Welcome to the world of blogging with Apache Roller! In this first chapter of the book, you will learn some useful facts about blogs, and how you can use them to become a part of the blogosphere—a term used in the blogging world to describe all the blogs on the Internet as one giant community. We'll also see several examples about promoting your business or professional activities, how you can get in touch with customers (or potential customers) for your business, express your ideas, hobbies, feelings, and share your experiences with other bloggers. This chapter is designed to illustrate the world of blogs to absolute newcomers. It is intended to foster thoughts and ideas as to how you might use and gain advantage from blogs. Of course, it may be that you are well aware of the blogosphere, and are itching to get your feet wet with Apache Roller straightaway. If so, please feel free to skip ahead to the next chapter which shows you how to install Roller. If, however, you want to learn more about blogs, we shall:
Learn about the basic concepts of a blog, and what you can do with it
See a comparison between blogs and Content Management Systems (CMS)
Learn how newsfeeds can help to promote your blog
Are you ready? Let's begin.
Before we start with some examples and exercises, let's review some common terms used in the blogging arena:
A website that shows text entries, or posts in a chronological order.
The terms blog and weblog are interchangeable; you can use a weblog as a personal diary, as a journal to record your activities during working hours, to share photos from your last family vacation, and so on.
An individual entry of a weblog.
In a post, you can include text, images, sounds and videos, links to other posts/websites, and so on. A post always includes the date and time of its creation.
A text-based response to a post.
Comments are very useful both for bloggers and blog visitors. They help to establish a two-way communication.
Newsfeed (or Feed)
A collection of the most recent posts and comments from a weblog in XML format (RSS or Atom feeds).
Newsfeeds can help you receive the latest information from any blog through RSS or Atom feeds. And you can offer these newsfeeds from your blog, too.
An application used to read one or more RSS or Atom feeds.
A feed reader gets you the latest information from one or more blogs, without even having to visit them!
These are just some of the terms we're going to use extensively in this chapter.
Maybe we should rephrase the title of this section as "What can't you do with a weblog?", as the only limit is your imagination! We're about to take a ride along the cyber-universe of the blogosphere, where you'll see some interesting ways in which people use blogs.
One of the most popular uses of weblogs is to express people's thoughts and feelings. When you publish a post, it shows up in your weblog's front page. But if you know how to take advantage of websites such as Google, Technorati, Dzone, Digg, and Slashdot, among others, what you write can be read by hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people!
In this little exercise, we're going to visit the Technorati website (http://www.technorati.com) and see how some people use their blogs to express their feelings and opinions about fiction writing.
Open your web browser and go to http://www.technorati.com. Then, type fiction writing in the search the blogosphere... field and hit Enter or click on the magnifying glass icon. After a few seconds, Technorati will show you the latest posts related to your search. Your screen will look like the following screenshot:
Move your mouse over the first post that appeared on the list (in the previous screenshot, the one named Guest blogger... Theo) and click on it. Technorati will show more information about the post, the blog, and the blogger, as shown in the following screenshot:
Click on the light blue link below the title of the post, and Technorati will take you to the blog where this post came from, that is http://shilohwalker.wordpress.com.
From there, you can continue browsing through the other posts in the blog, or you can return to Technorati and search for more blogs of the same subject, or change the search words to get information about other subjects.
Congratulations! You've just entered into the world of blogs and the blogosphere! Technorati is just one of several popular social bookmarking websites (or aggregators), where you can search for posts, which people like you publish on their websites. In the previous example, we saw that when you enter one or more search words, Technorati shows you a list of all the related posts and their corresponding blogs. There are millions of bloggers who use their own blogs to express their feelings and opinions. These blogs show up on Technorati, Digg, Dzone, del.icio.us, and many more social bookmarking websites, virtually covering every imaginable category or subject. With this book and Apache Roller, you're going to learn how to become one of them, and express your thoughts to the world through the blogosphere!
