by John Blue
Picking a Blog Service
“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Blogging” Ok, Mr. McGuire, in the Graduate, really didn’t say that to Benjamin but if he had, Benjamin would have been way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of expressing opinions, telling stories, reporting the news, or changing the world.
Blogs are pretty common place now. Most media outlets have a blog (the New York Times has over 50 blogs), many organizations and companies utilize some form of blog platform for their websites, and many blog services are available for free.
At its core, blogging (the verb) is about sharing a story through words, pictures, or video on the Internet. A blog (the noun, a word mashup from web and log) is (sometimes) the digital realization, platform, or service that one uses to share those story elements. And bloggers are all the people who use the services to share their thoughts.
Over the last five years, in agriculture, blogging has become a way to agvocate (agriculture+advocation) about farming, ranching, and the lives that support and surround agriculture. There are well over 500 agriculture focused blogs with authors from agri-businesses, marketers, farm families, journalists, and interested observers.
Getting started with a blog does require one thing: a driving interest to share a story. If you have a story then your can blog. And everyone has a story to tell!
To get a blog (the noun) setup and ready to use is really simple if you look at the free and basic services like WordPress.com, Blogger.com, or Tumblr.com. These three services are used by millions of people, are really simple to setup, and offer tools to format and integrate various forms of media (text, audio, video, and pictures). You can create an account and be publishing your first blog post in five minutes with any one of these three (see example videos).
WordPress.com is (IMHO) the most well known blogging service. It offers free hosting, blog themes to make your posts look nice, and a web interface to manage your posts and multiple blogs. Many people are familiar with this service, which makes asking for assistance easy. There are many WordPress books available for beginner to advanced. Free and paid WordPress.com does have some limitations around the ability to utilize WordPress widgets or plugins plus limits on theme customizations. WordPress.org (WordPress.com’s sister with open source) offers full access to theme customizations, plugin use, and freedom of control, in exchange for the cost of having technical expertise to setup and host the software on your own servers (see .com vs .org comparison).
Blogger.com is a Google property and is a blogging platform that is one of the oldest. It has been upgraded to be integrated into the Google environment (Google Analytics, Google+, and Google AdSense are some of the integrations). Blogger offers customizable themes, gadgets (like WordPress widgets), and audience stats. While the blog post management interface looks very basic compared to WordPress.com, it is very efficient and easy to navigate.
Tumblr.com is the newest service of the three. Tumbr has turned blogging as a process into blogging as an experience by merging many social media elements of sharing and commenting into the blog creation and reading process. Tumblr’s ecosystem of communities can interrelate and connect with others on Tumblr through easy reblogging, simple media integration, and really appealing interface design. Tumblr blogs have a reputation as being focused on design, food, fashion, or culture. While that reputation may be true, it does not make Tumblr any less of a useful and usable blogging service.
While there are other blogging services / platforms available (examples include LiveJournal, TypePad, Posterous, Ning, etc), WordPress.com, Blogger, and Tumblr offer, for free, much of the functionality and ease of use needed by anyone just getting started in blogging.
Quick note on free: What do these services get in return, because we all know that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. WordPress.com offers some premium ($) items, like additional storage space, custom domains (AgForAll.com is better than AgForAll.WordPress.com), no ads, and fancy themes. Tumblr offers a market to buy and sell custom themes. And all three of them have built up audiences, selling ads against those eyeballs.
Bottom line: which would I use to get started blogging? I would use WordPress.com. You can quickly get started, you have a nice migration path (if needed) to a self hosted WordPress.org site, and there is a very large expertise base when you need help.
John Blue, IN Agri-media
John Blue, as Chief of Community Creation for Truffle Media Networks, works to engage agricultural focused audiences on issues of importance and concern to those interested in food, fuel, and fiber.