Yesterday I talked a bit about the name of your blog and why I felt like it was probably the single most important decision you made starting out. Today I am going to talk about a very close second… which is what platform you are going to be doing your blogging on. There are a bunch of competing software packages and hosting scenarios out there, but I am going to attempt to do my best to work through them with you this morning… or at least the major options. For the sake of transparency I myself use WordPress in a hosted environment and have for a very long time. There are pluses and negatives with that kind of set up, but a lot of the other options I have played with at one point or another.
Hosting vs SaaS
Ultimately your first real decision point is going to be… are you going to be using a cloud/software as a service (SaaS) model for your site or are you going to procure your own hosting environment and maintain the site yourself. This really is a question of how technical do you feel comfortable being? Sure most hosting providers give you the option of installing something like WordPress or Drupal from the web based back end with the click of a few buttons. However there will come a time at some point when you need to get your hands dirty in the innards of your software. So ultimately you need to ask yourself if you are comfortable having to do that.
Ultimately the big thing that hosting the software does is give you the freedom to be able to try out any new plugins or themes that come out, because you can effectively re-roll your site as often as you like because you have the tools to do so. Traditionally in a more SaaS model you are paying them to maintain the software where they give you a few configuration options but greatly limit your ability to install custom code. For example if I were not as lazy as I am… I could create a wordpress plugin to maintain all of the nonsense that we end up keeping track of with Blaugust. When we were utilizing Anook quite a bit within the blogging community there was one of the folks that created a custom integration that would allow you to have an auto updating version of your Anook feed in your blog sidebar.
In a SaaS model that sort of thing really isn’t possible because the software company is maintaining the risk of hosting your content. That means they need to make sure nothing that is happening on your blog will potentially negatively impact the other people on that platform. What this means is generally speaking you will not have to worry quite so much about attack vectors and making sure things are patched to the latest versions, and in truth are probably going to have a much more stress free blogging experience. However if you like to tinker with things… you will similarly likely never be happy with the constraints placed upon you by a blog provider.
So when you decide to host your own blog you are going to need two things… a hosting provider and some blogging software. The first part of that I don’t have a lot of advice with. The service that I used to recommend hands down has gotten significantly less grand as time has gone on. The service that I contemplated moving to… is no longer open to new customers because it seems like it is ramping down. So you are left with a minefield of options… many of which I have heard both positive and negative things about. InMotion I have some decent experience with in the past and they offer a WordPress hosting option for $8.99 a month (that goes down if you pay for multiple months in a row) that offers some hack/malware protection software along with the package. Please note though I am not actively using them myself so I can’t really give it a full fledged thumbs up endorsement.
Once you have trudged through the hinterlands and decided where you are going to host your site, you need to pick a software package. This is also a deluge of choice because as many people as there are out there… there seem to be options for blog software. Some of the more common options are WordPress, Ghost, Jekyll and Movable Type. If you want more than just a blog you can look at things like Drupal or Joomla… but having had plenty of bad work experience with both I am not super fond of either. That said there are a ton of folks who love them and swear by them, so your mileage may vary. I would suggest that you look at pretty much all of the options, but in reality you are more than likely going to end up using WordPress. The reason being that there is simply more support from that community for blog-centric needs… and if you can think of it, there is likely already a plugin written to do the thing you want to do.
Once you have chosen something… you need to install it… which again is going to vary wildly based on the package that you choose. I said before that more than likely a few of these options are going to show up in the auto configuration tools that your web host will likely have. That said… automated WordPress installs in my experience often have issues. My preference is to just use the normal web based installer process in setting it up that involves you creating your own MySQL database (also through a web based tool your provider will give you like PHPMySQL) and then feeding that information into the web GUI to set everything up. If this sounds frustrating to you, then maybe the self hosting route is not your jam. Granted there are a bunch of us in the Blaugust community that are going to be more than happy to help you sort these sort of things out.
