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Starting a Blog (with MovableType)

Everyone and their brother's got a blog now, and when I was starting out, I had to learn some things the hard way. So, I've compiled a few of the best tips I could find into a couple of hints. Many of them deal with MovableType, but they can be applied to any CMS or blogging package. They're the tips I wish I had when I was starting out, and I hope that you find them helpful as well.


Hint 0: Pick Your Software
Blog software varies. Blogger and MovableType and Radio all offer different feature sets, as do a number of other blog packages. Choose the one that not only fits your skill level and wishes, but also those you may have in the future. You may not want comments now, but will the software you choose support them in the future?

Perhaps one of the best ways to choose blog software is to look at the software powering the blogs you enjoy reading. Look at how well it those blog apps can be customized and tweaked. Look at how well they're supported. As a general rule of thumb, more users = more support, so all else being even, you're better off with a "bigger name" blog app.

Features you may want include:

  • Multiple authors
  • A Web or mobile interface
  • Built-in syndication (for all articles and/or categories)
  • Option to assign entry to multiple categories
  • A commenting system (so guests can leave comments)
  • A TrackBack implementation (so you can let other sites know about you and other sites can let you know about them when linking).
  • An email sent every time one of the two items directly above occurs
  • Searching of entries (for you and your readers)
  • Archival by date, category, etc.
  • Easy templating
  • Text formatting (so you don't have to learn even a little HTML)
  • Integration or the ability to use another scripting language (PHP is used on this site) or technologies
  • Photoblog capabilities
  • etc. etc. etc.

For what it's worth, the rest of this article deals primarily with MovableType (MT), but a few of the comments apply to other packages. I haven't used them, however, so I don't even know that I'm aware which apply and which don't.


Hint 1: Archive Paths
This link explains it a bit more, but the long and the skinny of it is that MovableType and some other blog software, by default, create all of your files in your archive directory. I wasn't comfortable with having files named 000001.php through 439641.php all thrown together in one place, so I changed my archiving preferences. The link above takes you to "<archive_path>/2003/02/22/grrrr_site_organization.php". The URL clearly tells me the title of the article and the date it was published.

Changing the URLs of your articles - called "PermaLinks" - after you've started is a royal pain in the ass. You'll piss off everyone who's ever linked to, visited, or been linked from you. I learned this the hard way. You'll spend hours redirecting people trying to get to your old URLs to your new ones. It's just not worth it. Think about it and then go forward with it. They're called PermaLinks for a reason.

Please note that this has nothing to do with the look of your site. Any blog software worth its salt will let you change that around without affecting the content - or URLs - quite easily.

To accomplish what I've done in MT, you'll need to set your archive paths to resemble something like this:

<MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/%d">/<MTEntryTitle dirify="1">.php

Do this in your "Weblog Config" -> "Archiving" preferences.

Again, look at blogs that you like and observe their archiving formats. Perhaps you're a fan of keeping everything in one folder after all, but naming the files. Or perhaps "2003/03/10/000321.php" is a perfectly acceptable filename.

(Note: Since the release of MovableType 3.2 and the automatic "basename" feature, this has changed.)


Hint 2: Syndicate
Syndication via "RSS" (Really Simple Syndication) or RDF or XML or - whatever - is a good thing. For more information, visit http://freshsqueeze.com/products/pulpfiction/ or http://backend.userland.com/rss#whatIsRss. It's a fairly simple thing to set up, typically, but the discussion of what the difference between versions (0.91, 1.0, 2.0, etc) and types or filenames (RDF, RSS, XML) is beyond the scope of this little guide.

XMLThe biggest considerations you may have to make with your RSS "feed" (as it's called) is whether or not to include the full entry. By default, MovableType pushes only an entry's first 40 words in the RSS file. I've modified my feeds to include the entire entry except when I have an unusually long entry - in those cases I include a link (<a href="..">) to my entry. My goal was to get people with aggregators to visit my site occasionally without forcing them to for every article.

