Blogging 101
June 14, 2005 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Getting My Own Blog, FuckWits...

Never let it be said that I'm not on the cutting edge of computer technology. Having no shame beating a seven year old dead horse, I've decided to get my own weblog. Hey, all the cool kids are trying it.

Okay, so here's where you come in. Getting started.

Which service should I use? (Blogger, MoveableType, LiveJournal, TypePad? I realize this is a bit like asking whether I should use PC, Mac or that other thing. I'm open to all suggestions. Is there any kind of stigma attached to which service you use? Are LiveJournal people looked down on? These are the kinds of things I need to know.)

My skill level: pitiful beginner, but willing to learn. I use a Mac at home and a PC a work. Hopefully, I'd be able to update my blog from either place. I have a Flickr account and I'd like to be able to use that, too.

I want something that is easy to use, cheap, wildly customizable, and comes over to my house and gives me backrubs. Is that asking too much?

posted by ColdChef to Computers & Internet (37 answers total)
What kind of blog do you want to have? What's important to you? What are you going to write about? How much do you enjoy communities? How goth are you?
(You know, somewhere, there has to be one of those stupid CGI quizes that will tell you what blog host you should use. Like, if you own more than one Get Up Kids album, you want Livejournal. If you think anorexia is a valid lifestyle choice, you want Xanga, etc.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 PM on June 14, 2005

My suggestion is this: don't worry about what service you use, just write. There are some great blogs on Livejournal, Blogger, and pretty much every blogging service out there. Your design or URL doesn't really matter. Just write.

I use Wordpress, though. Simple installation, myriad of themes - completely customizable. Requires PHP/MySQL. If you have your own server space, I highly reccomend Wordpress.
posted by nitsuj at 12:26 PM on June 14, 2005

Response by poster: The content will be mostly for friends and family, and as kind of a personal journal, so I'm not worried about attracting a mass audience.

Oh, and I'd rather not have ads, if I could avoid it.

If you have your own server space, I highly reccomend Wordpress.
Ah. Server space. And what would that be? (See, told you you're dealing with a dunce here.)
posted by ColdChef at 12:29 PM on June 14, 2005

Response by poster: Requires PHP/MySQL

Also, I have no idea what this means.
posted by ColdChef at 12:30 PM on June 14, 2005

If you're just starting out go for one of the free services (like Blogger). You don't need to know anything about servers or programming languages for that. If you like it and stick to it, then you can worry about perfecting the look and customization.
posted by cali at 12:33 PM on June 14, 2005

I think Blogger is the simplest way to start a Blog. The default templates are quite nice to boot.
posted by chunking express at 12:34 PM on June 14, 2005

If you're looking for a simple, no frills service, I like Typepad. It's all web based, you don't have to know or care about any of that technical stuff, and it's not expensive at $5 a month for the basic service.

There are free options out there (blogger, etc), but they do tend to stick ads on your site which may not be to your taste.

The only thing it doesn't do is the backrubs.
posted by baggers at 12:34 PM on June 14, 2005

Also, almost every other 'serious' weblog publishing system will tell you how to import your entries from your blogger blog into their system. It is usually very easy to leave blogger for something more robust whenever you feel the urge for more.
posted by chunking express at 12:35 PM on June 14, 2005

Typepad. I use it because it's super easy, customizable once you're ready to do it, and they handle all the technical stuff. You get WYSIWYG posting and a good tech support program.
posted by karmaville at 12:35 PM on June 14, 2005

I just use Blogger. I wasn't interested in things like tweaking the styesheets everyday or adding a new plugin or putting in a MySQl backend.

I just wanted to write.
posted by vacapinta at 12:37 PM on June 14, 2005

Best answer: I would suggest starting off with a simple hosted service, such as Blogger or TypePad. This means you will visit a website to publish your entries.

These tools will give you the option of posting your journal to one of their subdomains (e.g. or or upload it to your own web space/server (which you have to pay for separately and have some technical knowledge of how to manage). Hosting your journal on their website will come with some ads, though I don't think they are as flashy as they once were.