SaaS / Cloud Platforms
If you checked the hell out of the last sequence of paragraphs then maybe your best option is to go with a feature-lite but also stress-lite blogging platform. Here you have a wealth of options that are at your disposal. I have my preferences but I am going to talk about a long list of options that range from completely free, to “freemium”, to paid only. Quite honestly you can in theory blog with social media like Facebook or Google Plus… but that is very much not my jam. There is just too much platform rivalry and for every person like me that hates Facebook with a passion, there is someone else out there that hates some other platform with similar fury. One of the options I am talking about is in the more social space, but it makes for a pretty reasonable blog option as well. Essentially I am going to talk through some of these options as I view them. Take anything I say with a grain of salt.
- WordPress.com – This is the fully hosted version of WordPress and lives in a halfway state between free and paid. Essentially you can roll a site within moments for free and have a something.wordpress.com address to send your readers to. They also offer a few premium features that you can pay for that get you closer to the WordPress.org self hosted experience, but you will never quite get that level of freedom. This is going to be the best option if you want to start out small but at some point down the line want to move to hosting your own blog, because it is trivial to move content from a wordpress.com install to a wordpress.org self hosted scenario. There is a really good mobile client for WordPress and for both self hosted and SaaS you can get in and write very solid posts with full picture and theme support from a phone/tablet without needing to rely on the web interface.
- Blogger.com – This is the other big popular option for a quick and free blog. I’ve used this in the past at length and my very first blog existed here… and no I will never link it ever ever because it is embarrassing as hell. In many ways Blogger feels like it at some point got locked in the dotcom boom look and feel and never really evolved out of it. It still today feels very much as it did when it was competing with Live Journal and Xanga, and never really grew out of that era. There are folks however that completely swear by it.. and it has hands down the very best implementation of a blogroll out there. It also has very easy integration with google advertising if you plan on making money with your postings. The biggest issue is… every few years it feels like Google is about ready to kick it to the curb since they would really love you to use Google Plus as your blogging platform.
- SquareSpace.com – This is a platform I have never used but have heard a lot of great things about especially in the customer service and site uptime departments. The reason why I have never used it is because there is no free option. This is paid software and you are essentially given two tiers of access… Personal for $16 a month or Business for $26 a month… with obvious price breaks for paying a year at a time. I hear they have a lot of really cool toys behind the scenes and a library full of resources to build your site out in a web based drag and drop editor. That said once again I have no personal experience with this and as a result can’t give a proper endorsement.
- Tumblr.com – This one lives in a weird space between social media and blogging platform, and what you end up with instead is an option that is really good at relatively short posts with lots of media file support. There are folks who love Tumblr as a community, but I have never been super impressed with its often times hyperbolic nature. That said I syndicate out to Tumblr and often get readers that come in from it so there is at least some traction there… giving me a shocking number of followers on a platform I never really engage with. What Tumblr really has going for it is that it is extremely simple to use, has a great mobile friendly web client and is one of your more hands off options. You can do some pretty basic styling of a Tumblr blog but you will never really be able to do anything super crazy with it. I appreciate it for its simplicity and the fact that it lends itself to relatively short posts that I can quickly consume. Image Meme Tumblr is a thing and you are going to run into a lot of blogs that are nothing but reposts from fandoms… similarly NEVER EVER EVER EVER search for something on Tumblr that you love without the safe search filters on.
Many Important Decisions
The long and short of this is that you are going to be asked to make a lot of decisions that you may or may not know the full ramifications of at this point. I would suggest that you lead on the Blaugust community for support here because we each have our blogging platform of choice and some very valid reasons why we ended up that way. I am going to largely push folks towards WordPress because it gives you more options, however I am sure there is someone out there that just hates it and would send you off a completely different path. Ultimately there are ways to move content between providers, some of which are easier than others… but what I am telling you is that you are not necessarily locked into a decision right now that you will use for the rest of your life. I know my long time friend Calamity Jess has re-rolled her blog three or four times since our days in the WoW Blogging Community… and that is okay. The readers that really matter will follow you wherever you happen to be hanging your hat, and ultimately you have to make the decisions that make you happy.