The manual continues covering the various blogging platforms available for first time blogger. I suggest you read the first installment of this series before continuing here.

What do I use?

Once you have established the foundation of your site an online platform will be needed to bring your utopia to life.

Thankfully you have a large number of options and what you choose will depend mostly on your budget. Do you want to pay a premium for a nicer looking site or are you willing to bypass all the bells & whistles to keep your operating costs at a minimum while establishing on online presence?

Free services

Let’s start with the most appealing to thing to most people, free services. We all love it when we don’t have to do anything and people just give us stuff for nothing right? Well that’s nice but if you choose to go this route you’re going to be bound be some strict rules.

If you like customizing everything then you’re not going to be happy with this option. Free site hosting generally (with some exceptions of course) limits how far you can go in making your site a true reflection of yourself and your brand.

There will most likely be a set number of themes and layout options (Most which are basic and really ugly.) and possibly restrictions in the type of content you can post or embed in your posts. Space constraints with these kinds of hosts also limit your ability to expand in the future.

Bear in mind that if you intend to buy your own domain name you might not be able to use it with some free services. I would suggest reading FAQ’s or sending an e-mail to inquire if the option to forward your default blog domain to your purchased one is possible.

The upside to these kinds of services is that you don’t have to do much work or pay anything to get your blog up and running. If you don’t like coding, it’s all good. All the style sheets, HTML/XHTML, PHP and all the fancy stuff that makes your site work is already done for you.

If you don’t know what any of that means or if you’re more than willing to live with the limitations of a free host then by all means, go with the some of the more popular choices among the blogosphere:

LiveJournal

Blogger

WordPress

Tumblr

I’m not going to tell you which one is best since they all have their pros and cons. It’s up to you to decide what will serve your needs as you start your journey into blogging.

Paid services

So you looked at all the free services & they don’t exactly work with your vision or lack the features you want. Perhaps you’re more adventurous or are made of money and want a fancy looking site that everyone else has.

Look no further than paid services. These are usually monthly (or yearly) subscriptions that provide you with options such as web storage (for your files) and FTP access (to upload your files) depending on the plan you pay for. With each plan there are many useful (& useless) features to help the new blogger maximize their potential in the least amount of time.  Just remember, the more fancy stuff you want the higher the price you pay.

The amount of customization allowed depends on the host but for the most part you have free reign to do what you like provided you invest some time in learning some basic web coding and design principles.

Yes, you will have to do some homework and what you learn will depend on what framework your chosen blog host uses to build sites. I would suggest picking up a Dummies book on HTML/XHTML & CSS at the very least. With that as a reference you should be able to muddle your way through the code that makes up your site.

Have I scared you yet? Don’t worry; it’s not as complicated as I make it out to be. In fact some current service providers have interfaces that follow the drag & drop principle which makes setting the layout of your site easier than back in the medieval days of the Internet.

Here are a few paid blogging platforms that I recommend:

Typepad

Squarespace

Moveable Type

WordPress

Platforms like Moveable Type and WordPress are going to be for those who want total control of their site. They only provide the front end and it’s up to you to pony up the cash for web hosting space, your domain name and theme. (If you don’t feel like coding your own that is.) So while they’re both technically “free” they do require that investment of cash in other things to make them work properly.

The two most popular web hosting providers I know of are:

Bluehost

GoDaddy

There are many others and I only chose the above because they’re the most mainstream. Maybe you’ll find someone else besides them instead.

Remember that your web host is the heartbeat of your site when it comes to what is called “self-hosting”. If you choose a craptacular provider you’re in for a world of hurt that will make maintaining your site very painful.  Sure these additional costs suck but look at the bright side. You own your space & you can do whatever you want with it without following someone else’s rules.

Looking at the list provided a lot of people are going to say to go with the self-hosted version of WordPress and with good reason. It’s reliable, customizable and there’s plenty of support on their site and around the web. Don’t let popular opinion sway you of course. Decide what is best for your site and go from there.

I realize that was a lot to take in and you might have to re-read a few paragraphs to grasp the complexity of it all but who said starting up a new venture was easy?

In the next installment: Topics, content and composing posts