Monday, August 4, 2008

Choosing a Blog Platform

by Mike Johnston

It can be a difficult decision to switch from some of the web based solutions that are offered by major industry players such as blogger et al. However, there is a major advantage to running your own blog software.. customization. No hosted solution can offer you the flexibility of simply getting your own cheap (or free) web host and creating your own blog platform.

Some of the major players in this industry are: Movable Type, Wordpress, B2Evolution and ExpressionEngine but there are plenty of other lesser known but just as solid solutions available as well. Browse our list here to see the full choice (there are likely more, we simply haven't found them yet.. )

Let's run over some of the main features most common when people are looking for a blog solution.

1. SEO: If you aren't familiar with this term yet, you will be. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and basically means that the software offers a way to optimize the way URLs, Content and Links are viewed in order to give you the best possible exposure when being spidered by a search engine web crawler. For a full explanation of what SEO is, there is an excellent article here: http://www.seomoz.org/article/bg1.

2. WYSIWYG EDITOR: WYSIWYG stands for 'What You See is What You Get' and basically means that as you are typing your article or blog post, you are able to format and use the same type of options you would have available in your favourite word processor.. and that what you see as you type, is how the text will look once published. There are several commonly used WYSIWYG editors used by most blog platforms. The top two are TinyMCE and FCKEditor.

3. IMAGE Handling: By default, most WYSIWYG editors only offer you the ability to add images via URL and not to upload directly from your computer (which is a pain IMHO). One of the things you need to be conscious of is whether the blog platform you are choosing offers image uploads or whether it's going to be more difficult to add an image to a post.

4. THEMES: Not everyone is a designer, I will be the first to admit that without a base theme to start from, I have the imagination of a piece of granite... so for myself and most users, it's important that the Blog software is either a) easy to theme or b) offers a good selection of starter themes to choose from.

5. EXPANDABILITY: Depending on what you want to do with your blog, you will likely want the option to take advantage of some of the services offered on the web for bloggers to share their posts with the world and/or to monetize the blog. In order to be able to do this, you need to be able to either code well in HTML/PHP or be able to choose a platform that has add-on modules to help you do this quickly and easily.

Now that we've covered the basics (and I'm sure there is more.. this is just designed to be a starting point)... we will now look at some of the major blog platforms available and what they have to offer.

THE PLAYERS

1. Wordpress - Designed initially as a simple blog platform, this software has exploded into somewhat of a cult classic in the world of blog software. Wordpress offers more themes, modules, options and expandability than any other blog platform released to date. The best part? It's still extremely easy to use and very very simple to install. See my review here. Wordpress meets all of the above and more but it's not for everyone. Some may simply not find the interface appealing and others may simply want to try something different.

2. ExpressionEngine - Another very good blog solution with a massive list of features. It doesn't match Wordpress as far as available themes and modules but it has a lot of the key options out of the box without the need to installing anything additionally. See the full list of features here.

3. MovableType - MovableType is a strong competitor of Wordpress and only recently went Opensource when it became apparent that Wordpress was succeeding quite well by going this route. MovableType main downfall in my eyes is it's difficulty to install. It does, however, have very good support, nice themes and a good selection of modules. You can read more about it here.

4. B2Evolution - One of the few that offers out of the box ability to run multiple blogs from a single installation. Updated frequently and with a fair amount of themes and modules, B2Evolution is a strong up and coming blog platform. More details available here.

There are plenty of other platforms out there as well, I couldn't possibly cover them all in one article. Check out our complete list of blog software here and if you are aware of ones that we don't list please let us know.

You'll want to explore the choices available and find out which one suits what you need. The only way to truly do so is to try them out. Most of the sites offer demos which you can try. You will also find future reviews here on this site as well.

I hope this quick article helps some of you out there or gives you an idea of where to start.

About the Author

Mike Johnston has been an active CMS addict and blogger since the days of the BBS and currently runs http://www.cmstester.com