I hope you are enjoying the New Blogger Initiative. Kudos to Syp for coming up with the idea, it's been great to see so many new and old MMO bloggers participating in this. If you are just coming across the NBI for the first time now, head on over to the forum and check out everything that is going on there. After you finish reading this article of course. ;-) If you have decided to start a blog, the first thing you will need to do is to select a blogging platform. You have a choice between a free-hosted, or a self-hosted blog. A free-hosted blog platform is one where you sign up to create an account. Then you create a blog. And then you start writing. Too easy. The biggest platforms are fairly well known, with Blogger and Wordpress.com being the biggest of the free blogging platforms. A self-hosted blog is a blog where you buy a domain name, sign up on a shared host, install the blogging software, and then you start writing. These days, also not that hard -- it can be done in a couple of hours -- but you do have some costs. Personally, I'm a fan of self-hosting. I like the idea of having control over everything about my blog. Control freak maybe? Still there are some negatives.
Pros of Self Hosting
- You have control over the software. Some free hosts limit or exclude the ability to install plugin and widgets. A post I saw on the NBI forums this morning asked about the popups that show game item details when a reader hovers over a link. This is done through a plugin or a change to the template code. If you self host you can do this. On a free blog host it may not be possible.
- You have control over the commercial aspects of your blog. Some bloggers put adverts or other commercial features on their blogs. Some use affiliate programs. If you are self-hosting, you can do this to your hearts content. Some free platforms however, don't allow any of this. Some will limit it. If you want to make money from your blog, self-hosting is the way to go.
- You have control over your content. If you are self-hosting you don't have to worry about a terms of service. Now I suspect that most MMO bloggers wont violate the ToS of a free host regarding racism, illegal content, or porn, but if you want to be controversial you might find that some readers will take exception to it and report your blog to the service. (BTW, it doesn't matter if you are self or free hosting, some content will automatically reduce your Google rankings anyway.)
- If you need to change hosting you can. If you find that your web host no longer suits your needs you can, reasonably easily, change to a new host. If you need to scale up to a dedicated server, or a virtual private server (VPS) as your blog grows, then you can.
Cons of Self Hosting
- More expensive to run. You need to buy a domain name, and rent a shared server. This isn't that big of a cost. A domain costs about $10 per year, and a shared host under $10 per month.
- No (less) support. If something goes wrong with your blog, if it's hacked perhaps, you'll need to fix it yourself. This has happened to me. It ended up taking about five hours one evening to fix. And of course that happened when I really wanted to do something else.
- Shared hosts are shared. For the most part this doesn't cause problems, but some cheap hosts are notorious for packing as many accounts onto a server as possible. Your blog may share a single server with 20, 30, or even more other websites. If you find your blog is slow this may be the cause, or perhaps another website is using too many server resources.
- Lack of automatic scalability. What I mean by this is that with self hosting if your blog grows and gets too many visitors your cheap shared host may decide that you are using too many resource. In this case you'll have to either upgrade to a more expensive plan, or find a dedicated server, or (the better option in this case) go to a VPS. A free-host like Blogger will scale allowing your blog to continue to grow its visitor numbers indefinitely.
Your ChoiceUltimately you will have to decide for yourself what level of control you want over your blog, but this will be based on the direction you want to take your blog. If you want to use certain plugins that aren't available in a free host, you'll have to self-host. If you have no budget to get a domain name and pay for hosting, or you simply don't want to pay anything, then a free blog host is the best option. If you are having difficulty deciding what to do, then do the following.
- Plan. Get a piece of paper and write on it everything you like about other blogs that you read. Be analytical about it. Do you like the popup links?
- Now write on a separate list, what you want to do with your blog. Based on the list you generated in step 1.
- Go to bed. Sleep on it. Leave it for a couple of days.
- Now prioritise the items in list 2. Work out what you must have, and what you can leave out. Make sure this is a long term view. It can be harder to change later.
- If the must have items require self-hosting, then that's what you will need to do. If they don't, then free hosting will work for you too.
Other ResourcesIf you choose to self-host here are some resources. The links are just plain links and are not affiliate links or anything like that.
- I use Namecheap for my .com and other domain names. For .com.au I used CrazyDomains. (Avoid Godaddy like the plague. Elephant killers, and just plain bad news.)
- For hosting, I like Site5 and Hostgator. Stropp's World is currently hosted on Site5, and has been since I started the blog.
- If you have the technical expertise to set up a server, then Rackspace has some Cloud Hosting products that start fairly cheaply from around $11 per month. (I set a server and site up for a client last year.) These will scale easily, Rackspace have a UI that lets you set the resource level, at the click of a button.