In the old, “Web 1.0” days, getting your “home page” on the “World Wide Web” was tricky. You had to know HTML, or have an HTML editor like Microsoft Frontpage or CoffeeCup. You had to pay for web hosting, or else get a Geocities homepage with obnoxious ads strewn all over the place. Google didn’t exist yet, so it was quite possible that the only people who’d see your homepage were your friends and family. And no matter how many scrolling, flashing marquee text boxes and .gif animations you put on your home page, the rest of the site was still “under construction.”
Those days live on in today’s MySpace layouts, or so it would seem at a glance! But for those of us who want to write our own blogs — or even just make our own websites, with mostly text content — there are free services galore. Blogger, Typepad and WordPress all cater to the “blogging” crowd, while Xanga and LiveJournal are designed with a social networking bent. But which of these services is right for you?
I’m going to focus on WordPress and LiveJournal in this article, because those are the two that I have the most experience with. But don’t let me stop you from checking the others out! These just happen to be the most interesting, to me … and in my experience, the best.
A Word(press) of Explanation
First off, I should specify that I mean the WordPress.com service here, and not the Free / Open-Source WordPress content management system itself, which is available at WordPress.org. If you have your own webspace already, and access to its PHP server (or cPanel setup), you can download the WordPress software from WordPress.org and basically build your own blog online. You can do anything you want to it, including hacking the code and adding on tons of plugins.
The downside of this is that you’re also responsible for everything that happens to it. Including staying on top of updates, and making sure that your WordPress blog never gets hacked. WordPress may be Free / Open-Source (and therefore inherently more secure than proprietary software), but it’s still PHP code on a server … and if you don’t understand what that means, you probably shouldn’t be trying to build your own WordPress blog anyway.
WordPress.com is a service where you can get your own WordPress blog for free, without having to install and update it yourself. They take care of the technical side of things, so all you have to worry about is typing those blog posts! With that respect, WordPress.com is sort of like LiveJournal, in that you don’t have to do anything weird and technical and can just focus on your writing. Just keep in mind that when you hear people talking about “WordPress” (and not WordPress.com), they may be referring to the do-it-yourself version.
What WordPress.com Is Like
WordPress.com has a ton of free features, that allow you to make a very professional (or cozy) blog. You can choose from a number of themes, and can upload photos to your own storage on WordPress.com or link to an offline service like Flickr. Anyone can post a comment to your blog entries (by default) without needing to register for a WordPress.com account, so you can start up some lively conversations … but at the same time, it uses Akismet spam protection, so you won’t get people trying to sell prescription drugs in your comments section.
Importing to and exporting from WordPress.com is easy. Your blog entries can be seen from Google, and are grouped together with other entries all across WordPress that are tagged similarly. But perhaps the coolest thing about WordPress is its “pages” feature — you can create static webpages that anyone can access, in a sort of a menu running down the front page of your blog, instead of just entries by date! So you could have not just an “About me” page, but “About my cats,” or anything else that you wanted people to see right there at the front instead of having to dig through old entries.
WordPress.com is used by a number of “VIPs,” including the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg, FOX News’s Greta Van Susteren, and Robert Scoble of the “Scobleizer” tech blog. Naturally, of course, these people get enhanced service … but you can also pay for added, premium features, like extra storage space and the ability to use custom CSS. You can even register your own domain name through WordPress.com, and have it redirect straight to your WordPress.com blog! Aside from that, WordPress.com is free … they do run text ads occasionally, but not to WordPress.com members, or even to regular readers. And if you like, you can pay to have the ads removed, too.
The Life of LiveJournal.com
For some people, LiveJournal.com is too “juvenile” to consider for a serious blog. Those people probably aren’t reading this article, so that’s all I’ll say about that. I will say, however, that LiveJournal.com has over sixteen million registered accounts, and that a number of notable writers use LiveJournal as a means of keeping in touch with their readers.
By default, a basic LiveJournal blog (or just a “LiveJournal”) has large banner ads on it, visible to anyone who isn’t a LiveJournal member, and it’s darned near invisible to Google. You can’t use static “pages” except for a basic “User Info,” and you can’t even upload your photos unless you consent to have more ads placed on your blog. Even the features available to paying members pale in comparison to WordPress.com’s features, unless you like the idea of updating your blog by texting to it.
So why in the world would you make a LiveJournal account? Because there are sixteen million other LiveJournal accounts! The social networking aspect of LiveJournal is very strong, with users organized into “communities.” You can search lists of people by interest and then befriend them, and each LiveJournal user has a “Friends Page,” letting them and their visitors see at a glance what their friends are up to.
Neither LiveJournal nor WordPress.com are options for the serious blog writer, who churns out a post or three every day and lives or dies by Google AdSense. But they’re both great, free replacements for the “home pages” of yesterday, with WordPress.com’s offerings more customizable and LiveJournal’s more centered on keeping in touch with your friends.
In a nutshell, WordPress.com is where to go if you want to set up “a blog” and don’t want too much hassle, whereas LiveJournal is mostly for people whose friends (or readers) already have LiveJournal accounts, or for people more into the social aspects of writing. Whichever you choose, though, you’ll find a much easier way to get your writing online than was available in the past. Have fun writing!