Blogs let you express your feelings and thoughts, but that's not the only thing they can do. The real power invested in them is that, people can not only read your posts but can also interact with you, by means of the comments they leave! Your blog can help you start a two-way conversation; for example, let's say you write something about your favorite Italian dish. A couple of hours later, your post shows up on Technorati and someone reads it. As a result, the reader leaves a comment saying that it's his/her favorite dish, too. Now you can respond to that comment and maybe post something else about other Italian dishes. Suddenly, you realize there are several readers commenting about your posts and you decide to use your blog as an Italian food community! As you can see, a blog is not only static text; it's a dynamic tool that people can use every day to get in touch with other people who share their same interests.
Open your web browser and go to http://blog.ibacsoft.com. There are several categories on this weblog such as all, roller, general, java, linux, and games as shown in the following screenshot (upper section of the screen):
Select the roller category to show only the posts related to it. Now scroll to the How I ended up with Apache Roller as my main blog post, and click on the Read More link, as in the following screenshot:
Next, scroll down to the Comments section and fill in the Name, E-Mail, and URL fields with your name, e-mail, and the URL of your website (if you have one) respectively. Select the Notify me by email of new comments checkbox and fill in the Your Comment: section with your comment. You can use the following screenshot as a guide:
To send the comment, scroll down to the textbox below the Please answer this simple math question text and type the correct answer to validate your comment, as in the following screenshot:
Nowadays people use validators very frequently on websites where anyone can leave comments, as in the above example. There are several types of validators, but the basic operation is the same—they help us to avoid spam attacks caused by robots, as they can't answer to the validation question like an ordinary user would.
Click on the Post button to send your comment. If your answer is correct, Roller will take you back to the same post and will show your new comment below it, along with your name, the date and time you sent it, and the Your comment has been accepted message as shown in the next screenshot:
In the previous exercise, we saw how to leave a comment on a weblog. This is one of the most powerful uses of blogs—someone posts about a subject you're interested in, then you leave a comment on that post, and later the owner of that post answers you back with another comment. If you leave your e-mail, both can establish a two-way communication! With Apache Roller and this book, you'll learn how to make blogs and interact with other blog owners in the ever-expanding blogosphere universe.
At the time of writing this book, a lot of companies are already using blogs to promote their products and services. There are employees from several companies who use internal blogs to communicate with other employees, and external blogs to communicate with clients, potential clients, and anyone who's interested in their professional activities, or even their hobbies. The beauty of it is that you can mix posts of your activities at work, along with posts of your hobbies and personal interests. Moreover, if someone has the same hobby as yours, he/she will be attracted to your blog. He/She will also see the other posts you have, including any promotional message about your professional activities, the company you work in, or your small business. The possibilities with this type of "free advertising" are endless.
In this exercise, we'll visit the Microsoft Community Blogs website, where you can see what Microsoft employees are writing in their blogs.
Type http://www.microsoft.com/communities/blogs in the address bar of your web browser. Next, the Microsoft Community Blogs page will appear:
Scroll down the page until you see a search box and a list of blogs with recent posts:
Type open source in the Keywords (Optional) field inside Search Microsoft Community Blogs and click on the Go button. After a few seconds, you will see a list of all the blogs related to the search word(s) you typed:
Scroll down the list until you find the Port 25: Open Source Community at Microsoft blog, as shown in the following screenshot:
If you can't find it in the list, you can type the following URL: http://port25.technet.com. Next, the Port 25 home page will appear, as shown in the next screenshot (it's very likely that your screen will have a different post on the front page, as this blog changes almost everyday):
In this last exercise, you saw how Microsoft is making use of blogs so that its employees can communicate the latest news about Microsoft's posture on open source to the world. Port 25 is a weblog dedicated to the open source community at Microsoft. Here you'll find discussions and posts on open source projects that Microsoft is collaborating with, or intends to collaborate with. However, Port 25 is just one little piece of the vast universe of employee blogs floating around. Some blogs are hosted on Microsoft websites, and others are hosted on employees' personal sites. All in all, you'll find a lot of interesting things about Microsoft and also about its employees' hobbies, personal experiences, and thoughts in general. This is a trend that's expanding through a lot of big companies nowadays.
