Blogging for Writers, a Sneak Peek: Where Should I Blog?


Photography: Dlade

I wanted to get this article out so anyone who doesn’t have a blog yet can get rolling with a little advice on that very basic of questions: where should I blog?

The big three these days are Blogger, LiveJournal, and WordPress.

Here’s a run-down of their pros and cons.

Blogger

Also known as Blogspot. You may have used Blogger in the distant past and been displeased. Google heard that displeasure some years ago, and have since whacked Blogger into shape.

Famous Bloggers include Colleen Lindsay and Neil Gaiman.

Pros:

  • Easy to use, mostly works. You can start blogging in literally under a minute if you already have a GMail account.
  • There are third-party templates available, and professional designers who will work with Blogspot templates.
  • You can have Blogger give you a real domain name for your blog, rather than using blah.blogspot.com—this will cost you about $9 a year.

Cons:

  • Blogger is one of the least friendly platforms where comments are concerned: not easy to moderate, not easy to post, and no spam filter. Edited to add: But it does have the best-working captcha (word validation) out there, as C-Squared below reminds me.
  • Google can delete your blog permanently or shut you down at will. Or someone else’s will.
  • If you ever want to move your registered domain name away—say your blog gets nuked—good luck on getting either Google or GoDaddy to return any of your emails.

LiveJournal

LiveJournal occupies a special niche in the blogosphere, because it’s one of the few blogging places that offers so much in the way of networking features. Community blogs, friending, sharing of media, etc—before social networking descended upon us all with MySpace, there was LiveJournal.

Famous LiveJournal entities include Elizabeth Bear and the SFWA community.

Pros:

  • Community atmosphere like no other blogging place. Join in the fun!
  • Many, many stock templates which won’t start looking disturbingly familiar after visiting a few LiveJournals.
  • Best visual editor of them all.

Cons:

  • You can’t run Javascript, which means that you can’t use Google Analytics or Performancing Metrics, both of which stomp all over Sitemeter. And even to use Sitemeter, you must have a paid account and then go through this awful pain.
  • LiveJournal’s single-post URLs are not search engine friendly.
  • LiveJournal now belongs to the Russians. Take that as you will; they’ve started maturity filtering.

WordPress

Ah, yes. WordPress is generally considered the king of blogging platforms; anybody who wants to become a serious blogger will eventually need to use WordPress.

WordPress is powerful and flexible, with a ton of third-party extensions as well as a ton of third-party themes (free and for pay). You can make WordPress do just about whatever you want, except for some tiny niggling annoying things, but what blogging platform doesn’t?

Famous WordPress folks include John Scalzi and DeepGenre. Actually, come to think of it, 80% of the websites I subscribe to use WordPress. So there.

WordPress comes in two main flavors.

Self-hosted WordPress

You pay someone some money, they give you a WordPress site. Or you have your own web host, and you get WordPress set up there.

Pros:

  • Many useful extensions out there, like the wonderful Akismet comment spam filter, post popularity tracking, and scheduled backups of your installation and database.
  • Many pretty themes out there, nestled on top of one of the most flexible theme engines around.
  • Advanced features for blogging, like pages (my About page isn’t a glorified post, for instance), pagination of individual posts, and the wonderful “cut”, aka “Read more”.

Cons:

  • Visual editor is very bad, though usable.
  • You need to install a lot of plugins initially, because WordPress out of the box is rather bare bones and, in some ways, highly annoying until fixed with plugins. And you’ll need to do some theme hunting.
  • The full WordPress experience requires a little cash—your own webhosting.

For those who don’t wish to dish out the money or the time, there is:

WordPress.com

This is WordPress for the masses. WordPress was originally designed to run as a web application on one of your own hosts, rather than being hosted centrally like Blogger or LiveJournal. WordPress.com changed that.

But nothing’s perfect, least of all WordPress.com.