If you offer an RSS feed with comments, also offer a feed without them. Not everyone is interested in the comments, nor do they want your article posted as "new" in their RSS aggregator when someone comments. In that light, try to not make many typos, because every time your RSS feed for an article is updated, it will show up as new in most RSS aggregators. This annoys people. :-)

Here's how I've set up my RSS 1.0 file to handle the "Click for More" business:

<title><MTEntryTitle encode_xml="1"></title>
<link><MTEntryPermalink encode_xml="1"></link>
<description>
<MTEntryBody encode_xml="1">
<MTEntryIfExtended>
    &lt;a href="<MTEntryPermalink encode_xml="1">">
    Read More (<MTWordCount> Words) &lt;/a&gt;
</MTEntryIfExtended>
</description>

Hint 3: Categorize
Most blogging packages offer a "categories" feature. Categories allow you to mark one entry as "Family" and another as "Work." Some packages allow you to assign an entry to multiple categories. Sit down, think about what topics your blog will cover, and write down a list of categories. Then add "Miscellaneous" to the end, and put those categories on your site.

Choosing a good set of categories up front encourages you to keep your blog focused. If you find yourself writing about a topic without a category (or the "Miscellaneous" category), add it at a later time. The goal is to avoid having to rearrange your entries every week. Try not to be fickle - you can waste a lot of time trying to decide whether an entry is "Personal" or "Family" or "My Pets" (or all three).

Many packages can also archive by category. If you visit /archives/men_and_women/ you'll find all of my posts to the "Men and Women" category (which I use to talk about anything dealing with gender, sex, etc.). That's not only useful for you, but it's useful for your friends as well. They may not care about your "My GameBoy" category but your "My Friends" category may be of great interest.


Hint 4: Get Your Name Out
Some people prefer their blogs to be private, read only by a few close friends and family, and that's fine. However, if you, like me, want to take part in global discussions and open your site to the comments, criticisms, praises, and minds of others, you'll want to get your (blog's) name out there.

One of the most effective ways I found to getting my blog's name out there - again if you care to be read - is to simply leave comments on the sites whose authors you share a common interest. Leave your email address and your blog's URL in the form and not only might the site author check out your blog, but others reading his comments may visit as well. You may also "TrackBack" to interesting articles - I have yet to not follow a TrackBack from one of my entries. Many others could say the same.

I spent a few weeks building up some content before I felt comfortable leaving my blog's URL in comment boxes. I didn't want someone I admire, an author of another blog, to visit my site and think "Gee, four entries? Bah." Perhaps that doesn't matter - later content and comments would bring them back. But I do know that I've gotten some TrackBacks and comments from people with questionable commitment. I don't like getting a TrackBack from a blog that might not exist in a month or two. Something to consider.

One last thing to consider: keeping a blogroll - a list of the blogs you enjoy - visible on your site. If you link to blogs you enjoy, those bloggers may be more likely to link back.


Hint 5: Be Polite
It's possible to piss off or at least annoy the blogging community pretty easily. For example, one chap routinely sent four or five TrackBacks (I presume as he edited his articles). This resulted in a lot of extra work for me - I had to delete his "extra" TrackBacks every time he decided to quote or link to one of my entries.

Here are some other "sins" of blogging:

  • Not sending a TrackBack (or "ping") if the author has that feature enabled. It's enabled because they like to know who is linking to them. Oblige them.
  • Don't display people's email addresses. MovableType, for example, uses a person's URL over their email address, and has an option for "anonymous" comments. Use it. If you're emailed the comment, you can follow up via email with the poster, but the link from their attribution will be to their Web page.
  • Attribute your quotes with links. This one is common sense: nobody likes to have something they said plagiarized.
  • Link to PermaLinks when possible, not to a blog's home page.
  • Don't steal bandwidth. If someone has a nice picture, and you can legally put it on your site, do so. Otherwise, link to it but don't include it in your blog. You are taking their bandwidth. Either put it on your own site or don't include it in your page.
  • Don't post private emails without permission. Mail on a mailing list with public archives? Fine. Private email sent to you? Not so fine. If you must, remove email addresses and other identifying information where possible. Also carefully consider posting the intimate details of other people's lives. Your own are fine. This is common courtesy and isn't blog-specific of course.
  • Some bloggers link to Amazon associate URLs to get a little income. I don't care one way or the other, personally, but others do. Consider, at least, how people use the site. Is losing 100 readers worth the $2.12 you get from Amazon?
  • If your blog software supports a search feature, make it readily visible.
  • Avoid endlessly fiddling with your entries - editing, etc. - because in many news aggregators, this causes the entry to show up as "new" again. That's annoying.

