Launching a blog is the same as launching a website. There are two ways to handle it: Use a service that hosts the blog for you, so all you do is log into a service to make updates. Or you can buy or rent Web hosting space and install (or use pre-installed) software to create a blog.
The upside of hosting your own space is that you get more control. For example, you get to use your own domain name and designs. The downside? All the maintenance is on you. When a new version of the blog software becomes available, you have to install it (and risk a potential disaster that takes the blog down). That said, the tools to do this are readily available and for individuals and non-profits, they are often free. Big names use software like Movable Typeand WordPress.org, and you'll find them pre-installed with many site hosting services, such as GoDaddy or JustHost.com.
There are also several very high-end content management systems (CMS), such as Joomla, and Drupal that will provide blogging capabilities and a lot more. Always keep in mind that working with these tools is going to be more work, but if you're a control freaksomeone who likes everything 'just so,' they'll probably be the way to go.
Hosted blog services are the preferred method, especially for those without a budget and only a casual or budding interest in blogging. For newbies, there's no need to spend big money on domains, hosting, and tools when you can start a blog in just minutes for free.
Two of the most popular services are Blogger (owned by Google) and WordPress.com. The latter is not to be confused with WordPress.org, where you get the software to install; the .com site provides hosting and other services. In our last Best Free Blogging Sites roundup, both were picked as Editors' Choice services and received 4.5-star ratings. They provide templates to make your blog look good, offer hosting with unlimited traffic, and let you post via Web interface or email, all for free. Naturally you can pay for some select upgrades, like domain name support (for an annual price of $10 on Blogger or $17 on WordPress), or video support ($60 a year on WordPress).
There are always limitations. For example if you want to be a podcaster, Blogger may not be the right platform because it won't host audio files. (You can, however, host them elsewhere and link to them.) WordPress.com lets you post audio files (.mp3, .m4a, .ogg, and .wav formats), but only if you buy a "space upgrade" for a minimum of $20.
My previous favorite blog platform, Posterous Spaces, was great for hosting audio and video, but Twitter bought the company and, in its infinite wisdom, has shut it down. It's a shame. Posterous users, you have until April 30, 2013 to get your files. WordPress.com makes it easy to import the backup.
Other free blogging services include:
- Tumblr – This simple and intuitive platform is a favorite of visual bloggers. (Readour review.)
- Overblog – This blog gets fed every time you put a morsel on your social networks.
- Feathers – This site is currently invite only, but it's so distraction-free and no-frills that the emphasis is put squarely on the writing.
- SquareSpace – It's overkill if you only want to blog, but this will give you room to grow a site, and even turn it into an ecommerce store. After a free trial, it costs $10 per month or $64 a year to start.
- Typepad – This site is essentially a hosted version of Movable Type. After a free trial, service starts at $8.95 a month.