As we saw in previous exercises, blogs are a very powerful way to communicate with other people. That's the reason why big companies such as Microsoft let their employees use blogs to communicate within the company's premises (internal blogs) or with the rest of the world (external or personal blogs). For the open source community, blogs are the best tool to share their experiences and expertise on using open source software such as Linux, Apache Roller, WordPress, the Apache Web server, Tomcat, MySQL, PHP, and Java Web applications, and much more. For example, if you are working on an open source application, you can invite other fellow programmers and web designers through your blog to collaborate with you. With Apache Roller, you can create a multiuser weblog where several users can post messages (including yourself), and keep up-to-date on every aspect of the software you are developing. Then, you can release downloads so that other people can test your software and post comments on your blog about it. And all of this without even having to move away from your PC!
I must say that one of the main reasons I decided to write a book about Apache Roller is the fact that the Apache Software Foundation converted Roller into an official Apache project in March 2007. Along with that, Roller is used by companies such as Sun, IBM, the N.C. State University, and the JRoller Java blogging community. Those facts definitely show that Roller is one of the best open source blogging solutions for personal use, and also for small or big communities, undoubtedly. In the next subsection, we'll see several examples of blogs and blog communities that use Apache Roller.
This site hosts the Roller project announcements blog; it also hosts Dave Johnson's personal weblog. Dave is the original creator of Roller. If you go to http://www.rollerweblogger.org, you will see the latest news about Apache Roller development:
From here, you can follow the links to the http://apache.roller.org website, where you can download Apache Roller. There's also a link to Dave Johnson's personal weblog, and several links to the downloads, the Roller Wiki, the mailing lists, and an issue tracker for developers.
The http://blogs.sun.com site hosts several thousand blogs for Sun employees. In this site, you'll find everything about Sun and its employees, what projects are they working on, a video blog from Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, Inc., and a lot of Java talk. You can even leave comments on some of the blogs. Imagine talking directly to the CEO of one of the most important companies in the computing industry! Who knows, maybe he could get you an exciting job!
This is the U.S. government blog site (http://blog.usa.gov). The bloggers are federal employees who work in the Office of Citizen Services and Communications at the U.S. General Services Administration. Here, you'll find useful information about services provided by the government of the United States.
In this site (http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/), you'll find a lot of resources for software developers and IT professionals. You can also create an account and get involved in the community, sharing your IT knowledge. This would be a perfect place to create the next killer application, don't you think?
JRoller (http://www.jroller.com) is a community of webloggers who share their knowledge and expertise about Java-related technologies. If you're into Java programming, this is a good resource to learn all you can!
When I started looking for open source software to create a blog, there were a lot of choices. I focused on several applications that were considered Content Management Systems (or CMS). At first glance, I thought it was just another name for blog applications, but when I downloaded and installed Joomla!®, it was clear that a CMS is more than a blog. In fact, if you want to use a CMS as a blog, it's very likely you'll need to download additional modules, because a CMS can do a lot of things besides blogging. For example, you can have an integrated forum, the news at the front page does not necessarily have a chronological order, some CMS systems have a chat and a photo gallery, and a lot of other things that were very confusing for me. All I wanted was, a blog where I could start writing stuff about computers, programming languages, and tutorials to share with other bloggers, and who knows, maybe one day start writing the next fiction bestseller!
In most cases, a blog is considered a CMS because it's used to manage content in a website. However, in my humble opinion, a blog definitely is not a CMS. With a CMS, you can do a lot more than post messages in a chronological order and receive comments. That beats one of the main purposes of a blog—to express yourself in a friendly environment, like a personal diary. Sure, you can use a CMS as a blog, but you'll have to learn how to manage its user interface and maybe add a few extra modules or plugins. With a weblog server like Apache Roller, you're ready to go! In later chapters, we'll talk about templates and how to modify the appearance of your blog's pages by adding video, audio, and images. You'll see how easy it is to manage your Apache Roller server.
