About 12 million Americans keep blogs, according to a survey released last July by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But even more people might become bloggers if blogs weren’t so, well, public. After all, who really wants to share a high-school-reunion video with stockbrokers in Istanbul or teenagers in Tokyo?
Privacy controls that let the author decide who can view each post are a major feature of several blogging platforms, including Vox, a free Web-based service launched by Six Apart in October. “Sometimes you only want your five best friends in the world to see a post, and you should be able to do that,” writes Six Apart cofounder and president Mena Trott in her own blog. While the most famous “A-list” blogs may be full of political commentary or technology gossip, many people blog simply to let people in their immediate social circle know how they’re doing, Trott believes.
In that, she’s backed up by the Pew survey. Only 27 percent of U.S. bloggers told researchers that they blog in order to change the way other people think. A larger group, 37 percent, cited staying in touch with family and friends as a major reason to blog.
If anyone knows what bloggers want, it should be the folks at Six Apart. The company is best known for creating Movable Type, a professional blog publishing system, as well as TypePad, which gives nongeek subscribers simpler Web-based tools for building Movable Type blogs. (I’m a longtime TypePad user.) In 2005, the San Francisco-based company also acquired LiveJournal, which has one of the fiercest followings in the blogosphere, thanks partly to the various privacy settings that users can assign to each post. Using the software behind LiveJournal, Six Apart programmers have developed a new publishing platform called Meteor, and Vox–Latin for “voice”–is the first product built entirely on that platform.
I’ve been using Vox for the last week, and I think it’s one of the most appealing authoring systems now available to bloggers–and not just because of the privacy settings. Vox blogs offer useful media-sharing and social-networking features, a wonderfully simple what-you-see-is-what-you-get editing interface, and a library of sleek, professional graphics that make it possible to customize a blog’s look without learning HTML. I expect that Vox will attract some people to blogging for the first time, and even win a few longtime bloggers away from other services.
Joining Vox is free. Of course, there is a tradeoff: Six Apart earns revenue by selling banner ads and Google text ads that appear at the top and bottom of each blog page, and sometimes between posts. But the ads are unobtrusive, especially compared with those on social-networking sites like MySpace (see “Fakesters,” November 14, 2006). Six Apart users who strongly prefer the advertising-free look should stick with LiveJournal (a limited version of which is both free and ad-free) or TypePad (which costs $4.95 to $14.95 per month).
Publishing a basic Vox blog requires no setup at all; you simply create your first “asset.” An asset can be a blog post, a book review, or a photo, video, or audio file that you have uploaded from your computer or copied from elsewhere on the Web. (One of the funnier assets I’ve stumbled across: a dyslexic cow that says “Oom.”) Vox displays all these items in the central column of your blog page as if they were traditional text entries, meaning that if you so desire, you can turn your blog into a parade of media clips.
Assets can also be mixed together. For example, you might want to embed a video of your boyfriend’s snowboarding crash in an item about your trip to Steamboat. On other blogging platforms, such as LiveJournal, you need some HTML coding skill to make this work. In Vox, you just click “insert,” choose the asset from your hard drive, decide where to place it, and you’re done.