How to Pick Blog Software
Beginning with a question of whether blogs can be hosted on a specific Web site, a colleague of mine wondered if I’d give him some suggestions about getting started blogging. Here’s a version of the answer I e-mailed to him.
In some cases, you might have to install the blog software on a server or get the server administrator to do it instead of just FTPing the content to your Web site.
I found lists of selected blog platforms at About.com: and Weblogs Compendium. I wrote about two sources comparing software. (One is in German.) I’m sure there are many other lists like these out there.
The first thing you will need to do to get started with a blog is to pick the software to blog. As you might imagine, this can get complicated. Different blogs offer different features. It’s important for you to have a general idea of what’s possible and what you’d like. It’s also a good idea to have some idea about what you’d like to do with the blog because that can help you figure out what you need. Knowing your comfort level with technology is important, too. Some blogs require a bit of work to set them up and get going. Others might require you to have some basic knowledge of HTML and other Webby things.
Here are some things to consider:
Cost: There are many nice, free platforms available, but by paying as little as $20-40 a month, you might be able to get more robust software with better support options.
Photos: If you want to include photos on the blog, you should be aware that different blogs handle photos differently. Some blogs allow you to upload images to the blog server and then place them in your blog. For others, you have to upload the image elsewhere and then include the HTML code for the image within the blog post. If you have a server for your Web site, what to do with photos may not be as big of an issue as it is for some bloggers who don’t have another Web site to host their photos.
Other kinds of files: Will you be able to post or integrate other files on your blog? How does the platform handle things like moving images, sound files, .pdfs, or word processing files? Is it important to have a system that allows for those kinds of files?
Interaction: Would you like people to be able to interact with you via the blog? I like having comments enabled on my blogs and generally have positive experiences interacting with my blog readers. It can also create a kind of forum sometimes because people will respond to other people’s comments and start a discussion. But perhaps with what you want to do with your Web site, it isn’t entirely appropriate. Some systems don’t let the blogger choose whether or not there are comments and others do.
Comment spam: Comments might open the door to comment spam. Yes, there’s comment spam just like there’s unwanted e-mail. Does the software have any protection against spam? What are they? Are domains known for spamming blogs blocked? Is it possible to block or blacklist specific users, IP addresses, words, or comments meeting certain criteria? Is turning off comments a possibility? How easy is it to delete comments? Is mass deletion possible? Is it possible to edit comments?
TrackBack: TrackBack is a way for bloggers to see who links to a blog post. It doesn’t always catch who’s linking to a blog post, but sometimes it can be very useful when it does. Does the software offer any TrackBack notification options? Does the platform have any features to handle TrackBack spam? (Yes, there’s TrackBack spam just like there’s comment spam.) Can blog visitors see trackbacks? How easy is it to view TrackBacks?
Categorization: A few blogs allow categories or departments, but not all do. If organizing posts by category is something you might want to do or something your users might want, this can really narrow your choices quickly. It can also be a very great way to retrieve older posts. Are categories customizable? Do posts allow multiple categories?
Search engine: Is searching through your blog posts important? It’s possible to rig a third-party search engine on a blog, but having a built-in search engine can be very nice.
Syndication: Do you want people to be able to subscribe to the blog? Do you want your blog to have a feed? There are third-party solutions for feeds, so if you want to syndicate your blog, but really like an option that doesn’t include syndication, it’s possible to go with another solution. If you decide to use a service like Blogger that only uses Atom feeds, you should use a feed converter, like what Feedster has, so you can offer an RSS feed, too. (RSS has been the standard for a long time. Atom is the underdog. Some aggregators don’t read Atom feeds.) Do you have any control over the feed? Can you decide whether it contains excerpts or entire posts?
Group blogging: If you want other people to contribute to the blog, you should consider whether the platform allows multiple editors. With some, you can give people different editorial rights. With others, there’s one account/identity/password for everyone. Is it important to distinguish between each author? Does the software offer options for posting bylines? In some platforms where people have their own unique IDs, the software automatically distinguishes between each user and posts an appropriate byline. In others, it might be possible to use categories for authors. In some, using bylines may not be possible.
Aggregator: Some blog packages offer a built-in aggregator. Frassle and Manila (the backend of j’s scratchpad) have built-in aggregators. I find them to be extremely useful and so do some of my blog readers. It makes it easy for me to keep up with a number of sources with feeds and sharing sources with others is much easier.
Technical knowledge: As I mentioned above, some blogs require users to have a basic understanding of HTML and Web publishing. Others are designed with users with little or no technical knowledge in mind. If someone knows how to use a word processing program, s/he can blog on many platforms, but s/he may not know how to change the templates or customize colors. To some people, doing that is important.
Setting up the blog: Some blogs are ready to go “out of the box.” Others, like the Manila blogs Harvard uses, require some work before they’re ready to go. Bloggers must choose a template and colors, set up preferences, and enable or disable a number of features, like syndication (the RSS feed), pinging Weblogs.com (which helps with syndication and marketing), and putting the orange XML button on the site so people can subscribe to the blog’s feed.
Saving drafted posts: Some blogs will let you save something as a draft and return to it later. That can be useful if you blog in an environment with lots of interruptions, if you like making quick notes about something, then flesh it out later, or if you want to queue posts for release later.
Ease of posting: In most systems, it’s very easy to create a blog post. There can be differences in the number of steps and what you need to do to write something and make it live. You need to pick a system that you’re comfortable with.
What does the future look like: Are developers still working on new features and bug fixes? Or is it a WYSIWYG system that’s static?
How stable is the company: Is the service likely to be around in a year or is it some guy’s pet project on his own server that he could pull the plug on at his whim?
Backups and exports: Can you backup your own data? What format is the backup in? Is it easy to export the content? What kinds of problems might there be if you ever have to move your content to a new platform?