Blogging is harder than people think. I'm not necessarily talking about creating the topics or trying to say something interesting, but rather getting it all together in one place and knowing what to do next just isn't all that easy. Maybe I should rephrase that and say so far trying to figure out all the technology that has been involved with this site to start a blog has been more of a challenge that what I would have expected given the popularity of this medium.
1. Creating an account. Most obviously the first step in that you have to build a relationship with a service provider. Unbelievably this actually took me several weeks. Why? I had a typo in my email address when I typed it into the contact information field. As a result I never got the email that told me the account was created with the randomly generated password. The real problem here was that there wasn't a screen confirming what it was that I typed in. Plus the field wasn't long enough to show my entire email address without some of the characters scrolling off. As a result I didn't notice the stray character that had been inserted.
2. Now what? Luckily I have some cryptic instructions provided internally to the steps that I need to do to create my personal blogging space here, but you know what, they still left me a little hanging. The instructions gave me links to do the important things like changing my password and linking me off to the main forums. Both of which were helpful, but didn't quite tell me how to actually create my first post etc.
3. Oh, I have to go to my personal URL for my blog! So after some time wandering around the forums, trying to find some logical entry point into creating a new post, I finally decided to type in the url for my home page and see what happens. Low and behold, I'm now staring at a completely blank page.
4. But how do I post? I can hear the comments now, someone saying “you log in stupid!” Come on, it's not really that obvious. After all you can log in to other people's websites/blogs but that's really only so the blog can remember you. Is it really that obvious that you use the same log in entry as everyone else to administer your site. Okay it didn't take me all that long to try it out...
5. A whole bunch of tabs. So now I'm looking at some tabs, Post, Articles, Feedback, Links, Stats, Options. Some make sense, but what's the difference between an Article and Post? What does Link do, what does any of the tabs really do. Remember now my blog is completely empty so there's nothing here yet.
6. Click on post and find "new post" up in the left hand corner. Okay so that's what I must do.
7. Type along merrily writing my first post.
8. Cool there's a spell check option. Click on that, oops I've got to go somewhere else to install some other component so that I can correct all of my misspellings. Hmm, will clicking on that actually make me lose what I've been typing for the past hour? So let's cross that off for now, I'm not going to risk losing what I typed.
9. Two posts down, so now I realize that some of these other tools that people talk about are really helpful -- e.g. sending an email to create my posting. Guess I'm going to have to Google that after I'm done here. The main issue is that it's just a bit limiting typing into this window and having to be online at this site when I'm writing this email.
Okay now that I'm done with the criticism, here's what I would have liked to see, hopefully some other blogging site actually does this really well. I'm sure that AOL probably does it pretty well especially given their focus, but I'm not confident to put money on it or spend the time to sign up for an AOL account to find out.
1. Sign up at a website. Get verified in real time, email delivery of password is fine, but why not give me the benefit of the doubt for at least a little while (don't let me actively post, but let me save things and get setup). When I'm ready to turn my blog on live to the real world, then require me to enter in the password.
2. Once I've created the account, ask me what it is that I want to do. I could imagine just a simple page that has a set of links like. Go to the technical forums to ask questions about X, Y and Z Setup your personal blog (start blogging now!) Learn more about how to use this site effectively Search for content
3. Notice that it's about setting and starting to blog. Once you click that link, why not give me a link to a short primer on what the tools are and what I might want to do before I start to blog. There would probably be other links to setting up a style for your blog, how you want it to look etc. (I assume it's under options here, but haven't really looked at it). Also there should be a link for “create your first post” prominently displayed on the page so that you can't miss it.
4. If there are helpful tools to like spell checking, email posting, etc. provide me links to them up front so I don't have to search or wait until I click the button to find out that I need to go somewhere else to install them.
What's the point of this whole post anyhow? If the experience I had is like a lot of other people then there are probably a whole host of people who want to blog but either have gotten lost by the simple experience of setting up the blog or realize that there's still some barrier to entry that puts them off.
To me a blog should be as simple as taking a piece of paper and tacking it up to a physical bulletin board. (I'm sure it becomes easier once you have the right tools, but it's finding the tools and getting them initially set up that take the time).
I'm unusual in some respects in that I have my own domain, maybe I'll link to it once I feel comfortable driving traffic to my family's website from relative strangers :-). I'd love to be hosting my blog from my own domain, but believe me I don't even know where to begin to even think about making that a possibility. For the time being, I'll stick around here.