An overlong post about blog providers

I read a post recently by Joe Wickert in which he wrote that Typepad is rubbish (he has a Typepad blog), that Typepad would never improve, and advised everyone not to have a Typepad blog. (His post is called Typepad Sucks!)

Inevitably, Typepad immediately made some improvements – the dashboard is much more nicely designed and usable now. A few minor improvements have been made: ironically I cannot tell you what because "Everything Typepad" is down.

Not only has Typepad slightly enhanced the blogging experience, but so has its baby sister Vox. I say "baby sister" because Vox is a girly version of a blog provider– you can choose lots of themes, but you can’t customise your blogroll (the blogs you link to). You can only link within your "neighbourhood" (in other words, other people who have Vox blogs who choose you as a contact and whom you "choose back").  I do like some Vox features, eg the automatic ability to include book covers with Amazon links and, if I were up to speed on "blogging 2007" I’d like the multimedia features, too — Vox has just "partnered" with Nokia and is upgrading its video features.

I concluded that Vox must be going for the "young" market — free (unlike Typepad), easy to use, high-level modules that don’t allow much personal variation on a basic theme, and don’t let the blogger remotely near the html code (total contrast with Blogger’s "let it all hang out" approach). This impression is to some extent confirmed by the latest upgrades: you can now customise your banner design, and, with a complete straight face, Vox provides a question of the day for those inconvenient occasions when "you don’t know what to blog about".  (The awful thing is, the Vox target bloggership probably does find this useful.) All the recent additions are for people who are more into what their blog looks like than into adding their own links, functionality and even widgets into their blogs– these don’t (yet?) seem to be supported.

So if you are thinking of starting a blog, or another blog, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the various providers?

  • Blogger (Google)  is free, you can have an unlimited number of blogs, and much improved since it was upgraded to Blogger Beta (BB), though it is a pain to comment on BB blogs if you don’t have or want to use a Google/Blogger account in so doing, as you have to provide lots of details as well as passing the captcha (spam filter) test – hard on Blogger with their unnecessary floaty, squiggly letter variants. On the upside, Blogger lets you do a lot of customisation to your blog’s design and sidebars. It supports "categories" (archives by keyword), unlike the previous version. Downside, it has no support helpdesk system except the ghastly Google "help forums" which are useless. However, lots of people use Blogger so if you have a technical problem you can post about it and you will probably get loads of answers and helpful advice from other Bloggers who have been where you now are.
  • WordPress is free. You can have as many blogs as you like. It is the least "commercial" of the main blog providers, with a more "we are all geeks together" buddy-buddy approach. The WordPress people keep on adding new features because they like to — they don’t make a big fuss about it or send you lots of emails. If you have a problem and email them, they reply. If your problem isn’t solved and you email again, the same person replies (usually saying something like "yeah, know what you mean, that is a pain isn’t it?") I think WordPress is probably better suited to the non-Microsoft community (i.e. Mozilla etc — people who actually know what they are doing on the web, unlike me, who likes the "comfort food" of Internet Explorer), but I like it as a Blogging platform.
  • Typepad isn’t free but it is very cheap  with the dollar as it is now it works out as about 2 pounds a month. It is more limited in design than Blogger. It used to offer much better functionality (categories) but Beta Blogger seems to match most of the Typepad features. However, Typepad has an excellent "knowledge base" for problems, and if that doesn’t help, their email helpdesk is great, in my experience of the few times I’ve used it. The Typepad people email you back within 24 hours with a sensible, individual response to your question. which, three times out of three, has enabled me to solve my problem.  You can opt for three levels of service on Typepad, very cheap (one blog, limited designs); pretty cheap (three blogs, custom designs to their templates); medium price (more blogs, do your own thing design-wise). My theory is that Typepad is worried because the last set of Technorati figures showed that Typepad blogging has plateaued (no growth in number of blogs in the last quarter of 2006) — I think Typepad is "on the run" and will have to introduce new features to survive.  On the other hand, its Moveable Type arm is their business blogging department. A lot of companies have MT blogs, so perhaps the company will focus on that and less on their personal blogging arm (Typepad) — bad news for me, if so.
  • Vox. For those of us with Typepad blogs, a worse-case scenario is that Typepad is planning to go for the high-end market (MT) and the "low end" market (youth, MySpace type of profile), and write off the Typepad lot — hence the recently introduced Vox blogging system. Vox is big on audio, video, chatting and being pretty, but low on allowing the blogger to control his or her own blog.

Time will tell. One thing about all these blogging platforms is that it is relatively easy to save your content (your entire blog) and migrate it to another. The downside of that is that the URL of your blog will change, so you have to get everyone to update their links to your blog, and you will probably lose a lot of traffic. Rebuilding an audience can take time and effort.

One other point is that all of the above concerns providers who host your blog on their servers. Some of these providers (WordPress and Moveable Type) sell you their systems which you can host on your own domain. This is the most attractive option if you are half-way techhie (which I am certainly not) and can afford the rent on a domain, as you are then in control.

2 thoughts on “An overlong post about blog providers

  1. Great post, Maxine. I tried Vox late last year after being issued an invitation and wasn’t very impressed with it. I did like their photo filing though.
    Blogger I have tried and used in the past but always thought it unreliable, particularly the comments facility.
    I’m quite happy with Typepad – I’ve got the three-blog account – and have never really had any problems with it.

  2. Thanks, Kim, and snap– I have the same Typepad subscription as you (hence Jenny’s cloudy banner). I’ve seen Typepad’s improvements now, and some of the custom designs are rather nice I think. I like to believe they will continue to try to attract us “middle” types — somewhere between the teenage and the corporate!

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