How to choose a platform and maintain your blog
RED PENNANT POCKET GUIDE #1
Here is the unfortunate truth about doing exactly what I’m doing right this minute – and millions of other people are also doing, right this minute. No, not picking their noses on the sly or diving into the fridge. Blogging. Writing web-log entries or posting them. The truth it is that most novices get into the whole thing of “having a blog” with no idea what they are signing up with. There is a big difference between signing up with a free (really free) open source website or blog creation platform, and signing up with a seemingly free commercial website or blog creation platform.
Note there is also a big difference between a hosted and non-hosted site. Hosting means your website sits somewhere on the server of a web-host (it is “hosted”), which provides Internet connectivity, typically in a data center. Hosting means your “stuff” is in the hands of some other company – somewhere in the world. (That’s why you HAVE to download and save your source files.) Hosting costs money. Hosting means there is a limit to the size of data you can upload onto your website. The bigger the files, the more you pay once you have reached the upper limit. There is no free lunch. No matter what the ads say! Hosting gets paid for. Domain registration gets paid for. But, it’s your choice whether you pay for building and maintaining your website after all that. You’ve got to understand the difference.
If you use a free, online platform, it means you do all the work on the site yourself. You can pay for a commercial template, or stock images, but the daily slog is all yours.
If a site says it’s free, but it is funded through advertising, it is not actually free. You are in effect paying through your internet habits being used by advertisers, by being targeted by adverts, by information or access being limited. I prefer the term: transparent. You need transparency to know what is free – actually free – and what is not.
WordPress as an option
So, WordPress is pretty transparent. Yes, I am biased in favour of them. But I did the research before I started my first of five blogs. You pay an annual fee for the domain registration and hosting. That’s it. The amount does not vary monthly, because it’s not for services. It’s the same every year. If you get yourself into difficulties you can send an email to the helpful volunteers who are the “Happiness Engineers”. Let me tell you, some of the enquiries on the WordPress.org site (for programmers, users and developers) are both outraged and panic-stricken, and some are very funny. But there is no-one to call on the phone, no kind nerdy person to help you. You have to learn and help yourself. I’ve built this entire site by spending hours trying stuff and sweating bullets when it doesn’t work. Your site will be as good as you’ve learned to make it. WordPress is, in every sense, a platform. A platform is not a person. In return for no person, you get no ads, no spam, no irritating calls, no extra bills, none of the usual bulls***.
So, how does WordPress make money? Well, let’s see. At January 2015, WordPress was used by more than 23.3% of the top 10 million websites. WordPress is the most popular blogging system in use on the Web, at more than 75.8 million WordPress blogs.
(Compare the number of blogs to around the 225.1 million Tumblr microblogs at March 1, 2015. But remember, Tumblr is monetized – in September 2012, CEO David Karp said the site was monetized by advertising – which is how they make their money. Blogger is reputed to be the most popular blogging service used today, but Blogger does not reveal its statistics – so who knows. Technorati has 1.3 million blogs as of February 22, 2014 – but it is simply a massive online advertising network. Technorati launched its ad network in 2008, and is currently one of the largest ad networks boasting more than 100 million unique visitors per month.)
WordPress.com serves more than 15.8 billion pages a month. The Maths would indicate that 60 million websites at about 100 bucks each per year is quite a lot of money – but then, think what the hosting costs WordPress.com.
WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com
It was first released on May 27, 2003, by its founders, Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little, as a fork of b2/cafelog. The license under which WordPress software is released is the GPLv2 (or later) from the Free Software Foundation. All of which simply means that Mullenweg, Little and their partners wrote a truly brilliant piece of software which has since made them moderately wealthy (one would suppose they get by) and gave almost unlimited blogging power to millions of people. Or, as they put it: they are “democratizing publishing and development”. Though largely developed by the community surrounding it, WordPress is closely associated with Automattic, the company founded by Mullenweg. On September 9, 2010, Automattic handed the WordPress trademark to the newly created WordPress Foundation, which is an umbrella organization supporting WordPress.org (including the software and archives for plugins and themes), bbPress and BuddyPress. In other words, they are not even interested in holding onto this humungous brand. Automattic is not a regular company. They describe themselves as a distributed company, with just 308 actual employees. The stats are revealing – sometimes it just pays to be democratic in your approach and treat users fairly:
|Monthly Uniques (US) Monthly Uniques of other companies are estimated.||Employees|
WordPress being an open source platform, means that anyone can develop and build the application. In that way, everyone shares and owns the information. This means that, occasionally, things will not work, or you will want to do something that can’t be done, or you might not like the way something looks on your site. One thing to know is, while WordPress is pretty secure from hackers and viruses, some plugins (special functions) or embedded objects are not allowed because it opens sites up to virus risks. (For instance, you cannot embed e-books.) So, if you are a silly bunny, your site will become unstable and crash. They do, believe me.
