New blogs

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.

6 Responses to “New blogs”

  1. Wendy Shaffer

    Just for the heck of it, I logged into Movable Type and posted a photo. It’s pretty easy – easier than I expected anyway. I don’t know how it compares to LiveJournal, though.

    Lots of folks who like to use lots of photos on their blog seem to use Flickr in conjunction with whatever blogging software they’ve chosen.

  2. Tempest

    How very timely of you, Jed, as I was just going through a blog crisis myself. perhaps when things calm down for you we could have a chat wherein you help me to feel less stupid about the whole thing 🙂

    Main issue now is that Stephanie Leary and I are trying to revamp the For Writers blog since Blogger has, ahem, gone all insane on us. What i wanted to do was to keep it on my server and use MT or WordPress or something to do it. But I cannot for the life of me understand how to make or manipulate templates in WordPress and I don’t have any sort of programming background so I have even less of a clue about MT.

    I also want to switch over the blogs on my homepage to Something Other Than Blogger. Hey, now that you work for Google maybe you and Kenny can go down to the Blogger development team and smack them around a whole lot for me. I’m totally frustrated with that thing right now. Totally.

  3. Vardibidian

    As one of the people using your homebrew system, I should add that one of its advantages is that it hasn’t been completely incapacitated by comment-spam. It happens, but it is light enough that they can be deleted one-by-one. Blogger/Blogspot and MT seem (from what I can tell) to attract deluges of the stuff, to the point where people give up and use Typekey. LJ, of course, keeps that sort of thing at bay, but it also discourages anonymous commenting (at the journal-keeper’s direction, but even if the journal-keeper allows it, LJ makes it connotationally forbidding).
    One problem in choosing what system to start blogging on is that the new blogger is unlikely to know what aspects of the blog will give him or her the most pleasure, and so which system will have the best combination of features and annoyances. I’m told, but don’t know if it’s remotely accurate, that although you can switch, once begun, it’s tricky to take with you the old posts and comments.
    Oh, and another advantage of your homebrew system is that I can’t fiddle with it; were I on some other system, I’d undoubtedly spend hours fiddling with the background colors, columns and fonts, rather than either blogging (which would be what I was intending to do) or not blogging (which would be what I ought to do).

  4. Dawn B.

    Little baby out in the blog world: G-blog. It was created by a friend to be a community hosted blogging service. It is 100% free.

    Key benefits:
    No HTML, but does use BBC code (kinda) which is summerized before the comment/entry box.
    Almost no comment spam.
    Friendly mods & responsive admin (the owner/creator is still around, and there are two voulenteer mods, I’m one)
    Small, tight knit community.
    Comment/entry/subscription tracking (which I WISH LJ would do) for all users.
    You dictate what you see for each journal, rather than the owner dictating style.

    No anon posting
    No filtered posts


  5. Jenn Reese

    Thanks for the informative post, Jed! Our motivation behind JournalScape (other than me feeling lazy about hand-coding) was to create “Something easy enough for our mothers to use.” Although neither of our mothers has a journal of her own, they’ve both posted comments, which we consider a success. 🙂

    We’re not for the power user, that’s for sure. We’re for folks who want to keep a reasonably attractive journal without too much fuss. You can’t currently post pictures unless you host them somewhere else, but that’s on the (big scary) list of features we want to add someday. 🙂

    Also, for privacy, you can set journal entries to Public (everyone), Private (just you), or Group (you make a username and password and give it out to whomever you want).

    Mostly just babbling now. Anyway, thanks again for the post!

  6. Michael Canfield

    The really great feature of JournalScape that I have not seen elsewhere, (I’m sure other’s have it) is the ability to sign up for email alerts — subscribe — to individual journals. That way I never miss what Jenn Reese is up to!

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