Serials on the Web: WordPress as a Platform

Straight-up HTML is in some ways the simplest way to kit up a little website. But on the other hand, it’s also the hardest, especially if you’re

  • Making regular updates,
  • Live web statistics,
  • Automatic UTF-8 encoding so that typographical quotes and dashes look professional on multiple browsers,
  • Automatic RSS feed generation with UTF-8 encoding,
  • iPhone-special and even Android-special views of your website (and the iPhone is getting rather popular amongst SF readers),

and so on.

So a blogging platform is nice to have. WordPress ((And yes, I was a WordPress skeptic for many years.)) is one of the easiest and nicest, and even has a free site a la Blogger.com where you can set up multiple free blogs with many of the most necessary features above, though not all of them (the last, iPhone views, in particular).

If you decide to set up your own WordPress install, that’s not much harder (even John Scalzi, for quite some time, could keep up his own WordPress install without a dedicated web elf, and he’s not the most technical of writers). You can even set it up as a subset of your author website, just for your serial(s).

The future installments of this little technical-advice-for-layman-writers series, in fact, will mostly focus on WordPress as a platform.

So here are your two options, and their pros and cons: a) using WordPress.com, or b) using your own WordPress install.

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WordPress.com Advantages

For the busy writer, this is the fastest way to set up a blog, with minimum fuss, the most important features, and it’s free with possible pay-for-use upgrades if you like.

Pros:

  • Someone else takes care of house-keeping the WordPress software, some of the more useful plugins, the hardware, the security, the backups, and the DNS and web URLs.

  • You can have your own blog addresses, ending in wordpress.com, for free. You can also have your very own domain with a paid upgrade, if you like to do so later (you can even have multiple domains point at a single blog).

  • Easy set up (even easier than Blogger, I think).

  • Features like live statistics, RSS feeds, commenting (which can be turned off) with spam protection, polls, etc.

  • Themes you can choose from, many of which allow you to set the header image for your serial blog to give it an identity (and usually this is enough).

Cons:

  • You can’t install your own plugins. This is actually nice in some ways, since it increases security, but can be limiting in other ways. For instance, no iPhone special view plugin.

  • You can’t install your own themes without a pay-for upgrade.

  • You can’t even edit the CSS or code of the existing themes without a pay-for upgrade.

  • If you want to switch to your own hosting, it’s going to be difficult to pry domains and add redirection (no plugins, no theme editing) from the cold, cold hands of WordPress.com. This is a rather big con.

Your Own WordPress Install Advantages

Pros:

  • Many hosting sites will install WordPress for you, and even upgrade it (although WordPress has added features like a one-click upgrade, which makes the already easy administration dead easy if you want to do that yourself). Some hosting companies is better at this than others.

    For instance, my hosting, EsoSoft, takes care of lotsa things like insane DNS crap, and debugging things that go wrong with my WordPress install. Their prices are reasonable, their support is great, their hosting is reliable, there is no upload/download cap, and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books uses them—and they’re a fairly high-traffic review blog. Esosoft even went out of its way to add extra servers when SMTB got a much higher than usual traffic rate.

  • You can install your own plugins (including all the ones that WordPress.com provides).

  • You can install and edit your own themes and their CSS.

  • Ability to use your own domain without extra payment on top of the web hosting, naturally.

Cons:

  • You still have more things to take care of than with a WordPress.com blog, although most hosting sites will still take care of many of these things for you. Not backups or security usually, though that’s easy enough to fix.

  • Unless you’re messing around with WordPress Mu, multiple blog addresses will be annoying.

My Recommendation

If you desperately need free, use WordPress.com.

If you can spare a little bit of money, EsoSoft and your own WordPress install is a great place to be.

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