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How to Make a Blog

The Background

First, the background to this rather unusual post. A few friends of mine, and a few visitors too, have asked me a question I found a little odd – “How to make a blog?”, and its slight variations, like “How to make a blog like yours”, etcetera.

Given the information driven world of today, I would normally have thought that this is a rather superfluous question – at least, with Google around. But then, I realised that while actually making a blog is rather simple, keeping it running, popularising and customizing it is not so, and the details of some of the intricacies are hard to come by without a good thorough search. Moreover, most of the articles that explain “How to make a blog” for beginners offer Blogspot – not exactly the choice for me. And Blogspot happens to be the top result in the search query “how to make a blog” on Google.

WordPress.com is a far better choice by most respects, and I would certainly recommend it to beginners. But how about when the beginner “graduates” and is ready to take the next steps, i.e. making a popular blog, and even monetizing it? What about the supreme customization control?

It is such a prequel that made me think about writing a guide to making a blog.

The Introduction to this Article

First, let us see what a blog really is – do you really want it, or would something else be better for you?

A “blog” is short for “weblog”, and it is nothing more, or less, than a type of website where you can post your writing. Look at this blog, for instance. This is one example of a blog – I write something, I post it to my blog where it then appears on a page of its own, as well as a “home” page, where it is added to the top of a long list of posts. Dates, times and other “tags” are usually attached.

There could be many reasons you might write a blog. You may want to write an online diary. You may want to create an online presence for your company. You may want to share your experience with friends, or the world at large. You may even feel like writing just to get it off your chest. You may want to earn (some) money. That, of course, is a tiny list: it does not even include the reason for this blog’s existence!

Secondly, this is not a step-by-step guide. Much as I would like to make it so, it is essential to understand that such a guide would not be correct for more then a very small group of people who are doing and thinking exactly like me. Furthermore, it is much more educating (and fun) to learn along the way, and explore. I will present only the stepping stones – the one interested must step on them himself/herself.

Root Basics – Choosing a Platform

There are many platforms you could choose – a platform being defined here as any online solution that allows you to blog. Each platform comes with its own features and shortfalls, and every person must make the the very critical choice: which one to use?

There are many things that you must take into consideration. Questions you may ask yourself are:

  • What are my goals?
  • What is my budget?
  • How technologically able am I?

The answers to these will help you choose a platform to fit your needs.

Typically, there can be two categories of blog platforms: hosted, or standalone (also called self-hosted).

Hosted blogging platforms include Blogger (of Blogspot), WordPress.com and TypePad.

Standalone platforms include WordPress (note the lack of “.com”) and MovableType.

Hosted blogging platforms are typically very easy to setup and use but are less customizable (and come with a URL like yourblog.host.com). With standalone platforms, you have to choose your own qualified web hosting service and then go through a not-so-simple setup, but the trade-off is a superior control and customization allowance.

Blogger and WordPress.com do not allow you to put your own ads, but Blogger allows a (perhaps limited) Google AdSense monetization.

At the time of writing, Blogger and WordPress.com are completely free. Standalone platforms may or may not be free, and the web host you choose may also charge for the hosting service.

The Big Simple Three

At present, there are three major hosted blogging platforms. In order of popularity, they are:

  1. Blogger
  2. WordPress.com
  3. TypePad

TypePad is not free, but charges a specific amount per month. Simply because of that, I will not recommend it – unless you have special support or scalability requirements.

These three, however, are the simplest possible ways to begin a blog. All you do is to go the site, sign up, and a simple wizard will take you through the orientation process. Typically, you will be asked to choose a site name, perhaps a sub-URL, a template, and then you will be told that you are ready! It might take a few minutes to get used to the posting interfaces, but the help and support on these sites is brilliant, and normally, you can blog away in a short while. Start to end, it could take less than five minutes. There is no need for further explanation: all you need to do is to read what they say on the site, and the setup wizard.

The Juggernaut of the Standalones – WordPress

Actually, WordPress.com is an implementation of the WordPress platform for average users.

WordPress is a blogging platform based on PHP and MySQL that must be installed on a web server, prior to use. PHP and MySQL are (loosely, and not correctly speaking) types of languages that interface with webpages and databases.

WordPress offers amazing configurability (since you are in full control) and there are thousands of community plugins and add-ons that put you in good stead.

But for this, you need a web host. A web host is computer somewhere that allows you to put pages onto it and allows them to be downloaded on request. Think about it this way: your computer (web browser) sends a request for my blog through the internet, and my hosting company answers those requests with the pages of this blog. That is not exactly correct, once again, but simply for beginners to understand.

And then you need to install WordPress on this host.

My Recommendations

Blogger is the simple choice for casual bloggers. Start to first-post is the shortest possible with this.

