Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In Search of...a Blog?

Home, Home on the Range (or the WWW)

I wanted a website, my website.  I have some tech skills, but in the world of launching a site from the ground I am a novice.  The desire for a site lead me to a cursory exploration of web hosting options.  There is, of course "Go Daddy" which seems to be the mainstay.  Going with the obvious just isn't my style so as with all things web, all roads start with Google.  A search of web hosts yielded a rich array of options to explore, among them a host named, iPage.  iPage sounded promising, the reviews looked great, and their rates sure seemed reasonable.  Next step was to take them up on their "Live Chat" and this is where things started going south.  As a novice, I had many questions, but it seemed that no matter what I asked, the response was always followed by a hook to proceed to set up the account and at times I felt as though the Live Chat Host wasn't focusing on responding to my questions, but rather working (too) hard to close the sale.  For example, at one juncture I inquired about "Censorship"... the response from the Live Chat Host was "Would you like me to see if www.censorship.com is available"... to borrow that classic line from Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate..."  After this exchange, I expressed to the Live Chat Host that their aggressiveness made me very nervous and our exchange was quickly concluded thereafter.  I did take a second look at all those glowing reviews and upon closer inspection, I am much more skeptical of whether they are indeed objective reviews.  Quite bluntly, all reviews are not created equally and those loaded with advertising and/or which are just too endearing need to be particularly questioned.

At some point, I stumbled upon Google sites, then read further regarding Google Apps.  (Note, there is some confusion out there in regards to standalone Google Sites versus a site as part of Google Apps - my advice, definitely stick with the the site as furnished as part of Google Apps).  The free version for individuals and small businesses sounded terrific and provides 10GB of storage space for the domain /website.  I also liked that you are able to purchase (for $10 per year) a custom URL (i.e. www.MyTurnQuips.com) to your Google Apps sites.  As a note, domain registration will cost a nominal amount no matter who you do it with.  In the case of purchasing with Google Apps, the price also includes keeping your personal information anonymous in the registry.  Many services do this as an "option" - translation, for an additional cost.   There were a  couple notable areas of confusion in the set up (but nothing outrageous).  1.  In purchasing the domain name, you choose between "Go Daddy" and another service - I was not prepared for this and went with "Go Daddy" out of name recognition.  It would have been great to know more about the other company from the start so that you could make a more informed decision.  2.  The set up walks you through instructions for changing your DNS (with, in my case, Go Daddy); however, it is not clear in the set up directions that if you purchased your domain through Google, you do not need to do anything with the DNS settings.

Me, A "Blogger?

My intended purpose of my website was for self expression.  There is much self expression on Facebook, but I have issues with Facebook (perhaps a touch of OFS -old fart syndrome).  I am very concerned about Privacy.  Facebook simply has an unacceptable track record with privacy.  If you want privacy, don't count on Facebook.  At best settings can be confusing and you can inadvertently expose your private information; at worst, Facebook will do it for you.  Secondly, I definitely don't like the lack of control that users have over their site on Facebook.  You have little to no control over adds that get pasted onto your site and some of the feeds within your site.

I knew of blogging and had read a few "Blogging and Blogger for Dummies" books but, perhaps it was the OFS, I didn't (don't) know if I could resign myself to being a "blogger" or having a "blog".  In my world there are "writers" and there are "bloggers" and I didn't see them as necessarily being congruent.  (This position is steadily shifting; I have now seen excellent writing in blogs.  I will qualify that I am not so stodgy that I speak of nit picky grammar when I refer to excellent writing.  When I refer to excellent writing, I think of flowing, cogent thoughts that are succinctly and clearly expressed.)  In regards to "blogging," I did consider just sticking with Google Apps Sites and using the Announcement template (of which there are many You Tube videos demonstrating the "how to").  The announcement template allows you to present your excerpts in a blog like fashion but the big drawback is that they do not support comments from the general public out of the box (yes, I appreciate that there are coding workarounds).  I also considered whether I could live without comments, as the name of the site implies, the site name is My Turn Quips, not Your Turn Quips.  In this regard I needed to do some soul searching which lead me to my current perspective which is that while I want the focus to be my writing, there may be times were I may find commentary complementary to this goal.

Although I took a cursory look at Word Press; Blogger (a Google product) seemed to fit well, particularly since I had already gotten my feet wet with Google Apps.  I did some web research in regards to the ability of integrating Blogger with my site in Google Apps.  These discussions generally point to scripting solutions and/or use of "iframe".  True integration does not currently exist.  At one juncture I was working toward developing templates in each (Blogger and in Google Apps Site) with similar fonts and colors and then "integrating" them by adding html navigation between the two so that the visitor would appear to move relatively seamlessly between the two.  Blogger allows up to 10 stand alone web pages.  After carefully considering that my planned "content" which is primarily "blogs" or in my world, "quips," I made the decision to make my initial launch in Blogger.  As is the case with Google Apps, Google Blogger also allows you to use your custom domain URL for your Blog.  (I will briefly note that Word Press does charge a bit more for this option; although I will further note that there are many attractive features in Word Press and Word Press is often the blog host of choice for the pros... but I'm not a pro, yet).

Lest it be said that I am biased in favor of Blogger, I do want to clearly note some drawbacks to consider before choosing Blogger.  The greatest regret is the lack of FTP (File Transfer Protocol) support and the need to primarily rely on using the provided templates and Google WYSIWYG interface.  I know many would appreciate the freedom to use a familiar web design application such as Adobe Dreamweaver or Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2007.  (Note, you want SharePoint Designer 2007 in order to work with non-SharePoint websites; the 2010 version will only work with SharePoint 2010 sites).   My biggest issue tied to the FTP / proprietary template issue is the portability of your site.  As far as I can see, with Google Blogger or Google Apps Sites, there is not an easy way of backing up your entire site to an external storage area (off from Google) so that in the event that your love affair with Google hits the skids, it could potentially end in a messy divorce.  In other words, while the domain may be yours and the content is clearly yours, the effort to move your content and reconfigure it to another host may provide its own disincentive to re-locate.

Make the choice that is best for you.  

For me, Google Blogger seems the best choice for the current time.  I have little to risk, my content will be ongoing and maturing and I get an identity with a personalized domain URL at a very reasonable cost.  Google Blogger will be my home for today and I look forward to a great adventure.

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