Week 3 – Content

Click the title of each topic to expand that section.

Blogging Platforms

Blogging platforms can be used to create both websites and blogs (online journals). They are not only used for blogs, but are also common platforms to support ePortfolios. There are a variety of free blog services providers. Googling “blog platform review” will give you several reviews of the latest blogging platforms.

Blogging platforms consist of:

  • Domain: This is the address of the blog. Some blog service providers allow you to use your own domain, which you must purchase separately. Most allow you to choose the sub-domain, which is the first part of the address. For example, the following wordpress hosted site:http://egsaaede.wordpress.com has the sub-domain egsaaede which was provided for free by the WordPress blog service provider WordPress.com. An example of a self-hosted blog is http://rjh.goingeast.ca. The sub-domain rjh is hosted on the domain goingeast.ca.
  • Server / Host: The server is the Internet connected hardware platform that the Blog is running on. Typically, free blog service providers give you a specific amount of space (disk quota) to use on their hardware platforms. When you buy website hosting, one of the things that determines the cost of hosting is the amount of disk space you are given. This is an important consideration when your blog hosts a lot of pictures – however, there are strategies for managing pictures that can be discussed in week 4.
  • Blogging software: The blogging software determines the interface and plug-ins that are available for your blog. Most platforms provide the same basic functionality – the ability to create a static pages, journal posts, calendar, categories, links, comments, and tags.
  • Plug-ins: Plug-ins provide additional functionality. The more popular and open blogging platforms, have many user-created plug-ins that provide additional functionality without requiring programming. For example, plug-ins might: add buttons to allow readers to Facebook like or Tweet posts, track site statistics, post a countdown clock, and generate digital badges. This site uses a plugin that allows for accordion style menu animations, buttons, and tabs for the different platforms.
  • Themes: Themes determine how your blog looks. Most blogging platforms allow you to choose different themes, and to some extent modify the themes (e.g. changing the cover picture). When choosing a theme, please consider not just how easy it is for you to write your blog, but also how easy it is for others to read and comment on your blog. If you choose a theme that doesn’t show the blog post when leaving a comment, you are going to reduce the number of people that leave comments.

Now is a good time to review the Anatomy of Blogs diagram that was shared in Week 1: http://www.flickr.com/photos/catspyjamasnz/5504198659/

Domain Name Registration

If you think that you want to start off using a simpler platform (see next heading for some options), but later plan to own your own domain, then you may wish to purchase your domain name sooner rather than later. Coming up with a good name for your site is part of the initial challenge when getting started. Once you have a name, you want to ensure that your name has not already been taken.

You can purchase a domain at any time, and “park” it until you are ready to use it. There are a variety of companies that sell services to purchase your domain name. If you are expecting to be hosting your own domain sometime soon, you may wish to look at services that do both domain name registration and hosting.

Domain name registration typically lasts for 5-years. You want to ensure that you use a valid email address with your registration account, so that you get a warning before your domains expire.

There are various options for the postfix to your domain. There is no requirement to use an appropriate domain postfix, but it does help your readers appreciate the type of content on the site. Here are some common ones:

  • .com – This is by far the most common. It technically means “company” and is used by for-profit companies.
  • .org – This stands for organization. It is usually used by non-profit and charitable organizations.
  • .net – This stands for network. Often .net is used when .org doesn’t feel right, is taken, but also when you do not want to be associated with a for profit company.
  • .us – This is for “United States”. Typically you use a country specific domain indicator if your target audience is primarily within a single country.
  • .ca – This is for “Canada”. Typically you use a country specific domain indicator if your target audience is primarily within a single country.

It is a good idea to search for not only the name you want, but also the name with the other most common suffixes (especially if you are not purchasing a .com site). You do not want to have a witty name only to discover that the .dom version is a porn site!

You do not need to purchase your domain name from the same company that provides your hosting; however, it makes things easier if you do. Some services that provide Domain Name Registration:

Website / Blog Hosting

You can choose to host your own blog, which requires that you register your own domain and have an internet service provider that provides you with server space, or you can sign up for one of the many sites that provide hosting for you, such as Blogger, or WordPress.com.

Hosting your own blog requires that you have some technical skills. You will need to manage the installation and regularly apply updates to the blogging software. The advantage to hosting your own blog is that you will have more freedom in the design and features. More specifically, you will have access to a large number of free plug-ins and themes that allow you to do more with your blog.

