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Blogger without a blog service
April 16, 2008 6:31 PM   Subscribe

Is there a blog service that has all the features I need? I've tried Blogger, Livejournal, and Wordpress.com, but none of them seems like quite the ticket. See inside for the 3 features I'm looking for.

I'm trying to start a blog. It seems like every service I try is about 90% of what I need, but missing some key feature.

Here are the features I'm looking for:

1. The ability to have a private blog with well over 100 readers. I could see myself picking up a bunch of readers from my list of Facebook friends, and on top of that I'd like to feel comfortable mentioning the blog to people I meet in the future and casually inviting them to read it without worrying about exceeding the limit. (I'm not willing to have a public blog because I'm paranoid about a prospective employer googling my name one day and being offended by something I say about a controversial issue.)

2. A blogroll that allows well over 50 links. I have over 50 links to put in various categories of my blogroll (not just blogs but also individual articles, favorite Metafilter posts, etc.), and I want to be able to add more as I come across them.

3. Easily customizable templates, or at least a very tasteful default template. I care a lot about the appearance of the blog, and I'd like to have a distinctive combination of greys, blues, and a bit of purple. I don't have programming skills beyond some basic HTML, so I can't create a template from scratch. (I want something sleek and minimal but also with a bit of color and character. Most templates I've seen are either minimal to the point of looking like something from the '90s, or overloaded with color and graphics in a way that seems geared toward 16-year-olds.)

Here's what I've gathered based on trying 3 different services:

- Blogger has nicely customizable templates and plenty of blogroll capacity ... but is limited to 100 private readers.

- Livejournal lets you have 1000 private readers (or more with a paid account) and has so many templates that I can find a palatable one if I really try ... but limits you to 30 with a free account or 50 with a paid account. (I've tried this del.icio.us tool and it doesn't seem to work on LJ)

- Wordpress.com lets you have unlimited private readers for $30 (which I'd gladly pay for), and seems to have good blogroll capabilities ... but there are just a few boringly tasteful templates, they can't be customized at all (nor can you import one from a third party), and the main column is too wide anyway.

I'm willing to pay a reasonable amount of money, but free would be ideal, needless to say.

I've looked through AskMe tags, tried Googling for feature comparisons, and looked at help/FAQ pages from Blogger, Livejournal, and Wordpress. Of course, this turns up tons of information about different features offered by different services, but I'm not seeing a big-picture solution to my problem. (And I'm suspicious of the blog services' official help pages because they seem to try to conceal their limitations.)

Am I missing some way to have everything I want, or is this just not available? If not, then what do you think would be the least-bad option? I realize that the answer might simply be that I'm right -- none of the services work for the above reasons. But I wanted to run this by the hive mind to see if there's either some workaround for the above problems or some other service that offers what I want. I'm honestly on the verge of giving up blogging because there doesn't seem to be a viable service out there.
posted by jejune to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Woops, that should say: Livejournal limits you to 30 links in your blogroll.
posted by jejune at 6:36 PM on April 16, 2008


If you're willing to pay, buy some webhosting and install wordpress yourself (it really isn't hard). Then you can install whatever wordpress theme you want. (The same goes for movable type)
posted by chrisamiller at 6:37 PM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Blogger seems be rolling out Blogger in Draft, which from I can tell is like their own sub-Google Labs. Maybe you can suggest opening up the limit on private readers to see if anyone's working on it.
posted by aswego at 6:38 PM on April 16, 2008


It might cost a little more, but have you considered a cheap hosting account through Dreamhost or another service that offers easy WordPress installs? (If you have your own install, you can use any template, or build your own.) You're probably looking at $6-7/mo, but it gives you everything you need and a ton of flexibility to do other things.

