So, I started this series a little bit ago, and then I became a bit blogging-reclusive. Sorry, gang. I was having some not-so-fun times, and then I went on vacation, and then … I dunno, I just haven’t felt like writing. I’m making myself get back in the swing of things.
In the last post of this series (also the first post of this series), I talked about my general plans for both this blog and the series. One of the first steps to building a blog, or re-designing a blog, is to decide what platform you want to use, and whether or not you want to host it yourself or let another site host it for you. If you’re new to the wonderful world of web hosting and blogging, let me break down those terms for you a bit. The platform for your blog is the software/website that you use to create the blog–basically, it’s the place where you log in, write your posts, approve comments, et cetera. Different platforms have different features that appeal–or don’t appeal, in some cases–to users. Blogging platforms are sometimes called content management systems because they allow you to manage your content (posts, pages, and whatnot) without having to code it directly into the pages yourself. You open up a “new post”, type in your content, click publish, and presto, it shows up on your page, no coding required.
Hosting is all about where your website is stored in cyberspace, and from where users can access your site. You can have WordPress host your blog at WordPress.com for free, for example; Blogger, Google’s blogging service, will also host your blog free, and I’m sure there are other blogging services that will do the same. The alternative is to self-host, which means that you pay a third party to host your site at a web address that you have purchased (like InsatiableBooksluts.com). Monthly fees for hosting can be as low as $3 or $4 a month, or be over $20, depending on what kind of hosting you need. I pay about $9 per month, and that works well for this site.
I decided to make the move to being self-hosted because I wanted more control over my blog. When using WordPress free, you get very little control over your blog; you have to pay for upgrades to give you some control, but to get full control, you have to self-host. (Blogger, I know, gives you a bit more control over your blog, but still not as much as you get with self-hosting.) I also wanted to be able to have full control over my content. As far as I know, you own your content using a free blog host as far as copyrighting, but they also are able to take down posts and even whole blogs if they choose. It’s their site and they ultimately control your blog. I’ve never really heard of this being an issue, but it’s still something I wanted to have control over.
Another advantage to self-hosting is that I have a lot more storage space (not that I probably would have gotten anywhere near the allotted 3 GB storage with just text and images), and I can use that space any way I want. I could also branch out my website if I wanted, including adding pages that aren’t run through WordPress, because I have that space. Hosted at a free blog service, every page I created would have to go through that platform. I have more freedom with my own space to create the site that I want (although, not necessarily the skill . . . heh). I also really love being able to add custom plugins that developers offer; my blog’s functionality has increased significantly.
I gave up a lot of things when I switched over, though. One of the big things I gave up was the WordPress community. Those “likes”, the WordPress.com blog subscribers, the ability to be Freshly Pressed–all of that poofed when I became self-hosted. If I had been self-hosted from the beginning, I’d probably only have about five readers because I never would have been Freshly Pressed. Getting readers if you start out self-hosting requires you to hustle twice as hard because you’re on your own. Another thing I gave up was the quality of hosting and tech support that I would get from WordPress. If something breaks on my blog, I am on my own to fix it; if my blog gets overloaded with too many views (heh, because that is likely… in my dreams), my hosting company may or may not be able to handle it. I know for a fact that WordPress.com hosting can handle over two hundred thousand views in a single weekend without any issues; I have no idea if that would interrupt service to this blog. I doubt I’ll have to worry about it–ever–but it is a difference between using WordPress’s hosting and buying my own.
When you’re looking for hosting, you need to make sure that your host plays nicely with WordPress or whatever blogging platform you choose. (They all should, in theory, but some don’t–especially if you go with a less expensive package.) I didn’t like GoDaddy’s hosting for WordPress at all; I found it slow to load. I use HostGator now, and I’m pretty happy with it. I’ve heard Liquid Web is awesome, but it’s a little more than I want to pay for hosting for this site. Ask around and see who your friends use, and if they’re happy with them. Tip: I would definitely look for a host that will install WordPress for you. Otherwise, it’s kind of a pain. Most bigger hosting companies should offer this.
Whether or not you self-host really just depends on how much control you demand over your online space and whether or not you want to pay to get that control. I figure I pay about $130 per year renewing my domain and paying for hosting. I’m comfortable with that. If you don’t plan to do a lot of blog customization, and you’re okay with having restrictions on what you can control, you may want to opt to have WordPress or Blogger, or your platform of choice, host your blog. If you want a custom URL, you can always upgrade to one without moving all the way over to self-hosting; it might run you $20 or so a year, but that’s much less expensive than paying for decent hosting.
As far as which platform to use, if you’re going to self-host, I highly recommend WordPress. It’s powerful, open-source, and free. I find it intuitive and easy to use. If you’re not going to self-host, I recommend checking out different services and talking to other bloggers to see what they think of the services they use. Weigh the ease of use versus the features offered. I use WordPress for my free blogs because I like the platform; even though I know I could get more customization at Blogger, I find it unwieldy enough that I don’t like to use it. Choose the one that fits you best.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with blogging. Do you have a platform you prefer? Have you changed over from free hosting to self-hosting–or vice-versa? Or changed platforms? Tell me about your blogging experiences in the comments!