Once you get comfortable with it, and you feel up to hosting your own publishing tool you can move to something like Wordpress or Moveable Type. This will require a.) you purchasing web space or b.) knowing someone with web space that will let you use theirs. And don't worry, you can take all of your posts and comments from your previous tool with you and import them into your new tool.
posted by bwilms at 12:43 PM on June 14, 2005

I'll vote for LiveJournal. I've used it for a few years and it is easy to use, free, and no adds. Among the l33t, LJ is kind of looked down upon, but hell, any of my friends who blog use LJ so whatever.
posted by jmd82 at 12:45 PM on June 14, 2005

I use Blogger. It's really, really easy, free, and contrary to some statements here, they don't add ads unless you want them to.

I believe there is a pay version you can update to.

There are stigmas about which blog you use, LiveJournal in particular is seen as inferior by some cool kids. Some folks think Blogger sucks because of technical issues (comment systems, speed). I wouldn't worry much about any of that crap.
posted by teece at 12:45 PM on June 14, 2005

I found blogger really easy---for both words and pics.
posted by amberglow at 12:52 PM on June 14, 2005

I use Livejournal, mainly because the I've had the account for so long, and all of my friends are on it.

However, recently I've gotten tired of alot of the people on it, so I created a feed from my website, so anyone that is still interested in my journal can subscribe to the feed from within Livejournal. That way people can still keep track of my posts.

I also imported all of my posts from LJ over to Wordpress.

Really I think it depends on your resources (hosting) at hand, and how social you want to be.
posted by jackofsaxons at 12:55 PM on June 14, 2005

LiveJournal, because your friends on LJ will actually read your journal from their friends page.
posted by smackfu at 12:56 PM on June 14, 2005

Best answer: I think nitsuj has great advice: it doesn't matter which weblogging platform you choose. The most important thing is just to write.

Typepad, Blogger, and LiveJournal are all good choices. They're all hosted services. (Actually, I'm only guessing about LiveJournal.) Maybe somebody who has used all three can give you a feature-by-feature comparison, though I'm willing to bet that the features really don't matter.

Use your gut, make a choice, and write.
posted by jdroth at 1:01 PM on June 14, 2005

xanga has its good sides and bad sides ... i like the blogrings and subscription features (which are free) ... i dislike that you have to go through tons of 15 year old kids typing illiterate phone text messages to find anyone worth reading ... but they're out there

xanga's quite looked down upon ... for one thing, they hardly ever get mentioned in discussions like this
posted by pyramid termite at 1:16 PM on June 14, 2005

Another vote for TypePad, I've been using it since I think October. Easy to use, easy to customize, no ads, no mad skillz required.

I hate LiveJournal, but for purely personal reasons, not because of any technical issues. I used it for a while, but left when a friend situation exploded. I find it to be a bit "cliqueier" than I really want; I just wanted to write, I don't worry too much if I don't have a bazillion readers. LJ seems to foster more of a community. As has been said already, it really depends on what you want to do with your blog. Many good suggestions here, good luck! Link to whatever you do in your MeFi user page, and I'll check it out when you have it up and running.
posted by jennaratrix at 1:17 PM on June 14, 2005

Modblog is pretty decent, and it's free.
posted by knave at 1:33 PM on June 14, 2005

I would choose Typepad over Blogger, simply because Typepad allows you to categorize your posts. And it has some nice gallery-type templates built in . . .
posted by kables at 1:49 PM on June 14, 2005

If you don't know much HTML (beyond what we use here in MeFi) and don't know what nitsuj was talking about, go with Blogger, LiveJournal or TypePad. All three are very easy to use. Having been on Movable Type for years now, I'd prefer TypePad, but Blogger and LJ have the advantage of being free.

I don't doubt that you've got enough friends on MeFi who'd be happy to help you with any designwork you'd like done, too, if you're not happy with the default templates for your eventual choice.
posted by me3dia at 1:56 PM on June 14, 2005

It sounds like you want to take a look at Blogger. It's free, easy, pretty, and you can customise it all you like.

LiveJournal is just as easy, but you're built into the community. You can't really customise it much, unless you pay them.