(Anti-thread hijacking disclaimer: this reply is not about Dreamhost, which I know people have strong feelings about; that's just an example.)
posted by j-dawg at 6:39 PM on April 16, 2008


For those who are recommending "Wordpress": which one? Wordpress.com or wordpress.org? I've only signed up for the three sites I mentioned in the past few days, so none of this is obvious to me. I would appreciate either clear step-by-step detail or a link that will send me straight to a clear set of directions. I feel totally at sea here and unable to evaluate my options.
posted by jejune at 6:50 PM on April 16, 2008


not trying to hijack, but Mediatemple is also an example of a host that offers "one-click" wordpress installation, whilst inspiring significantly less hatred and gnashing of teeth.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:58 PM on April 16, 2008


By "install wordpress yourself" or "offers one-click wordpress installation", they mean that you can run the software package "WordPress", available from wordpress.org, which also happens to be the software you'd be using in a hosted mode at wordpress.com. The advantage of doing it yourself is that you have absolute control over everything--blogroll size, template/theme, number of users, plugins, etc. The disadvantage is that you're doing it yourself. It's not really that much of a disadvantage, but it isn't the same experience as having someone else do it for you, which is what one of the services gets you.

How would you want the privacy part to work? Would you want to create a user account for each individual you allow to read? Or do you just not want it indexed and listed by search engines?
posted by hades at 7:09 PM on April 16, 2008


How would you want the privacy part to work? Would you want to create a user account for each individual you allow to read? Or do you just not want it indexed and listed by search engines?

Hmmm... I guess I want to require an individual account for each user. If anyone could access the blog, then it could end up in Google results if another blogger does a blog post that quotes and links to a post of mine, so that seems to raise the whole set of privacy concerns that a normal public blog does.
posted by jejune at 7:16 PM on April 16, 2008


There's a password feature in Wordpress 2.5 that allows you to password protect posts, and then only people who know the password (aka - NOT google) will index the post.

Here's an example of what this looks like to the 'outside world'. (Sorry, Lori!)
posted by SpecialK at 7:29 PM on April 16, 2008


I'm sorry, but installing Wordpress looks about 10 times more complicated than what I'm willing to do. I can't deal with something where this is just the "very simple step-by-step plan for getting started." I'm looking for something like Blogger or Livejournal with good features. I want to be a blogger, not a programmer.
posted by jejune at 7:31 PM on April 16, 2008


Does Typepad meet your needs? The way you restrict access to your blog is not by having your friends all have accounts somewhere and then adding them to your list of readers, but by password-locking the blog and sharing the password with your friends. They have a lot of options for customizing the look of your blog, and I think many their starter templates are quite pleasant. I don't think they have limits to the number of items you put in a blogroll/linklist, but perhaps someone else can step in to confirm or deny.
posted by redfoxtail at 7:34 PM on April 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't think they have limits to the number of items you put in a blogroll/linklist, but perhaps someone else can step in to confirm or deny.

True. There is not a limit to the number of links that you can put into a blogroll. Full disclosure: I work for TypePad, but based on your criteria, it easily meets your requirements.

jejune, feel free to MeFi Mail me if you have any questions.
posted by mewithoutyou at 8:24 PM on April 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


you might want to look at tumblr.
you would lose the blogroll right off the bat. but its SO dead simple and it meets your other requirements.

the best thing I think about tumblr is that if you want to expand or develop the blog deeper you don't have to 'switch' over to the fully hosted wordpress install option. you could keep posting to tumblr but display thru the api to whatever site you wanted.
posted by darkpony at 8:55 PM on April 16, 2008


When you're looking at "well over 100" readers, I think the notion of private/public starts to get a bit skewed... it might just be easier to do something pseudonymous/anonymous (but still kind of "authored/branded" whatever) to escape future Googling? Then the only difference between the "special 100+" and everyone else would be, I assume, that they know who you really are. Just a suggestion.
posted by so_necessary at 9:12 PM on April 16, 2008


what about typepad or squarespace or wordpress.org?
posted by healthyliving at 9:18 PM on April 16, 2008


You can do all of this with Expression Engine. It's more costly that the other options that you mentioned.

You can control who reads it (and who can search for it) by creating an access level required to view pages. Each person would create their own account and you would assign them to a member group.

If you use their Engine Hosting they do give you a basic version of Expression Engine.
posted by jonah at 9:37 PM on April 16, 2008


sign up with bluehost and install Wordpress. Bluehost is amazing- I signed up for their hosting and domain service ($99 a year yields plenty of bandwidth and storage), and they called me the next day to personally confirm that everything was in place how I wanted it to be. I've called their tech support and they always answer in the first few rings (no automated answering service- real live american-based support!).

