When starting a blog the first choice you make is which free provider you want to use. The majority of new bloggers will choose between WordPress.com, Google’s Blogger or a micro-blogging platform like Tumblr or Twitter. Choosing an online platform is useful as it enables you to create and publish content quickly and easily at no cost. This part of the guide will compare these platforms by popularity, usability and functionality. Each platform offers free sub domains, hosting and integrated Content Management Systems (CMS). CMS offer an easy to use back end interface designed so that users can edit, modify and publish content as well as altering their themes and the overall look of the website.
Free Blogging Platforms
The two most popular platforms if you want an online provider are WordPress.com and Google’s Blogger, which have very similar features but different interfaces and CMS. They are both useful for a first time blogger as they offer a wide range of templates that suit a variety of subjects.
WordPress.com is a service that hosts WordPress blogs. Open source WordPress is the most popular online publishing platform, currently powering more than 20% of websites. Over 409 million people view more than 14.4 billion pages each month making it the most popular in terms of interest and searches generated. Signing up is much like many other sites in that it allows you to register for an account with an email address, username, password and URL. WordPress, despite being free, is a commercial interest and has a number of paid upgrades that it aims to offer as part of it’s premium service pack. They do this by making it easy to set up and maintain a simple blog, whilst introducing some rather hefty limitations for experienced users which can be lifted at a cost. This part of the guide focuses on free platforms so extra paid services have not been considered. Despite this it still provides many free plug-ins and themes to customise your blog and comes with a CMS that is easy to use and will become familiar if you choose to self host a site using the open source WordPress platform.
Features worth noting:
- Free hosting and free .wordpress sub-domain.
- 3GB of free storage for posts and media.
- Free statistics for tracking visitors.
- Access to hundreds of themes, many of which can be customised further.
- WordPress.com access from mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.
As part of Google, Blogger benefits from the fact that pretty much everyone has a Google account so signing up took me just one click. Blogger doesn’t force you to create a blog or follow any other blogs and instead takes you straight to a home dashboard from which you can create your new blog or follow others at your leisure. There is a definite likeness to Googlemail so if you are a user of their service and want something similar then this might interest you. Setting up a new blog is a simplified process which only lets you choose from a few themes with a view to further customisation later. After giving your blog a title and choosing a URL and a theme your blog is ready and you can start writing content. All the customisation options that Blogger has are available for free and there are no upgrades or paid premium services. There are also no fees for adding a custom domain, all of which set it apart from WordPress.com.
Features worth noting:
- Free hosting and free .blogger or .blogspot sub-domain with option of using a custom domain.
- The ability to add media with no quoted maximum storage space.
- Quick access to Google adSense and analytics
- iPhone and Android apps and the ability to post by SMS/email.
- A template designer for customising the appearance of your blog.
If you want to quickly share your thoughts, favourite photos, links, gifs and vines then micro-blogging may be for you. Sites such as Tumblr and Twitter offer free and easy to set-up accounts that will have you publishing content in no time. You can post easily from your mobile on the mobile apps each company provides whilst the CMS each site includes is easy to use but only offers limited customisation and functionality options.
According to the blurb, tumblr “lets you effortlessly share anything.” though this is obviously limited to the digital domain and the socially acceptable. There are over 195m blogs with more than 80bn posts hosted and although their claim of a 30 second sign-up is a bit of a stretch, it really is as easy as adding your email, password and username, followed by naming your blog and setting an avatar. After selecting 3 blogs to follow, getting the mobile app and verifying your email, you’re done. There are the usual plethora of free and paid themes for you to choose from, most of which can be customised easily, and the CMS is easy to use. Overall tumblr offers a good option for those looking to quickly set up a good looking site that they can personalise easily, and start sharing content.
Twitter is ostensibly a micro blogging platform but is often used in conjunction with a blog to help publicise and promote it to a larger audience. Twitter has over 250m active users with 78% of those also using a mobile phone to access their account. Twitter was born as a site in which the medium for posting was SMS there was a 140 character limit. Though Twitter could have changed it as smartphones became more popular, despite being restrictive, the limit is one of Twitters main strengths and one of it’s unique selling points. There are very few options to make your page layout any different to any other so the options for personalisation are less varied than those provided by other platforms. In short, Twitter is best used as an addition to your blog, as an online tool to interact with other users and create interest in your site.
Blogger or Tumblr are the choices you should be considering if you want a truly free experience, and both are arguably more customisable as they include the facility to add custom CSS and HTML. WordPress.com avoids this ability and suffers because of it, however it still has a large variety of themes and plug-ins that make its user experience much better than Blogger’s, whilst its ability to be adapted for a number of different uses places it ahead of Tumblr. Each is a viable blogging platform within five minutes of registering an account, but only you can decide which one is the best option for you.
Part 2 to follow…