Photo by Judy Baxter
There are a confusing amount of options for the novice, but in this step-by-step guide the author’s choice of best services are showcased along with their strengths. If you can use email and a word processor, you know more than enough about computers to blog. In fact, you only really need step two…
The first thing you’ll need is a way to keep in touch with friends and family while you’re on the road. If your current email provider isn’t going to be good to you while you’re away, I’d recommend switching to Google’s gmail because of its fast searching, large amounts of space and reliability of access. Promote your new email address early, but you can still check your old accounts in gmail! You don’t have to visit several sites to read your mail. Either set up forwarding to your new address in your old email client or use Gmail’s tools for collecting them.
Once you are set up with an account you can have an infinite number of email address by adding “+”. For example, if my email address is “firstname.lastname@example.org” I can also have “email@example.com” without changing any settings. This can help you quickly identify where an email is coming from. You can also set up filters to keep your blog email separate from your primary email address.
Advanced tip: When visiting the site use https://gmail.com or https://mail.google.com. This will encrypt your login details as well as the content of your emails.
2. Blog platform
Now we need somewhere to write. WordPress.com is a free blogging platform that’s easy to use and has a very good set of features. If you ever want to move to another blogging platform it’s easy to export all your posts and comments.
Go to WordPress.com and click “sign up”. Add a username, password and your email address. Choose name of blog, confirm the URL and language ,then decide whether to allow search engines to find and index your blog. You want the URL to be memorable and easy to write down. Keep it simple!
Now, you’re in! The dashboard in front of you has everything you need to start writing. There are three pre-set examples that you’ll want to change: a post, a comment and a page. These examples allow you to see what’s what in your new blog world. You can edit or delete these then start making your own stuff – just click “write”. Easy.
If you have a digital camera you’ll want a place to showcase your photos. There’s none better than flickr.com . Flickr has a great community feel and lots of ways to share your photos. On the technical side, there’s lots of magic which makes it easy to distribute your photos to your blog and other websites.
Flickr is owned by Yahoo, so if you have a Yahoo address you can sign up with that, otherwise click “sign up” and go for it. Assuming you don’t have a laptop with you, you’ll be plugging your digital camera into a PC at an internet cafe. Do that, and then in Flickr, click “upload”. You’ll be able to browse to your camera, select the photos you want to upload, then name them and add other information if you wish.
You can choose to make your photos public or private, with different settings for friends and family. Use the “private” setting for uploading photos of receipts and serial numbers in case they’re needed for insurance claims.
Flickr is free for up to three albums and 100mb of uploaded images a month. Have a play with the free version first — shrink your photos before uploading — then consider whether US$25 a year is a worthwhile investment for a virtually unlimited amount of space.
Tip: If you’re taking a laptop with you, download one of the uploading tools. It’ll make your life a lot easier.
4. Making WordPress and Flickr play together
Now that you have a WordPress and a Flickr account we get to make them play together. If you want to use a photo in your blog post then start with Flickr. Choose a picture, click “download” and choose a size then select the code at the bottom of the page. Copy and paste into your WordPress.com writing panel and you’re away.
You can also show all your photos automatically. Take note of your Flickr RSS feed (in the browser’s address bar or near the bottom of your profile page) then head back to your WordPress.com administration panels. Click “presentation > widgets” then find the box named “Flickr” at the bottom of the page and drag it into the light-blue rectangular box. Click the icon to the right and follow the instructions there.
5. Styling sidebars
Since we’ve started with sidebar widgets let’s press on. Widgets allow you to quickly and easily change the look of your sidebar without using any code at all. Just to make sure we’re all in the same place, open your WordPress.com administration panels and click “presentation > widgets”. See something you like at the bottom of the page? A “search” bar perhaps? Just grab it with the mouse and drag it into the horizontal box. Now, believe me, there’s a search box in your sidebar. Play around with different looks and different tools until you’re happy with it. You can edit a widget’s text by clicking the page icon to the right of the widget’s name. Make sure you hit “save changes” before leaving the administration panel.
6. Styling the page
You have to admit that it’s important to get the look right. In WordPress the look of the site is known as the “theme”, so let’s go choose one. Also under “presentation” you’ll find the “themes” page. You can browse through the dozens of available themes, simply clicking them to completely change the look of your blog! The “edit CSS” tab will allow you to further customise things, but you’d be wise to save a copy of the orginal before making any changes. You might be happy with words and pictures, but if you want to go a step or so further, the next two sections look at how to add video and audio to your new blog.
7. Adding video
Editing video takes a heap of time. Time that, perhaps, could be better spent actually travelling! But when you take the time to do it, you want to share it with everyone. The most popular video sharing site is undoubtably youtube.com but if you don’t want to create yet another username and password you can also use google video to similar effect.
Having got an account with either service, click “upload” and browse to your video. Most video types are acceptable, so you can upload straight off your camera if you like. (Both services use background encoding to change the type of file it stores so, unlike Flickr, you can’t use these services to backup your videos.)
To add a video to your WordPress blog you have to take some code from the video site and put it in your “write” panel. The “embed” option is the one you want. Simply copy and paste the code you’re given. Of course, you can do this for other people’s videos too.
8. Adding audio
Audio, in WordPress.com’s free service at least, is not quite as easy as video. However, there are two very respectable options:
Option one. If you have access to upload mp3 files anywhere — maybe another family member’s site — you can add a player on your page using the following tag:
Option two. If you want to keep everything inside WordPress, then upgrade to one of their “pay” options. This will allow you to upload mp3 files within the system itself.
9. Pushing it Further
RSS is an important emerging medium for distributing your posts. Have a look at your “Options > Reading” panel in WordPress and make sure it looks good to you. I’d recommend “full” feeds with at least 10 posts visible. Although this makes it easier for copyright thieves to take your posts, it means travelers who read posts offline can actually see your post. If most of your readers have constant internet access or copyright theft is a big concern, then shorter feeds are your cup of tea. A useful sevice is feedburner.com which allows you to modify your RSS feed and add all sorts of services — like an automatic email containing each new post. Even if your family don’t understand RSS readers, they probably understand email.
10. Keeping passwords safe
With all these accounts there are heaps of passwords to remember. You did use a different password for each service, right? If not you definitely should go back and change them. All computers are liable to security issues, but internet cafes in some places are especially likely to have nasties on them. A common attack is called “key-logging” which records every button you press on the keyboard. Writing in your password on an infected system is like giving away the keys to your house. And if you have just one key to everything you own…
There are ways to securely store and use different passwords. This is a boon since, in reality, who can remember them all?! Keepass (and KeepassX for Macintosh) is a reliable tool which can also be run from a USB stick. Keepass’s copy and paste eliminates keylogging and deletes the copied item from the computer after a user-set time (set it up for 10 or 15 seconds). Not foolproof, but a step in the right direction.
I told you you only needed step two, but ten steps later and you’re ready to rock and roll in style. Now I guess it’s time to get out of the internet cafe and actually do something worth recording.
This article was updated on 22 January 2008.