Also, if you decide you want something more powerful later, you can export your blog from Blogger and switch to something else relatively easily.
I'm pretty sure you're locked in if you go with LJ.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:08 PM on June 14, 2005

I'm happy with LJ, because it's where people I'm already friends/acquaintances with in Real Life [tm] are, and we just use it to keep each other up on basic ongoing personal stuff via the friends page. There's not much sophisticated writing going on, but we're all over 30 (no snickering text-messaging teens) and just too busy to keep everyone up on the basic happenings of our lives, so LJ is good for that.

If I were going to write a "real" blog I'd probably go with TypePad and then syndicate to my LJ so people on my friends list could see it (like jessamyn does).
posted by matildaben at 2:26 PM on June 14, 2005

Well, if you're going to get web hosting, a lot of the hosts have simple click-and-install various weblog programs like Wordpress. I like Wordpress. It's easy to set up comment-spam-blocking, which is important.

However... livejournal is nice because it's a successful community-type setup. So it's really a question of what you want. Wordpress would be more professional, lj is more... friendly. Interactive. Whatever.
posted by dagnyscott at 3:20 PM on June 14, 2005

The content will be mostly for friends and family, and as kind of a personal journal, so I'm not worried about attracting a mass audience.

I'd recommend LJ for this reason. The control features -- level of privacy to entries, customizable friend groups, etc. -- let you talk about things you want your friends to know, but not your family, etc. So mom doesn't get to read about your drunken excursion to a strip club and your friend Bob doesn't hear about your childhood memories of Aunt Bertha.

Also, friends and family get an account to read protected entries, so it may encourage them to blog and you could learn about them too.
posted by Gucky at 3:54 PM on June 14, 2005

Best answer: I'm very much like you -- I can write content (and even write a tiny bit of HTML -- to make things bold, or change the font, or whatever) but am an illiterate idiot when it comes to all those abbreviations or understanding how the web works.

I tried and tried to get blogger to work for me, but was never happy with it, mostly because I couldn't customize it enough to make me want to start using it on a daily basis.

Then a kind fellow Mefite took pity on me and coded a Moveable type weblog, that I updated regularly for a while. I liked it (simple interface, easy to use) but got tired of fighting the comment spam.

Friends had Livejournal accounts, so I got one, at first thinking I'd just do it to "friend" them and read their stuff. I've ended up using LJ more than I ever used the MT blog. Updating the MT blog always seemed like work -- like I was searching for content, something to write about. I update LJ often -- many times more than once a day -- in part because I know someone is reading it (I can see a list of them!) and because people comment on what I write much more so than they did on the old MT blog (where I got, I think, a total of 13 comments over two years).

People may look down on LJ because of the "teen" connotations, but I've found that I need to be writing stuff because I know other people are reading it, and want to discuss it with me (because the web is an interactive medium, duh), not for some deep personal meaning.

Interestingly, just yesterday I spent some time bringing the MT blog back from the dead - I'm going to try and update both now, since my LJ posts were really turning into mini "blog entries" in the more tractional sense. We'll see if it works.....
posted by anastasiav at 4:30 PM on June 14, 2005

Start with blogger, chefstah. And whatever you do, please maintain it regularly, you incomprably funny SOB.
posted by jonmc at 5:40 PM on June 14, 2005

Yet another vote for Blogger. It was where I started out. I was at least as ignorant as you are, if not more so, and it was easy to use.

Later on, if you stick with it and want to move to bigger and better things and are feeling more comfortable with the technology, go with MT (comment spam is still a problem but there are ways to deal with it).

Warning: No matter which publishing system you use, follow this advice - always copy/paste your post (or even compose it) into Notepad, Wordpad, Word or whatever before hitting submit. This will save much grief and teeth gnashing when the system crashes. And trust me, it will crash.
posted by deborah at 5:57 PM on June 14, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help. Great answers. I'm going to start by composing my excuses for my eventual decline in posting frequency. Appreciate y'all!
posted by ColdChef at 6:03 PM on June 14, 2005

Best answer: Ah. Server space. And what would that be?

