If you’re thinking of start a new blog, then as with any profession, you’re going to need the right collection of tools. In the case of this primarily computer-dominated occupation, your tools will be mainly of the software variety.
I consider this collection of applications to be a solid base to start with or even to work towards. Purists may argue that you only need your thoughts, Notepad, and a free blogging platform, but I’m going to push back and say that’s a bit too zen and not realistic enough. On the other hand, I probably haven’t even listed half of the apps that I use on a regular basis, nor do I need to confuse and clutter this article with that ridiculously long list. Over time, you’ll find you have additional needs and go searching for tools to meet them.
Yes, this list is geared mainly towards the Windows user, although many of the tools listed are available for Mac and Linux users. It also assumes that you already have a computer with at least Windows XP on it. Let’s get started.
This is what you can use to draft and revise your work-of-art blog posts before you upload it to your blogging platform. Hundreds of text editors have been available for many years now, and there are dozens of excellent ones [Wikipedia comparison article] that are free for the downloading. But before you click that Wikipedia link and your brain explodes, I’ll give you a solid recommendation – NoteTab Light. I like NoteTab because it has these simple to build macros called clips that, if used wisely, can save you a lot of time.
Alternatively, if you’re using a lot of different computers, a better idea might be to work in Google Docs (or other cloud-based office suite) so that your work is always available to you wherever you are.
Web Browsers and Extensions
I use dozens of browser extensions (also known as add-ons or plugins) in both Firefox and Chrome. Here are the blogging-related ones I use in Firefox, some of which are also available for Chrome:
- Screen Capture Elite – simple way to grab a screenshot image.
- Session Manager – prevents you from losing your session (or collection of tabs) should Firefox crash, or just to maintain different collections of tabs.
- Tab Mix Plus (TMP) – supercharges the tab functionality in Firefox.
- TooManyTabs – tool for managing your tab overload. This one isn’t absolutely necessary, especially if you’re practicing GTD or similar productivity methodology.
- BarTab – speeds up your Firefox load time and memory footprint by keeping most tabs ‘unloaded’ until clicked on and activated.
- ScribeFire – great extension that lets you blog from your browser without having to use the blogging platform’s interface. Full disclosure: I loved and used this extension for a long time, but I don’t use any more due to recurring security issues with the XML-RPC protocol in WordPress. However, if your web host is on top of patching and monitoring hacking attempts, this could still be a great tool for you.
Extensions for Web Development
If you are more technically-inclined and wish to tinker with your blog’s underlying code, themes and/or web server, etc., then here are just a few top-notch development extensions for Firefox:
- ColorZilla – easy to use extension to help you pick the right color for giving your blog the right look.
Every good post needs at least one image or photo to help paint a picture for the reader and to catch their eye to begin with. You’ll need an image editor to trim and/or resize your target for a perfect fit in your post. Paint.Net is a free and powerful editor that is easy to get started with. If you’re more familiar with the ins and outs of image manipulation and want something more powerful, but doesn’t have the price tag of a Photoshop, then get the open-source GIMP.
The file explorer that comes with Windows is ok, but once you experiment with any of the alternatives, you won’t go back. I use xplorer2 lite and love it, especially it’s dual-pane view and multiple tab functionality.
After you blog for a while, you’ll find that you’ll be repeating things often, perhaps linking to the same places repeatedly. You’ll get tired of typing those over and over. What you need is an advanced clipboard management tool, one that remembers more than just the last thing you copied, which is all the built-in Windows clipboard does. This was such a big deal for me, I even wrote a blog post on finding the right clipboard tool! I eventually settled on one called Ditto. One keyboard shortcut gets me a pop-up list of recently copied strings and 1 more click shows me a common list.
Unless you’re the Flash and have the discipline of Vulcan, you’ll find yourself with a mountain of things to do, little time in which to do it, and worst of all, you’ll find yourself procrastinating or goofing-off. Here are 2 tools to keep yourself in check. First is a simple web page with a countdown timer- set a number of minutes and it’ll alarm when that time is up. This is a great way to force yourself to work within a set amount of time.
The second is a combination web and desktop tool that you can use to track how much time you actually spend on tasks – Toggl. Click a button to start and stop a timer. By the way, this is really useful if you’re a contractor that needs to track and report your time carefully.
To Do List Manager
Regardless of whether you’re a blogger or not, your life is probably filled with dozens of things that you need to do. (If not, the rest of us mere mortals are sorely jealous.) An excellent way to organize this list and keep it in check is to use David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, and one of the top web-based tools to implement it in is Toodledo. Weird name, sure, but it’s ridiculously powerful and just the act of being able to check items off your list will keep you motivated. The free version is good enough for most people, but the premium version costs a mere $15/year.
Social Media Management
In the age of social networking, you’ll need to keep up with your various social platforms: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, et al. Two (2) tools that will help you tremendously to track, search, reply are Hootsuite (web-based) and TweetDeck (desktop and/or browser-based app).
No, I did not forget about this one crucial piece of software, your choice of blogging platform, the software that will be the foundation of your blog. The clear leader in this space is WordPress, and I’m not referring to WordPress.com which is a free blogging site a la Blogger. If you’re serious about blogging, then you need to get a web host and use a blogging/CMS platform like WordPress or Drupal or Joomla, etc.
Again, I’m not getting into the long list of possibilities here, but am only going to recommendWordPress. Its open-source nature, its popularity and the slew of plugins and themes makes it extremely powerful and very well supported to not just run a blog, but even eCommerce sites.
Last, but certainly not least, is web hosting. Since you’re not going to sign up for a free blog, then you need somewhere to install that brand-spanking-new WordPress that you just downloaded. This is another category of products that has a mind-numbing number of choices. I’ll give you 2 quick shared-host options: Site5 and HostGator.
Don’t get hung up on choosing tools. That’s one of the goals of this article – to help you quickly pick something and get moving on what’s important: writing. Once you start using any specific application/program, you’ll quickly learn what you like/dislike and what features you really need. Then you can start looking for the better tool. Good luck!