Hint 6: Be Yourself
Even actors cannot stay in character 24/7. The few that can are a rare, rare breed. Odds are, you aren't one of them.

Be yourself. It's the easiest thing in the world once you get the hang of it. Say what want to say, how you want to say it, when you want to say it. If you agree, say so. If you don't, say so. Support your arguments - advice that applies anywhere of course - and enjoy what you're doing. Amuse yourself. People that share your interests will or won't come.

If you were your only visitor, your blog should still be something you want to do.


Hint 7: Get Help
Just some software, forums, and links I've found useful:


One last note: I plan to update this article as appropriate. Please email suggested updates, corrections, etc. to me instead of posting comments. Thank you.

122 Responses to "Starting a Blog (with MovableType)"

  1. Starting a Blog

    I was visiting Lockergnome and fount a link to NSLog which has a good ‘intro to blogging’ article up. I...

  2. Starting a Blog (with MovableType)

    Erik Barzeski of NSLog(); has posted a nice guide to starting a blog with Movable Type.

  3. Starting a BLOG

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  4. Where can I set the archive path in MT (2.6.2). I can't find it in Weblog Config > Archives.

    The only place I can see file paths is in the main config pane. When I enter MT tags like in your example in these fields it doesn't interpret them, it simply dumps them out as text.

  5. Advice on Starting a Blog

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  8. Want to Start a Blog?

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  9. Jeff (and anyone else who may have the same question)… If you click on Weblog Config > Archives, you'll see fields for each type of archive labeled Archive Type Template. By default, it might be empty — this is where you'll want to put the code snippet that Erik posted.

    Getting that set up had me confused when I first read about it, but once you figure it out, it's well worth it (at least, I think so…)

  10. Beginning blogging

    Eric Barzeski over at NSLog(); has an excellent list of tips for anyone just getting started in the weblogging world. I've discovered all of these at one point or another over the years, but things definitely might have been simpler if I'd had this ava...

  11. :-O

  12. Well written article, I've been using MT for about 7 months. While I think the software is great I wish I had a resource like this article instead of learning the hard way. Thanks for the article, you may want to mention to your readers that some of the bloger packages have independent editors that interface with them. I have MT on the server and Kung-Log on my Mac (I'm such a poor speller).

  13. NICE article! I'll second the comment regarding editors; some Blogger users (and others) find BlogApp to be good.

  14. Now I have it working! Thanks Michael!

    This is much better now. Really great article, but maybe you should make where to put that in MT a little more clear.

  15. Starting A Blog

    Erik over at NSLog has posted a great article with tips about starting up a weblog. It's a really great

  16. Happy Birthday Mosaic

    Oh There is a really good Guide to Starting a Blog posted on NSLog that I need to go read.

  17. Very cool I can't wait to read this.

  18. Good Advice ...

    In NSLog(); Eric gives some great advice for people starting out with MovableType. I wish I had found his site...

  19. Advice

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  23. A guide to starting a blog

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  24. Most of this would have been very useful to me when I started with MT. Good documentation, I'll recomend it!

  25. Starting a Blog (with MovableType)

    Some great advice here. On first glance I must admit to editing way too much. Hopefully, I'll improve or just accept my mistakes after publishing. I spend way too much time editing my template as well. I want to write

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  30. Pinger

    Nothing but testing the new blogrolling pinger. Happy early St. Patricks day! On another note Geekgrrl (who always finds the best things) found this fabulous article on starting a movable type blog. I wish I had this when I started mine. Go read it now...

  31. As a "new" blogger, I'd like to thank you for the good article. I couldn't install MT on my live site because it missing a backend components, but that's OK because Blosxom is simple enough that I can post painlessly and mirror on my home machine.

    Another good thing about Blosxom is the permalink issue. I've changed the template with concern to permalinks, but the old permalinks I had when I started still work. I thought that was very neat.

    This article is definately going to be a good reference for quite some time.

  32. regarding the "get your name out," I've been wondering about a potential abuse of blog comment's linking to boost Google's rank on my blog. You think that's possible?

