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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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A Writer Starts From Scratch – Learning to Blog for the Non-Techie

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My wife Amy – who is a writer – decided she wanted to try blogging (both reading and writing). She’s intrigued by my fascination with blogging and thought it might be easier than trying to get her novel published, especially since she’d have to finish it first.

I decided that rather than set her up, I’d watch while she went up the learning curve. Amy’s comfortable with computers (she’s no luddite), but she lusts for the days of DOS and WordPerfect (“DOS was good enough – what was wrong with F7 to exit WordPerfect – Lotus Agenda was so cool!”). So – this would be an interesting experiment and would be insightful for anyone who is a non-techie and is thinking about creating a blog.

We sat down in front of her computer at 11:15am this morning. I suggested that she start by setting things up to be able to get RSS feeds and read blogs. I recommended NewsGator since she spends much of her time in Outlook doing email or in Word writing stuff.

From the NewsGator site, she went to download the trial software. NewsGator determined that she needed to update her Windows configuration (she’s still running Windows 2000 Professional), so we started that process. The magic Microsoft technology ground away for a while updating “critical” things and eventually rebooted her computer (boy – her computer is slow – Ross – defrag, more RAM!)

Back to the NewsGator site to download the trial (11:40am). Lots more downloading (.NET Framework, NewsGator, etc.). “So far this hasn’t been super-exciting,” says Amy. Finally, it’s done.

(11:50am) We open Outlook. The NewsGator trial page comes up and Amy digs in. She got about halfway through the NewsGator tutorial and decided that was enough and it was time to start using it.

We added a couple of blogs (mine, Jenny Lawton, Jerry Colonna). She gets the reader side quickly.

“How do I find blogs about writing?” asks Amy. I suggested she try searching Google. “You won’t believe this, but I don’t think I’ve ever used Google.” Google gets another new user and Amy immediately finds a bunch of things that are potentially relevant. We surf around writingblog.org and writtenroad.com. “I have a hard enough time keeping up with the stuff I’m already reading,” ponders Amy.

She’s got it (12:25pm) – time to go create a blog.

I showed Amy some Typepad sites and some Blogger sites. She chooses Typepad because it both looked nicer and had a bunch of list options (she loves lists). “Will this mean that anyone can see my blog?” Amy asks with trepidation. After I respond yes, she says “well – then I won’t put anything interesting on my blog yet until I decide whether I want my thoughts to be public.”

We go to Typepad (12:40am) and set up a trial account (we chose Basic for $4.95 / month rather than Pro at $14.95/ month, even though Amy wanted “the best one”). There is a little agony over the name – she settles on anchorpoint.blogs.com (“It feels so permanent to have to choose this now.”).

The first obvious option is “Create a Weblog”. Amy decides to name the blog “Thoughts in Random Patterns“. Weblog folder stymies her for a while as she thinks of something better than “thoughts_in_random_patterns”. She settles on “amythoughts”.

It’s time to create a post – she titles it “First Thought, Best Thought”. She creates a category called “Writing”. “This is kind of fun”, says Amy (the first time so far this morning that she has used the happy Amy voice). Her first blog is a typical “hello world / testing” type of post. She hits publish (and the anticipation of the blog taking shape).

We “View Site”. “How do I change my colors and stuff?” I suggest she try “Design”. “I’m going to spend more time messing around with formatting than writing.” She settles on Classy. Amy notices the “Email me” link. “I don’t want people to email me – what if they send me horrible stuff?” We go to Design->Contents and delete the “Email me” link.

I suggest she gets rid of the “Powered by Typepad” link (“It’s a stupid link”). “But doesn’t it help them?” says Amy (ok – she’s a girl and I’m a boy).

We struggle with category archives a little. Eventually, she figures out that she needs to go to Configure->Archives. She also changes from Monthly to Weekly archives.

Amy starts playing with Typelists (“What’s a Typelist – I like lists”). Being a writer, she immediately starts playing around with book lists. (1:00pm). “Cool – let’s create a new list”. She now has “First Novels” and “Good Books” as lists.

We finally get to “Ordering” the page. She understands this immediately (having looked at a few blogs) and moves stuff around to put in it in a nice layout.

