Selecting a blog platform – Part 2: Selfhost or not?
After reading Part 1 in this series, you will agree with me that selecting the right blog platform, the software you will use to create and maintain your blog, is critical. Which of the four platforms we are considering will it be? WordPress, Tumblr, Typepad – Movable Type or Blogger?
Your right selection will be based on a set of criteria, partially technical, partially functional. In this post, we tackle one issue which is a combination of both: Selfhost or not, that is the question.
“Hosting” is the mechanism to store your blogposts (and eventually also the pictures, videos), and the blog software package.
By “Selfhosting” we mean: you store all data and software on your own server.
“Blog service hosting” is where your blog platform does that for you.
When you start a blog, you have two basic options: Either have the blog service “host” your blog or “selfhost”. This choice will determine which blog platform you can use.
Hosting by your blog service is the easiest and cheapest solution.
Blogger, WordPress.com and Tumblr will host your blog for free, under the “blogspot.com”, “WordPress.com” and “Tumblr.com” domains. Typepad does the same on the “typepad.com domain”, but you will have to pay from US$4.95 (Basic service) to US$89.95 (Business Class) per month.
Starting a new blog with any of them is a breeze and requires no technical knowledge. I have several blogs on Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr and can start a new blog in one minute flat. Typepad is not much different.
Can you use your own domain while using blog service hosting?
By default, Blogger, WordPress.com, Tumblr and Typepad give you your own blog address, which is a sub domain of their main domain e.g. “myorganisation.wordpress.com” or “myorganisation.blogspot.com”. But each of them allows you to map your own domain onto a blog hosted by them.
What’s the big deal about using your own domain name?
Well, it is one of the most important branding tools for your blog. “myorganisation.org” says much more than “myorganisation.blogspot.com”.
If you own your own domain, you can easily map that onto the blog you host at your blog service.
For instance The Road to the Horizon is hosted on Blogger. Its physical address is “theroadtothehorizon.blogspot.com”, but I mapped “www.theroadtothehorizon.org”, my own domain, onto it. This is done in two easy steps: I changed one parameter at my domain host to point to my blog service, and another parameter at Blogger’s side to accept the incoming mapping request.
Once done, all my posts will appeared as part of my domain, and not Blogger’s domain:
Tumblr, Typepad and Blogger allow you to use and map your own domain onto blogs hosted by them, for free. On WordPress.com you will have to pay for the mapping service.
The issue of YOUR stuff on THEIR servers…
When you use the blog service to host your blog, all your posts, templates and gimmicks are stored on THEIR servers. This allows you to concentrate on blogging rather than on upgrading software, backup strategies, server performance, bandwidth etc.. You need literally NO knowledge of servers, UNIX, PHP, MySQL etc..
On the other hand, it also leaves you at the mercy of your blog service. If, for one reason or the other, the service goes down, so does your blog. Particularly with Blogger, users have complained their blog ‘disappeared’ all of a sudden, or was reported as spam and deleted. Blogger is very strict on ‘link harvesting’ blogs (a form of spam-blogs), and when they suspect your blog is a culprit, they give you 20 days to prove it ain’t so. It happened to me (see this post), and I can tell you, I was NOT a happy camper thinking two years of work might just disappear.
Your POSTS might be stored safely on their servers, but what about your PICTURES?
If you choose to have your blog service host your blog, your posts are stored on their servers, but your pictures, videos and other files might not. On most blog services you can only upload certain file types (most of the time, only pictures), and up to a certain limit (a few gigabyte). Even if you do so, it is very difficult to retrieve these files if you would ever choose to migrate your blog onto another service.
Imagine what that would mean for my personal blog, hosted on Blogger, which has over 1,000 posts by now, each with at least one picture…
Just like many bloggers, I looked for an alternative. For a while, I stored my pictures in Flickr, my videos on YouTube and all other files on a public fileserver. All fine and for free, until I discovered quite some countries block access to Flickr and YouTube, leaving big blanks in my blog posts for those readers.
In short, your blog service might host your blog, but not many other files.
