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Friday, 2 January 2009

On 21:31 by Rizwan Tayabali in
After a year of blogging, I've come across some fantastic free add-ons that really add richness to your blog. Also after having set up a couple of wordpress blogs, I think I can now safely recommend Blogger as the better bet for novices with ambition. Wordpress is probably more customisable, but only if you install software on your machine and know how to code. For anyone who wants it easy and painless, Blogger is the way forward!

Anyway here's my favourite applications. There's a couple more than 15, but I'm sure you can forgive that! They're all very easy to add, and you can see them all in action on this blog if you look hard enough :)

Best Free Add-Ons
  1. Disqus - really improves the way your comments are displayed, managed and tracked. The best part is that it allows people to reply to specific comments in a thread, rather than the terrible linear approach that all standard blog platforms use. They also give you a cute "recent comments" widget you can use. Click on the comments link below this post to check out Disqus in action.
  2. Dipity - creates you a visual timeline of all your blog posts and lets users read and flick through them within the timeline. Very cool. If you scroll to the bottom of this page you can see it in action.
  3. Odiogo - automatically converts your blog posts into audio podcasts and lets readers listen to your posts, download them as MP3 or subscribe via their iPods. American accent aside, the speech conversion is unexpectedly good and convincing. You can try it out using the link just below the title of this post, or from the subscription links on the right.
  4. Lijit - provides a very useful search box for your blog with a better display of results and suggestions for alternatives than the standard search provided on most free blogs. It also allows you to track and monitor what people have been searching for on your site. You can test it out in the box on the right of this post.
  5. Feedburner - is easily the best blog support out there. It is the best way to manage and track all your subscribers and ensures that you never lose your audience if you decide to change your blog address. It also allows your readers to subscribe via email, and add your posts to social bookmarking sites. Finally and most importantly it gives you all the stats you need to monitor your blog's development. See the 'Subscribe via Email' box on the right, and all the sharing links below this post for Feedburner in action.
  6. Blogcatalog - provides a 'News Feed' widget that allows you to highlight all your shared web activity, including posts from multiple blogs, dugg items, delicious items etc. Check it out in action about halfway down the right column of this blog.
  7. Sharethis - gives you that cool drop down with links to bookmarking sites that your users can use to share your content with their friends or networks. Check it out just below this post.
  8. LinkWithin - adds links to other posts within your blog that the viewer might like. The great thing is that it picks up images so it is visually arresting and very effective in drawing readers into your blog.
Best Free Platforms and Services
  1. Facebook Notes - allows you to import your RSS feed into Facebook, which not only lets your friends read your blog from your profile, but also allows you to tag specific people that you'd like to share different posts with.
  2. Twitterfeed - automatically tweets your post titles on twitter, letting your followers know when you've posted new content. It's pretty cool because it basically keeps your Twitter account active even if you never bother to sign in or update it yourself. Check it out in action here http://www.twitter.com/rizwantayabali
  3. Slideshare - is one of my favourite sites, and contains fantastic presentations on anything you ever wanted to know. For bloggers though it is the best place to upload your own presentations so that others can embed and share the content wherever they please. Here's an example of a presentation on Socialising Intelligence shared on this blog taken from my Slideshare space.
  4. Scribd - allows you to upload documents you want to share, and then embed them wherever you want in a way that allows readers to scroll through the document directly through your blog. Here's an example of Scribd in action on my work blog.
  5. Youtube - allows you to create your own public channels for your videos, and then provides you with the code to post, embed and share the videos wherever you want. Like with docs and presentations, uploading directly to your blog means that others outside your blog cannot find or share your content. Here's an example on my blog -
    iVolntr.org - Concept Video streamed from the Urban Survival Project Youtube Channel.
  6. Feed Analysis 1.1 - is a very cool online application that graphically displays all your traffic and usage results, using your feedburner URL. You don't need to sign up or anything, just pop your feed into the box provided and away you go.
  7. The Blog Readability Test - is a great way of checking and monitoring the readability of your blog. All you have to do is pop your URL in and it figures it out for you. Unlike all the other tests and tools, it actually tells you the level of comprehension your audience will need to stay engaged. High school levels of readability are the way forward if you want people to easily get what you're blogging about. I must admit it's not easy though! If your post's readability is too high, here's an online test that will help you identify the sentences that are too complicated.
Best Free Bits of Code For Your Template
  1. Related Posts - lists the last few articles that have the same category tags to the post being read, and is really useful for driving traffic to older posts. Here's an example of how it looks, below my last post.
  2. Tag Clouds - are a cool way to display the tags on your blog. Frankly I doubt they really get used much, but they're a nice alternative to a list of categories, and make your blog look that little bit more Web 2.0! You can see this bit of code in action in the right column, just below the subscribe links.
Best Free Installable Software and Plug-Ins
  1. Blogger Backup Utility - is the best backup software I've seen for free online blog platforms. You just input your blog username and password and it downloads every single post individually into a folder on your PC. You'll never have to worry about your blog crashing or migrating to a new platform. Get the latest release here.
  2. Zemanta - is a cool browser add-on that automatically analyses your words as you write a post, and then provides you with linked articles and related images that might be helpful.
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