I get up to go to the bathroom and when I come back Amy is editing her first post to make it a little deeper than “Hi – here I am”.

“How do I put in the HTML stuff?” I describe why she’d want to create a link which she figures out quickly (she once helped write a book on HTML), gives it a shot and says “got it – that’s fantastic” – as she links to Jerry Colonna’s blog.

It’s 1:20pm. She’s madly typing away at the first blog entry – editing it, twirling her hair as she thinks – staring pensively at the monitor. I power up my Movable Type page and edit my “Blogs I Read” list to include Amy’s new blog.

At 1:25pm, she hits Save. After reading the blog after it’s published, she decides to make some changes and fiddles around a little more. By 1:30pm, she’s done.

Welcome, my love, to the world of blogging.

  • Allison Bergamo

    Congratulations to Amy for taking the plunge into blogging! And kudos to you for letting her learn on her own. As someone with a novel of her own in her head, I look forward to reading more of Amy’s blogs. Best of luck to her…

  • http://www.the-river.net/2004/06/learning-to-blog.html The River

    Learning to Blog

    Brad’s wife is learning to blog. Since my husband announced this morning that “I think it’s time to start my blog,” I found Amy’s experience intriguing…

  • http://www.broker-mortgage.net RebekaKruz

    Yahoo’s new version of web mail is, without a doubt, one of the coolest and most fluid Ajax applications we’ve seen to date. For the average user it offers every major feature that you can find in Outlook or Thunderbird, and it does it with style. But that isn’t all, the Yahoo team also took the time to layer the app with embedded tricks, hacks, and shortcuts that makes the whole experience that much sweeter.

    With that in mind, here are the top 11 tricks that I use everyday with the new Yahoo Mail Beta:

    1. Trick: Instant Address Book Add – Drag a message onto the Contacts link and you’ll see the icon change to a plus sign which means you can add that contact to your address book in one easy step.

    2. Trick: Navigate your inbox the quick way – Ctrl + Shift + Up Arrow or Down Arrow let you jump to messages in the same folder that have the same subject line. You can hit Ctrl + Shift + Alt + Up Arrow lets you choose another factor to filter on (such as flag) when using Ctrl + Shift to navigate.

    3. Easter Egg: When composing a message just hit the Subject: button to cycle through a collection of random (often humorous) subject lines. A lot of real gems in here including:

    The brain has been polished professor.
    All your platypus are belong to us.
    I believe those were mouse droppings.
    The twins just turned 2 and 4 this month!
    How about never? Is never good for you?
    Care for a foam apple?

    4. Hack: Organize Your inbox via Message Finder – Now it is as easy as typing in a search, ordering the results by Contact, Location, or Subject, selecting the messages, and dragging them to a new folder. Sounds complicated? It isn’t, just do a search and then start dragging and dropping messages.

    5. Tip: Select Multiple Messages – Hold shift after selecting a message to select multiple messages. Hold Ctrl to add specific messages to the list. Hit Crtl-A to select all messages in a folder or search results. This is a great way to select everything in your inbox and move it to an archive folder.

    6. Tip: Read Messages Now – Go to Options link in the upper right hand corner and then select Mail Options. Find the item labeled mark messages as read and select immediately. This way when you scroll through messages you no longer have to pause one each one to have it marked as read.

    7. Tip: Hide/Show Viewing Pane – Just hit the letter V on your keyboard to have more space to organize your folder. Hit V again to reopen the message preview.

    8. Tip: Quick Compose – Type the letter N to start a new message or R to reply to a selected message.

    9. Trick: Find Text within your message – Hit Crtl + F after selecting a message to find text within a that message. Hitting the enter key lets your scroll through each instance of the word within the message.

    10. Trick: Scroll through folder without reading – Holding Crtl lets you scroll through a folder messages using the arrow keys without selecting each individual message.

    11. Tip: Send Message Now – By using the Crtl + Enter Key you can send a message you are composing instantly. No more hunting for the send button.

    That’s it! There are quite a few more shortcuts document in the help section but these are the one’s I’ve found most valuable. Leave a comment and share your Yahoo Mail tips.
    Resurce – MortgageBroker

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