Blogs have a place in many of our everyday lives, even if we aren’t bloggers ourselves. The word blog, short for Web log, is used to describe personal Web sites that are frequently updated with entries for sharing with others. They can range from your son’s personal blog about baseball statistics to a well-read and more polished political blog that gets tens of thousands of hits each day.
A big problem with blogs is privacy. While some people — especially MySpace fans — don’t mind posting personal news, photos and videos for anyone to read, many of us hesitate to leave details about our personal lives online.
This week, we tested a new, free blogging service called Vox, www.vox.com, from Six Apart Ltd., a blogging software company. One of Vox’s best attributes is its ability to label each individual post, or entry, with a different privacy filter, so that instead of setting your blog to be entirely private or entirely public, you can pick and choose what you want to share.
Vox also excels at making it easy to add photos, audio, videos and book links to your blog without any prior expertise. It lets you incorporate content from Web sites like YouTube, Amazon and photo-sharing site Flickr in only a couple of steps. Viewing of each multimedia element can also be restricted to people you choose. Vox is supported by ads that aren’t intrusive or distracting.
We each made a blog in Vox, and updated them several times. We found the process to be quick and simple, and the results to be attractive. We liked the privacy features. But while its intentions are good, Vox has a few downsides. Its idea of making each blog post visible to different groups is useful. But everyone who views your privacy-protected entries must also be registered with Vox, a quick process, but one that will discourage many potential users.
Also puzzling are Vox’s categories for labeling those who view your blog. Everyone must be labeled as friends, family or neighbors, but the filters that determine who can view your posts don’t include neighbors at all.
Vox also doesn’t do a great job of implementing many features that are standard in blog services. These features include interactive elements on a page such as drag-and-drop organizing.
We got started by signing up for Vox — a process that involved entering our email address, creating a password and URL, and entering personal information. A Design section walked us through choosing a layout and theme from numerous choices. Katie chose the Cityscape Washington, D.C., theme, which includes the Capitol and Washington Monument. Walt chose Firefly Night, which includes the moon and stars and a silhouette of a tree.
To prompt you to blog, the Vox homepage always offers a Question of the Day, or QOTD. With one click, you can optionally answer the QOTD in your own blog. When you post your answer, or enter any post, a drop-down menu lets you choose who can view it: The World (Public), Your Friends and Family, Your Friends, Your Family or Just You. If, for example, you choose to allow only your friends to see a post, other groups won’t know that they’re not seeing the friends-only post.
If you see another person’s Vox blog and would like to bookmark it so that his or her latest entries are constantly updated on a special page just for you, you can add that blogger to your neighborhood. Friends and family are automatically part of your neighborhood, but when choosing who can see your content, neighborhood isn’t an option. Vox plans to make the neighborhood concept more understandable in an updated version due out by December.
We first posted some simple text entries. Then in the Compose section, we chose from five colorful icons labeled Photos, Audio, Videos, Books and Collections. Selecting each icon let us load content from our computer or from a Web site with that type of content.
In Videos Katie selected a YouTube tab, entered a search word and found a favorite scene from the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” She selected a thumbnail image of the scene, hit OK, and the scene loaded onto her blog moments later. No formatting or HTML code is necessary, a requirement that used to plague many blogging services.
As we became comfortable using Vox and its privacy options, we started posting lots of things: vacation photos, a country music audio file to play along with a post about two-stepping and even Amazon links to our favorite books. And unless your post or profile is public, nothing can be retrieved using the Vox search feature.
We found a few hiccups, but mostly forgot about the geeky side of blogging and enjoyed sharing our digital media. And the idea that no one else would randomly browse across our content was a comfort. But that poses another problem: Not everyone will want to register with Vox just to see your protected content. Vox hopes to offer a way to register others so that your grandmother will be able to see your family photos online just by entering a username and password.
Back on the home page of Vox, a section called VoxWatch let us quickly see any recent activity from our neighbors or ourselves. Recently posted digital photos, recent comments and recent posts from everyone in our neighborhood were grouped here.
A helpful Organize section divvies all of your content up into its proper section: Photos, Books, Audio, Videos, Posts and Comments. This section let us quickly find a comment that we wanted to reread but didn’t feel like finding on our blog, and it helped us get a better idea of everything that existed on our blog — a boon as you add more and more content. This section also displays the names of those in your Neighborhood, as well as Friends and Family.
Vox does a nice job of jazzing up the world of blogging. Its designs are attractive, but it really shines when loading media onto your posts, making your blog richer in content and more sophisticated in looks. Updates will continue to be released, improving Vox’s weaknesses, the most important of which is clarifying its group labels. Vox also plans to offer to import your content from other blogging sites, encouraging experienced users to bring their last blog along with them instead of leaving it with the old service.