Using a blog service provider removes a lot of the technical barriers to blogging, as the system administration, software installation, and maintenance are all managed by the service provider. However, unlike a self-hosted blog you will not have access to all the platform features. You may or may not (depending on the provider) be able to use your own domain name for the blog.

You do not need to make this decision immediately. You can start with a hosted blog and migrate to self-hosted at a later date – however, you will likely lose followers in the process. If you plan on moving to self-hosting, it is better to do it sooner rather than later.

For now, I’m going to focus on four platforms for blogging: Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress.com, WordPress.org, and Other. The first decision you need to make is which platform you want to use. I’ve tried to list them in order of complexity – that is Tumblr is the easiest to setup, followed by Blogger, WordPress.com, and finally WordPress.org. I’ve also added an “other” category to cover other hosting options. Take some time to consider this. Although it is possible to change platforms later, it is better to start with the platform you want to end up on. Also, I encourage you to create a “throw away” blog/domain on each of the platforms, so that you can play around with it, and test out new ideas, without breaking your actual blog.

Note that both Blogger and WordPress provide the ability to “export” your blog. This means that you can move the content out of one and into another at a later date. Exporting also allows you to back up your content on your local computer, so you have a safe copy just in case something happens to the network.

When choosing any hosted platform, make sure you read and agree to the terms of service and the privacy policy. You want to look for things like:

  • Who owns the content that you add?
  • What are the limitations to what you post (e.g. can you post pics of your surgery?)

For any hosted platform, you are at the mercy of the organization doing the hosting. This is especially the case for free platforms. I highly recommend that if you are using a hosted platform, that you backup your content regularly to your own personal computer. That way, if you get locked out of your account, you do not lose access to your information.

Tip: Need help figuring out how to do something on a given blogging platform? Try searching YouTube. YouTube is full of amazing short video clips that demonstrate how to do pretty much anything you might want to do. If you cannot find something on YouTube, let me know! I’m happy to create new YouTube video clips that describe how to do various things with your blog.

Click the tab to see a summary of why you might choose a given platform:

Tumblr (Hosted)

Some would argue that Tumblr (http://tumblr.com) isn’t really a blogging platform. It sits in the middle between blogging and microblogging (e.g. Twitter). It certainly is not the same type of platform as the others that we are exploring. Tumblr is a great platform if you was to start really simple and if you want to use your mobile device to share pictures or other media. I use Tumblr for mobile blogging – that is, when I want to share a quick picture on my bike rides – see http://rjhmo.tumblr.com. It is easy to setup and integrates directly with Facebook and Twitter. The best part is the app that works on my iPhone (also available on Android phones). I makes it easy to post something quick while on the go.

Tumblr is owned by Yahoo!

To get started, go to Tumblr.com and select “Sign Up”.

When choosing any hosted platform, make sure you read and agree to the terms of service: https://www.tumblr.com/policy/en/terms-of-service and the privacy policy: https://www.tumblr.com/policy/en/privacy. I recommend reading both the terms of service and the privacy agreements – Tumblr does a great job of summarizing them using easy language and a little bit of humour too.

Blogger (Hosted)

Blogger is hosted by Google. You can identify a Blogger hosted blog by the domain blogspot in the URL. For example, several of the Cancer blog mentors use Blogger:

Advantages to using Blogger:

  • It is linked to your Google account – so if you already use gmail, you don’t need to remember a new username/password.
  • It has fewer options than WordPress, so it is easier to setup and focus on writing.

Disadvantages to using Blogger:

  • It is linked to your Google account – this makes it more difficult for you to have an alter-identity
  • There are less options for the look of the blog, and less features
  • It is not as intuitive to leave comments, which means people are less likely to interact with you on your blog
  • The blog is either private or public – there is no per post security, so you cannot have a private post within a public blog

For a quick tutorial on how to get started with Blogger see Christi Fultz’s YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpKuk5M4w5E

WordPress.com (Hosted)

The difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is where the site is hosted. WordPress.com uses the WordPress platform but also provides hosting. With WordPress.com, you get free hosting with a limited number of free themes and plugins. With WordPress.org, you are responsible for installing and maintaining your own domain – see the WordPress.org tab for more details.