Here's how it works:

Say you want your own web address -, for example. You can go and register that domain (more on that later), but there's a problem. You have to find some 'server space' for it - a computer somewhere on the net that will put its hand up whenever somebody types '' into their browser and says 'I'm over here!' In other words, you need someplace to keep all your stuff. Otherwise, people will just get a 'not found' message. Registering '' is like buying the rights to a house number - server space is the actual house where you put everything. The places that sell 'server space' are usually called 'hosting companies'.

There are some free 'hosting companies'. will give you free hosting if you register a domain through them. Blogger will let you use their 'server space' if you're happy to have ads on your site and use their name (eg, instead of just Generally, though, if you want your own identity and no ads, it's best to pay for server space. On the upside, you get complete control. On the downside, it's more work for you.

When you go to a hosting company to buy some server space, make sure they come with PHP and MySQL. PHP is a collection of little tools and programs that your blog needs to run properly, and MySQL is the program that will look after the database that holds your blog. You don't need to know how to use these - whatever blogging tool you use (Wordpress, Mambo, MovableType etc) knows what to look for and how to use it. Think of PHP and MySQL a bit like you think about Windows and OSX - you need to have them before you can use other programs, but you don't have to tell those programs how to use them - you just install them, and they just work.

Lets say you take an easy route, and choose the same company to register your domain and host your site. You go to, fill out a form to let them know what domain name you want and how long you want it for, give them your credit card details and wait a day or two for it to get sorted. Let's say you forked over $90 to be the proud owner of for 5 years, and an extra $7.95 per month for Ultra Hosting. That gives you 1gb of disk space, 20gb per month of data transfers, the all-important PHP/MySQL, some e-mail accounts and so on.

What now? When people type, they get a standard Doteasy placeholder page - ' is coming soon!' or somesuch. You need to put some content on your site. To do that, you need a Content Management System (CMS) to keep track of your posts, and a database to hold them all.

First, set up the database. With Doteasy, you log in to your website as an administrator, click 'Add MySQL database', trust everything it says and end up with a database called something like 'coldchef_com_-db'. Again, you don't need to know what's happening, anymore than you know where Windows is keeping all the files it scatters over your hard disk when you install something. Just trust that it works. Some hosting companies might even set it up for you.

Now, you need a CMS. Download it, check the installation instructions, then follow them. This can be a bit tricky - depending onthe package, installation might range from uploading the files to your website, typing in an address then sitting back while the whole thing sets itself up (eg Mambo), to editing some text files, setting up users, changing permissions on files and the like.

Once the CMS is up and running, you log in as an administrator (typically by visiting a page like and typing in your password). You'll see some kind of control panel that you use to set up your themes, set rules for who can post what where, and so on. Once that's done, you've got a blog. Visit, click the Post button, and type away.

I'm sure there are lots of people here who would be willing to help you get set up. Probably best to handle your own domain registration and hosting, coz you don't want to give out your credit card details, but I'm sure there are people here you'd trust enough to log in as an administrator, set up your database, install and configure your CMS, then give you the keys back so all you need to do is post.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:20 PM on June 14, 2005 [2 favorites]

Wow, nice explanation, obiwanwasabi!
posted by jmd82 at 9:24 PM on June 14, 2005

Having had weblogs powered by Blogger, Type Pad, Wordpress and also a Live Journal (with Blogger and LiveJournal being the longest running and Wordpress being the most recent), here's another vote for LiveJournal.

In addition to the statements above, there are clients available to download so that you don't have to update from the LJ site itself, which is handy - and they cover all platforms. All of the LJ styles can be customized pretty easily to some extent if you like (i.e.: colors and fonts); even more so with the new "S2" styles.

Also - LiveJournal, Typepad and Movable Type are all owned by the folks at Six Apart, which is a good thing, in my opinion.
posted by mewithoutyou at 10:16 PM on June 14, 2005

I'm a Typepad person, meself, and I really love them. If you do go with them, and get something other than the basic account, and want a customized design, I'd be happy to help you out there (love to design blogs, I do). Can also help with a Blogger design.

