entire blog-authoring process entirely HTML-free.