Install wordpress (which involves clicking two buttons on the admin panel- even had cute icons), and you're on your way to customizing the blog to look however you want it. Then you can easily add a database and have subscribers or a private blog. Plus, custom URL!

Wordpress is the ultimate tool, so long as you are hosting it yourself. $99 a year to do that is dirt cheap IMO.
posted by pedmands at 9:47 PM on April 16, 2008


First off, installing WP is far easier than what you're looking at (see here), and it is certainly what you're looking for. If you're still intimidated by that install, people volunteer their time to install WP for people, so you wouldn't even need to deal with that.
WP have their own hosting recomendations (some of which offer 1-click installation), but nearly any host will do. WordPress is incredibly straightforward, and I'm certain you'll come to love it.
posted by daboo at 9:48 PM on April 16, 2008


You may be interested in a Ninja Blog Setup. He's got a pretty nice list of themes, and you may be able to submit your own.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 9:48 PM on April 16, 2008


Just sign up for a hosting service that provides Wordpress as a one-click install (Dreamhost is one among many). It's easy to install custom templates and you won't be limited by any of the wordpress.com restrictions. Hosting plans, especially if you're willing to pay for a year in advance, are pretty cheap ($8-$10/month, perhaps less). You'll also be out about $8/year for domain name registration.

Besides being able to pimp Wordpress to your heart's content, you will, depending upon the host and hosting plan, have lots of extra hard-drive space and your own domain with which you can do many useful things. Got a big file you need to share? SFTP it to your site. Want to back up a few mission critical files? SFTP them to your site. Got a crazy uncle who needs a site for his Ukulele shop? Set it up for him. The internets are a lot more enjoyable when you have the right tools.
posted by wheat at 10:01 PM on April 16, 2008


You can't change the markup with WordPress.com, which does limit restyling, but you can use custom CSS to have a lot of control over presentation.
posted by malevolent at 11:59 PM on April 16, 2008


OK, based on everyone's answers, it looks like the rational thing to do is:

Step 1: Stick with the free, aesthetically pleasing Blogger until I hit the 100-reader limit.

Step 2: Probably switch to Typepad at that point. I might as well put off paying for this until I need to.

That said, please don't hesitate to offer more suggestions -- I'm still open to any options.

Sorry, but I'm just not seeing how wordpress.org is viable. Too complicated, too techy, too many options, too expensive. (The cheapest Typepad account, $50, costs significantly less than wordpress.org.)

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.
posted by jejune at 8:03 AM on April 17, 2008


Many of the big web hosts (dreamhost, a small orange, etc) have "one click install" of wordpress. That's about it. You go to an admin page, click "install wordpress", give it some information, and a minute later you get an e-mail saying "your blog is ready." Then you do a little configuring on your blog. It's nothing to be afraid of.

I know that Dreamhost also bundles dozens of themes into their default install--just click one and go. Installing a different theme is not that hard, but not a one-click operation either.
posted by adamrice at 8:07 AM on April 17, 2008


Well, even if wordpress.org is so simple, which it certainly doesn't appear to be based on their own "getting started" page, I would need an explanation of why it's worth the extra amount of money beyond the $50 a year that Typepad costs. Unless there's some specific reason for spending that extra money, Typepad simply looks like the better website for less money, so I'm going with that.
posted by jejune at 8:30 AM on April 17, 2008


jejune: if you like Typepad, by all means use it. You asked for options, and the community has provided them. Installing WordPress from scratch may indeed be "too techy" for you, but on any host where it is provided as a one-click install, it is incredibly simple. So installation isn't a factor at all.

