Diagonal Question Marks

Questions to ask before selecting a blogging platform.

Today there are a surprising number of blogging tools with a wide variety of features. Before you go shopping for them, it helps if you have a clearer idea of what you want to do and what you want to spend. (Yes, free is an option.)

Adam Dachis on Lifehacker offered a great list of questions to ask yourself before choosing a blogging platform in his post, Which Blogging Platform Should I Use?. They were so good, I’m going to paraphrase them and add a bunch of my own. Don’t panic. There are no wrong answers to these blogging questions and you won’t be graded.

What do you want to publish?

  • Do I want to focus just on writing and let my words speak for me?
  • Do I plan on using a lot of photos or graphics, or just an occasional snapshot?
  • Is there a look that I want for my blog or am I content to use a standard look chosen by the blog host?
  • Is typography or font choice an important part of my design?
  • Do I write short, pithy pieces, long-form posts, or just want to share things I find on the web? Or do I want to do it all?
  • Do I need to create a portfolio site for my photos, videos, music and sound, as well as writing? Do I want to promote my band/ensemble/photography/recordings/book/career or get a job?
  • Do I need extra pages to promote myself and my career? Do I want to freelance, sell things, write a book or show off my work?

Comfort with technology

  • Is simplicity my first priority? Does technology confuse me?
  • Do I like to tinker with settings and design?
  • Do I prefer to add plug-in tools to add features to my blog, or just find the right host and not bother with further customization?
  • Do I want a blog host that can grow with me as I learn more and want to do more?
  • Can I handle the risk involved in testing a cutting-edge start-up service that could go belly-up or is permanence and reliability more important to me?
  • Do I want to use a hosted service that will deal with all the techno-mumbo-jumbo of blogging, or do I want to learn to install, configure and host my own blog so I can learn it myself?

Audience interaction

  • Should my readers be able to post comments, interact with my content, connect socially, and share my posts on Twitter and Facebook? Or do I just want to write and be left alone?
  • Do I eventually want to build a mailing list to contact my readers directly?

Personal needs

  • How much money do I want to invest in blogging? Can I only afford free tools right now?
  • Do I want to just test the waters in blogging, or do I think I want to invest time into this long-term?
  • Do I want to retain full control over my writing and maintain my own copyrights? Or is it OK for a blog host to use excerpts and for people to share my posts with others?
  • Do I want to edit on my desktop computer or laptop, or from my phone or tablet?

Growing your site

  • Do I eventually want to try e-commerce and sell things online on my own site? Do I want to do advanced marketing with landing pages, squeeze pages, or do A/B testing? (Do I know what these terms mean?)
  • Do I want a my own personalized web address? Do I want a single location anybody can come to to see my work?
  • Is the ability of Google to find my work and recommend it to others in Search important to me?
  • Do I want to evaluate how my blog is doing using analytics?

Too many questions?

  • Oh crap. I don’t want to answer questions, I just want to start a blog. Right now!

Man & Questions

You don’t need to decide all these things before choosing a blogging or promotional platform. Do decide which questions are important to you and keep them in mind when looking at all the choices we’ll share with you in the next few posts.

Mark This Down Now: Markdown

A good number of the simpler blogging sites use text-only files and rely on Markdown to create HTML output. Markdown is a simple way to create basic HTML while leaving the text quite readable. If you want to learn about it, you can go to the website of Markdown’s creator, John Gruber: Daring Fireball. You don’t need any special software, just a simple text editor or your favorite word processor.

A quick, simple tutorial for Markdown is MarkdownTutorial.com. See also Joshua Johnson’s Mastering Markdown: 30 Resources, Apps and Tutorials to Get You Started. Also, John Mitchell explains the why of using Markdown in 3 Reasons Why Everyone Needs to Learn Markdown.

If you use a Macintosh or iOS device, there are dozens of applications that allow you to create text documents with Markdown, and then allow you to translate them into HTML. Strangely, adoption of Markdown on Windows PCs has been very slow, but there are lots of online resources for doing the same thing. Set aside a half hour or so and you can learn how to use Markdown quite easily. It just takes a bit of practice after that.

You can create a Markdown file in any word or text processor. It just needs to be saved in a text-only format (i.e., with a .txt file extension). I usually just copy that and go to Daring Fireball’s Markdown Dingus. Paste your text into the text box and you can choose to see that file translated into formatted text (a good way to proof your work), or as formatted HTML code. You can then copy that HTML code and paste it into any blog or website editor. (I usually paste it into WordPress and then gussy it up a bit with more advanced tools.)

There are a couple of different “flavors” of Markdown with names like MultiMarkdown and Github Markdown, that offer a few extra features (such as constructing tables or emoji, or features for programmers). No need to worry about it, just be aware.

Oh, Say Can You Type?

By the way, if your typing skills are for just two fingers, or you want to type faster, check out Frugal Guidance 2’s collection of typing tutors, Learning to Type — Online and Off. There are links to online tools, downloadable tools, tools for kids, free tools, commercial packages, even tutors for one-handed typists and non-QWERTY keyboards.

Next, we look at the simpler blogging tools.

References:
Slant stacked question marks title image is by Stuart Miles and used by permission of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
“Stressed Figure With Question Mark” image is used courtesy of  “Master isolated images” and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Frugal Guidance 2 - http://andybrandt531.com