  33. That was a good article...especially since I'm sort of new to blogging...well, new and old. I used Blogger for awhile but got annoyed by it. So I'm new in the context that I'm new to Movable Type.

    Very good read!

  34. I sure wish I had found this info when I was setting up my MT. This is wonderful information! Thank you ever so much for putting it all together!

  35. Great Info!!

    Was just visiting Uncut Crystal and found a link in one of her posts to an entry in NSlog(), it's

  36. Blogging Hints

    I was surfing through various blogs recently when I came across a blog entry on anything but ordinary linking to

  37. A great article, and very relevent for me since I'm in the middle of a re-think and a re-design of my site.

    Being more a designer than a programmer, I'd suggest one addition. I've shoved the content around and around on my site, and thereby lost time better spent creating content. My current re-design is based primarily on a wish to have a clear, flexible layout that I won't get sick of every month or two. Why don't I already have such a layout? Lack of planning.

    People's Photoshop skills may vary, but I'd highly recommend that anyone interested in starting a blog first think concretely about what they want to present, how they want to present it, and get that plan down in some visual form. It doesn't need to be a 200 layer Photoshop file - a sketch on a piece of paper will do. But seeing the content in some form makes one aware of the inadequacies (whoa, wait a sec, how should people find my archives?) of a layout. Piecemeal additions and changes usually lead to something confusing and dissatisfying.

    Thanks for the inspirational tips. Back to the re-design!

  38. Upgrade Your RSS

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  40. This one falls into the "Duh" category. As I was reading through this article I saw an archive format like this: <MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/%d"> How had...

  41. Like Hint 6! I enjoy sites where you get to know the person by their writing style.

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  44. Yeah, interesting, thanks for taking the time to share. I am just getting going with Win2k MType (my home machine) and will benefit from your RSS tips and the archive URL bit as well. Cool as mints.

  45. blogging for beginners

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  48. Movable Type Tips and Tricks

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  49. I wrote a tutorial on how to get better archive paths in Movable Type if you've already been using the default MT archive system.

    http://www.ibiblio.org/jimray/blog/2003/02/artificially_intelligent_ia.php

    Hope if helps if you've already been using MT for a while.

  50. easier archives

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  55. Great tutorial. I'm glad I've read this before getting MovableType working on my new domain. Thank you.

  56. that's one excellent post. i'm just getting my new MT/blog going, and you've got nice common-sense suggestions there. in fact, they all seem to apply to me: certainly i want to use my site to keep my friends up to date when i'm not around, but they won't be interested in my opinions of the latest minidisc recorders. a link to relevant categories in the root of my site might be a good idea, instead of sending them to the full blog.

  57. I said in my "Starting a Blog (with Movable Type)" article that one of the best ways to build up your readership is to simply...

  58. New Archive URLs

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  60. Starting a Blog (with MovableType)

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  61. Great article, especially the breakdown of the features and the common sense suggestions on how to Get Your Name Out. I will bookmark and reference this in the future.

  62. Structural URL Archives

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  63. Excellent Article I found it quite indepth and allowed me to better understand MT

  64. A topic I'm much interested in (though it doesn't necessarily fall in scope of this article) is the development of non-English and/or mixed blogs. For example, I write both in Russian (which is my native language) - and these entries cannot be read by almost noone in the current blogosphere, and in English (which I just happen to like) - and then the friends and other Russians around mostly can't (or do not want to bother) read the postings. So this is a kind of dichotomy which I'm trying to navigate. And I'm sure this is more or less common problem - I've seen blogs in Chinese and in Finnish and whatnot. The interesting part is how to internetwork such blogs in a useful way.

  65. Blog Tips

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  66. Beginning blogging

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  67. Note to self

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  69. Movable Type

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  70. hi randy i got the html stuf on the pda but i don't no how to use it

  71. Hi,

    I was visiting your site from a poker room and found that it is one more site which help in me setting up my Poker movable type blog.I still couldn't do it after re-reading.

    I hope by next visit I would be able to do so.

  72. Starting A Blog

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  73. Very good article. I seem to have messed up my RSS 1.0 index-file after following your hint 2 though... :( Wonder if you help?

    The error message I get is:

    Build error in template 'RSS 1.0 Index': Error in tag: You used an 'MTEntryTitle' tag outside of the context of an entry; perhaps you mistakenly placed it outside of an 'MTEntries' container?

