It’s been a while since I asked this question, but it seems like as good a time as any, since my own answer has changed since the last time.
Are you a blogger? If so, how do you do it? What tools do you use to read and keep track of blogs? What tools do you use to create and post content to your blog?
For the last couple of years, I’d been using ecto, and tended to use the WYSIWYG interface. However, as I’ve started crossposting in other places I’ve found that each has different requirements, etc., and the code created by ecto’s WYSIWYG interface sometimes required changes in order to post elsewhere. So, I thought maybe I should switch to something a bit simpler.
I’d heard about TextMate a while back, and decided to give it a try because of its blogging module. For some reason, I couldn’t get the TextMate blogging module to work. I did get the BlogMate extension up and running, but at the time didn’t appreciate how much I could do in TextMate.
(With the new job, I’m back in an all-Windows environment, after having been pretty much converted to working in a Mac environment. I miss the applications I’ve come to enjoy and rely on. Rarely do I find a Windows equivalent that does what I need it to do or that’s as much fun to use as many Mac apps are. So, I was pleased to discover E — the text editor that promises “The Power of TextMate on Windows.” Well, we’ll see.)
But I took another look at TextMate, got the blogging module working, and in the last month or so have familiarized myself with it’s features and commands. I’m sure, however, that I’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do, since I don’t program in even a fraction of the languages its setup for. But the key commands for the HTML and Blogging-HTML templates are incredibly easy to use. (I particularly like that by using ⇧⌃W I can automatically wrap selected text in open and close tags, and then edit those tags, or ⌥⌘. will close any open tags as I go along) Plus it produces straightforward HTML that’s compatible with just about anywhere else I want to crosspost. And, if I want to upload an image, I can drag it into the TextMate window and TextMate will upload it according to the options I’ve set up in WordPress, and drop in the image code wherever I dropped the image.
When it comes to images, however, I actually don’t upload them directly to my blog. Some time ago I decided that it was easier to use external image hosting, for a number of reasons.
- It saves on my bandwidth. Not that I’m that worried about exceeding what my hosting package includes on bandwidth.
- It takes some of the bite out of hotlinking, and I’m too lazy to learn the necessary code to prevent hotlinking.
- It makes moving from one server to another somewhat easier, because images are stored elsewhere, so I don’t have a ton of files to move, and I don’t have to sacrifice some images.
At first, I’d open up images in Photoshop, edit them, and upload them wherever I’d decided to host them. But starting up PhotoShop every time I wanted to edit an image was cumbersome, to say the least. Now I’ve got several options: two Firefox extensions and two free-standing apps.
SnipShot was my first discovery, and probably the easiest online image editor I’ve found so far. The Firefox extension makes it even easier. Just right clicking an image in Firefox sends it to SnipShot for editing.
From there, you can email the picture, save it to your computer, or send it to Webshots. There used to be more hosting options — like FLickr and ImageShack — but for some reason they were dropped.
For more options, I’ve turned to Picnick. It uploads pictures to MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr, Photobucket, and Picasa. It’s also got Firefox extension, along with other tools. The extension makes it it easy to grab a screenshot of an entire web page, which can be very handy.
Along with SnipShot, it will save images in a number of different formats. But Picnick doesn’t automatically give you the code for images you upload to other sites. For that you have to go into your photo collection, find the image, and click on the option to open the page where you can find the code.
But the problem with an online image editor is that, well, you have to be online to use it. And most desktop editors are not exactly what I’d call lightweight. They usually take forever to load and/or aren’t that easy to figure out. (At least for me.) I tried Seashore briefly, but didn’t really find it all that easy or intuitive. (At least not for me.) Then Problogger introduced me to two more.
At first glance, Imagewell doesn’t look like much. It’s main window is so small that you might forget that you’ve got it open. But if you want to do some image editing and you don’t need all of PhotoShop’s bells and whistles, it’s a pretty powerful application. You can take snapshots from your screen, resize and drop pictures. You can add watermarks, drop shadows, and other elements. And Imagewell will upload images to Flickr, Imageshack, and SmugMug, as well as directly to your site via ftp. It just went from being a free download with extra features available for paid registration, to a paid download. But from what I’ve seen, it’s worth the price. I’ve been using it for the past month or so, and it’s definitely made editing and uploading images easier.
Imagewell is fast becoming my favorite image editing applications, but if anything comes close to beating it, it might be Skitch. Where ImageWell isn’t connected to a particular website, Skitch is an extension of the website that shares its name. So, you can edit in Skitch, upload to Skitch, and share images via Skitch. (All of the images in this post were create and shared via Skitch.)
Between the two, I don’t know which I like better. They’re about equally feature rich, but ImageWell’s interface was much easier to figure out. Skitch looks great, but simple things like resizing an image took me a minute or so longer to figure out than with ImageWell. Right now, which one I use depends on what mood I’m in. But I’m more likely to use ImageWell.
I actually do a good bit of reading offline, these days. Sometimes, that just means using the “Work Offline” feature in Firefox. But I’m not all that sure how well that feature works. Besides, most of my reading is also research. I highlight important stuff and make notes that usually find their way into blog posts. There are a handful of options I use, though I haven’t really settled on one.
When it comes to online services, the one I’ve used the most is SharedCopy. I started using it some time ago, and I’ve watched it develop and the features improve. The tagging feature is probably the most important one to me, because it’s easier to organize things. Of all the online annotation sites I’ve tried, this is the one I still come back to.
But sometimes if I want to access my notes, etc., offline (like when I take advantage of getting a seat on the Metro to do a little bit of writing). Again, I fall back on Firefox extensions. Two, in this case.
Scrapbook has become almost indispensable to me, allowing me to take my note taking offline, and organize whole collections of annotated web pages. In fact, can write posts complete with links (if I copy and past the the URLs from the properties of each web page as I go) without being online at all. It’s also pretty easy to capture a news articles that are actually more than one page long. Plus, a plugin makes it easy to share items between multiple computers (besides simply exporting them from one and importing them to another)via Box.Net.
If there’s an extension that comes close to scrapbook, it’s probably Zotero. I only discovered it in the past month or so, but I’ve been using it an awful lot. Along with the ability to highlight and annotate web pages, Zotero can also create citations — whole bibliographies, even. According the info available at the website, There are plans to create an online extension, allowing users to save their citations, etc., online. The only drawback is that it’s not qs easy to save multiple-page articles.
Such is the state of my blogging toolbox these days. What’s in yours? (I ask because I’m pretty much always looking for new apps that might be fun and useful.) Is there another tool or website you’d recommend?