Pros:

  • You get much of WordPress without paying the money or the setup time.
  • You’ll have access to plenty of plugins and some amount of themes from the get-go.
  • You can pay WordPress.com some money to get a real domain for your blog, rather than just blah.wordpress.com—same deal as Google.

Cons:

  • WordPress.com will munge some of your HTML, and additionally strip out Flash and Javascript. So no posting YouTube videos for you.
  • No third-party themes for you. And WordPress.com doesn’t have even half as many themes as LiveJournal does. You can pay $15 and thus be able to make some CSS changes, but they won’t be as radical as getting a real theme.
  • No other plugins for you. Want to try something out, like a better widget for displaying recent comments? Sorry.

If You Have to Choose One?

Are you brand new to blogging? If so:

Do you want to be able to track site metrics? This isn’t as important for writers as for bloggers, but it is interesting. In that case, pick Blogger.

Do you not care about site metrics, but do care about community? Pick LiveJournal.

Experienced bloggers, there’s only one choice: WordPress.

Eventually, Though…

… you’ll end up with WordPress anyways. *grin*

Not to worry, though. WordPress allows you to import easily from Blogger or LiveJournal, in case you change your mind later.

The Floor is Open

Got Experiences to Share?

Do any of you have experience with some of the other platforms out there, such as TypePad? Have you been bitten badly—or blessed beyond your wildest imagination—by any particular blogging software?

If so, please comment!

Topic Suggestions

Anything you’d like me to address in a future column (like the one on this coming Wednesday)? Leave a comment here, or contact me privately.

I’ve got plans for Wednesday. Oh yes.

Until then, keep up the writing faith!

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15 thoughts on “Blogging for Writers, a Sneak Peek: Where Should I Blog?

  1. Colleen, I think you’re famous enough for this audience of writers. :)

    My other reason for listing you is because The Swivet’s theme is a great demo of something other than the stock Blogger templates. One of the most elegant themes I’ve seen, in fact, across quite a few platforms: simple, nice colors, yet distinguished without going overboard. My first thought when I saw your blog was: I wish I had that theme.

    Which just goes to show what one *can* do with the Blogger platform.

    Auria, I’m not the best person to talk to when it comes to ads and Adsense—which is odd for a even a semi-serious blogger, because monetization is one of the most important topics in blogging. I just haven’t experimented with any of it.

    That said, here is a list of the best WordPress AdSense plugins, and if I had to go with only one of them, I would go with the AdSense Manager because the features there are aimed towards easy integration—automatic code generation, and uses widgets, which can easily be positioned in the sidebar.

    (And the plugin author actively works on it, which is always a good sign.)

  2. My theme IS a Blogger theme. I just changed the colors in their handy dandy template changing thingie, and then created my own header in Photoshop.

    One of the reasons I chose Blogger is that it is so easy to use and customize.

  3. !!!

    Colleen, that’s awesome! That really makes The Swivet a great demo of the Power of Blogger.

    Neither WordPress nor LiveJournal have the colors/fonts switcher or the ultra nice drag-and-drop layout editor. So that’s definitely a reason to go with Blogger.

    When I was on Blogger, I hand-edited my themes, rather than try to work with what was there. Heh. Colleen, you did wonderfully.

  4. Thanks for this article.

    I use WordPress installed on my own hosted website. I can’t find the setting to have ‘read more…’ instead of presenting the full article. Can you point me in the right direction? You mentioned ‘cut’, but I can’t see it in the dashboard settings.

    Thanks,
    Jan

  5. Hi Jan!

    To use “read more…” you need to explicitly specify where to break the post in its text. WordPress doesn’t do this automatically.

    When you’re writing or editing a post, there will be a button you can use to indicate where the “read more…” break should occur. (The button reads “more” when you’re using the code editor, and looks like a picture with a breakline in the middle in the visual editor).

