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How it works

April 30th, 2002 · No Comments · Uncategorized

There seems to be some confusion here and there about Blogger and “centralized weblogging.” Since I also get asked quite a bit on exactly how Blogger works, let me see if I can shed some light.

There’s two aspects to any web site:

  1. How you make your pages
  2. How you serve those pages to visitors

The “serving” part is also called “hosting”. The people who serve my pages to you are Pair.com. They are my web host. You can either pay a company to host your web pages, or you might get some web hosting included with your Internet access, or you can use a free host, like GeoCities.

Web hosts don’t really care how you make your web pages. Each of them give you a way to put files on their servers, usually via FTP, and once you do that, they make those pages available to everyone.

You can make web pages with a web page editor, like Adobe GoLive or MicroSoft FrontPage, or you can even just use a text editor like BBEdit too. Or you can use a specialized tool that’ll take some information from you and it’ll squeeze out web pages. These programs are called content management systems because they are used to take content and make a web site from it. Content management systems attempt to automate some of the chores you have to do in making a site that’s frequently updated.

Some content management systems are stand alone applications you run on your computer, like CityDesk, others are web applications, which run a web server, and you use with a browser.

There’s a number of content management systems which have specialized on weblogging. This is hardly a complete listing, but just a sampling:

  • Radio UserLand is a stand-alone application, but it also can be a web server too, or you send your pages to your own host, or take advantage of hosting with Userland, which comes included.
  • Movable Type is a web based system, free for non-commericial use which you install on your own host. This only works if your hosting service allows you to install software, which usually isn’t available on free hosts. But if you can install it, you have complete control over a very powerful application. Installing it can be a bit complicated though.
  • Blogger is a web based system, running on their own server, and available for free. You can use your own host, or you can opt to use Blog*Spot, a free host available only to Blogger users.
  • LiveJournal is a web based system as well as a host. LiveJournal content is always hosted on LiveJournal servers.

To me, the biggest issues I hear from people who are thinking about weblogging or who weblog now, are:

  1. I don’t want my weblog to go down.

    Fair enough. If people can’t visit your weblog, or there’s huge delays, people stop coming, and that’s bad. The bad news is you have no guarantee about uptime on free web hosts. If you use LiveJournal, Blog*Spot or GeoCities, you are going to have down time. Mr. Nosuch’s First Rule of the Internet: you get what you pay for.

  2. I want to be able to update at any time.

    It is very frustrating when you can’t update your weblog. The best ways to prevent this are to either use a standalone application that’s on your own computer, or to install your own web-based application on your own server. Neither of these options are free.

    The Nosuch technique, which doesn’t prevent delayed publishing to the web, but doesn’t keep me from writing, is both free and easy: use a text editor on your computer to write your entries, and paste them into your weblogging system when it comes up. Anyone who writes long blocks of text in any web form is out of their mind. It has nothing to do with the web application, and everything to do with the nature of web browsers.

  3. I want to add widgets (discussion systems, polls, etc) to my weblog.

    Very few free hosts let you do that. Widgets eat up CPU time and bandwidth, and that costs the host money. Your only option is to then “outsource” your widgets by linking to them. There have been polls and comment systems that work this way. The drawback to all of them is the risk that they suddenly go away, taking your comments/polls/whatever with them, because they are free and that’s generally been a bad business model.

  4. I don’t want to pay anything.

    See Mr. Nosuch’s first rule of the Internet.

    There is no way to pay nothing and have great service. You will have to accept downtime and limitations. Sorry. Not that the downtime is overwhelming, or the limitations that constraining. For most people, Blogger and Blog*Spot are perfectly fine and they are easy to use, easier than almost all the other options out there. And frankly, if you are weblogging so much that you are worried about being able post 24/7, and concerned about your readers having 24/7 access, you should probably consider upgrading to your own host, and perhaps BloggerPro, which is supposed to have better uptime than Blogger. (I say “supposed to” because as of late, Blogger has had very good uptime for me.)

I don’t want to sound like a Blogger apologist, because I know I’ve been frustrated with some of the growing pains of Blogger. But my site has had exactly zero down time because of Blogger. There have been times I could not update my site, but that’s never been a critical problem. So my posts come out a little later, I’m not going to burst a blood vessel because of that. But I have always paid for my own web host.

I think it’s important not to confuse Blog*Spot with Blogger. Blogger, as a weblog content management system, has excellent uptime for a free service and is extremely easy to use and get started with.

Blog*Spot, as a free web host, seems to suffer from periodic outages, mostly caused by load (and apparently, by a handful of people who ruin Blog*Spot for everyone else). You can switch to a different free webhost at any time, and you might get better uptime, but you’ll probably get pop-ups ad. The reason for this is explained by Mr. Nosuch’s First Rule of the Internet.

The good news is it doesn’t cost much to get good service. If you’re not interested in widgets, many good hosts are available for less than $10 a month, and hosts that will let you run widgets aren’t much more. If weblogging gives you that much pleasure, and providing a good experience to your readers is such a priority, then the $10-$25 a month you might spend isn’t really much of an expense, but an investment. I only wish my other hobbies were so cheap.

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