What’s the best blogging platform for new bloggers?

Young woman, blogging by windowWelcome to part two of our “Introduction to blogging” guide for Liberal Democrat bloggers or would-be bloggers. It’s appearing each Saturday between now and Christmas, with all the posts available via this page. The series will then be revised and collated into an e-book, so please do post up your comments as the series progresses. Today it’s the turn of Mat Bowles, advising on the technical side of getting started with a blog.

So, you’re thinking of starting a blog of your own. You could do what most people seem to do at this stage, and go sign up directly to Google’s Blogger service and just get writing. Personally, I don’t think that’s necessarily the best idea. I’m a Lib Dem, my membership card says on the back:

No one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity

Now, can’t help you out much with the first, but when it comes to blogging, I can definitely help with the second and the third. There are many different services out there that will let you host a perfectly respectable blog, many of them for free and as good, if not better, than Blogger, offering unique features that Blogger either cannot, or will not, provide. All have their strengths, and most have weaknesses. You may even be one of those that actually benefits from and is best suited to using Blogger. I won’t hold that against you. Well, not much, anyway.

Some services are completely free, others place adverts on your blog to pay for the costs. If you’re an elected politician, you might prefer not to have adverts display on your site over which you have little to no control, thus ruling out some platforms.

The purpose of this article is to help you choose between the popular free platforms, thus premium hosted services such as Dreamwidth or Typepad are not covered, and self-hosting is only touched on briefly.

Free blog services

The ‘big three’ of these are Blogger, WordPress.Com and LiveJournal.Com. In addition, popular social network sites such as MySpace.Com, Facebook.Com and Bebo.Com have a built in, limited blogging functionality; you may find these suit you more if you already have an account there.


Undoubtedly the most popular blogging platform, Google’s Blogger platform is free, does not require you to display adverts, and offers a flexible, reliable service that fulfills the basic needs of anyone wanting a free blog.

Strengths: Large variety of templates, which can be personalised easily through a fairly straightforward menu. Advanced users can edit the template directly with their own CSS or bespoke code. Automatically optimised to have a strong search engine presence. Straightforward comments system that allows for easy subscription for logged in users, and non account holders to state their own site address, with optional restrictions on who can comment and on publication facility. Allows for easy insertion of Google adverts, which can provide a small income for regular bloggers.

Weaknesses: Limited privacy function, entire blog must be either public or private. Comments cannot be threaded and individual comments cannot be replied to directly. Comment subscription only possible for Google account users, although OpenID and anonymous commenting is supported. Frequently has comment pages display separately in a Blogger hosted page, further reducing the appearance of professionality. Cannot import directly from other blog platforms. Advanced customisations require learning a Blogger specific markup language.

Best used by: Amateur pundits who aren’t too bothered about a professional appearance and new bloggers wanting to dip their toes into the water without a major commitment.

Some other platforms do allow you to import to them from Blogger, so is a good starting point if you’re not sure whether blogging is for you.


Livejournal was created before the word ‘blogging’ was invented, and has always existed in a semi-detached little bubble. It offers incredibly strong privacy functions, and has a built in aggregator (“Friends Page”), creating a strong community feel. Livejournal is popular with female bloggers; 65% of users who have stated a gender being female.

Strengths: Strong privacy functions, you can choose exactly who has access to each individual post. Options to limit the search engine presence of publicly posted content. Built in aggregation and feedreading feature that is easy to use and follow. Account holders can comment easily, subscribe to entire threads and receive notifications if a comment they have made is responded to directly. Accounts can be upgraded to a premium service, removing adverts from view and allowing extra options. Account holders and OpenID users can upload a variety of icons which can be selected when posting or commenting, creating an extra visual aid for readers. Large variety of open access ‘community’ blogs allow for quick propagation of content and an easy way to find like-minded users.

Weaknesses: For technical reasons has reduced visibility within blog and web search engines. Free accounts automatically display adverts to all readers except paid LJ subscribers. For non-account holders, the OpenID functionality is very limited and unintuitive, and the ability to comment without an account or an OpenID is deliberately limited. Due to its history, Livejournal powered blogs are frequently ignored by ‘serious’ bloggers, although this attitude is changing. Poorly implemented domain mapping feature is available to paid users.

Best used by: Personal bloggers aiming at friends and family, ‘fan’ blogs about specific TV shows, people who want a personal journal locked away from the public gaze. While it can be an effective ‘broadcast’ style blog (it is the most popular blog platform in Russia, where the word for ‘blog’ is “LJ” and the President has an account, and is now used by all journalists on “The Independent”), due to its limited search visibility it is not the best option for a pundit style blog.

Due to the Friends page, livejournal subscribers to your blog are very likely to continue reading, and will be more inclined to comment. It provides a limited direct audience, but that audience is much more likely to comment and come back repeatedly, as long as you’re being interesting.


WordPress is free, Open Source software that anyone can download and install on a server to run their own blog. To cover their costs, the company creating the software also run this service, which displays a small amount of adverts to logged out readers and, while free, charges users for some extras, including appearance personalisations and use of personal URLs.

Strengths: Easy comment system, allowing for subscription and the option of threading discussions. Allows for easy import of content from most other platforms (including both Blogger and LJ). Allows for creation of ‘static’ pages easily, so you can have an ‘about me’ page, a contact page and other content linked directly from the frontpage and not hidden in your blog archive. If you buy your own web domain, this can be ‘mapped’ to WP for a fee, and then all URLs will redirect there. Good choice of appearance templates. Individual posts can be password protected so that only the title appears publicly.

Weaknesses: Colour schemes are limited to those within approved templates unless you both pay extra and know how to code CSS. Displays adverts to readers that you have no control over unless you pay a premium. After setup, needs several options changed from the default to get the best search engine visibility.

Best used by: New bloggers hoping to continue and expand, writers wanting the option of privacy in a predominantly open blog, users wanting contact pages and other easy to find static content.


In my opinion, the best all round free platform for new bloggers is WordPress.Com. I personally prefer Livejournal over Blogger, but I’ll admit to a bias – I had an LJ account before I knew what a ‘blog’ was, and met my fianceé through a conversation in a comments box there. Blogger is not a terrible platform, and for all around purposes is more than adequate, but if you don’t mind either paying of having a small number of adverts displayed, each of the other two platforms discussed is more powerful and flexible for most purposes.

One caveat: If you’re a Lib Dem Councillor and a member of ALDC, then you should strongly consider using their MyCouncillor service, which is free to members. It is powered using the WordPress software and is thus just as flexible, while also displaying syndicated news from the party ensuring there is always new content for you to discuss. Even if you don’t plan to blog regularly, ensuring your free page is up to date with contact information and links to your local party’s site is pretty much essential.

If you are planning on blogging regularly, and even if all you do is comment, an account with each of the platforms listed will make it easier for you to navigate and comment.

Above all else, don’t be daunted, and if you need any help, feel free to ask–approximately 7% of the population has a blog of some sort, odds are very good you know a few bloggers already, even if they’ve never mentioned it.

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This entry was posted in Blogging guide.


One Trackback

  • By Welcome to the new bloggers… on Fri 20th November 2009 at 2:11 pm.

    […] All but one are using Blogger, the exception being Prue with the ALDC MyCouncillor system. If you’re thinking of starting up a blog yourself, both have much to recommend them but there are a range of other strong contenders too as Mat explained last month. […]

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