Soon after you decide to "get out there" online and start a blog, you are faced with another question: which blog program/software/platform should I choose?
Blogs can be free or cost money. And blog software can be loaded your own site or server, or be "hosted" which means the blog software is running on someone else's server, not your own. Because so many blogging software products and platforms exist, it can be difficult to compare "apples to apples." The blogging software or platform you select depends on just a few factors. It's important to figure out what you want your blog to do for you because switching platforms later is a big pain.
Believe me, I know of what I speak. I had to switch my blog software about 6 months into my blogging adventure and it was not a fun experience or one I'd like to repeat. Another thing to consider is that if you switch from a hosted blogging service to another one, your domain name changes. All your friends, family and followers that have come to expect your blog at one place now have to be trained to find your pearls of wisdom at the new location. In other words, all that work you did to promote your blog has to be done all over again.
Before you decide to start a blog, consider these questions:
- Why do you want to start a blog? (What are your goals?)
- Is it a personal blog or a professional blog?
- If you are blogging for business, is it part of a larger marketing plan?
- Is the blog a short or long-term endeavor? (Some people start "wedding blogs" or event-blogs that are designed to be abandoned.)
- What is your budget?
- How comfortable are you in dealing with technical issues?
The answers to these questions will help you decide which blogging software or platform is right for you.
Hosted vs. Non-Hosted Blogs
The first decision you need to make is whether or not you want to use a hosted blog or stand-alone blog software that you put on your own hosting or Web site. Blogger and Typepad are hosted blogs for example. When your blog is hosted, your domain name (URL) will be something like http://myblog.blogspot.com or http://myblog.typepad.com. All the files and data that make up your blog are located on the Blogger or Typepad web servers. This "hosted" arrangement is different than when you create a standard Web site or use stand-alone blog software, where you pay a hosting company a monthly fee for a "space" that is your own.
If you are setting up a personal blog, you may not care if it's hosted. But if you are a business with an established domain, you may want your blog to be related to your company Web site. For example, our corporate Web site is www.logicalexpressions.com. Our blog is located at http://blog.logicalexpressions.com, so it is a subdomain (blog) off of our main root domain (logicalexpressions.com). For us, it was important for our business branding to avoid going with a hosted blog. We wanted the domain name of our blog to be part of our overall logicalexpressions.com Web site.
However, the great thing about a hosted blog is that it's generally really easy to set up. You don't have to worry about installing software or dealing with anything too techy. You can just log in, change a few settings if you'd like, and start posting. Many paid versions of hosted blogs also let you customize the look of your blog and avoid advertising. Although many hosted blogs are free, for some features, you may need to commit to paying a monthly fee, so it's good to keep that in mind. If you have big plans to change how your blog looks, you may not be able to do what you want with the free version.
Blogging for Business
As I mentioned, if you are planning to include a blog as part of a larger business or make blogging a business itself, you may want to look at stand-alone blogging software. WordPress, for example is a popular blogging platform that many business owners use for their blogs. One thing that's a bit confusing is that WordPress actually comes in both hosted and non-hosted flavors. If you go to WordPress.org, you find the stand-alone (software) version, whereas WordPress.com is the site for the hosted version.
WordPress has gained popularity because it's free, fairly easy to install, and has many "plug-ins" which are utility programs that expand its feature set. Of course, "easy to install" is partly in the eye of the beholder. Some hosting companies now offer "one-click" WordPress blog installations, which is a great option. But not all hosting companies have this feature and some may not be interested in helping you. Installing software on a server is not for the technologically faint of heart.
The advantages of a stand-alone blog are that you can point a domain name or subdomain to it and "brand" your blog. Plus, stand-alone blogs can be customized, so you aren't restricted to the limited number of designs available from the hosted blogs. Countless free customizable "skins" or "themes" are available for virtually every blogging platform. If you are technically minded, you can modify skins yourself, or you can employ a Web designer so your blog looks just the way you want.
Of course, if you are not a nerd, hate HTML (or don't know what HTML is) and/or you just want to put up a personal blog to share vacation photos with your family, a stand alone blog may be overkill.
An extremely important point to consider if you already have hosting is whether or not the stand-alone blog software will actually run on your server. For example, WordPress requires a host that is running newer versions of PHP and MySQL. PHP is the programming language and MySQL is the database used for WordPress, so they need to be installed on the server before you can install WordPress. The folks at WordPress also recommend Unix servers (Apache and Litespeed).
These hosting requirements may be a problem if for example, your business Web site is running on a Windows server. Our Logical Expressions Web site (along with our other 25 or so sites) runs on a Windows server. When we tried WordPress, we actually had to get separate hosting, which meant an extra monthly fee. That hosting experience turned into a nightmare, so in the end we opted to switch our blog platform instead. Now we use a Windows-based blogging platform called Subtext instead, which runs on our own Windows server alongside all our other sites.
Sometimes It's Better to Be a Maverick
Our switch to Subtext brings up a point that often isn't discussed in blogging circles: blog badness. The reality of owning a blog (or any Web site) is that hackers and spammers are all over the Internet. A few years ago, before Blogger was owned by Google, many Blogger blogs were the victim of a hacker attack, so people weren't able to log into their blogs. This example is just one of many attempts; in fact just a few months ago Google's own corporate blog was hacked.
The more popular a platform is, the more likely it is to become a target for people with bad intent. Microsoft Windows users have known this for years, and it's why a lot of people opt to use Macintoshes instead. Because there aren't as many people using Macs, there's less gratification for hackers to write viruses and malware for that platform.
In much the same way, when we had our WordPress blog, I was constantly fighting off endless attacks from automated spambots that appeared to have figured out how to bypass all of WordPress's built in comment spam protections. So WordPress's popularity is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have lots of developers and Web designers who are available to help you if you have problems. But on the other hand, because it's popular, you may run into problems you didn't expect (or want) particularly if your blog becomes popular.
The Bottom Line
As noted, the blog platform you select has a lot to do with your blogging goals and the Web sites you already have in place. If you already are paying for hosting of another site, it's may be less expensive to add free stand-alone software for your blog. But if you are just getting started with the "Web thing" an easy-to use hosted blog may be a better fit.