Now that blogging has firmly entered the mainstream of online activities, the number of blogging services seems to be increasing by the day. But there are a few platforms out there that are miles ahead of the competition, offering the perfect mix of basic functionality and advanced features. These blog hosts each have their own unique take on just what blogging should be, so it’s important to consider their differences as well as their unifying characteristics.
Unlike many blog hosts, WordPress offers a free hosting solution at its WordPress.com domain as well as the ability to download its powerful software for private use on third-party hosting solutions. This means that, as your blog grows, it can follow you from humble beginnings on the free WordPress servers to a more powerful hosting solution appropriate for your newfound success.
It also means that development is ongoing and active, and has the support of perhaps the internet’s biggest community of bloggers and web developers. Users of WordPress hosted solutions can perform all the basic functions of a blog — from writing entries and storing drafts to creating custom categories and tags. Users have an extensive set of privacy controls and can even prevent their blog from showing up on search engines like Google. Even the format of the blog’s links can be controlled through the site’s control panel, as well as which readers can comment and for how long.
For those advancing on to privately-hosted WordPress solutions, the software can be used with plugins that enhance WordPress’ built-in functionality far beyond what hosted users experience. These plugins can do almost anything, from creating a daily Google Site Map to integrating trendy Web 2.0 features such as “live search” and other solutions.
The best way to think of a Tumblr blog is as a hybrid of Twitter’s micro-blogging sensibilities combined with the full, entry-based approach of a traditional blog. Tumblr is a free blog host that offers users a rich experience both in the way they public entries as well as in how those entries are read.
What makes Tumblr unique is that it differentiates between each type of content that a blog entry may contain. Users can post a quote entry, for instance, that gets formatted in a special way just for quotes. Pictures get published as a separate type of entry, and can be styled separately as well — even including captions and other thoughts. The same is true for music, video, traditional entries, and lists.
Tumblr’s Twitter-like approach to blogging also means that users can “re-blog” anything they read on the site. This functions much like a “re-tweet” on Twitter: a re-blogged entry is displayed on the user’s blogging site with proper credit given to the original author. This means that a blog entry on Tumblr easily has the ability to go viral and do a little self-promotion for the original writer.
For those who enjoy the features of WordPress but want more control over their blog’s design, Blogger is a fantastic solution. The website allows every design or template to be customized in a text editor on the website; designers can use the service’s simple tags to place content wherever they wish, and can use standard XHTML to create a design around Blogger’s content.
Each user is given a subdomain for their blog, and can use the site’s free “domain mapping” tool to have their custom domain name point to their Blogger site. Additionally, since Blogger is a service owned by Google, it’s easy to integrate Picasa albums to share with readers and invite collaboration and creativity. This Google integration also means blogs can be restricted to only an approved list of registered Google users — ensuring far more privacy than competing services.
For younger bloggers, or those who would prefer a more community-like atmosphere surrounding their writings, Livejournal is a great blog host. This service, like social networking websites, allows users to have a list of “friends.” Those friends can just be frequent subscribers or offline pals, or the friend list can be used to control who can read entries and respond to them in the comments section.
This site is perfect for younger users, as it’s a bit MySpace-like. Its control panel, and the blogs it hosts, can get a bit cluttered with the typical flash videos and animated designs, so those who are going for a “professional” look with their blog host might want to consider another option. However, for the teen and tween bloggers among us, Livejournal is a place for friends to blog and share thoughts, as well as tightly control privacy and security.
In the world of blog hosts, think of TypePad as the chief rival to WordPress.com blog hosting. This service is not free, but does offer a free trial. Because of its “admission fee,” it may not be the best solution for those who are just starting to blog. However, it is powered by the unparalleled MovableType blogging platform — one that predates even WordPress itself.
TypePad offers its new users a free trial, which might be a great way to get a feel for blogging as well as for the site’s unique features, such as deep social networking and SEO (search engine optimization) integration. And TypePad comes with a truly stunning array of pre-installed designs, as well as the ability to customize each aspect of the site’s look and feel to your liking.
For blogging professionals, or those aspiring to take the blogging world by storm, TypePad is an instant dose of professional functionality and creative credibility. The site, along with its Movable Type counterpart, have been taking blogging seriously since before most of the world had even heard the term.
Each blog host serves a different purpose and target audience — from the aspiring writer to the professional, from teenage bloggers to Twitter users looking to expound on their thoughts. Because each site is either free or has a free trial, its easy to try out each blog host and pick the right one for you. However, they should all be considered unique, powerful tools of online expression.