Selfhosting: Hosting your own blog
Ask yourself: “How critical is my blog really?” It might look like a rhetoric question for any blogger, and more so for a non-profit organisation that wants to start a blog: “Of course, my blog is important!”, you will answer. But, there are many shades of grey. Up to what level of independence will you to, to ensure your critical blog remains “On Air”.
Some organisations (or even individual bloggers) want to control the uptime, the performance, load speed and the server features. They would not want to run the risk waking up one morning and finding their blog ‘gone’. They also (rightfully) want to store their documents (pictures, videos, PDF files,…) on their own servers, within their own domain.
Selfhosting is the solution here: you install the blogging software and all related backend systems (like PHP and MySQL servers) on your own machines.
There is one more important thing: Self-hosted blogs require you to make a conscious effort to perform regular backups of your blog. In addition, expect to upgrade your self-hosted blog’s software a few times per year to make use of newly implemented features, bug fixes and notorious security holes. Have a look at WordPress.org’s upgrade instructions to give you an idea… Can you handle that?
When you selfhost your blog, you need to pay particular attention to security. Self-hosted blogs are notoriously easier to hack than a Typepad or WordPress.com blog.
Ensure the admin password is secure (and avoid using the admin login name “ADMIN”). Use SFTP rather than FTP to securely transfer files to your hosting service.
Selfhosting: does this mean the machine sits on my LAN?
Actually, few people will run their public website or blog on their own machines within their network. Most prefer to rent a physical or virtual server from specialized hosting services. I use one.com and godaddy.com as hosting services. Cheap, fast and good. (Update July 2010: As time went by, I had to review my opinion about hosting services on GoDaddy. For the worse! And one.com is good as a file repository but definitively not as a blog hosting service). I heard good things about Mediatemple and HostGator too (update July 2010: with which I am experimenting now).
Both Godaddy and Mediatemple have built-in routines to install a range of blog softwares (and other stuff) at the click of a button. At work, one of our blogs runs on Amazon Webservices. They give us a naked (virtual) server and we installed everything from scratch: PHP, MySQL, and the blog software…
Hosting prices vary from a few dollars (my one.com server is about US$2 per month) to a few hundred dollars per month, depending on speed, bandwidth, support and storage capacity.
If you host your blog on your own host, you can also store all documents, pictures, video etc.. on your own domain, without having to involve other storage services (document repositories in technical lingo).
How about internal-only blogs?
If your blog is for internal use within your organisation, you have little choice but to run the server on your LAN. You will have to host your blog on your own physical machine within your firewall to avoid external users accessing your blog.
If that is what you need, you are left in a choice between WordPress.org and Movable Type. Both are available for free download.
Which blog service to chose if you want selfhosting?
The decision to run your blog on your own host, will also pretty much depend on your answers to some of the questions we will tackle in the next parts in this blog series, but if you choose to selfhost, you will have to drop Tumblr, WordPress.com and Typepad as their blogs only run on their servers.
You might drop Blogger too, even though they offer the ability to store your blog on your own host, but the way this is done is rather clumsy and involves FTP (which has its security problems).
So.. your choices are limited: WordPress.org and Movable Type are left if you want to selfhost. On the (much) brighter side: both are amongst the best and most versatile blogging platforms. WordPress.org comes for free, Movable Type is free for developers and individual bloggers and starts at $395 for businesses and $195 for non-profits, which includes one year of free support. But one is far easier to use than the other, as we will see later on in this series.
The blog platforms fall into two categories: those who allow you to selfhost and those who don’t.
If you want to run your blog on your own host – either for internal or external use- WordPress.org and Movable Type are your only choices.
If you want to use blog service hosting then Blogger, WordPress.com, Typepad and Tumblr all fall within the criteria. Keep in mind WordPress.com will charge you to map your own domain.
In the next post, we will cover the differences in functionality between these four blogplatforms.
Writing this series, I got significant help from Dave Barnhart, who filled in the blanks on Typepad and Movable Type.
Dave is a social media strategy consultant, founder of Business Blogging Pros, and a gourmet chef. He and his firm have been helping companies use social media since 2005.
He blogs at Business Blogging Pros and Fumbling Foodie. Check out some of the blogs he has created.