That leaves price and features as relevant concerns. The advantages of having your own domain and running your own installation of WordPress are many, but they may be of no interest to you and/or may not be worth the additional expense. Having your own setup means you can install any them or plugin you like. It also means you can host large files. Depending upon your host, it means you can host more than one domain, which gives you the ability to run multiple blogs for the same hosting price.
posted by wheat at 6:28 AM on April 19, 2008


WordPress.org has a list of hosts that provide a one-click installer for their application. Some look cheaper than TypePad. I'll leave the feature-comparison to the OP.
posted by wheat at 6:35 AM on April 19, 2008


I thought this thread was over, but to respond to wheat:

You asked for options, and the community has provided them.

Yeah, and I thanked everyone for their suggestions. I just said I preferred one option over others. I don't see the problem. There's no rule on AskMe that the OP can't choose some answers over others -- in fact, isn't that kind of the point?

installation isn't a factor at all.

I think you're taking me too literally when I said I didn't like the option of "installing wordpress." Of course I meant the option of installing and using wordpress. I'm willing to believe that it takes just 5 minute to install it or that you can get someone else to do it for you (although, on second thought, why is there a need to have a whole other website that will install it for you, if the installation process is so simple?), but I think the overall option looks complicated based on the website's own materials, and I'm seeing no features, no features at all, that compensate for the fact that it looks more cumbersome than other services and costs a lot more too. (I'm sure it does have extra features, but I'm not seeing them.)

I can't try all these services, so I can't make a fair comparison. That's precisely my problem: I don't even want to worry about the technicalities -- I just want to get up and running with a simple service along the lines of Blogger or Livejournal. Based on what I've seen, I think that the very expensive Wordpress is the absolute worst option for me. Sorry.
posted by jejune at 3:34 PM on April 19, 2008


I think part of the pushback you may be feeling is because we're confused that you keep calling WordPress expensive. WordPress itself is free--it's the hosting that costs money. True, a full hosting account is more expensive than the $50/year TypePad Basic service. But with a full hosting account, there are no limitations--you're getting more like what comes with the $150/year TypePad Pro service. (And you also get the ability to install any other web apps, in case you want to branch out from blogging, at no extra cost.) If you end up deciding that the Basic service at TypePad is too limiting (one blog with one author, no domain mapping, no template customization) then it may make sense to reconsider.

If TypePad Basic works for you, though, great. It looks like a fine service. I was just hung up on the flexibility and control thing. It sounds like simple is more important to you, so I was answering the wrong question.
posted by hades at 8:21 PM on April 20, 2008


WordPress itself is free--it's the hosting that costs money. True, a full hosting account is more expensive than the $50/year TypePad Basic service.

And you need that in order to use Wordpress, according to these comments. I'm seeing up to $10 a month, which is $120 a year.
posted by jejune at 9:32 PM on April 20, 2008


Which is still cheaper than the TypePad Pro cost, and doesn't tie you into using any particular piece of software. With a hosting account, you could switch to Movable Type or Blosxom or something if you found WordPress didn't work for you. Or you could decide that what you really wanted was a wiki, or a photo gallery, or a bulletin board style discussion forum. Or maybe you have friends who want their own blogs or web sites, and you offer them space on your hosting account--there's very little chance you're going to run into the bandwidth or storage limits on your own, so why not? That's what I do, anyway.

But, again, it's all about how you use it. If you're only going to do simple blogging and don't need much control over things, then it probably doesn't make sense to pay for the flexibility that a hosting service provides. In that case, a single-purpose service such as TypePad is what you want, and more power to you.
posted by hades at 12:12 AM on April 21, 2008


Which is still cheaper than the TypePad Pro cost

Well, it's more expensive than the cheapest TypePad account.

But, again, it's all about how you use it. If you're only going to do simple blogging and don't need much control over things, then it probably doesn't make sense to pay for the flexibility that a hosting service provides. In that case, a single-purpose service such as TypePad is what you want, and more power to you.

Yep, that pretty much sums up how I feel about it. I just want a simple blog -- I don't want to pay extra to have the capability to create a million different kinds of websites, which seems to be the idea with Wordpress.
posted by jejune at 11:10 AM on April 21, 2008


Well, this problem has been resolved. I ended up going with Blogger, which is free and has everything I wanted.

Wordpress, which doesn't seem to work too well, would not have been a good choice.
posted by jejune at 11:19 AM on October 15, 2008


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