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Choosing Blog Software

There are many software options available for blogging. First, you must determine where the blog should live.

Hosted blogs are blogs that, along with the publishing interface, live on the web server of a blog company. You can also get blog software that you install on a separate web host. There are pros and cons to both.

Hosted blogs are generally faster and easier to set up, so you can start blogging quickly. However, you can be limited in the amount of customization you can do on a hosted blog. 

Blogging software you install on a separate hosting service usually allows you more flexibility and control. But, even though the installation of the software is simple (usually one click), you need to know a little more about the technology to exercise that control.

How do you know which to use? That answer, determined by technical and editorial needs, convenience, speed and budget, varies for everyone. Here are the factors:

  1. Do you need to start blogging immediately?
  2. What features do you have to have?
  3. How are your technical skills?
  4. Do you already have experience with blog software or web publishing (HTML, CSS, etc.)?
  5. How much customization do you need?
  6. What are your future plans?
  7. Do you have a budget or need a free solution?
  8. Do you need to fit your blog into an existing web presence?

Technical details differ, but most blogging software works by creating a database that holds your posts, and then displaying those posts in templates. The database is responsible for keeping track of what comments go with what posts and making the search function work. The templates give you a consistent appearance every time you publish a new post. Together, the power of the database and templates means that updates to the design and layout can be implemented without editing hundreds of individual web pages.

Customizing the blog's layout, appearance and functions is a separate job and varies depending on which blogging software you choose. Most tools include a set of designs you can use if you don't have the ability to code a design of your own. Some also include the ability to add such extras as a list of blogs you read, or photos and audio posts. Look around to find the one that suits your needs and plans best.

Here's a quick guide to blogging software:

  • Wordpress (www.wordpress.org) can be installed on a separate server or hosted for free. The Wordpress site lists recommended hosting services that offer one-click installation of Wordpress. It has an avid community of users.
  • Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) is a free, hosted blog service that gets you blogging in 10 minutes.
  • Typepad (http://www.typepad.com) offers three levels of hosted blog service with lots of add-ins to customize the blog without messing with code.
  • Movable Type (www.movabletype.org) was the mother of all blogging software when blogging first became popular but it has been surpassed by Wordpress and Blogger because most people find them easier to use.

Many online publishers are using blogging software to run entire news websites. Some are even incorporating blog features like comments into traditional news stories. If you are looking for a content management system with the power to run a small, medium or large web publishing operating and want the bells and whistles that come with blogs, consider:

  • ExpressionEngine (http://www.pmachine.com), a content management system with blog features. [Editor's note: This website is run with Expression Engine.]
  • Drupal (http://www.drupal.org), an open-source platform that is powers sites of all sizes and has a large and growing user community.
  • Mambo (http://www.mamboserver.com), an open-source content management system with blogging, plus polls, ratings and more.
  • Joomla (http://www.joomla.org), another open-source platform that does many of the same things as Mambo.

J-Learning is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C.
J-Learning was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

American University School of Communication

Knight Foundation

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