A couple of people have asked me recently how to go about creating a blog. Here's a somewhat revised version of what I sent them. See end of entry for a link to one of the new ones.
There are a variety of good choices, many of them free. Here's a quick overview:
- This is a system run by Jenn R and Kenny S; it's free, it's easy to use, you don't need to know any HTML, it looks pretty. Here are a couple of examples:
- Jenn's journal
- Kenny's journal
- A bunch of my writer friends use JournalScape; they all seem to like it. As far as I can tell, Jenn and Kenny are very responsive when people have problems.
- This is the 300-pound gorilla of online journal systems; it has over 2.5 million active users. It can be pretty slow if you use a free account, but I gather that paid accounts use faster servers. It has a huge number of options and features, but the basic journal capability is pretty straightforward, and you don't need to know HTML.
- One useful feature is that you can restrict who can read a given entry. However, I think you can only restrict it to a set of other LJ users.
- Here are a couple of examples:
- Arthur D. Hlavaty/supergee
- I ought to promote this one 'cause it's owned by Google. And I don't have anything against it. But I've never used it, and don't know many people who do; somehow it never really appealed to me. But it seems to be a perfectly good option. And it had 1.5 million registered users two years ago, so presumably a whole lot more by now.
- The Mumpsimus
- shaken & stirred
- My homebrew system
- I can create new journals for friends; they would look basically like mine, or Mary Anne's, or Vardibidian's, or Dan's. The main advantage of this approach is that it's quick and easy for me to set up. (But various other systems are even quicker and easier for you to sign up for.) Disadvantages include: you have to know or learn a little bit of HTML (it's not hard, but it does provide a small barrier to entry); it isn't as pretty as some of the other options; and it doesn't have as many advanced features as some of the other options. I don't recommend this option.
- Movable Type
- There are several journal/blog systems that you can install on your own server (rather than the kind where someone hosts your journal for you, like JournalScape, LiveJournal, and Blogger). The one I like the best is Movable Type. (A lot of people prefer WordPress, which I gather has a similar set of features and is free, but I think I like MT marginally better.) I've been planning for a while to install it on my site, both to provide blogs for friends and possibly to convert my own over to that system. MT has all the advantages of my system and none of the disadvantages. It's pretty, it's easy to use (you don't need to know HTML), and it has a variety of advanced features.
- If I were starting a journal today, I would use Movable Type. (It's so pretty!) If I had known about it when I started mine, I would've used MT from the start instead of writing my own system. I did learn an awful lot from developing my own system, though (which I actually originally did for Mary Anne's use), so I don't regret having done that.
- A couple of examples:
- DesiLit Daily (Mary Anne's group blog about South Asian literature)
- fool's gold (Susan's journal)
- There are a variety of other options. Xanga, for example, apparently hosts over 2.5 million blogs, but I know nothing about it. MSN Spaces is Microsoft's entry into the business. TypePad is hosted blogging from Six Apart, the company that makes Movable Type and now owns LiveJournal. And so on. And I have a feeling I'm forgetting some major options; feel free to post more suggestions if you have 'em.
The above doesn't really provide enough data to make an informed choice. If you're looking for a system to use, I half-seriously recommend picking one based on how much you like the look of the examples. Of course, another viable approach is to simply pick a system and start a blog and see how you like it; if you decide you don't like it, you can always drop it and try a different system.
There are a bunch of things I haven't said above. For example, I don't know how easy it is to post photos in most of these systems. (I gather it's easy in LJ.) There are lots of other features that I can't compare among services, including quite a few that I never use (like LJ's capability to let you post an icon for each entry). Also, I didn't talk about the different cultures that the different services have, nor the perceptions people tend to have of users of those services.
I also didn't talk about privacy. It's important, when writing a blog or online journal, to remember that anything you post could be read by anyone. (In LJ and some other systems there's an option to post "locked" entries that only certain people can read—but even there, there are various scenarios that could result in something you intended to be private being seen by someone you didn't want to see it.) Obscurity won't protect your privacy; if you post something that catches the attention of the blogosphere, your readership will go way up in a hurry. The question of what should be public and what should be private is a delicate and tricky one; in general, when I'm in doubt about whether something should be public, I don't post it, 'cause it's pretty much impossible to thoroughly delete something from the web once you've posted it.
Whew. Okay, that's all on this topic for now.
The other day, my brother asked me for advice on starting a blog; I told him most of the above. He looked at the various options and picked JournalScape; if you're interested, you can now read his journal, where he posts under the name X. Zachary Wright.