From time to time I’ve gotten a few inquiries as to what platform my blog is, what tools do I use, etc. After a recent trip to Redmond and visiting with the Live Writer team, I got another inquiry while talking with a customer. I thought I’d just spit out my thoughts.
First, my platform. Yes there are many platforms out there for blogging. Probably the most popular are Wordpress and Blogspot. I think those are popular because you can get up and running for free and have it hosted. My wife and her friends mostly use Blogspot for that reason. Only a little customization is allowed, but skilled people can get creative. For us propeller heads though, we don’t like hosted solutions :-). I started a long while back on the .TEXT platform. When Scott Watermasysk had started working with Telligent and Community Server, the .TEXT project was at a bit of a stand-still for growth. A few picked up the project source code, forked it and created Subtext, which is the platform I now use. Subtext has a good developer ecosystem around it and led by Phil Haack, there are constant improvements being discussed on the developer list. It has served me well since I made the move and I’ve contributed features/fixes myself to make it better for me to use! I’ve tinkered with Graffiti CMS, but for now, Subtext is my comfort zone and has given me no reason to leave. There are a few things in the overall engine that are a bit dated, but heck the team is all volunteers and open source, so I’m not holding that against anyone.
As for tools, I’ve come to love Windows Live Writer. Honestly, if you are a blogger and don’t use Writer, I have to ask why. Seriously…even if you are the casual blogger. I’ve heard my wife’s friends complain about formatting pictures in Blogspot…then they see Writer and love it! When I first started blogging I would use the web site and my blog engine. But quite honestly that is limiting to very basic posting information. It doesn’t make authoring easy. I initially started using BlogJet in the early days. Honestly, it’s a good tool and I happily paid for it. Probably my only reason for switching to Live Writer was because of the programming model. As a developer I wanted to be able to customize it and take advantage of other customizations from others. I remember getting word that Live Writer was available internally. I took a look at it.
The moment I downloaded it and installed it I knew we were going to be on to something. But there were glaring holes. That being said, I was a responsible beta user and gave feedback…very blunt feedback. I remember within a week being invited on a phone call with the team to help them understand my feedback. It was GREAT! I told them that as-is they shouldn’t release…there were too many holes and releasing without a few key features would be detrimental to future releases. Quickly I was introduced to some APIs and we talked through certain scenarios. A few we agreed at the time couldn’t be core, and I volunteered some time to look at building some plugins with their help. That was the birth of a few of my tools (Tag4Writer and Flickr4Writer). Tag4Writer was a stop-gap until the Tags feature could get into the next release (which the functionality has and much better). Flickr4Writer was a great learning experience in client development as well as working with a great team. I’ve constantly stayed close to the feedback loop with the team to make it a better product. To date, there is no better authoring product for me than Live Writer.
That being said, here’s my complete tools for blogging:
- Subtext – my blog engine
- Windows Live Writer (WLW) – authoring tool
- Flickr4Writer – a plugin for WLW that enables browsing and insertion of pictures from Flickr and also has BlogThis support
- S3Browser - a plugin that enables insertion/upload of bits to Amazon S3 storage. I wrote this along with tremendous help from Aaron Lerch. This enables me to keep my images/files stored on a reliable network and reduce overall bandwidth usage.
- Leo Vildosa’s Code Snippet plugin – another plugin for WLW which enables me to insert formatted code snippets. I know people have their favorites (and there are a lot of them) – this one is mine.
- Dynamic Templates – a WLW plugin from one of the developers of Writer that enables you to provide your own “macros” within the plugin, helpful in a lot of cases
- Creative Commons footer – a WLW plugin to append a Creative Commons note to every post without having to think about it.
- Twitter Notify plugin: a WLW plugin to automatically update Twitter after posting
- Templates: every blog should be as unique as you can make it. Some of us are more skilled in design than others. I’m not one of them. I get my inspiration from others. Wordpress has the best ecosystem of templates…learn from them. There are a few sites that advertise templates like wpSnap.com and others. Also look at SmashingMagazine.com always, they have some great stuff they find/provide with liberal licensing.
As you can see, my tools completely revolve around Live Writer. There is only one instance where I can’t use it to do what I need: Enclosures – and I’ve been providing the team feedback around this feature to hopefully get it into their next release.
For Mac Users: No, there isn’t a version of Writer for Mac :-(. I’ve heard a lot of people on Mac say they keep a Windows virtual image around just for using Live Writer…wow. There are some other tools (ecto and Mars Edit) but I haven’t used them extensively to know if they are good or not. I know they don’t provide the suite of tools that I use so I don’t even bother exploring for now.
I’ve made a lot of investment in making Writer+Subtext an easy authoring setup for me and it has paid off in productivity savings. Hopefully you have a set of tools on your own as well that keep you productive!