  74. Friday Feast #55: Friendly, Lasting URLs

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  77. erik,

    thanks a lot for these hints! i'm about to set up my own blog, and you just saved me a bunch of hours:)

  78. Starting a Blog with MT

    A lot of visitors to this site already have a blog in one form or another, but for those that are considering setting one up, this is a great read - NSLog(); - Starting a Blog (with MovableType). Via Lockergnome....

  79. Thanks for a wonderful article on getting started the right way. Sure wish I had read this when I first started with my MT installation. Over the last 6 months, I have learnt almost every one of these points, the hard way !

    Will recommend it to any one I know looking to start a blog...

    http://www.NaveenBachwani.com

  80. MT-Tips

    MT-Tips, aber vor allem interessante Links. NSLog(); - Starting a Blog (with MovableType)...

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  84. Yes, and I deleted it.

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  89. For new developre such articles are of great help.

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  92. Great guide. :)

    I wish I had known about the archiving tricks before I started my blog.

    Just one comment really, I understand you probably didn't mention using a back-end DB for Movable type because its a bit of an advanced topic, but for those with access to a MySQL or PostgreSQL db from the machine running MT, you can get a respectable speed boost from using it.

    I use Kung-Log to post to my blog, and before I migrated to MySQL it used to take a long time to process a new entry. Now its only a few seconds :)

    Now, if I could just work out how to make text flow around my pictures, I'd be happy :)

  93. first post

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  96. changelog

    Inspired by patchwork progression, I’ve decided to maintian this entry in which I list all my MT tweaks. I’ll probably add a new entry if I make a more complex change, but will try to list all the stuff I...

  97. This post was very helpful to me. I just started my blog a few weeks ago and I think you gave some good tips, even for people not using Movable Type (I use Blogger). Do you see an advantage to using Movable Type over Blogger?

  98. Starting a Blog with Moveable Type - Tutorial

    Blogathon - Entry 46 Starting a Blog with Moveable Type is a great set of tips on starting an MT blog. Actually a lot of it is helpful for all types of blogs - not just MT. Check it out...

  99. Movable Type Resources

    Movable Type (MT) is a powerful web content publishing system, though often difficult for beginners to implement. Here are the links I have found most useful while implementing Movable Type weblogs. This list will grow as I continue to add...

  100. Starting A Blog

    A reader named Baron asked me by email "what's the best way to start a blog?" Here's a good post about the mechanics, from a user of Movable Type, and i'm sure you can find plenty more with Google.

  101. Movable Type Tips and Tricks

    So that I never lose them again, I list here, without comment and in no particular order, a variety of...

  102. Movable Type Tips and Tricks

    So that I never lose them again, I list here, without comment and in no particular order, a variety of...

  103. This is a really great article. If any of you has a moment, though, I've got a quick question-- I should mention I'm really new to this, and still pretty confused about how you customize MovableType. In "Hint 1: Archiving Paths", it is stated:

    To accomplish what I've done in MT, you'll need to set your archive paths to resemble something like this:

    " (bracket) MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/%d" (bracket) / (bracket)MTEntryTitle dirify="1" (bracket).php "

    Do this in your "Weblog Config" -> "Archiving" preferences.

    My question is this: inside of the Weblog Config, is it as simple as me copying and pasting the info above? Or do I replace the "/" with the path to my archive directory? Do I put the info above under "local archive path" or "archive URL"... or both?

    Thanks!

  104. My blog is brand new and not very good yet. I need to add a coment tag and i was wondering what the html was for your comment setup or where to get one like it. I need to allow comments on my site. I would really appreciate it, or any ideas from others. Thanks

    Andrew

  105. restructuring default archives

    If you are new to blogging then starting a blog - with movabletype may be a worthwhile read. I looks...

  106. David,

    Here is perhaps a slightly more correct version of 'Hint 1' for archiving.

    Under Weblog Config:

    keep your "Local Archive Path" pointing to the absolute path to the archive directory: /home/html/mt/archives

    and keep your "Archive URL" pointing to the archive directory on your server such that it would come up in a browser: http://my.server.com/mt/archives/

    In the upper right hand part of the Weblog Config page there is a link to "Archiving" Click it.

