The Explainer: Ways to brighten your blog

From visitor numbers to subscription tools, archiving and licensing, there are plenty of ways of snazzing up your blog, whether you are a pure narcissist or an information junkie.

Here are some of the more commonly used tools, all free and requiring little effort other than signing up and copying and pasting code into your blog template.

Statistics: A good statistics tool will tell you how many people visit your blog, where they come, how long they stay, what they read, what clothes they are wearing, what they're eating and much, much more. Statcounter is free, easy to configure and can be set so that it is invisible on your blog. Gostats and Site Meter are two other free choices, while Google Analytics is a detailed, well-presented option that integrates with all other Google services.

Network: Join the professional network Linked in, add information about your work and display a button on your blog. MyBlogLog is a service that allows you to discover and display to your readers who is reading your blog.If you use the microblogging tools Twitter or Jaiku you can also display your presence on your blog by adding a display widget. The massively popular Facebook also allows this.

Do more with text: Good blogs are crammed with links. A service called Snap adds more power to your links. When readers hover over a link, Snap gives them a snapshot view of the page you are linking to. In a similar vein, Clipmarks turns the bits of the web you find interesting into a scrapbook on your blog.

Who reads who?: It's easy to generate a list of recent referers in the sidebar of your blog by using blogtricks. Who Links to Me generates a list of bloggers and websites linking to your blog. The blog search engines Technorati and Sphere can also be configured to do this.

Search: It is possible to create a custom Google search engine tailored to your blog. Alternatively, add a MSN live search box or a Wikipedia one. Technorati and Sphere will do the same, although the search results focus solely on blogs.

Feeds: Anything that generates an RSS feed, whether it be text, video, pictures or audio, can be added to your blog. Most popular free web services explain how to do this in their help sections.

Alternatively, search for widgets using a directory such as WidgetBox, which lists thousands of easy-to-install widgets for WordPress, Typepad, MySpace and other blogs and web pages. This can be something as simple as a live newsfeed on a topic you blog about or the weather and time in your home town.

RSS, email and audio subscriptions: Feedburner is the easiest-to-configure free RSS and email subscription tool currently available. Talkr will covert your text blog into an audio podcast that readers can subscribe to.

Licensing: Creative Commons offer a wide number of licences. As the website says: "You keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work, provided they give you credit". It's up to you what usage rights you allow and what licence you display.

Talk Talk: There are a number of ways you can allow readers to talk on your blog beyond the simple comment box. Plugoo is a chat tool.

Once you install it MSN, GoogleTalk and Yahoo users can chat on your blog live from their Instant Messenger. If you want more than idle chitchat, add a forum. Freewebs is a free service that lets you do just that.

Navigation: Category Clouds are a "folksonomic" way to index your blog highlighting the topics you write about most. TagCloud and ZoomClouds are two services that let you turn your archives into a folksonomic cloud.

One drawback with this method is that these tools tend not to highlight topics you don't talk about very much, therefore making it harder for readers to dig into every aspect of your blog.There is a danger of too many widgets, buttons, bells and whistles, slowing down your loading time and annoying readers. A lot of clutter in a blog's sidebar is meaningless and irrelevant to readers who don't blog.

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