2. Software options

Once you have decided to start writing a blog, how do you go about it? You'll need access to some blogging software, so the key questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Do you have technical support available to help you?
  • Do you want to decide how the blog looks yourself?
  • Do you have specific needs? For example, to support multiple authors, enable you to add categories or password protect the blog

There are three main options in terms of setting up a blog:

1. Hosted solutions

Hosted software is where a company has set up blogging software for you on the Internet, enabling you to sign up for an account, log in to the system, and start blogging straight away. There is a large range of hosted solutions out there, which vary greatly in terms of quality, features and whether you wish to pay for them.

The key advantage of a hosted solution is that you do not need any technical skills or intervention to start blogging. This means that you can get writing immediately and it is a good way to introduce yourself to how blogs work and the mechanics of posting articles and receiving comments.

You will be restricted in terms of the look and feel of the blog - usually in the form of templates provided by the company. You may also be restricted in terms of the functionality a particular blogging software package may provide - whether you can add multiple authors, assign categories to posts or set up more than one blog.

Three of the most popular hosted blogging solutions are:

Blogger

Blogger is free and owned by Google - all you need to get started is a valid email address and to register at their website.

Professor Greg Mankiw of Harvard University, uses Blogger for his website.

WordPress.com

A hosted version of the open source WordPress blogging software (see below), that is free to use, but some extra features like using your own design template or getting a personalised web address can be paid for.

The Everyday Economist uses WordPress.com

TypePad

TypePad is the hosted version of the Movable Type blogging software (see below) that is produced by the company Six Apart. It has a range of pay monthly cost options, with the cheapest offering one blog produced by a single author, ranging to a package offering multiple authors and an unlimited number of blogs.

The Cafe Hayek blog uses the Typepad blogging platform.

2. Installed software

This option will require that you have some blogging software, access to a web server on which to host it and the technical skills to manage the web server / blogging software or the time and skills of someone who does. The intricacies of web server maintenance and the various technical skills needed to run them are outside the scope of this article, but your best option is to consult within your institution as to what support is available from your department or information service.

The advantages of this option are that you have control over the look and feel of the blog, can add extra authors or blogs easily and can add extra features yourself. However, you may be limited by the license terms of the software you have downloaded, be dependent on the technical skills of someone else or be restrained by your institution as to the types of software you can install.

Two of the most popular blogging software packages are:

WordPress

WordPress is an open source blogging platform. It is freely available and has a dedicated community of developers working on new features that can be easily integrated into the software, via plugins or widgets that add extra functionality. The design of the blog can be changed at the click of the mouse, as WordPress keeps design and content elements separate, and it does this by using themes that can be downloaded from the Internet.

The Freakonomics blog of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner uses WordPress

Movable Type

Movable Type is a proprietary blogging platform developed by the company Six Apart. Originally freely available, Movable Type now has a range of low cost pricing options allowing you to download the software. While a free version is available for a single user in an educational setting, if you wish to create multiple blogs, allow multiple authors or provide the tool to your students, a license fee will be payable.

3. Institutional options

Your institution may already provide a blogging platform that you can have access to. If your institution has a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) such as Blackboard, WebCT or Moodle, these VLEs can come with a blogging module already built in. This has the advantage of being integrated with an existing system which you and your students may already be familiar with, but the functionality offered within these systems is usually less than you would receive when using a piece of dedicated blogging software.

Another possibility is that your institution offers a dedicated blogging platform. This is not widespread in the UK at present, but the example of the University of Warwick has shown what can be possible. It may be worth asking your library, computing or information service whether they have a recommended blogging product they support or whether they have plans to implement one in the future.

Find out more

You can compare some of the options detailed above and a few more, using the Blog Software Comparison Chart provided by the Online Journalism Review.