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PRIVATE BLOGS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS

The Baltimore Sun

Most bloggers are not known for their reticence. One purpose of blogging, after all, is to cast personal views far and wide.

But some people who long to blog are more circumspect and may be hesitating to begin, lest details of their private lives end up indexed on Google for all to see.

Now several easy-to-use tools for setting up Web pages, with privacy filters included, are on the market. They are ideal for those who want to get their blogging feet wet quietly.

A new service, Vox (vox.com), offers free personal blogging sites where you can decide who will see each posted item. If you post pictures of your children, for example, you can mark them for family-member-only viewing. But if you write a book review, you may mark it for friends as well as family, or even for public viewing.

The Vox blog has its disadvantages. People who want to be designated as friends or family must first register with Vox, setting up accounts so that the software will recognize them. This takes only a few moments, but many people will probably be put off by the extra step. And while Vox is free to users, its costs are paid in part by ads on each page, a feature that some people may find distracting.

But the service is not hard to navigate, and people who can put up with the ads - and who don't mind asking their friends to register - may find themselves enjoying the pleasures of blogging without worrying about the costs of personal exposure.

Burghardt Tenderich is an executive at Bite Communications, a public relations agency in San Francisco, who has friends and family in Germany. He uses his Vox Web site as a practical way to keep in touch with his circle of relatives and close friends - but with no one else.

"The privacy function is very important," he said. "I don't want anyone but my friends and family to see pictures of my kids on the Web."

Tenderich sends pictures to his blog directly from his cell phone, a practice called moblogging. And he recently started experimenting with video additions.

"This weekend I posted my first video clip," he said. "When I came into work on Monday, there was an e-mail from my dad in Germany, who had viewed and liked it."

Tenderich is one of a multitude of people experimenting with personal blogs. About 100,000 people sign up to start blogs each day, said David Sifry, founder and chief executive of Technorati, a company in San Francisco that tracks the activities of about 65 million blogs worldwide. An additional 6.5 million to 10 million blogs exist behind firewalls or passwords, he said.

Private blogs are not new, Sifry said. "People have been blogging in privacy or semiprivacy for years," he said. Many blog services, for example, have some privacy controls you can click to specify whether the blog is for the public, or just for friends, for example, but Vox has gone beyond this.

"What Vox has done is make it easy for beginners to set different levels of privacy," he said. "The hard part is making a rainbow of privacy with many gradations of access to what people write - and making those gradations easy to use."

Vox is owned by Six Apart, a company in San Francisco that sells other blogging tools, including Movable Type, a professional blog publishing system.

I tried out Vox and persuaded several friends and relatives to do so, too. Everyone agreed that it called for little in the way of a learning curve. Registration takes just a few moments and requires only an e-mail address. Then you choose a design. (The site offers many attractive templates.)

The second step is to start stocking your personal Web pages. Anything stored on your hard drive or on the Internet will transfer quickly, with a click or two. I started out by inserting a video favorite from YouTube, "Kiwi," along with pet photos. If you have an account at photo-sharing sites like Flickr or Photobucket, the pictures can be pulled directly into Vox blog entries.

Another feature allows you to search Amazon.com within Vox at a single click - if, for instance, you want to post the image of the cover of a book as part of a discussion. I easily transferred images of several books I like, as well as images of covers of CDs made by my daughter, a musician. This is another way that Vox makes money. If anyone clicks on these Amazon links and then makes a purchase, Vox gets 7 percent of the proceeds.

Once my Web pages were in place, I set the privacy levels for everything on them - for example, by clicking on a pull-down menu next to an entry and designating the audience. The choices ranged from "anyone" and "friends and family" to "just myself."

Afterward, when I logged onto my blog, I saw all the entries, but others saw only the sections they were cleared to view. The only mandatory part of the blog displayed in the public profile is the user name, which does not have to be the same as a person's actual name. (I ended up giving my blog the user name annex.vox.com.)

As other Vox subscribers saw what I had written on my Web pages, some added my blog to what Vox calls a "neighborhood." That is, they set up a link so that my content could be viewed from their blogs, so long as I'd designated the writing as "for the neighborhood."

Bryn Greenwood, 35, a Vox member in Lawrence, Kan., greatly values the concept of neighborhood readership. Greenwood, who belongs to a writing group on Vox, said that many people there were reading her blog, and that a few dozen neighbors regularly commented on her writing. No anonymous postings ever show up, though, because only people registered with Vox can have a say. "One of my friends who doesn't keep a blog at Vox registered anyway just so she could leave comments," she said.

Not everyone is signing up for a blog, though, no matter how exclusive the readership. Some people, including many whom I asked to join, just don't have the urge. William Mayer, 81, a composer and friend who lives in New York, for instance, did give the Vox platform a try, and agreed that it was easy to use. But he was put off by what he called the intrinsic narcissism of blogging, and by the thought of asking his family to sign up and read entries.

"My kids and friends are too busy," he said.

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