WordPress.com offers a WordPress blog, for free. If you want to have a good blog the easy way, this is my recommendation.

Very flatly speaking, however, if balance is on the agenda, there is no looking further than the standalone WordPress.

From here on, the focus will be on using standalone WordPress to make a blog.

How to Go About a Standalone WordPress

Briefly:

  1. Find a web host that supports PHP and MySQL
  2. Download WordPress from WordPress.org
  3. Edit the necessary files
  4. Upload the files to your host
  5. Install WordPress
  6. Post!

More detail:

  1. You need to find a web host that supports PHP, MySQL, and offers some way to control databases. Google around a bit for this, and find a web host that fits your budget. Keynotes to look for in choosing a host are that it must support PHP and MySQL, as well a way to control the databases. No also need a respectable amount of storage space. High bandwidth allowance, free domain names, and other features are a bonus. WordPress itself recommends DreamHost, MediaTemple, Blue Host, AN Hosting, HostIcan and Laughing Squid. Most of these offer WordPress “auto-installs” i.e. you choose to install it, and the host automatically installs it for you. These are expensive, but if you choose these, you can jump directly to step number 5. However, there are other cheaper, or even free web hosts around, and you must look around to find a good match for your requirements. Finally, once you have found one, sign up for hosting.
  2. Download WordPress from WordPress.org. It is a zip file, and you must extract the files from it. Windows users can Right Click on the file and extract from it.
  3. You must have, or create, a database on your your host for WordPress to use. This can be most generally done from the administration interface of the hosting, or you may have to request the support team of the hosting service to do it for you.
    • Note down the name, username and password of the database. These details must be entered into a file called wp-config-sample.php that is present in the folder you extracted. Under // ** MySQL settings ** // are the changes you must make. A text editor like Notepad will do it for you.
    • Change the strings for these:
    • DB_NAME
      The name of the database you created for WordPress.
      DB_USER
      The username you created for WordPress.
      DB_PASSWORD
      The password you chose for the WordPress username.
      DB_HOST
      The hostname (usually localhost, but not always. Check from you host settings!)
    • Then save the file. Rename the file as wp-config.php
  4. You must now upload all these files to your host. Here, it is most advantageous if you have FTP access to your host. Using an FTP client, you can easily upload these files to the home directory of the host space you have been allocated. FTP account information will be available from the hosting service – most probably in the administration interface of the hosting. You must have write access to you host, i.e. you must be able to write files to your host.
  5. Install. The WordPress comes with its own install script. Assuming you know the URL that has been allocated to you (if you do not, find it from your host!), and that you uploaded to your root directory, you simply visit http://example.com/wp-admin/install.php to finish the installation.
  6. If the install script ran without errors, you are finally done. You can now visit the homepage of your URL, and log in for a very user friendly posting mechanism.

There is a brilliant page on the WordPress codex here to further explain, if necessary.

Customize your WordPress Installation

There are many themes and plugins available for WordPress. You simply download them, then upload them to your web host into a particular directory that is listed in the instruction page of the plugin or the theme.

There are also many settings you can change on the WordPress administration interface, in the “Settings” section. In particular, a change I recommend is to set the “Permalink” format, this makes individual blogpost URLs a lot more readable.

Can I have an absolutely free standalone WordPress?

If you are willing to make some sacrifices, yes. There are a few web hosts out there that offer free PHP and MySQL hosting in exchange for placing advertisements on your site. Some even do it without the ad, but put greater restrictions on you, like low traffic bandwidth, low storage space, etcetera.

This is not preferable, of course, but there are cases of zero budgets. Mine is one of them, to be truthful. If you are willing to endure the restrictions, I could recommend my current host, awardspace.com.

Endnote

There is no alternative to exploration. My guide, I hope, served as the first step on the ladder, but the real experience must belong to the prospective blogger. Indeed, that is way the world lives.

Hopping to see you on the blogging circuit soon!

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  1. 10 September 2008 at 2:11 AM

    thanks for the tips

  2. 10 September 2008 at 4:36 PM

    @ benolsatuem: You’re welcome!

  3. 4 October 2008 at 4:33 PM

    @ Marjor: While I appreciated your very flattering post, it looked very much like an ad of your site as well. In view of the quality standards, I am forced to delete it. Please understand.

  4. 17 January 2009 at 3:01 AM

    You could use my blog hosting website which has free php & my sql with no ads and the bandwidth is great and so is the web space available. That is only the free service the 99 cent service has double of everything in the free service.

    Sign up now at http://www.yourbloghost.com/free

  5. 17 January 2009 at 8:46 AM

    @ Artful Dodger: Could you provide a few more details, such as the type of free subdomains on offer? Hosting server type? Webmaster services? After all, your service is rather new, and very sketchy on details: cautious people would be rather suspicious about taking on such an offering.

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