How to Choose a Free Platform for Your First Blog

Maybe you’ve been thinking recently about starting a blog and just don’t know where to start. Well, have no fear. After encouraging a few friends on Facebook to write a blog, I’ve learned that most people don’t know where to start and what site they should use for the most flexibility.

I’ve spent a good deal of my time in the past few years writing for blogs, whether it be personally or professionally. I’ve had experience with all three of the Big Blogging Platforms, which is my affectionate term for WordPress, Tumblr and Blogger. You can start a blog for free with all three of them. Let’s take a look at the platforms and see what they’re capable of.

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Getting Started

It’s not hard to set up a blog with any of these platforms. All you need is an email address and an idea (and if you’re anything like me, you’ve got six of those). Once you associate your email with a website, you should be ready to go. Since they’re all free, you won’t be using your own web domain. You’ll have a prefix attached to a .blogger, .tumblr, or .WordPress.com address.

I should clarify: You’ve probably heard of paid hosting for WordPress. While that’s an option, that’s something for a distinctly more professional blog. You’re not likely to need that if you’re just starting out, and it’s relatively easy to migrate to one later if you feel the need to. WordPress for paid hosting is available at WordPress.org, while WordPress’ free and ad-supported platform is available at WordPress.com. We’ll be discussing the free platform throughout this overview.

Blogger

Blogger is where I started my first — and still personal — blog. I can’t tell you why I started there, but I can tell you that the experience has gotten worse with time. There was a point where Blogger was a fantastic contender in the industry, but I think we’ve passed that point and we’re getting to the point that it’s nearly unusable.

The site has a lot of problems. It doesn’t have great export features, and it’s very difficult to move your content to another platform without losing much of your formatting. While I can understand why Google wants to keep people using Blogger, it makes me feel like a man stuck in a romance I really don’t want anything to do with anymore (quite seriously, the feeling is shockingly similar).

Oeuf, Blogger. It looks clean, but it has no growl in its prowl.

Oeuf, Blogger. It looks clean, but it has no growl in its prowl.

Speaking of formatting, Blogger loses some serious points for not supporting HTML formatting properly — or Markdown, a popular syntax by John Gruber for web writers. Markdown and HTML go hand in hand, and the post editor in Blogger isn’t designed for either. Even that would be almost acceptable for beginners if it was easy to migrate to another platform when you were ready to go as a writer, but it’s not.

Finally, the site is difficult to customize. I spent dozens of hours coding the CSS in my own website, and I’m constantly afraid something is going to break because Blogger’s support for anything seems so shaky. There are lots of Blogger themes available on the web for free, but they’re rarely any good, and the ones that Google provides for the site are absolutely abysmal.

With that in mind, I’m at the point where I can no longer recommend Blogger for anybody. There’s no room for growth, and I’m not sure I suspect Google will keep it around much longer. After they killed off Google Reader earlier this year, a product millions of people used in their daily workflows, I feel like anything could happen with a platform that clearly isn’t valuable to them. And Blogger isn’t even important enough to warrant a mobile app.

Verdict: Skip it.

Tumblr

Tumblr is a complete breath of fresh air after using Blogger. It does almost everything right. I know a lot people are turning their noses at Tumblr these days thanks to the fact that it’s used by snarky teenagers everywhere and because Yahoo acquired it, but that would be rash. Let’s explore what makes this site so rad.

Customizing a blog in Tumblr is no problem.

Customizing a blog in Tumblr is no problem.

First of all, it has the easiest customization out of any of the options. I’ve got two blogs on Tumblr, one of which being a slightly popular music blog called Unsung Sundays. Both blogs (including my personal Tumblr) are using basic and free Tumblr themes, and I don’t really see the need to customize them further. Both do what they need to do well.

In fact, I’d encourage you to take a close look at Unsung Sundays on both your desktop and smartphone. I haven’t done a thing to that code; it was available as a free theme. And I love it. The fact that I didn’t have to worry about code or design made my life so much easier.

That being said, looks aren’t everything. Tumblr has great support for every kind of post, including links, quotes, videos and photos. (For future reference, WordPress has similar support for all post types). And it’s really easy to post something and get out of Tumblr as quickly as possible.

Writing in Tumblr is a piece of cake, but it's better for shorter posts than it is longer ones.

Writing in Tumblr is a piece of cake, but it’s better for shorter posts than it is longer ones.

Although Tumblr supports longer post, it’s very difficult to implement any sort of Read More tag, which would allow you to post only a small excerpt from each post on the home page of your blog before clicking to read the whole article. With that in mind, Tumblr is meant for shorter posts. Longer posts are still readable, but just not as pleasant.

There are also apps available for Tumblr for iPhone, iPad and Android. The apps are all equally pleasant, but again meant for shorter posts.

Verdict: Try it.

WordPress

WordPress needs no introduction. It’s the de facto web standard for blogging. Although I don’t have a personal blog on WordPress (I did use it for some marketing and advertising course portfolios in university), almost every major site imaginable uses it. This site uses WordPress, as do major news publications all over the world. In fact, chances are that the popular site you visited today uses WordPress. (It seems to me that only truly geeky bloggers aspire to try other platforms).

WordPress makes formatting really easy. I wrote this in Markdown, copied the HTML, and pasted it into the Text view. WordPress did the rest.

WordPress makes formatting really easy. I wrote this in Markdown, copied the HTML, and pasted it into the Text view. WordPress did the rest.

Everything that other blogging platforms gets wrong, WordPress gets right. It makes it really easy to use HTML and Markdown, and doesn’t get formatting wrong along the way. Keep in mind Blogger seems to break HTML formatting and Tumblr has problems handling things like a bulleted list. WordPress is a tremendous improvement.

WordPress suffers in two key areas. The first is its drab interface. It lacks the glitz and social know-how of Tumblr — although both platforms are great ways to follow platforms in their own rights. And writing a post doesn’t look as simple as Tumblr or as clean as Blogger. The second is that the ad-supported, hosted version of WordPress — the one you’re thinking about setting up — isn’t quite as customizable as Tumblr. The available free themes aren’t quite as nice.

There aren't as many customization options for WordPress as there are for Tumblr, but you won't feel like you can't customize the site.

There aren’t as many customization options for WordPress as there are for Tumblr, but you won’t feel like you can’t customize the site.

In the case of WordPress though, I think that’s okay. WordPress is so far ahead of the others as far as pure technical powers go that I think it’s a platform worth using despite its bland design. Besides, design can change. Blogging platforms can get better. WordPress is to blogs as iPhones are to smartphones — before any major changes are made, they’ll be carefully considered by WordPress and changed with the best of intent for the average user.

Finally, WordPress isn’t owned by a third-party like Google or Yahoo. They’ve got complete control over their system. In all honesty, it doesn’t mean much, but it’s a nice placebo effect to help you keep peace of mind as you use it.

Verdict: Go for it!

The Final Word on Free Blogs

If you’re new to blogging, you really can’t go wrong with Tumblr or WordPress. Both are great options. Even Tumblr is used by professionals and geeks all over the world as a quick way to share their thoughts with friends and family, and WordPress has the benefit of ubiquity.

The most serious piece of advice to take away from this? Keep clear of Blogger. The site is toxic, and it will slowly eat away your blogging soul — not to mention I’m nearly certain it’s practically got an execution date planned by Google.

With that in mind, though, we’d like to take the time at Web.AppStorm to wish you the best of luck with your new blog. Hit up the comments and let us know where we can find you!


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