What works for me – Part 1: the basic tools

by Bill Ferris on November 26, 2007 · 4 comments

in Blog Software,Blogging Tools

Table of contents for What works for me

  1. What works for me – Part 1: the basic tools
  2. What works for me: WordPress Plugins

This is the first post in a series that will look at various elements of blogging, and what I’ve found to work for me. This is hardly a comprehensive list about blogging, or a best of the best list. It’s simply stuff that I’ve tried, that I’ve had success with. It may not work for everyone, and there may (and in many cases are) probably better options or solutions. But hopefully this will prime some discussion and I look forward to feedback and letting others know what works for you.

The Blogging Platform

WordPress is my tool of choice. I started on Blogger and it served me well for a very long time. But 2 years ago I got to the point where I needed functionality that just wasn’t available in Blogger. Blogger has since added quite a bit of that functionality, like categories for example. But because of the hundreds of plug-ins available with WordPress, I don’t think Blogger can ever really catch-up at this point.

Now with WordPress there are two options, a hosted version called WordPress.com and a version you host yourself. There are advantages to the hosted version. The big 2 as I see it are:

  1. It’s free. It costs nothing. No hosting costs are required. No domain needs to be registered. It’s completely free and not a bad route to go if you’re unsure of how committed you are to this blogging thing.
  2. You don’t have to know anything about programming, or maintaining a web site. It’s all taken care of for you. The software is updated automatically as new versions come out. It’s all handled for you which definitely has an appeal in terms of time, and expertise.

Still, I use the .org version. I want control over everything, including access to all the great plug-ins that exist. I also want control over back-ups and control over my content into perpetuity.

Now mind you, I’m not a web expert. I have some programming experience, but none of it is with PHP – the language that WordPress is coded in. And even with that limited knowledge I’m able to get by.

As for the cost, that is really pretty minimal because there is lots of cheap hosting out there.

Hosting

I currently use Dreamhost (aff link) and have been very satisfied for the last year and a half. There is more bandwidth and storage than I’d ever need, plus I can host multiple domains and subdomains. And most importantly the price is rights. I pay $100 a year and there are numerous codes to get you discounts. For example, typing in BBCHEAP will result in $50 off your order.

I’ve had pretty good success with uptime and customer support and only experienced one extended downtime. There have been some rare, short 1-2 hour hiccups but those are more a nuisance than anything else.

A nice feature of Dreamhost is the ability to 1 click install a number of software packages, including WordPress. And if you use the 1 click install option to set up your initially, you can take advantage of it for upgrading your blog as well. This further reduces your need to know anything about running a website and allows you more time to focus on writing.

Prior to Dreamhost I used Cornerhost. Cornerhost was a much smaller company, and I enjoyed the individual attention and being able to IM with the owner of the company when I needed help. However, with the small size of the company (basically 1 guy) it led to some very extended downtimes with very little communication.

Domain Registrar

There’s some value in having your own domain name from the start of your blog. It’s easier for people to remember the name, and a name without a blogspot or wordpress in the address can help give the blog an identity of its own. Not to mention there’s some SEO juice from a domain name that contains the same words your site is about.

I’ll admit it, I was a sucker for the Super Bowl commercials and use GoDaddy. I don’t really know how much differentiation there is with registrars, but I’ve been happy with Godaddy. The interface is easy to use, and the prices are competitive.

Feed management

I love Feedburner and use the service to manage all my feeds. What I love the most is that it provides stats on how many subscribers you have, and what feed readers they use. There are also stats to show you which items are clicked through most frequently.

It also incorporates email subscriptions giving some of your less tech savy readers an option.

Other features make it easy to change the appearance of your feed and add feed flares such as the ability for people to email posts or see how many comments have been left on a post.

Blog editor

While I often use the built in editor in WordPress, sometimes I get tired of toggling between various windows as I write a post. So I also use Scribefire extensively. Scribefire is an add-on for Firefox that splits your browser window in half. You can drag text from websites in to the editor, and be looking at the various pages while you write. It’s a great, and most importantly free, tool that enhances my blogging productivity.

So these are the foundation elements for me when it comes to blogging. I’d love to know what others use to set up the foundation for their blogs. The next article in the series will look be WordPress specific with a listing of the plug-ins I love.