Thanks to newsfeeds, you can make your blog's posts available for people to read through Technorati, Digg, del.icio.us, and all the other social bookmarking sites or aggregators. Basically, you first need to register on the aggregator site, then configure your weblog to ping the social bookmarking site. After that, each time you post on your blog, it will ping Technorati, Digg, DZone, and so on, and the aggregator will pick up the latest content from your blog by means of your RSS feed.
This is basically the same process for all social bookmarking sites and aggregators. So, as you can see, the URL feed (or newsfeed) of your blog helps you to promote your blog on the blogosphere!
In short, a newsfeed (or feed) is a summary of the latest posts and comments of your blog in XML. The two formats used by Roller, and by almost every other weblog application and aggregator, are RSS and Atom. The following table shows these two formats—a brief description and an URL example of each one.
Example URL used by Roller
A collection of several related feed formats used to publish information (blog entries, audio, video, podcasts) in a standard format. The most recent standard is RSS 2.0.
The Atom Syndication Format is a newer standard for newsfeeds, intended to replace RSS.
At the time of this writing, both formats are widely used. Atom can be considered as the future of newsfeeds, but only time will prove it. In the meantime, we can use both of them.
When you subscribe to Technorati and Digg, every time you publish a post, your blog sends a ping, telling Technorati and Digg to check your most recent posts and to include them in their lists by means of an RSS or Atom feed. Then, visitors from Technorati and Digg go to your blog and, if they find it interesting, can subscribe to your RSS or Atom feeds. The following exercise will show you the process of subscribing to a newsfeed.
In this exercise, you'll visit the Apache rollerweblogger.org site and subscribe to its Atom newsfeed. The web browser used in this exercise is Mozilla Firefox 3.0.4. You can download it for free from http://www.mozilla.com. You can use other web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Safari, but then the steps described in this exercise could be slightly different.
Open your web browser and go to http://rollerweblogger.org. Select the button, located to the right of the address bar, as shown in the following screenshot:
Select Subscribe to 'Recent Entries (Atom)' from the pop-up list. Next, you will see a Subscribe to this feed using Live Bookmarks message, along with a list of the most recent entries from the weblog:
Click on the Subscribe Now button, and the Add Live Bookmark dialog will appear. Click on the Add button of this dialog box to finish the subscription process. The Atom feed will be added to your list of live bookmarks in Mozilla Firefox.
In the previous exercise, you learned how anyone can subscribe to a newsfeed, including newsfeeds from your blog. The process is the same for RSS and Atom newsfeeds. Mozilla Firefox is just one of the many available newsfeed readers. In fact, if you didn't notice in step 2 of the previous exercise, there are five options to choose from when subscribing to a newsfeed in Mozilla Firefox:
If you click on the Live Bookmarks pop-up listbox, you can select another newsfeed reader from the list such as Bloglines, My Yahoo, or Google, or even choose a different desktop application such as Ecto, MarsEdit, or Windows Live Writer depending on which operating system you are working on.
Thanks to newsfeeds and services such as Technorati, Digg, DZone, and del.icio.us, your blog can be followed by thousands, even millions of people!
In this exercise, you'll create an account with Bloglines—a web-based newsfeed reader. You can use Bloglines from Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, and all the other popular web browsers.
Open your web browser and go to http://www.bloglines.com. In the Register For Your Free Account green box, type your EMAIL, a PASSWORD, and CONFIRM PASSWORD as shown in the following screenshot:
The Bloglines' main screen will appear next. In the right pane, there will be a message stating that you haven't confirmed your account yet. Go to your e-mail account (the one that you used to sign up in Bloglines) and look for the "Bloglines Validation Email". Follow the link inside that e-mail message to confirm your Bloglines account. A new web browser window will open up to tell you that your e-mail address was successfully validated. Now you can close that window and return to the Bloglines main screen.
