Let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.
What do you need in order to build a successful blog? There are a few key elements that will make or break any attempt to produce a good quality blog. The number one thing that will make or break any good blog is content. But content isn’t something that will differentiate good blog hosts. Only you can bring good content to your blog. So the question really becomes, what features can the current crop of blog tools bring to your blog?
Here’s my top seven feature list to look out for when choosing a blog hosting tool:
For me, these are the main features that any blogging platform MUST have. And fortunately, the main blogging platforms out there offer these features and plenty more. And even better, most of the main blogging platforms provide the ability to use all of these features FOR FREE!
And for those of you that are wondering, “which blog platforms are you referring to”, well look no further than my ever-expanding list of blog tools.
So there you have it. OVer the next few posts, I’ll work through this “Group of 7” to explain each feature in more detail and to give you the ins and outs of using these features to their fullest.
I just checked my blog history, and I wrote about how best to build a personal website back in December 2005. At that time, I suggested that there were sufficient free tools out there to build a site that would meet the needs of most users.
So… what’s changed since then and has my recommendation changed?
Let’s start with what’s changed since then:
I could go on, but that’s not where I’m headed in this discussion. Let’s look at where I’ve been over the last two years and what I’m using now for my websites.
The Last Two Years
Shortly after my last “get your own website” posting, I took an about face and again found a paid hosting service. I used textdrive.com. The service was fantastic and their included services were great. The main reason I went with paid hosting was for the storage space and the ease of using a bunch of open source applications on my own dedicated webspace. After a long period of experimentation, I soon found that I was using two main functions on my websites: blog and photo functionality. I toyed with using forums and other community type features, but found that an appropriate critical mass would be difficult to gather and if I did find a time when I would be hosting a large number of users, my next fear was scalability. So, without a need for anything more than blogs or photos, and nervousness over scalability should I grow a large website, I decided to go back to the world of free hosting based on my needs.
My current setup:
I am currently using two different blog platforms for different purposes:
Another competitor to these two products is Community Server(CS), which I am familiar with through my professional work. I am not currently using CS for personal use. The main reason I am not using CS is because of the increased hosting requirements: It runs on Windows hosting, and requires SQL Server. Most SQL Server hosts are considerably more expensive from a hosting perspective. And, since I’m trying to avoid large expenses on my hosting, CS is not currently in scope for personal use.
So… this is where things are at for me. I am using WordPress and Blogger for my main website platforms. I use a few web tools to add additional content to my sites. I will address some of these tools in upcoming posts. So, for the short term, stay tuned as I give you some overviews, tutorials, tips, techniques and advice pertaining to building out a web presence on the web on the cheap.
One thing to note: “building a website on the cheap” no longer means that a site looks cheap. In fact, the tools available today virtually guarantee that a professional image can be built for far less than what you’d have paid two years ago.
Stay tuned for plenty of advice on how to build an effective site.
One final note (and an important disclaimer): I am terrible from a design perspective so don’t expect beautiful artwork from me. I will provide you with some good advice pertaining to building the nuts and bolts and integrating everything together. But to make it look good, you’ll have to bring your own creative flair to things.
So… I’ve been thinking for a while about the best way to have an online presence.
First, I had to assess what I need in a website. I really use the web for two things… text and pictures. I post periodic updates that keep friends and family aware of life as I know it. And, with those updates come pictures. Oh, and I also maintain a static website for my small business (wirepaper) that doesn’t change very often. The most complex need that I have involves the option to email people when I have something new to say.
There are numerous options out there, and I’ve been of the opinion that creating and maintaining my own hosted website was the best way to go. Since I have little to no design expertise, it has been tough going for quite some time. I have had some luck with my own design work, but it hasn’t been ideal. Add to that the fact that many of the tools out there require some sort of technical expertise in order to update the site.
Enough of that. Time for a change. And time to save some money while I’m at it. I’ve decided to go the blog route for a while. There are plenty of sites out there that provide blog space for free. Without much comparison shopping, I chose Blogger.com. I spent a little time looking at Movable Type but found the setup a bit more than I could be bothered with. And, after spending a few minutes looking at Blogger, I was sold (and the price was right – free!).
Pictures… again, there are plenty of options out there. I’ve looked at yahoo, smugmug.com, flickr.com and g2photos.com. There are numerous other options, but I limited myself to a small handful.
Yahoo Photos was part of the larger yahoo network, of which Flickr is also a member. I’m a little confused about the different branding, but who am I to judge? I’m partial to the separate Flickr brand, which doesn’t identify as easily with the big corporate Yahoo name. Smugmug offers a free trial for a week, but then you have to pay for use after that time. $29.95 per year is quite reasonable, but I’m looking for free. G2photos is a local site run by a good friend of mine in Toronto. If I was going to pay for photo storage I’d seriously consider his site, but again, I’m looking for free… so… no g2photos.com.
I’ve used flickr before to see pictures from friends. The site is easy to use. And the best part is that it’s free. Flickr’s free program caps you based on a combination of number of pictures and total size of picture uploads per calendar month. 200 pictures and/or 200 MB of uploads per month. That’s it. Pretty simple. Based on my past picture volume, I’ve never gone over 200 pictures uploaded per month and since I compress my pictures before uploading them, 200 MB will not be a threshold that I have to worry about.
And the best part is that Blogger and Flickr work well together. I can post pictures in Flickr which will automatically update my blog on Blogger (should I choose to set things up that way). And, once my blog is updated, it will automatically update my audience (with another tool that I’ll talk about next). All in all, quite snazzy.
The last part about this whole blogging thing is to update my audience. There are two ways to do this. First, I can email all of my friends and family and tell them to visit my blog on a regular basis. That works great for most people but we all get busy and we forget to check things out from time to time. A service called FeedBlitz.com automates the distribution of my blog via email once people sign up for it. Subscribe to this blog using the form on the sidebar of this blog to see for yourself. Quite simple. FeedBurner.com works in concert with FeedBlitz.com to automate and advertise your blog in various ways. All in all, quite a good package.
And the best part is that all of this stuff is free! In less than a day, I’ve set up a fully functioning blog that manages the distribution of text and pictures to an audience that can sign themselves up for future updates. It all operates on its own. The only thing I have to do is manage the content.
I’m impressed. Aren’t you?