How I Chose My Blogging Platform

Over the past few days I scoured the Internet in search for a blogging platform that fits my needs. The usual suspects that immediately came to mind were WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal and TypePad. As it turned out, there are a lot more other options out there. Before I go into my impressions of these platforms, I should explain what it is that I was looking for.

  • First and foremost, it had to be easy to write in. Fewer distraction, but enough tools to get the job done easily.
  • Second, it needed to handle attachments and media library well. I want to (attempt to) keep things organized.
  • Third, the look and feel had to be easily customizable. I wanted something a little more personal.
  • Fourth, it had to have support for custom domain names.
  • Fifth, it had to be a managed service.

To expand on the last point, although running your own setup can be a lot of fun and educational, it is also a fair amount of work. I don’t trust the security of regular shared hosting solutions, plus that route would require acquiring an SSL certificate. So, setting up a VPS would have been the way to go for a DIY approach. That, however, means:

  • set up, secure configuration, maintenance, and monitoring of the server host
  • set up, secure configuration, maintenance, and monitoring of the web server
  • set up, secure configuration, maintenance, and monitoring of the web application
  • set up, secure configuration, maintenance, and monitoring of the database server (most likely)
  • set up, secure configuration, maintenance, and monitoring of the monitoring software (IDS/IPS, etc)

Been there, done that, ain’t got time for it. I had to find a managed service that I felt was reasonably secure and gave me the freedom I needed.

roon.io
I think they have a poor infrastructure because the site frequently failed to load properly. Also, they are having some UI issue because I wasn’t able to modify some account settings and was given some silly errors as to the reason why. Plus, they are new and none of that builds confidence. On the other hand, because they are new and because I think their blogging interface is right up my alley, I will be checking up on roon.io to see how it develops.

Ghost
Another fairly new platform. It’s open source and their service definitely felt more stable, however I didn’t feel very comfortable with it. What threw me off was the fact that they require registration of one account with ghost.org and then, after you create a blog, you will need to create another account to administer that blog. Not only that, but after the setup the administrative user registration for your new blog is left wide open to anyone who happens to visit the website before you register. Granted, this timeframe should generally be rather small (as long as it takes you to click a link and type in a user name and password) and the URL of your blog should be unknown, I still don’t like it. Nevertheless, another platform I will be keeping my eye on.

Scriptogr.am
Requires Dropbox. Although I can see why it can be appealing, I do not like sharing access because the restrictions are not granular enough.

Postagon
Has a good set of attractive features, but is “blogging for minimalists” and thus doesn’t have quite all the features I required.

Svbtle
Registration partially closed. I did not bother trying to get an account because it seemed like it lacked the customization/CMS functionalities that I required.

Pen.io
Too simple for my needs. It also claims to be anonymous because they “don’t store email addresses or any personal information.” Unless they also don’t store IP addresses and browser fingerprinting information I don’t see how they are any more anonymous than any other free blogging service out there (since you can use a dedicated e-mail address and fake personal information).

Medium
Seems pretty neat and social, but too simple for my needs.

Postach.io
Similar to above. Too simple for my needs.

Squarespace
Loved the simplicity of setting up and managing the website, however from the blogging perspective I found it to be lacking. The writing interface is suited more for creating webpage content rather than regular publishing. That is it tailors to website development rather than distraction-free writing. Their theme choice is fairly small and the themes, I feel, are suited better for e-commerce, portfolio, photography, etc. and less for for blogging. Additionally, making CSS adjustments requires a “developer” account which you need to apply for. I didn’t go through the process since completely rewriting or creating my own theme wasn’t my intention. Their support was thorough and helpful. I submitted a ticket for an issue the night I was testing out the service and the following morning I got the answer. I have to say, when I require a business/professional website Squarespace will by at the top of my candidates list.

WordPress
This is the one I eventually settled on (the managed service). It’s a bit bulky, has a set of its own quirks, requires payment to remove ads and at the same time has a policy of not allowing placing your own. Custom domains and other features also require payment. The current deal is $99/year for a set of all the features you’ll need to get started. Unless the domain name is registered with them you will not be able to simply point it at their servers. At the same time their DNS management options are fairly basic. In addition, their system supports TXT field of only up to 192 characters long, so if you have, say, a long DKIM public key it won’t work. Admittedly, I have not contacted their support to see if they can manually make an exception. I had to resort to some CNAME and redirect trickery at my DNS provider to get mostlyhacking.com and http://www.mostlyhacking.com to end up pointing here. Additional restrictions are placed on the usable themes and plugins. But, with all that, it is still possible to make managed WordPress work well. The huge community and large theme choice and customization options mean you’ll find the look you want and get the support you need. The writing portion has a good distraction-free option; the posts support HTML and extended Markdown; there is built-in HTTPS support; ability for the website to be more than just a blog; easy media management, and a slew of other options.

The following blog platforms currently do not provide a managed service and therefore got only a peripheral look from me:

So the takeaway here is what you’d expect. There are a lot of options out there when it comes to publishing content and there is no universal right and wrong answer. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish and how much of a tradeoff between time, effort, and money you are prepared to make. The more features you need and the less time you’re willing to spend on making things work, the more money it’s going to cost.

Set one (or several) of these up yourself, it’s great fun.