Friday, May 18, 2007

Blogging the Write Way: Choosing Your Site

Possibly the most important choice you're going to make as a blogger is where you blog. Theme and content are paramount, but blogs have a lot of leeway there; if your blog is all about gardening, but you just want to bitch about the day you've had from time to time, that's not only acceptable, it's expected! After all, to some degree, this is your online journal and it doesn't need to be 100% "focused." Otherwise, it would be an information site, not a real blog.

But when it comes to where you decide to blog, a whole host of concerns face you:

First of all, do you really need your own domain?

If you are an established name or personality, yes, you most likely do. Not just because it makes it easier for people to find you, but also because there are probably going to already be several people using your name as their screen name. Stephen Spielberg has an ongoing argument with AOL for years because they refused to allow him to use his own name as his screen name until he somehow "proved" to them that he was, in fact, THE Stephen Spielberg. Otherwise, especially if you are just starting out, there's no need to plunk down that money just yet. There are tons of free blogging sites available to you and, best of all, the learning curve is very short.

Secondly, there are a lot of free blogging sites - how do you begin to choose?

This one's a little tougher.

There are two basic types of blogging sites: community sites and "free-standing" ones. Blogger/BlogSpot is of the latter, as is,, and its many "free" domains. When you sign up with one of these services, they allow you to choose your own personalized domain. The (current) domain for The Rundown is "" for example.

Community sites basically give you your own directory off their main URL. The Rundown Entertainment blog (now being slowly dismantled and changed) is accessible from "".

Community vs. Free-Standing - which to choose?

This is complex. Community blogsites can be a lot of fun. First of all, they're streamlined, so there is almost no learning curve. You don't have to set-up your layout or template; they are often "indexed," meaning the search functions are already in place and well-organized, giving you a host of specific subjects in which to classify your blog, as well as each individual post; and most of these "givens" are customizable - some greatly so. But the best thing about these sites is that there's a built-in audience. If you write about something others want to hear, it's a lot easier to find it. Community sites take care of the marketing and promotion for you, while still allowing you plenty of leeway in marketing and promoting your personal blog as you want.

Free-standing blogs give you pretty much free-reign to do whatever the hell you like. You choose your template and customize your layout entirely; you decide where your ads go and which are displayed; there is no overall design aesthetic to be concerned with - viewers land on the very blog you created, not a welcome page with several blogs or entries; and so on. The downside is that all of this freedom requires you to spend some time learning the ins and out of the software, site, and process. And for beginners, a lot of it is going to be pretty confusing.

What are the downsides to both?

Community sites make money off your blogs. They decide where the ads go and which ads are there. You may hate pop-ups (I do), but if your community site uses them, you're stuck with them. You may want all your old posts listed, but if the community site doesn't do that (many of them tend to post things like, "Most Recent Posts," "Most Popular Blogs," "Last Viewed," "Related Content," and things like that), you're stuck with it. Further, these sites tend to attract huge amounts of spammers, which is what led them to be called "hivesites" and "splogsites." Lastly, no matter what your topic(s) of interest, you can be certain that many others have posted on the same, or similar, thing(s) and - unlike free-standing sites - these other blogs and entries will tend to show up near or alongside yours.

Free-Standing sites often use proprietary software. That means you have to "learn their lingo," so to speak and this can be a pretty big learning curve. Further, even for those of us who know what we're doing, it's a large undertaking right at first. Setting up a template/layout that is not only aesthetically-pleasing but functional and speaks to what you are doing takes at least a few hours, generally more. Even when you have something you like and can work with, it will take you several days, even weeks, to tweak it so that you end up with exactly what you want. The other big problem is that you have no built-in audience! All of the promotion and marketing is completely up to you, as is deciding how to classify and categorize your material - usually through the common practice of "tags." Lastly, even many of these domains have come under scrutiny for the proliferation of spam on their servers, with IceRocket having said they were considering blacklisting all blogs with the "" or "" domain due to spam.

What's the solution?

Mine is simple - for beginners - start one of each and play around. Learn the ropes on a community site, where you'll have plenty of other people and blogs to give you assistance and look to for technical "how-to"s. Then start your own, free-standing site and spend a little time here and there, learning its eccentricities as you go. Experiment like a straight girl in college!

This post does not cover the actual software packages you can choose from for your own domain, such as WordPress and others, which will be covered in another entry, but I hope this helps.

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