I receive many messages similar to this one:
so what if I want to set up a blog and play with it for a bit before I publish it to the world? How would you recommend I go about that? Do I need my own domain and hosting service first?
Here’s what I can tell you. In order to have a blog, you need a place to *put* it first. (First you have to register your domain (e.g. myblog.com). That is done through a registrar. My favorite is dotster.com.) Once you have a domain registered, you have to have some web space on which to host your site. You do that with a host. That’s (basically) the computer on which your web site resides.
You don’t have to have your own domain, though. Most ISPs allow you some web space on which you can host a page. I think AOL does and I’m almost sure that Earthlink does, too. In that case you would have space at (for example) http://www.aol.com/yourusername/ and then you could put your blog there.
Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that, but hopefully that’s enough to get you started. If you’re interested in having your own blog, please let me know if I can help in any way.