We all know that blogs and blogging are a shockingly effective means of sharing your most ingenious thoughts and building or participating in online communities. Right. You got that message a while back. But considering that there are a number of options to choose from, the final step of getting going can still seem a touch daunting. We've put in a little spadework and here's a quick guide through the woods for the rest of us. At the outset, it's important to ask yourself a few key questions. For example: * How and why am I going to blog? * Is this going to be a large blog with more than one contributor or will it just be me? * Do I want to make money with the thing? * How much of the techy details do I want to fiddle with or know about? With these thoughts in hand, it's time to figure out which tool you should pull from the shed. There are a variety of options. The first thing to decide is if you want a blog that is hosted by a third party or if you want to download, install, config and manage it yourself.

Self Hosted Blogging Options

Self-hosted blogs involve purchasing a hosting account, installing the blog software and configuring the system yourself. Generally, self-hosted is the way to go with blogs that may evolve into a more professional nature over time. This is due to the fact that by owning and managing the software yourself, you have much greater range of control over the system and how it operates. However this approach does tend to involve additional costs, and it requires that you either hire a consultant or have the required technical skills yourself.

Movable Type

Movable Type (MT), while it did not make the Webware Top 100 it did score a solid second place in Technorati’s top 100 blogs list, with 16 of the top 100 blogs being run on MT. Custom Fields Separate MT from WordPress As one of WordPress’s largest competitors, MT offers three versions: an open source version, a commercial version and a personal version. The open source option is obviously what it says it is. This is where Movable Type starts to differ from WordPress. You can only use custom fields with the commercial version, whereas with WordPress custom fields are part of the open source core code. MT as a Web Publishing Platform This starts to take Movable Type away from being just a blogging platform and pushes into the realm of web publishing. Much like the magazine style themes have done for WordPress, additions with the recent 4.1 release of Movable Type make it a platform for businesses that publish content in large quantities and want to customize the ways that content is displayed individually. See the Dashboard: Movable  Type - 1

MT's Support for Business Solutions If a business is what you are looking to do then Movable Type maybe your solution. Being that they have a paid for version, they are able to offer some things that a purely open source platform does not. Namely, directly through their site they offer a guide to business blogging from Six Apart, Movable Type’s parent company. They offer a variety of other solutions for business owners, which are exclusively available to the paying customer.

WordPress

WordPress is open source and is the foremost blogging platform of the moment, having recently been the only self-hosted, open source blogging platform to make the Webware Top 100 list. Just how popular is WordPress? According to our recent research, 34 of the top 100 blogs are running WordPress. Themes WordPress offers a large variety of theme types (including many free ones). The options are broad enough that one can come up with almost any imaginable look, feel and function. The underlying code structure is such that a good developer can create a custom theme in any fashion. Administration Capabilities Even the administration is fully customizable. You can set up your Dashboard (the admin work area) to fit your specific needs -- complete with RSS feeds, stats and more.

Plugins WordPress has one of the easiest plugin management systems out there. All you need to do is upload the file via FTP, go to the plugin section under presentation in your Dashboard and click activate. Now being that WordPress is open source some third party plugin developers may require certain action to fully activate their plugin. Search WordPress is also extremely search friendly. The code structure is really fairly simple. It is based primarily on div tag placement and CSS, that (if done cleanly and properly) end up being something search engines love. Plus with great ping capabilities the world will know each time you post.

Remotely Hosted Options

Blog platforms that are hosted for you do not require that you to have your own hosting account. Note also that the free ones will not typically allow you to have a custom domain name without paying something for the privilege.

Blogger.com

Blogger is a free, hosted for you blogging platform. While it is not the greatest in terms of customization, it does offer a great way to get started in blogging. Technorati’s list eluded Blogger, but Webware’s Top 100 did not! Blogger was named in the category of publishing. A Basic Blog If you aren’t sure if blogging is for you, you don’t want to pay for hosting, you are waiting for a business loan, whatever the reason, Blogger can be a good way to get started. It is free, does offer some customization with templates and you can implement a variety of monetization items such as AdSense or affiliate ad code. This is prolific content management blogger, Seth Gottlieb's Blogger.com site: blogger_1.jpg

The Ups and Downs of Blogger Blogger includes picture capabilities, has a variety of templates to choose from and is set up to go mobile which is a big push right now in online business and marketing. The downfalls of using a setup like this are that you don’t get ftp control, you don’t get full url control and customization and plugin availability is lacking.

Facebook

Some may wonder why we chose to put Facebook in this list. Facebook is one of the fastest growing free blog platforms out there. With the recent addition of Six Apart’s Facebook app Blog It -- which oddly enough is powered by TypePad -- you can post to multiple blogs and/or microblogs right from Facebook. Still many people might be skeptical about Facebook as a blogging platform; but the stats don’t lie. Facebook was named one of Webware’s Top 100 in the social category; which means that it is getting used heavily. How heavily? Look at the Alexa search: facebook_1.jpg

You can see from the chart that Facebook is becoming a viable blogging platform in itself. Their open API provides developers new and inventive ways to work with blogging. Probably the best feature of using Facebook as a blog platform is that it has a multitude of other capabilities that are both social and viral. That is what makes this a blogging platform that works.

TypePad

TypePad is another invention of Six Apart. It is a blog platform designed for those who are completely non-technical. TypePad manages 7 out of 100 sites according to Technorati’s Top 100 Most Linked to Blogs. TypePad's platform is based on Six Apart’s MoveableType and is able to share API’s and plugins. This makes it very appealing for the business owner or potential blogger who wants something super simple to manage. While it is a paid blog service that is hosted for you, you also get some great, hands on support with tons of documentation to help you get started. Here is an example of a TypePad Site: typepad_1.jpg

TypePad Pricing Their prices aren’t too bad with plans starting around $5.00/month. But many would ask, why do I want to pay for something that I can get for free with open source? The reason is that it is hosted for you. TypePad offers much of the same functionality as WordPress and the purchased versions of Movable Type without the cost and headache of hosting. With plans starting so low, you would be hard pressed to find good hosting at that price. And this way you only deal with one source. No making multiple calls and forum entries when something goes wrong.

The Escape Route

Nobody likes making mistakes, but we all have the great pleasure of doing so, it seems, more often than we care to admit. So it is good to know that most platforms offer the ability to import and export their primary content to and from other blogging software solutions. So, if you find that over time a previous software choice is no longer the best choice for your project, take heart, you can probably switch over to something new without too much pain. Nevertheless, this is a worst case scenario. You're better off putting that energy into developing great content.

Final Thoughts

With social media growing by leaps and bounds, it is a great time to start getting active with a blog and with new services out there like Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect, you are now ready to catch the social wave and ride it to potential web fame.