There’s blogs – and then there’s blogs
So, WordPress is a good example of a reasonably stable, bug-free, well-designed, no-ripoff platform for you to create a blog. Well – there are many sorts of blogs. Most blogs are primarily textual. Microblogging is another type of blogging, featuring very short posts – that’s what Seth Godin does. What else is out there?
- Art (art blogs)
- Photographs (photoblogs)
- Videos (video blogs or vlogs)
- Music (MP3 blogs)
- Audio blogs (podcasts)
- Personal blogs (like this one)
- Collaborative blogs or group blogs
- Corporate and organizational blogs
- Genre blogs (such as political blogs, health blogs, gardening blogs, house blogs, fashion blogs, project blogs, education blogs, niche blogs, classical music blogs, quizzing blogs, dream blogs)
- Legal blogs (blawgs)
- Travel blogs (travelogs)
- Link blogs (linklog)
- Portfolio of sketches or photos (sketchblog, photoblog)
So now you know what to look for before you sign up. What other platforms are there?
Blogger is one of the longest running free blogging platforms on the web. Sign in with your Google ID, and you can have a blog up and running in seconds, which can then be customised with new themes. It is, however, a Google service, so you’ll pay indirectly, I think. But on the face of it, it looks fairly straightforward.
Medium is a free blogging platform set up by Twitter’s founders. It is their attempt to do for ‘longreads’ what they once did for microblogging. The result is a socially-oriented place that emphasises writing, although within an extremely locked-down set-up. It’s a place to blog if you want your words to be taken seriously, and if you favour a polished, streamlined experience. But if you’re big on customisation and control, look elsewhere. I like it. If I had to choose another platform, me being a wordy person, I would choose this one.
Svbtle (Roman letter version of “subtle”) is a stripped-back free blogging platform for longform writing. Describing itself as a “blogging platform designed to help you think”, Svbtle focuses on the ideas not the eye candy. Earlier, people actually had to apply to get a blog (!). Now it is open to all.
Looks to me like it’s a lot more social and contains a heap of rants and very personal stuff. Mmmm- not crazy about it.
Weebly – It’s monetized. Watch out.
Postach.io – You might think this one is free – it was – until this year. From March 2015 they are discontinuing their free plans and users must either get a subscription or move their content to another service.
Two platforms promoted in Canada
In Canada, Wix.com regularly advertises that you can create your own website for free. On their website, though, they state: “We offer valuable premium services (hey, we need to make money too), but our business model allows us to provide full websites to everyone for free.” This means you get a basic site – you want more, you pay. It’s called the “suck-me-in” principle. So, it’s free up to a point, and only suitable for commercial sites. Not for personal blogging. when I wanted to see a demo site, I got this:
And then there is GoDaddy:
GoDaddy is a privately held Internet domain registrar and web hosting company. As of 2014, GoDaddy was said to have had more than 59 million domain names under management, making it the world’s largest ICANN-accredited registrar. It has been involved in several controversies related to security and privacy. You can read all about it on Wikipedia. Apart from domain name management, they sell website design and maintenance services and that’s how they make their money.
People confuse “create your own website” with “free”. If you can figure out the confusing array of “free” stuff and paid-for stuff, great. As they say: Caveat emptor.
The Code of Conduct
Once you’ve figured out where and why you want to host your own personal blog, then there is just the Blogger’s Code of Conduct to consider. The Blogger’s Code of Conduct is a proposal by Tim O’Reilly for bloggers to enforce civility on their blogs by being civil themselves and moderating comments on their blog. Yes, the internet is a scary thing and it is easy to get targeted by spam, trolls and haters. There are two codes I thoroughly support:
Take responsibility not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog.
Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person.
So, go for it, be a happy, astute blogger, not a sucker.
I’ve developed a little reminder for what to do once your website/blog has gone live. Download, print out, stick somewhere and don’t forget! Red Pennant Pocket Guide #1 – 7 Things to do to maintain your WordPress website