A query that I’ve gotten a surprising number of times is, “How do I set up a blog?” I’ve been answering these individually, which has resulted in some nice conversations with readers. However, I thought it might be best to streamline this process, as well as pre-emptively answer the question for anyone who doesn’t want to ask me by e-mail.
My credentials, upfront: I can’t claim any special expertise (I have no advanced degrees in blogging), but I do run most of the technical side of T & S. If that’s sufficient credentials for you, and if you want to set up a blog, read on.
There are three major established routes for blogging. They are:
a. Blogspot.com / blogger.com
b. Movable Type on one’s own hosted page
c. Typepad.com, which is essentially hosted Movable Type.
The decision on what software to use is very important. Once you start on one of these, it is possible — but not particularly easy — to move your blog to another type. The software you start with will likely be what you will use for the life of your blog, so you should decide this carefully. Each will be discussed below.
Blogger is free and very user-friendly. It is the easiest and quickest way to start blogging. Many people start with blogger. You can go to blogger.com to sign up, and be blogging within ten minutes. (Blogger.com is owned by Google).
There are downsides. Blogger runs small google ads at the top of the page (unless you pay a few dollars extra per month). Also, it has very few “bells and whistles.” Blogger has recently implemented comments as a feature, but they are limited — there is not as yet an easy way to set up “Recent Comments” or other goodies. Finally, you receive free hosting only so long as you are on the blogspot.com domain. (i.e., NAME.blogspot.com).
For an example of a blogger blog, see, e.g., By Common Consent (note that this blog actually has one feature that is more technically advanced than most blogger blogs: The “Recent Comments” feature is not standard in blogger, and I had to jury-rig it.) or Let Us Reason.
Who should use blogger?
I recommend blogger for people who have little technical know-how and lack the time and/or desire to become more technically proficient. It is by far the easiest way to start blogging, and it’s free.
Movable type (often refered to as MT) is much more powerful and flexible. It is also not as user-friendly as blogger. Movable type does not come with free hosting, so the you’ll have to have a host ready, and install the software. It’s not particularly hard, under 2 hours total — you will have to download a zipped file, unpack it, FTP it up to your host, and set the permissions. The software is free (for personal use, business have to pay for it), but as noted above, you’ll need a host to put it on, so that’s $10 a year for the domain name and probably $5-$10 a month hosting, depending on where you have your hosting (some people, such as students, may have access to free hosting).
MT comes with a built-in comment feature, which is nice. It works very well with other protocols including two very important ones, PHP and MySQL. It has built-in features for searching your blog, showing recent comments, and some other basic bells and whistles. You can add and expand pretty easily as well. There is also an active MT community which writes and freely shares MT script ideas.
For an example of a MT blog, just stay where you are — Times and Seasons runs on MT. Another example is Sons of Mosiah.
Who should use MT?
I recommend MT for people who have moderate to advanced technical ability (or who are willing to learn by trial and error), and who want some of the nifty features they’ve seen on other blogs (sorting posts by author name, lists of popular entries, recent comments feature, and so forth).
I don’t know a whole lot about Typepad. It is a website that will set up a hosted MT blog for you. You pay some amount (I’m not sure, but I think it’s around $5 a month) and they’ll host you, and install MT for you. They may have other services, I’m not sure.
An example of a typepad blog is at Dave’s Mormon Inquiry.
Other options (besides blogger, MT, and Typepad) that I’ve seen some others use are Radio and LiveJournal (hosts, like blogger.com) and a program called Grey Matter (stand-alone, like MT). I know essentially nothing about any of these options, but they seem to work for some people, and may be a place you want to research more if you’re starting a blog.
Blogs are very low-maintenance. Once set up, you essentially never have to tinker with the workings again. You just post. That said, there are a few things to note:
a. You’ll want to post, and that takes some time.
b. If you have comments enabled, you will (unfortunately) end up spending some time removing the garbage. There is a free program called MT-Blacklist that auto-bans comment spammers — the spam-bots that insert comments advertising their pr0n websites. Some spam will slip through anyway. And there are always occasional hostile or rude commenters, you just have to delete their comments and ban their IP addresses by hand. It’s some work, though not a ton — just like being a moderator on a message board.
c. I probably spend the most time tinkering with the template to add new fun stuff. I see another blog which has some feature, and I think, “I could do that too!”, and then I spend a few hours playing with the template and adding that new feature. The more action your blog has, the more time you may end up spending on it — for example, if you want someone to guest-blog, you have to add them as an author, set up an initial password, and e-mail it to them.
d. Any web site has occasional issues — you run into your bandwidth limit; your host is weird, etc. Blogs are no different.
More information can be found at:
The Movable Type official website (with FAQ, install instructions, user manual)
Blogger.com official site (same)
Movable Type tips sites — the best of which, I think, is The Girlie Matters. (Many of T & S’s features come from reading her clear and useful instructions).
Edit Date, etc.
I will update this post, time permitting, if and when there are major changes in the blogging universe. Reader comments, suggestions, and recommendations are welcome. This post was last updated on May 12, 2004.