How to start your own blog, part 1: Selecting a blogging engine

I get e-mails all the time saying, “I like your blog. How do I start my own?” In this series of articles I’ll try to provide up-to-date answers to that question.

What blogging engine to use?

A blogging engine is software that allows you to type blog posts in a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. A WYSIWYG editor allows you to see the text and images you’re inputting in a format similar to what will appear on the blog itself, much like Microsoft Word allows you to see the document you’re typing much as it will appear on the printed page. Furthermore, when you’re done, all you have to do is hit Publish and the blog entry gets posted to the server – you don’t have to worry about using an FTP program to transfer what you typed from your computer to the server.

There are many blogging engines out there – Blogger, WordPress, MoveableType, TypePad, and dozens of others. However, there is one that I recommend as a clear favorite to start with – WordPress. WordPress is what I use for all my blogs. It’s open source, which means it’s free, and which also means it has thousands of programmers around the world volunteering their time to make it better and better. Futhermore, there are hundreds of plugins you can use to extend WordPress’s capabilities – for example, I have plug-ins that track visitor stats and that create a sitemap of my blog so Google can index it easily.

I used to use Blogger, the most widely used blogging engine, but it just isn’t the best. For one thing, you have to go to their site to type posts, and the site is often slow or down. Waiting for images to upload was like waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Day… waiting and waiting and waiting. When Blogger was acquired by Google, I hoped it would improve, and was encouraged when they announced “the new, improved” Blogger. However, it turned out to be improved in a sense of introducing an entire new spectrum of bugs which made it even more ornery to deal with than the old Blogger. Over a long New Year’s 2008 weekend I migrated the blog to WordPress and have never regretted it. WordPress can import posts from Blogger and most other blogging engines.

You’ll notice I haven’t supplied a link to get WordPress next. That’s because you need to make a decision where to host your blog – on their server or your own – before getting WordPress. We’ll cover that decision in part 2.