If you´re reading this post, you´ve figured out what a blog is. So, let´s say you´ve read blogs for awhile, think blogs are interesting and whether for personal or professional interests you´ve decided to start your own blog. Now what?
There are many options available to prospective bloggers and there are a lot of blogging tools out there to choose from. I´ve personally used the following blogging solutions — Blogger, Typepad, Nuclues, pMachine, ExpressionEngine, b2evolution, and WordPress. Also, I´ve used a few content manage solutions (CMS) to blog — Mambo, Drupal, PHP-Nuke, and Xoops. For purpose of this brief post, I´ll forgo talking about the CMS solutions I´ve tried.
As a side note, Mambo is the closest of all solutions I´ve used in delivering a site-blog (a combination of website and blog)"?¦it´s close, but needs a bit more integration to make it complete. If any of you are interesed in Mambo, let me know; I´ve built several sites with Mambo and can point you in a few good directions. A close second in site-blog capabilities, some would argue a first place finish, goes to pMachine and ExpressionEngine (made by the same company). pMachine and ExpressionEngine have an architecture that allows you to take blog elements, like post categories, and insert them into web pages. This allows you to integrate a blog into a static website. Very cool, but you need to know HTML.
Getting back on track, following is an extremely cursory discussion of blogging options. It is NOT by any measure intended to be a complete guide nor is it in any way exhaustive. If you are interested in learning more about blogging options or have questions you´d like answered, leave a comment, call me or send me an email and I´d happy to share with you everything I know. I´m not an expert, but I´ve tried a lot of things!
Focusing on blog specific solutions, most all choices flow from one major decision you first need to make: Do you want a hosted blog or do you want to host a solution yourself?
A hosted blog is where a company provides the blogging software, administrative interface, and hosting. Services such as Typepad and Blogger are examples of hosted solutions. Blogger is free and Typepad has three monthly fee plans to choose from. Both services come with the ability to configure the blog to your particular interest of colors, fonts, features, etc. Tyepad offers a plan that allows you HTML access to further personalize your look-n-feel.
Some say you get what you pay for and as such Blogger isn´t a good choice. I disagree and note there are many well written and well read blogs using Blogger as the platform of choice.
The big benefit of a hosted solution is you don´t have to know a thing about HTML or PHP (a common blogging software language) to set up a site and start posting. Most configurations are done by a simple point-n-click. Hosted solutions are widely used and have a professional look-n-feel.
Self Serve Blog
What I call self serve blogs are solutions where you host the blogging software. When you self serve blog you choose blogging software and install it on a hosting service you purchase and maintain.
There is one consideration in going this route: buy blogging software or choose an open source solution. You can purchase a solution, such as ExpressionEngine or Movable Type, or you can use a free open source solution such as b2evolution or Nucleus. In either case, you need to have some HTML and sometimes PHP know-how and ability to make the solutions "sing."?? Installation and set-up of the software requires a hosting solution and SQL database configuration. There are many hosting companies and individuals that will install a self serve blog for you.
Customizing a self serve blog generally requires two things: modifying the CSS file associated with the skin or theme you download and install (a skin or theme is a series of files that give your blog a look-n-feel) and inserting HTML elements into the blog pages — banners, logos, polls, etc.
The advantage of a self serve blog is you get maximum benefit of customization. You can do anything to everything. That also is the downfall of a self serve blog. And you must have some HTML skills to make things work and flow.
Open source software is a good choice for many, it´s free. In this case, free doesn´t mean featureless, free means there is no company to call if something goes wrong. Open source software is supported by a community of users and software developers. The chief consideration in using open source solutions is community support. Check-out the bulletin boards and forums that support the open source solution you choose and make sure there is continual community support. Note how many and how fast questions are asked and answered. I have had great experiences with open source solutions and recommend them for anyone that´s not intimidated by the do-it-yourself approach.
Lastly, here is a great resource to compare and contrast blogging platforms. It´s a little out of date, but it´s a great resource!
Remember the one most important thing: great blogs are about great content. Write in the first person, give opinion, be thoughtful, have fun, and enjoy the experience!