  6. C-Squared, I don’t think of it as a real spam filter—not in the way that, say, SpamAssassin is, or the GMail spam filter—but you are right; it’s the best working captcha out there and is about 100% effective versus spam.

    And although there is large evidence that spammers have broken captcha schemes, they are unlikely to do it with Google’s large variety of fonts and colors.

    Akismet has been about 99% or so, but it’s very easy for me to tend my comments in bulk, which lets me get at the last 1%. And no captcha needed, which I know annoys a percentage of readers. I really like being able to leave comment moderation off, even WordPress’s more scalable moderation (it only holds a comment for moderation for either too many links; or if someone has never posted before, after which a single approval marks them as kosher).

    (And yes, I used to be very pessimistic about Akismet.)

    Captcha is also available for WordPress as various plugins, but they won’t be as effective as the Google captcha.

  7. Got it! Thanks!! I think I’ll use that more often. It seems to make the page read much better not to have the full article appear at once.

    Cheers

  8. Jan, indeed it does. Some of my articles are pretty extensive, and the more button saves my front page from being too long for people to scroll down. I might even go back to showing 7 posts on the front page again.

    There are hacks you can use with the New Blogger, and the concept of more, aka the cut, exists with both Old Blogger and LiveJournal. It’s very useful.

    For some of my very long articles, post pagination is also pretty useful. Scrolling through six screens of text is annoying; less scrolling through three pages is less so, or so studies appear to show. Edward Tufte, master of all things usability-related, talks a little bit about pages versus scrolling.

    Next paragraphs of blathering is only if you care about RSS feeds and giving out full ones to readers:

    The only thing annoying about the more button is that the RSS feed post gets cut off at the more (although a link is provided to get to the rest of the post on the site). I have the Full Feed plugin to solve the problem (though it won’t be necessary when the next major version of WordPress rolls around in a few months).

    It doesn’t fix paginated posts, though, which only show the first page. Which is tres annoying, and makes me wonder if some of my RSS feed readers think I’m demented where posts like “Blade off the Feather” are concerned. Hopefully also fixed in the next major version of WordPress.

  9. I also changed my setting for RSS to summary. Is that not a good thing?

    I’m not one for installing plugins. I found I got in trouble doing that a few times and had to undo things. Frustrating.

    My blog is at http://www.janwhitaker.com/jansblog/ if you want to have a look at how it works. I’m only using the basic template and have only used more on the first entry after you advised how.

    Jan

  10. For RSS feeds as summary versus full, it’s just a preference. There’s conflicting reports of whether full or summary encourages or discourages more or less of the subscriber audience. As well as debate over whether subscribers have a more or less intimate relationship with the site than people who just visit lots.

    My conclusion: Depends. And a topic to explore more fully in a future column.

    (My personal preference: full feeds. My personal beliefs: full feeds give subscribers more options; so why not.)

    The Full Feed plugin is pretty harmless. It doesn’t hurt me, and I have… like… 15+ plugins active at the moment. :) And anyways, problem solved in a few months with the next WordPress upgrade.

    Your site looks fine to me, and so does your feed.

  11. In the free wordpress, you can post youtube. There’s a button to do it down at the same point where you upload images.

    Scripting it in the code window is a bit of a pain though.

    They do restrict what code you CAN run though. I couldn’t run Google.com/analytics which I find entertaining to look at.

    Also, with wordpress self hosted, you can script the (More) function right into your mainpage template so that it cuts at a certain number of characters.

    I figure the features you can get by paying wordpress.com, you might as well host yourself. I use 1and1.com (which is where I believe Scalzi is hosted as well.)

    I do hate the comments on Blogger.

    I might try movabletype since I have the space on my hosted site to play around with.

    If you’re trying for free, I’d probably go with blogger these days, even though commenting sux and the LJ community aspect is cool.

    If you’re paying(for any feature), might as well get some domain space and get all the flexibility in the world.

    disclaimer: My opinion is important. That is why I give it. :)

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