Select the Bloglines | News link on the left pane. The most recent posts about Bloglines will show up on the right pane, as shown in the following screenshot:
To add a new RSS/Atom feed, open a new web browser window and go to http://www.technorati.com. Right-click on the Subscribe link on the right part of the screen, and select Copy Link Location on the pop-up menu, as shown:
Right-click on the Blog or Feed URL text box in the right pane, and select Paste from the pop-up menu:
Now click on the Subscribe button to the right of the Blog or Feed URL textbox to subscribe to the Technorati newsfeed. The right pane will change to show the available feeds from the URL you entered. Scroll down the right pane until you see the Subscribe button, and click on it to finish the subscription process.
After a few seconds, the Technorati Front Page feed will appear on the left pane, below the Bloglines | News feed, showing the number of unread items:
That pretty much covers the basic procedure for using a newsfeed reader. In Mozilla Firefox, you can select three web-based newsreaders—Bloglines, My Yahoo, and Google Reader. You need to register for a free account with any of these readers before you can start adding feeds from different sources. However, once you start using them, you'll see all the power that newsfeeds can bring to bloggers. The best of all is that, when you finish reading this book, your blog will be ready to take advantage of newsfeeds and feed readers, so that people from all over the world can see your posts!
How would you define a weblog?
a. A group of web pages.
b. A collection of newsfeeds
c. A simple website for writing about anything you like.
In which of the following situations would you use a weblog?
a. Promote your products online.
b. Write a horror novel.
c. Meet people.
d. All of the above.
How would you find out if your blog shows up on Technorati?
a. Looking into the comments section of your blog, to see if anyone has made a comment.
b. Searching in the Technorati website.
c. Creating a subscription to the Technorati Front Page feed, and checking all recent posts to see if there's one from your blog.
What would be the best way to promote your blog?
a. Registering with Technorati, Digg, and all the popular aggregators or social bookmarking sites.
b. Sending e-mails to all your friends and colleagues, to tell them you have a new blog!
c. Both a and b.
Can you use a newsfeed to communicate with other bloggers?
a. No, because you can't establish a two-way communication.
b. Yes, because in a way you read posts from another blogger, and then you can go to his/her blog and leave comments.
Now that you have an account in Bloglines, use it to start your own newsfeeds collection. You can begin with a Google search for your favorite hobbies, local news, and so on. Try subscribing to several newsfeeds from different blogs or social bookmarking sites such as Digg, DZone, or anything of your interest. Explore all of the settings available in Bloglines (that is, open posts in the same window or in a new one, display entire posts or just a summary, and so on) until you feel comfortable using it.
Try to create accounts on the other two web-based feed readers (Google Reader and My Yahoo), and compare features between them and Bloglines.
In this chapter, we learned about weblogs, and how they can be used to create a world presence through the blogosphere. We saw the basic difference between a blog and a CMS, and why a blogging system like Roller can't be considered a full-fledged CMS. The chapter also covered the basics about newsfeeds and the important role they play for blogs. You worked with the Mozilla Firefox integrated newsfeed reader and Bloglines—a popular web-based feed reader. We also saw several live websites that use Apache Roller as their blog server.
Specifically, we covered:
The basic concepts about weblogs.
What you can do with a weblog—express your feelings to the world, get in touch with other people, promote your business or professional activities, share experiences with other users, and who is using Apache Roller.
A brief comparison between a blog and a CMS. What can you do with a CMS, and the reason why a blog can't be considered a fully-fledged CMS.
What are newsfeeds and how are they used in conjunction with blogs to spread information on the blogosphere.
This is just an introduction to the world of blogs and the blogosphere. In the next two chapters, you will learn to install Apache Roller, along with the software required to run it on Windows and Linux environments.
So, get ready and grab your hard hat, because you're about to start constructing your very own Apache Roller blog server!