A couple of the Cancer Blog Mentors use WordPress.com:

Advantages:

  • WordPress takes care of the hosting so you always have the latest version
  • More options than Blogger
  • Easier for people to leave comments on your blog
  • Most common blogging platform, so there are lots of free tutorials
  • Allows you to designate a given post as private (on a per page or per post basis)

Disadvantages:

  • The free accounts can have ads
  • They are constantly trying to up-sell you (selling you themes, domain hosting, plugins)
  • WordPress requires that you understand the structure of a blog, more so that Tumblr or Blogger – this means it is a little more difficult to figure out how it works

To get started, create an account on WordPress.com:

  1. Go to http://Wordpress.com
  2. Click Get Started
  3. Enter email address
  4. Enter user name
  5. Enter password
  6. Enter blog address
  7. Scroll down and click “Create Blog”

WordPress.com provides a series of getting started Tutorials at: learn.wordpress.com. If these are not to your liking, Google “WordPress.com tutorial” and you will see that there are thousands of others to choose from. I recommend starting with learn.wordpress.com and then Googling with specific terms that align with what you are trying to do.

If you prefer to learn using video clips, there are some great tutorials at: http://www.buildyourownblog.net/learning-wordpress/

WordPress.org (Self-Host)

The difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is where the site is hosted. WordPress.com uses the WordPress platform, but also provides hosting. With WordPress.com, you get free hosting with a limited number of free themes and plugins.

Owning your own domain does not need to be scary. You have a lot more flexibility in what you can do with your blog if you own your own domain. If you plan to monetize (make money from) your blog at any point in the future, you will want to consider owning your own domain.

I recommend that you play around on WordPress.com with a throw away domain before you start with hosting your own domain. That way, you’ll understand the basics of how WordPress works before you are maintaining your own site. 

See Owning Your Own Domain below.

Other

Another way to start a blog is to use a platform that is specific to cancer blogging. Some of the cancer blog mentors use these, specifically:

There are also platforms such as Caringbridge.com that allow you to create journal and share them in a more private manner. Please, before using any of these platforms, read the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. In some cases, anything that you share becomes owned by the provider rather than by you. This will matter if at some point you plan to turn your blog into a book!

The advantage to these platforms is that they are specific to the illness topic, so people who are looking for blogs related to your illness will find you there – which can, in turn, lead to more people following your journey. Some platforms also do a better job of keeping your content private – if you don’t want to blog, but rather to keep a journal. My biggest word of caution is to make sure you are not giving away your writing. Make sure you maintain ownership over your words. Also, backup everything you post to your local computer. Hosted sites can go away at any time, and you don’t want to lose your writing.

Owning Your Own Domain

There are many benefits to owning your own domain; however, it does require a little more work. The biggest benefit is that you get much more choice for blog themes and plugins. You have more control over how your blog looks. Another benefit is that your blog will not have advertising on it, unless you choose to add the advertising.

You can decide to use Blogger or WordPress.com when you first start, and then migrate to your own domain at any time. The blogging software allows for an easy export of your content from the original host, and import into your new host. The challenge, however, is that you will need to re-direct any of the people reading your old blog to the location of your new blog.

Special for this course, the kind folks at Reclaim Hosting have given me a discount code that gives you one year of FREE domain hosting. It let’s you get setup for free. I do have a limited number of codes, so, if you cannot afford the $25 for the first year and you want to start your own domain, then please email me: rhogue@pobox.com. I personally use reclaim hosting because they have excellent support. Whenever I’ve had a problem, I send in a support ticket, and usually have an email in response within hours (often within minutes).

Backing up Your Data

Regardless of where you choose to blog, I highly recommend that you create a process for regularly backing up your data (that is, keeping your writing someplace other than just your blog). If you are using a hosted platform, you are subject to their Terms of Service. If someone files a complaint against you, you could find yourself in a situation where you are locked out of your account. Also, although the companies listed here are large and not likely to stop operating without prior notice, it could happen. If you keep a copy on your local hard drive, you reduce your risk of losing your data.

Some service providers (e.g. Reclaim Hosting) automatically back up your blog on a regular basis. This means if something goes wrong, you can ask them to restore it to a previous version. This is particularly useful if your blog gets hacked – I hate to say it, but it does happen.

In WordPress, you can download a copy of all the data in your blog (that is all your posts and pages) by using the Export tool (located in the Tools > Export menu).

Another option is to author all your posts in a different tool, such as Evernote (free) or Scrivener (about $50). I like Evernote for storing random ideas and composing blog posts because it is not dependent on the Internet connection (if you write directly on your blog, you will at some point lose what you wrote because the site loses connection). If you plan to write a book one day, then Scrivener is really a useful tool for writing. It makes it easier for you to take your blog posts and later turn them into a book.