    On this page you should have two things checked, "Individual" and "Monthly"

    In the text box for "Individual" Archive File Template plase the following text: /.html

    This tells MT to store your files in sub-directories under "Archives" as defined on the main Weblog Config page. These sub directories are of the format Year/Month/Day and then your file is named by its title.

    Next change the "Monthly" Archive File Template text box to:

    This tells MT to build a page for each month of entries that is placed in the archives directory in sub directories of Year/Month and called index.html.

    This means that if someone wants to see your entries for the month of March 2004 they would be directed to

    http://my.server.com/mt/archives/2004/03/index.html

    I hope this answers your question.

  107. In posting the last comment the important information was filtered out because they were in tags, so here is what should go under individual and Monthly:

    Individual:

    (less than) MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/%d" (grater than)/(less than)MTEntryTitle dirify="1"(grater than).html

    Monthly

    (less than)$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/index.html"$(grater than)

    replace (grater than) and (less than) with appropriate characters > and its opposite.

  108. One small change to my previous post the Monthly Archive File Template works better as

    (less than)$MTArchiveDate format="%Y/%m/"$(greater than)index.html

    the other generated a link to the monthly pages like so:

    http://www.example.com/mt/archives/2004/03//index.html

    this generates the correct path of

    http://www.example.com/mt/archives/2004/03/index.html

  109. Blog Tip 10 - How to Start a Weblog

    Have you ever tried to explain how to start a blog to someone? Just point them to this post - Introduction to Blogging - its a great introduction including definitions of, tools and some great starting points. He's also written...

  110. A Special Thanks to...

    I want to extend a warm outburst of gratitude to al-Muhajabah. Up until Sunday afternoon my internal blog links were down because I had made a grievous error in setting up the files in Movable Type. The patron saint of...

  111. Hi there,

    I just started with MT and have a lot to learn, but this site was indispensible for starting on the right foot. Thanks to Erik and all the commenters as well for all your time - my archives are much better already.

    one thing that seemed to make it smoother is using .php instead of .html for my site - don't know why that would be...

  112. Tips og tricks om blogging

    En god artikkel om hvordan man best kommer i gang med blogging, samt en rekke tips og tricks for å unngå å gå i de vanligste fellene....

  113. Scott's place: Customising MovableType (May 4, 2004 08:50 PM)

    "Found some useful implementation tips for MovableType at andersja's blog: My Movable Type installation. I've already implemented a directory-based archive structure. Anders also links to a useful article on creating monthly archives in calendar form...."

  114. Really nice post and comments. These sorts of articles are helpful to bloggers new and old.

  115. Blogging Etiquette

    Every one who decides to blog has to start somewhere. This article explores the basic platforms and winds up picking MT, which won best blogging platform in the bloggies this year. It then goes into some simple configurations for templates. For those o...

  116. Idiots Guide to Starting a Blog

    Jonny Baker has an Idiots Guide to Starting a Blog which is well worth the read if you're thinking of starting one but don't know how. I'm going to add it to my Blog Tips Central Register. Other good 'How...

  117. I like the information you give, but I already started with Blogger. It's more flexible but complecated than Blogger?

  118. How to Start a Weblog

    Have you ever tried to explain how to start a blog to someone? Just point them to this post - Introduction to Blogging - its a great introduction including definitions of, tools and some great starting points. He's also...

  119. How to Start a Blog

    Jonny Baker has an Idiots Guide to Starting a Blog which is well worth the read if you're thinking of starting one but don't know how. I'm going to add it to my Blog Tips Central Register. Other good 'How...

  120. Blog tips

    A few days ago I finally found out what trackbacks were, along with other basic blog features such as blogrolling (I had thought they were simply links manually added to a template but some actually used parsed OPML files. This...

  121. hi,

    Great Article.

    Very good article. I seem to have messed up my RSS 1.0 index-file after following your hint 2 though... :( Wonder if you help?

    Me too having the same problem abt Rss feed.

  122. Thanks for the hints. I am getting ready to launch a magazine blog at http://www.SacramentoExecutive.com which will be powered by Movable Type. Your "getting started hints" are appreciated. I will definitely use your wisdom...

    Regards,
    Pierre
    Sacramento, CA
    The home of the Kings!!!!


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