Why would anyone want to blog? I’ve been asked this a few times and can only explain it thus: Its easier than having a static site that you have to design and redesign over and over. Static sites are useful for static information. That is, information which never ever changes. Most of us who have a blog change the information quite frequently, and logging in and just typing without having to consider html, xml, css, etc etc is just wonderful. Whats happened, of course, is that anyone can have a blog now. You don’t need your own domain, you can sign up for any of a dozen places which will give you a free blog and away you go. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but there are some absolute gems out there. Check out Laughing Knees for example… aways thoughtful, always interesting. Then there are examples like Rants and Brain Damage…
Value Judgements aside, there are lots of alternatives if you want a blog but don’t want to have to fuss with paying for hosting, design, installation of scripts and so forth.
The most recently discovered is the very new Vox, from Sixapart, who designed Moveabletype and Typepad, as well as buying Livejournal which I do believe was the original free blog tool (Yes, I do believe it was there before Blogger). Vox is what you might call “social” blogging because there seems to be a community effect much more integrated than Blogger’s. Its similar to Livejournal I guess in that sense and its existence now makes me wonder if LJ will eventually become a Vox clone as well. I have an account there and have not yet really felt inclined to do much with it. It is really easy to work with, its practically idiot-proof and it is free… worth considering if you just want somewhere to post your photographs, music and so on, and blog for the pleasure of yourself and your friends. At the risk of sounding “precious” I don’t regard it as being a “serious” blogging tool, MT and Typepad do the job much more efficiently (for a price) and even Blogger (free) is better. However, for such ease of use, it will be hard to beat.
So what else is there? I seem to have covered most of the existing tools just in one paragraph…
As a WordPress fan, my top choice for a free online blog would have to be WordPress itself, at wordpress.com. If you don’t want to have the flexibility of designing your own, or installing one of the hundreds of templates available, a free WordPress blog is hard to beat. Its easy to use, and there is NO advertising. There’s a choice of more than a dozen templates with more being added all the time. Comment spam won’t be much of a problem (if indeed it is a problem at all) because Akismet is installed to every WordPress.com blog. You’ll be on the bleeding edge of what they are doing with WordPress, as well, because amongst other things, most of the new features are incorporated at wordpress.com before being released into the script for the rest of us.
Blogger is very decent. There is a plethora of existing templates to use, and if you are a dab hand with code you can have your own template with no fuss at all. With your own hosting or webspace you can also have the blogger system ftp the files to that space, wherever it is. I like blogger much more than I used to, especially the blogspot hosting now that they have gone with a narrow ad bar across the top of the screen, instead of that HUGE 480×60 advertising banner of the old days.
Xanga is pretty hideous. Its restrictive, has a huge advertising space at the top of every page and theres really not much to recommend it at all. I tried it for a while, just to test it out, and did not like it one bit. Very limiting.
Diaryland seems to be okay for basic blogging needs. There’s a bottom frame for Diaryland stuff but when you are reading a diaryland blog, you can remove the frame, so not too bad. I didn’t see any advertising… I created a site just for the purpose of checking it out and found it sadly lacking by comparison with the others, although (as I said in the blog itself) it does allow some flexibility. Here’s a default site and I really don’t think they have made much effort to improve it over the years.
Then, of course, theres Windows Live Spaced (controlled and contrived, IMO… but ideal for those who think Microsoft invented the Internet), Yahoo has weighed in with yahoo360, very similar to the M$ offering and just as contrived… and there are many more than these, most being advertising supported.
So… how to choose a free site? Try to get one without advertising, or else with minimal advertising, and also try to get one with an established reputation.