People new to blogging need to understand the concept in its most general of forms before getting started. A blog is basically an online journal that is used to digitally record thoughts, ideas, opinions, and practically anything else that you want others to read. The actual blog itself is available in different styles, formats, and layouts, depending on the preference of the user.
The most popular independent blogging platform is Wordpress. Using Wordpress allows the blogger to host the blog on their own domain name and hosting provider of their choice. Hosting a blog on a domain name that you own and having administrative permissions to the hosting account allows for massive flexibility with very few restrictions. Self-hosted blogs allow access to a wide array of options including themes, plugins, widgets and third-party integration. If you are just getting started with blogging and want to get your feet wet you might try a remote hosted service like Google's Blogger — http://www.blogger.com You will not have all of the features and functionality of Wordpress, but you will be able to decide if you enjoy blogging enough to upgrade.
Themes are the actual infrastructure of a blog. They dictate the general layout, structural alignment of features and functions and items such as colors, font styles and navigation. When deciding on a blog theme you have both free and paid options with varying levels of complexity.
Themes can be very basic and simple with little or no bells and whistles such as the Dear Diary Theme — http://wp-themes.com/dear-diary/ or very complex with lots of options like the Bold News Theme — http://demo.woothemes.com/?name=boldnews
Plugins are basically software applications designed specifically for Wordpress that allow for an almost unlimited number of features and functionalities. They also come in both free and paid versions, and can help the blogger with such features as photo galleries, ecommerce, social media interaction, displaying videos and newsletters to name just a few.
Widgets are most often used in either the left or right sidebar or footer area of a blog. They allow for additional functionality and when used properly can enhance the visitor experience. Some of the things you can display with widgets are a newsletter optin form, calendar, product pictures, links to social media site like Twitter and Facebook, lists of pages and categories, latest posts and comments and a lot more.
Third-party integration is the ability of Wordpress to connect and interact with services such as shopping carts, merchant accounts, membership systems, etc.
Blogging can be as easy, difficult, simple or complex as you want it to be. If you are new to all this stuff by all means start with the easy, simple option and graduate over time as your knowledge and skills improve.
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(And if you'd like to blog for JohnstonPatch and cross-post it to your own blog site, contact Local Editor Joe Hutnak at email@example.com)