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WHAT PLATFORM TO USE

There are several options to choose from when looking for a blogging platform. They range from free platforms to paid-for platforms, from fully supported to completely unsupported. In this section you can read about some of the more popular blogging platform options.

Blogger

Blogger is run by Google and is a decent, free, and fully supported option—found at www.blogger.com. While Blogger has limits such as not allowing complete access to all the metadata, it’s very easy to set up and maintain.

Note: The metadata being referenced here is basically the <title>, <meta description>, and <meta keyword> “tags”commonly found by viewing the source code of a page (right-click»view source). It appears at the top of the cod-ing, usually, and helps explain to the search engines what the content on the page is about. It’s important to be able to edit at least the <title> and <description> “tags.”

In addition, Blogger is fully supported, so you never have to worry about coding and databases. Blogger will allow you to place Google AdSense ads into your blog, provided that you have an AdSense account. AdSense is perfect for generating revenue from blog traffic, which is something we’ll cover more later on. Blogger also now supports third-party ad codes. Now you can take ads from just about any advertising network and place them in a blog on this platform.

The beauty of Blogger is that it provides very easy access to the world of blogs for computer novices who know nothing about how all that stuff on their computer works. You really can create a Blogger account in three easy steps.

  1. Create an account.
  2. Name your blog.
  3. Choose a template.

Open Source Blog Platforms

If you want more direct control over the appearance of your blog, its layout, structure, and features—then an open-source platform might be just the ticket. By their very nature, open-source items are free to everyone. The drawback is that they are rarely built by professional businesses and often have limited direct support. Open-source items tend to be built by very talented folks who are excellent programmers. They may, in fact, be professional programmers by day, but for the most part they build open-source items on their own time. This simply means you’ll have to rely on community-based posting forums to ask questions about your platform. It’s a good idea to have some understanding of how to work with code before you start playing with your open-source blog, as there’s no quick, easy reset button if you muck things up. Okay, you’ve been scared enough about open-source options, but they remain the best way to build your blog. To that end, here are a couple of solid places to start. These recommendations come from Duane’s experience using these platforms, while other recommended options may be seen in the list that follows.

WORDPRESS

WordPress (www.wordpress.org) is one of the leading blog plat-forms used today. In fact, its ability to run a blog is only one portion of what the WordPress platform is capable of. It’s what’s known as a Content Management System (CMS). Its job is to take data you provide to it, store that data, and then show it later inside whatever template you tell it to. Blogs just happen to be one form of template.

There is a massive WordPress community to help with everything from install issues to even the most dramatic coding snafus. One of its claims to fame is The Famous 5 Minute Install. This is no exaggeration—the install can indeed be done in about five minutes, provided you’ve done the database setup work beforehand. This platform also enjoys a tremendous amount of support from users. WordPress uses neat little devices called plug-ins to allow it to perform special functions. Want to integrate your online photo gallery into your blog? No problem, there’s a plug-in. Want to translate your blog into different languages? No problem, there’s a plug-in. Want to quickly and easily integrate ads? Again, there’s a plug-in. The plug-ins are easy to install by following these simple steps:

  •  Download the file to your computer.
  • Open your server to the www.domain.com/wp-contents/ plugins folder.
  • Copy the file into the folder.
  • Go back to the blog, enter the Admin/Plugins section.
  • Click the plug in to activate it.

The coding is all done for you, everything works as advertised (in The coding is all done for you, everything works as advertised (in most cases), and it’s easy to turn off if you decide you don’t like it down the road. WordPress offers hosted versions and a stand-alone version that requires you to provide a server to run things on. Be sure to read the requirements documentation, though, as the newer versions of WordPress play nice only with newer versions of the required software (PHP, MySQL database, etc.) when they are already installed on your server. Running a WordPress-based blog on your own will require a place to host it (on a server computer). You will need access to the files on the server, as well as access to set up a database.

Note: The term access implies that you need security ac-cess to be able to both read and write files. To set up a cess to be able to both read and write files. To set up a server yourself, you might have to talk to an administrator for whomever rents you server space. The latter might be complicated.

To those new to the process, the WordPress installation instructions are spot-on and will have you live in an afternoon if you follow them carefully. While the WordPress platform itself is free to download and use, you will need server-space on which to host it, and that will cost you. How much depends on where you get your services, but expect it to range from around $10 per month to more than $100 per month, depending on the level of service you require.

BBLOG

BBlog (www.bBlog.com) can wholeheartedly be recommended as well. Its platform is stable and easy to use. It can also be a learning experience, especially if you are not a sysadmin (systems administrator—a person who looks after servers) or programmer by day. Many things will be new, and you’re on your own to learn the ins and outs of all this stuff. BBlog’s biggest past issue has been a feature called trackbacks. Most blog platforms offer this, but older versions of BBlog had some real issues that led to spam.

Trackbacks are simply the URLs for each article you post. Trouble is, they are visible on the bottom of each post, and when found by spiders scraping sites for URLs to spam, you may end up with thousands of spam comments to moderate each day. There is a simple fix for the problem.

So don’t let this deter you from exploring this option. The moderating process is made easier by allowing you to “bulk-moderate” comments. So it’s relatively quick to select multiple comments and click delete to remove them. Newer versions of Blog have login processes that help cut down on the ability of spiders to post spam comments, greatly reducing this headache (i.e., getting lots of spam).

There is an active support community for Blog (pronounced “bee-blog”), so you do have somewhere to turn when you need help. It takes time to get the answers, but the folks there try their best to help when they can . . . and it’s free. It’s tough to fault it, really.

SIXAPART 

Sixapart, at www.sixapart.com, offers its Typepad and Moveable Type platforms and is another strong blogging option, though it is not free. Typically, Six Apart costs run from about $50 per year for a basic Typepad Blog up to more than $200 for the Moveable Type options. Which one is best for you will depend on the level of access you need and the number of blogs you intend to operate. A further alternative is a hosted option run through an agreement with outside hosting companies—more information can be found at www.sixapart.com/typepad/pricing.

These packages vary in price and support, but for a few dollars a month you can be up and running in no time. Sixapart offers an installation service, and if you’re set on its products, it might be worth paying the fee for it. Be careful when getting Six Apart products set up by its installation service. Be honest about your level of knowledge when it comes to managing a server, as certain things will need to be done on the server before Sixapart can install the blog software/platform for you. It can be a frustrating challenge to try to learn as you go, though even a mod-est amount of exposure to servers and how they operate can eliminate most of the drama from the process.

OTHER OPEN SOURCE PLATFORMS

Here are some other options you can explore—they are a mix of free and paid-for options:

  • Greymatter (www.noahgrey.com/greysoft)
  • Live Journal (www.livejournal.com)
  • 20Six UK (www.20six.co.uk)
  • MindSay (www.mindsay.com)
  • Drupal (www.drupal.org)

In addition, an almost limitless number of companies offer free or paid blogs as stand-alone Web sites. Almost every hosting provider now offers blogs to clients, but beware that many will offer you a free blog only to control the ad spaces themselves. If you in-tend to make money with your blog, watch carefully for these and avoid them. GoDaddy.com offers a free blOg system like this. It will do everything for you, but its ads will always be visible on your site, and, in fact, they are quite obtrusive. If you select a platform such as WordPress, most of your work is done for you. We’re big fans of this platform and we use it ourselves.

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