KC Lemson

By KC Lemson [MS]

Blogs

I am now a TypePad evangelist

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Executive Summary: I highly recommend TypePad for anyone willing to pay a few bucks for a third party to host a blog for them. A great combination of features and usability.

I have got to hand it to the folks at SixApart, they have done a great job, TypePad is a great piece of software that just makes me feel good, the PM (and the obsessive-compulsive UI snob) in me feels good about using it. I had so much fun setting up my son's blog over the weekend that I took the plunge and set up one for myself - I paid for the 'medium' grade account at TypePad, which gives me three blogs on a site for $80/year. I always feel a tad guilty posting off-topic on this blog (this one isn't off-topic, since it's about software that's obviously of relevance to just about anyone reading this :-), so I will put my more random posts onto TypePad for a while and see how that goes. I also set up a redirector for my domain, which was quite easy.

Yesterday evening I was at a local bar with a bunch of SBS MVPs and other folks involved with small businesses, and I ended up talking to one of them for 20 minutes about how great TypePad was and how easy it was to set up a beautiful looking blog to keep my family updated about my son.

What do I like about TypePad? The first thing that made me smile when I saw it was the UI. It's obvious that a lot of thought has gone into streamlining the UI and minimizing the number of clicks and "where the heck was that option" hunts that you often see with web applications. Some examples:

  • From the first page you get to when you log on, you have one-click access to post in any of your blogs or add to existing photo albums/lists.
  • When you're on the summary page listing your blogs, there are entrypoints to add a new weblog or change the configuration or design of the existing ones, which is expected. There are also entrypoints to creating new posts or editing existing posts, which is nice. But there is also a direct link to view the stats for each blog, which is very thoughtful (it would be another 2-3 clicks to see the stats by navigating the menu hierarchy).
  • The help system is actually helpful and has context-sensitive tips spread throughout the site. For example, in the 'typelists' configuration, there's a quick link to learn more about typelists, and the FAQ actually was a FAQ, the two questions I had were immediately answered.

There are some very handy features on the site as well:

  • Email to blog. Killer feature. Three options for securely posting to the blog via email - #1 send the blog posts to a randomly generated email address only you know, #2 an ACK system where you send the post, they reply, and you reply to the reply or #3 PGP. I tested it out with an inline image and it handled it all well. Parsing MIME and grabbing out the images is not a simple task, I'm very impressed.
  • Easy entry of inline images. While in their edit control, click a button and browse to upload a pic. It will stick the file in your images folder and then insert a reference into the HTML. It also has an easy entrypoint to create a thumbnail (of a customizable size) pointing at the graphic rather than showing the whole huge picture inline. And if you don't like the default options it chooses for the thumbnail, you can customize them and then override the defaults. The way it's implemented doesn't require an activex download.
  • At the top of every page there is a set of links to tell you where you are - "TypePad Home > Your Weblogs > KC > Design > KC Templates > Style". You can click on any one of those words to get to that part of the options tree.
  • Many customization options for the overall look and feel of the site. You can change not only the general display of content on the site such as the number of columns, but also once you have the columns set, you can manually sort any of the 'objects' (such as your categories list, archives list, etc) into different columns. And once you have all that set, you can edit the colors, fonts and basic styles used. When you add photo albums, you have yet another set of design options for the photo albums themselves.
  • When you're uploading photos into a photo album, you can upload them individually by navigating to the file (and it shows 5 of these file upload entrypoints by default), or you can upload a zip of multiple images and it will unpack the zip on the server side. This is an elegant option (have I used the word 'elegant' too many times yet?) as it doesn't require any client-side downloads, unlike most photo upload sites.
  • Their reporting tells you what your disk quota and bandwidth allotments for the month are, as well as how much of that you've used. It appears that this is not live, but is updated nightly.
  • If you do a lot of work to customize one of your blogs, then you can easily copy that work to another blog on the same site, as the customizations are saved in a template set per blog. Similarly, if you customized a photo album the way you like it, you can create another photo album and tell it to use the design of the already customized photo album.
  • Very simple integration to simple web parts like "What I'm reading" - just tell it the ISBN and it will look up the icon for the book and link to Amazon (using SixApart's associate ID, so if you purchase the book from that link, SixApart will get a kickback). Another web part lists the most recent comments to any post on the site.
  • You can customize the kickback link to use your own Amazon associates ID if you so desire.
  • It's pretty easy to integrate custom HTML into little web parts that can be displayed in the blog (and manipulated in the design stage just like any of the built-in web parts) to do things like perform a google search.
  • It has an option to email you for any new comments and trackbacks. .Text doesn't do this for trackbacks which means that I rarely notice them except via Technorati.

At this point I only have a few minor complaints:

  • It has built-in flair such as an about page and a profile, but there is only one per entire site. So I filled that information out for my son, but then when I created my own blog, I had to manually recreate those types of webparts for myself.
  • There are so many options that I sometimes forget where the one I want is. They did pretty well overall in their hierarchical organization, however - I usually find my way to the option I want pretty quickly (and might stumble on a new feature in the meantime).
  • Trackbacks are off by default. I don't understand why.
  • When previewing a post before you save it, if there are inline images, the preview frequently is off, the inline images don't show up in the preview the way they do when saved.
  • The title of the blog entry isn't an HREF to the permalink. I like that a lot in .Text, so I don't have to scroll to the bottom to get the permalink. It's one of those little things I do all the time.
  • Well, perhaps this is why trackbacks are off: If the trackbacking blog entry is updated, the trackback is sent and re-added... and I can't figure out how to delete it. .Text has a 'remove comment' link right next to the trackback itself.

[Update later that evening: I figured out how to delete the trackbacks]

Comments
  • If you like TypePad -- and I love it, too -- try BlogJet or ecto for offline blogging. They both worth seamlessly with TypePad.

  • Been using Typepad as my Blog host. And I'm not much of a web author so I use w.bloggar for offline blogging.

  • So who do you use for hosting lemson.com? I'm looking for a decent cheap'ish host but there are so many out there that I'm looking for a recommendation...

  • A box in a friend's basement =)

  • KC,

    I really enjoyed our conversation at the SBS MVP get together in Seattle. Jared is just adorable and I could not wait to try Typepad when I got back home.

    I am now in the midst of setting up a blog for my daughter Alex and one for Outlook.

    I will let you know when the blogs are setup and ready to view.

    Francine Otterson

  • KC Lemson's the release manager for Microsoft Exchange Server, and she's got some very kind words about TypePad over on her work blog. We'll definitely be taking note of the complaints and trying to improve the service, but thanks for...

  • KC:
    Just an FYI that Blogspot.com has many of the features that have drawn you to love Typepad. Blogspot's free, though...

  • I actually prefer pay services to free in this case, because I feel that I can trust the pay service to be around for a while and not do anything too screwy.