What's so nice for me about Typepad is that they are there to answer my questions if I need them. I haven't had to ask about anything in a long time, but it's great to have that help available if I'm pulling out my hair. Also, they come over and give me back rubs.
posted by taz at 1:57 AM on June 15, 2005

I started with Blogger because it was free and easy and I didn't have to worry about any of that complicated stuff obiwanwasabi was explaining so well (where were you when I was trying to figure that shit out?); after a year or so I got fed up with the various problems I was encountering (the template got screwed up, archives and comments kept disappearing, &c) and I bit the bullet and got myself a domain name and a hosting service (InsiderHosting, which has been great) and moved the whole thing over to Movable Type, where I've been very happy. I always suggest people start with Blogger and see if they really enjoy blogging, and if they do, plan to move on to MT or WordPress or one of the others. (LiveJournal creeps me out for some reason, but that's just me.)

Do take taz up on her offer; she designed the beautiful banner at the top of Languagehat, and I still get questions about it. And of course let us know when you're up and running; I want to read it!
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on June 15, 2005

Several of my friends with absolutely no web experience have started blogs on Blogger in the past few months. They're using a program called "hello" to post, which removes the complexity of learning HTML. I've never seen an ad on their blogs.

I used Wordpress, but it's not for beginners, and unless you already pay for web hosting it's not free.
posted by exhilaration at 3:13 PM on June 15, 2005

I am late to the party, but thought I'd still put in my opinion. I have two LiveJournals, and two Blogger blogs. The first one I had was a Livejournal, user name tangletoy. I started it after finding and adoring the blogs Swallowing Tacks and LittleYellowDifferent. I loved how they wrote and other commented, so social. But I didn't have web space, and had the html skills of a turnip. At the time I was reading a magazine called YahooLife or something like that, and LiveJournal got a mention. That was ages ago though, perhaps ... never mind, I'll just look it up. January 2001.

What I liked about LiveJournal over Blogger was two things. They had an update client that I could download, that allowed me to update without forcing me to run my browser, or go to their site. Quick and no muss. The second thing they had was the friends list. It's like an RSS aggregator. You can add other Livejournal users or the feeds off your favorite blogs and sites, and with one click, you can read to your hearts content. But you can also filter this page so you only read blogs, read only sites, read a certain group of friends only, etc. You can make it as bite-size or mouthful as you want. Plus, LiveJournal has some amazing communities.

Blogger at the time didn't offer those. But after awhile, I became a less social person, even online. So I switched to Blogger, which to me was like leaving a crowded party of strangers to a much smaller and quieter gathering of friends.

The nice thing though, is Livejournal's update client called Semagic now works with Blogger. So if you want the ease of Livejournal's updating with the more intimate feel of blogger, you can have that.

Both are free if you use Blogspot and LiveJournal's free service. Neither forces ads on your blog. Both allow you to customize the free layout, though Blogger gives more options with that than Livejournal.

Now, if you're just blogging for your family, you may want to go with Livejournal. It offers security settings that the free Blogger doesn't give - like you can keep strangers from commenting on your entries while allowing family and friends that have their own Livejournals. You can allow anonymous comments, but set it up so that only you see those comments and no one else. You can lock entries to yourself only, to a small circle of friends, or leave them open to everyone. So, while you have more control over how your journal/blog looks on Blogger, you have more control over the free blog's security with Livejournal.

Sooner or later you will reach the tween stage where you want more than what the free blogs will offer you. To upgrade Blogger to your own space or another service, you will need to purchase webspace and then export your old entries to this new space. With Livejournal, you pay for extra services, but the you don't need to actually move your entries for more.

The big advantage to Blogspot blogger over free Livejournal accounts is that you can take your blogger entries, and export them to about any other blog program. Livejournal entries don't export well to these other services.

Like I said, I have both. I use both, and I like them for different reasons. Hope I helped though, and good luck no matter your choice.

Oh, those LiveJournal icons? Very addictive.

My first livejournal
The LJ that I use currently
My mommy blog over on BlogSpot
My doodle blog over on BlogSpot
posted by FunkyHelix at 5:20 PM on June 16, 2005

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