So you’re ready to do it. You’ve checked out a few blogs online and you are excited about what this could mean for your library. But now what? There are dozens of blogging tools available, and picking the right one can seem like a bit of a daunting task. Fear not! In this post I’m going to lay out a few of the options that are available to you.
Ultimately, only you can choose the best software for you, but trust that the differences between the following options are minimal. It’s common to switch between a few programs until you find the one that works best for you and your library. Don’t get hung up on the details; it’s best to just jump right in and have fun with it.
Choosing the right program means deciding what kind of software your library needs. There are three different types available:
Managed: These types are free or low-cost services that provides you with blogging tools. In many cases, the server hosting can be provided for you as well, such as with Blogger, which also offers a range of pricing and features. Or, you have the option to place your blog on your own server, but manage it through the service’s interface. The benefits of these types of solutions are their low barriers to entry and their low (or free) cost. I recommend choosing a solution like this when you’re first starting out because you can quickly determine whether blogging is for you.
Community: Many online social networking communities offer blogging features, such as Vox, MySpace, Friendster, and others. Also an excellent option for those new to blogging, community solutions tend to be more restrictive in both the options offered and the terms of service allowed. These can also limit your blog to your social network (i.e. Only your MySpace friends will be able to view your MySpace blog.)
Server: This is perfect if you already have a strong, popular website and plenty of onsite technical guidance. Server solutions answer the need for strong yet modifiable software. Server-based solutions require more technical experience to install, customize, and extend. However, it’s the server-based solutions that are the most feature-rich. Due to the community nature of most blogging software, many plug-ins, add-ons, and modifications are developed by the community to be used freely. What’s more, server solutions offer better support. Movable Type is a good example of this—because of its licensing structure, technical support is part of the package. With WordPress, its open-source nature lends itself to many resources online where people with a passion for the product and for blogging help each other out with technical concerns.
Most of you will probably go with the first option, the free or low-cost blogging solution. This is idea for those of you who are starting out. Below are a few links to some of the top programs in each of these categories. I’ve said it before, but the best way to decide which is right for you is to just create an account and try it out. Most of these are free so you have nothing to lose!
Blogger, which is owned by Google, is (in my opinion) THE easiest and most popular blogging tool out there. The service is completely free and features a simple 1-2-3 step sign-up process. The program was recently completely revamped and is now easier than ever, with hundreds of customizable templates, instant publishing, and drag-and-drop editing. No HTML required! The Google advantage also makes it easy to get your link up high on the search rankings. The built-in “next blog” option, almost guarantees that strangers will find and be reading your blog the minute that you start posting, and the commenting community is set up so that new readers will be able to quickly link back to your site.
Typepad, which charges a nominal fee, is another very easy hosted blogging service. It’s quick to set up and features many professional looking and easily customizable blog templates. They offer a free 30-day trial.
WordPress, which is what I’m currently using for this blog, is one of the best services out there. The blog templates are clean, elegant, and very professional looking. Account set-up is free, and there are hundreds of templates out there to choose from. I think that in general, it’s a great option for small business or non-profit users.
I must admit that this is my current favorite right now. Squarespace was the brainchild of a University of Maryland student who wasn’t happy with the blogging tools out there so–as computer nerds are wont to do–he just wrote his own program. With a little help from his dad, he turned it into a very succesful business. It’s a paid service and depending on what features you choose, it could end up costing up to 25 dollars a month. I think it’s worth it, though, if you really want to be able to offer more than “just a blog.” You can add multiple pages, bios, photo albums, links, etc. The templates are easy to modify with just a few clicks and drags. They offer a free trial so definitely check it out–I’ll bet you find it just as exciting as I do!
LJ has been around forever, and could be a great option if you are really trying to reach a teen audience. It’s very popular with the younger crowd and has the advantage of built-in social networks that will help you grow your audience quickly. Ask around–if your teens are already using this program then this might definitely be the way to go…
I have accounts with several of these companies. I’ve kept a personal Blogger blog for over a year, and have been very happy with it. My professional website is set-up through Squarespace. I chose WordPress for this blog because I think the look works particularly well for a non-profit audience.
Play around with the different options, and let me know what you pick. I look forward to seeing your links!