Every prospective blogger must make a series of decisions. The subject, domain name, publication frequency, logo, font, you name it. All these decisions shape your blog. Perhaps one of the most crucial decisions that you can make is picking a blogging platform.
I like to classify blogging platforms into three different categories:
- Hosted blogs. These are platforms that enable you to publish content online without any real configuration or installation work on your part. You typically register with the site, enter your information, perhaps choose a theme among the few that are available, and you’re ready to blog through their web-based content management system (CMS). Examples of this type of platform are Blogger, WordPress.com, Medium, and Tumblr.
- Self-hosted blogging software. These are typically open source CMS that can be freely installed on a server or virtual instance that you run somewhere in the cloud. WordPress (.org) is by far the most popular choice.
- Static generators. Squarely aimed at developers and other highly technical people, static generators are a type of software that enable you to write your articles (usually in Markdown syntax) and transform them into static HTML and CSS web pages that you can then upload to a server somewhere (much like the second category presented above). Jekyll and Hexo are two somewhat popular choices, among a sea of options available on developer repository sites like Github.
If you don’t know what Apache and Nginx are (i.e., web servers), I suggest you simply stick to hosted blogs. They are the most convenient choice and even offer an element of discoverability, allowing your content to be more easily consumed by fellow users of the platform.
The downside is that they are somewhat limited in terms of customization abilities and the sorts of features that you can enable. They’re also hosted by third parties, so if the company you decided to go with runs into technical issues (or shuts down entirely), your site will end up being offline. They usually give you a warning, but trust me, switching to a different platform and importing all the content at the last-minute is not a fun experience.
The name that I trust the most in this space is WordPress (.com). I seriously doubt Automatic (the company behind it) will go down or discontinue their service if acquired. The only issue with their hosted solution is that you’ll have to pay to customize even minimal aspects of your site (like connecting your own domain name with your blog, something you must do if you are serious about blogging).
The two free alternatives that I like the most are Blogger (by Google) and Medium. Blogger is the better product, but Google has a worrisome history of discontinuing products. Medium is a startup, and that’s a risk unto itself. I suggest that you take a look at both and make up your own mind on the subject.
Generally speaking, if you are not technical, you’ll have to trust one of these companies.
Self-hosted Blogging Software
If you are fairly technical, this option is very flexible. You can install plugins and themes to your heart’s content, especially if you opt for WordPress (.org). And if your hosting company does end up going under, you can simply backup and move over to a different host.
The only real downside here is that you need to set up and update your own server. There are hosted/managed WordPress (.org) services that simplify your life by handling most of the maintenance and system administration tasks for you, however, generally speaking, they are not cheap. On the other end of the spectrum, there is shared hosting, which is significantly more budget friendly, while also being easier to set up. They’re limited though in terms of performance and reliability (which is important if your site becomes popular). 
Your average developer or technical person will find this second option quite appealing.
Static generators give you greater control because they’re usually small enough to easily hack and get them to do whatever works best for your workflow. Certainly easier than try to tackle a mammoth project like WordPress.
On top of full control and the closer to the metal feel, you get to enjoy great performance even with cheap hosting services. You are, after all, just serving static files.
Feel free to share which option you chose for your blog and why. If you are still deciding, feel free to ask questions below, and I’ll try to provide some advice for your specific situation.
For the record, my blogs use WordPress (.org) and run on a self-hosted dedicated server.
- I’ll discuss WordPress hosting options in a future post. ↩