Sharing your life experience with friends, family and random strangers online has become an extremely simple process, and all it takes is an internet connection and a blog. Would you like share your ideas with the world but don’t know where to start? We’ll point you in the right direction to found your very own blog, and showcase your story with the world.
What is a “blog?
The term Blog is short for “web log.” While the word has evolved from a list of all the websites someone visits into a more personal and intimate form of writing, the main purpose of a blog hasn’t changed: To share an idea with the world in a reverse chronologically dated fashion.
Blogs are meant as a public mouthpiece for a private individual, or group of people. As such, blogs don’t offer much in the way of privacy controls, but instead focus on creating a simple way for someone to get a message out to the Internet. Most blogs are created with the full knowledge of the sharer that the information will be going out into the world for anyone to see. The big advantage of blogs? For the publisher, it’s extremely simple to write a message for mass consumption, and for the reader, no signing up for a service, remembering passwords or otherwise having to cobble together some information.
The downside of all this access? Everything published is available for the entire Internet to see. Users looking to control who can see photos, posts or comments should think about just using other social networking services like Facebook or Flickr, rather than making the jump to a blog. Many of my family members find blogs extremely useful, since they’re able to publicly share pictures and stories with other family members who have internet access, but aren’t up on any social networking sites. Many of my friends, however, opt to share pictures and stories on Facebook, since they can limit exposure of certain elements to different groups of friends. Think about the kind of information you’d like to share when deciding to go with a blog.
Since blogs have exploded, there are many different ways for a newbie to start their first blog. For the most basic user, and the lion’s share of people who haven’t ever blogged before, we recommend a service called Blogger. Like most Google owned services, Blogger is extremely simple and will help you publish your own blog. Simply create an account, add a few details about the blog, pick a theme, and you’re off blogging. Blogger comes with a few predefined templates that let you pick your own look, and Blogger has a simple Page Elements editor which lets users easily add and remove simple sidebar elements and customize limited elements of their blogs.
Blogger’s more advanced options allow for multiple users to work on the same blog, and Blogger goes as far as to publish individual files to a remote server, allowing basic support for a custom domain name. The advanced services are nice touches, however we’d still recommend Blogger as a beginners-only service. Blogger’s strength is in its ease of use and simplicity, not in its advanced customization options.
For a step up from Blogger, there’s WordPress.com. While Blogger is so simple anyone can feel confident with the first time they use the software, WordPress.com adds a modicum of complexity and with it comes extra flexibility. WordPress.com’s service allows users a variety of more advanced options, including many more themes than are available from Blogger, advanced post writing options, better comments management and the ability to password protect individual posts. WordPress.com also has an integrated statistics tracking package, so users can see how many people are visiting their sites.
WordPress.com is a great way for someone to get their feet wet once they’ve figured out the basics of blogging and are looking for some advanced features. WordPress.com allows users to import Blogger posts and comments, so anything you’ve done on one site won’t have to be abandoned. Even though WordPress.com is more advanced than Blogger, the service can still feel limiting since advanced users don’t have access to the nuts and bolts of the service, and have to pay for upgrades like custom design and styling or extended web space.
We always recommend users not upgrade until they feel like they’re being constrained by their current technology solution. Each step in this blogging process, from Blogger to WordPress.com, and now to individual software installations, offers a tradeoff of complexity for features. Both Blogger and WordPress.com offer an extremely simplistic experience to publish a blog, but if you’re the type of user who wants to tinker around with their web presence, there’s nowhere else to turn but to install pieces of software yourself.
WordPress.com users will be happy to know that there’s a more customizable version of WordPress.com that users can install on their own servers. Simply called WordPress, users can download the open-source blogging software package, install it to their own web server and get full control over the software.
The biggest difference between WordPress.com and regular WordPress is the ability to install customized plugins. There is an entire community of developers who develop specialized plugins to help WordPress users extend their blog past a simple text entry system. Plugin developers create tiny pieces of software that help turn WordPress into a podcasting platform, add its own ad-serving engine and all sorts of advanced features. Custom-installed WordPress also allows the user full control over the look and feel of the site, the ability to create custom themes, and access to any of the themes created by the community at the WordPress theme directory.
A custom installation of WordPress isn’t going to be free. Usually WordPress is coupled with a web hosting package, which typically run about $5 per month. (I host my personal blog on Dreamhost.) Many services will automatically configure the “difficult” settings like MySQL databases and the like, leaving the easy settings (name, URL, etc) to the user.
Now you should be up to speed on beginning to intermediate level blogging. Next time, we’ll talk about advanced blogging software like Drupal and Moveable Type, and other services like Tumblr. Do you user WordPress or Blogger? What’s been your experience blogging? Share it with the community in the comments. Happy blogging!