Which blogging tool should I use?
Whether you are a business, organisation or individual, this question can often be the first hurdle in starting to blog. There are so many blogging platforms out there, it can be confusing to decide which one is right for you. Last night at the first London NetTuesday Meetup, a group of bloggers, possible future bloggers, techies and non-profit peeps interesting in learning more about blogging met up to help wade through the confusion. The answer really depends on your circumstances and needs. Each tool has its strengths & weaknesses, and the lovely people at Techsoup have made this handy chart as part of their review of seven popular blogging platforms, to help you match your needs to a blogging tool. Bear in mind this chart/article is from 2006, and there are new kids on the block (such as Tumblr or Habari) as well as other types of online tools that now have a blogging add-on (such as Community Server, ThoughtFarmer and Confluence)* just to make things more confusing!
The good news is that the Big 4 (WordPress, Blogger, MovableType and TypePad) are still going strong, so you can still use this chart as a base, as long as you remember that there may have been upgrades and changes to the services/products since the chart was made.
I'll also give my own two cents about these in a moment...
But first, a little poll: last night's moderator, Amy Sample Ward, asked the group what platform they used, and it was no surprise that a majority of people in the room used WordPress. It's free, extendable, has a great support community, so it's no surprise it's the most popular tool. A substantial proportion of people last night had started on another platform, but had moved to WordPress in the end. It's pretty common to do this, so I thought I'd stick in a quick word about moving from one tool to another. In most cases, you can move your blog from one environment to another, but it's not going to be painless, so it's a good idea to think about what you really need from a blog and choose the right tool from the beginning. There's a great article on ProBlogger about choosing the right blogging platform for you, so have a read through that if you want a detailed checklist.
As for me, I'm just going to summarise my thoughts in a nutshell, with some analogies to get you thinking:
Blogging with training wheels
Great for new bloggers, especially people who already have a Google account (Gmail, iGoogle, Google Cal, etc). Because it integrates with your whole Google 'world', it's free, easy to set up and requires no technical know-how to get blogging. There are limitations, but basic bloggers who need no frills should be fine on Blogger. I recommend Blogger for personal blogs rather than work ones.
The swiss-army knife of blogging
Great for companies who want a flexible platform that you can install and run multiple blogs or entire websites on, and don't mind paying for it. You can effectively replace your content management system with Movable Type, but you'll need a capable tech team/person/consultant to get it running the way you want. Amy suggested that it can be hard to change once it's been set up, so make sure you plan well at the start.
There are different levels (costs) of TypePad packages that offer different levels of customisation, numbers of authors and amounts of storage. It's a hosted service, so there's no real tech skill required to get started. TypePad is a good choice for companies/organisations who don't have the desire or internal tech-nous to host blogs on their own servers, but still want the option of running multiple blogs cheaply, quickly and easily. However, like a package holiday, you may not be able to easily add extras to the basic package.
WordPress.com (Hosted version)
The hosted version of WordPress is easy to use, with no technical skill to set it up, and there are hundreds of ready-made designs (themes) for you to choose from. The main thing to remember about WordPress, is that you bolt on bits to give you extra functionality or customisation. Some of these bits are easier to bolt on than others, and there are some overall limitations to the hosted version of WordPress. I recommend WordPress.com for smaller organisations or companies who want a basic, professional-looking blog for free, and may want to have multiple authors on a single blog (not multiple separate blogs).
WordPress.org (Installed version)
Blogging with Lego
The main differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is that the latter is installed instead of hosted, there are thousands of different ready-made designs (that you can tweak if you know how), and there are loads of different add-ons that you can plug into your blog to give you added functionality. Just like Lego, the combinations and creativity is seemingly endless. The downside is that you need some basic technical knowledge in order to get the most out of the installed version of WordPress, but you can find web hosts that offer 1-click installation so you can get up & running without needing to install anything yourself. I recommend WordPress for organisations or people who are already using other web tools or social media, and want easy integration - for example, Google Analytics, Flickr, iCal, etc - or anyone that knows they'll be blogging for the long-haul. WordPress itself is free, as are most design themes & plugins, but if you don't already have hosting, you'll have to pay for that.
WordPress Mu (Installed)
Toybox full of Lego
The only difference between WordPress Mu and WordPress.com is that Mu allows you to run multiple separate blogs off the same WordPress installation - and you can set different levels of permission on each, too. Everyone can play!
* A Final Note
Lots of people ask whether they should set up & use a separate tool for blogging if they are already using other ‘2.0′ web tools, such as wikis or community sites that have blogging add-ons. It really depends on a lot of things, such as:
- Are we willing to compromise flexibility or functionality for the ease of having it all in one place?
- Would we be splitting our audience’s focus too much by having things on different platforms?
- How well-developed is my wiki/forum/intranet/community/CMS platform’s blogging tool? How easy is it to use? How well-supported is it? How does it compare to standalone blog tools?
- Is it really cheaper to stick with one integrated system; what is the real cost (factoring in user frustration, time, etc)?
- If I use separate platforms, can they integrate in some way - through RSS, for example? Is that enough?
Remember that you can hammer a nail with a monkey wrench, but you may not get the best result, it may be a lot harder… and you may look like an idiot doing it!
The main thing to remember overall, is that no blogging tool will make you a good blogger. You have to start blogging for the right reasons, with the right voice, and in the right environment - something I’ll cover in my next post.