Create an Online Hub About You

01 Jan

It is easy to jump into a social network like Twitter or Google+ and start sharing and connecting. However, the limitation of social networks, even Google+ which allows for longer form posts, is the lack of a conveniently accessible archive for people to scroll through to discover what you’re all about. When you visit Free Technology for Teachers you can quickly see a list of everything I’ve written since 2007, but you can’t do that on my Twitter feed (which I started in 2007) or on my Google+ feed.

Before you spend too much time worrying about social media interactions you should put your first effort into developing good content on your blog. Through a blog you can show-off much more of what you have to offer than you can on social networks.  Then after setting up your blog you can use it as the hub connecting your spokes out into social networks. Let’s take a look at some of the platforms we can use to build our blogs.

Picking a platform for your blog.

Like the vast majority of professional bloggers I strongly recommend creating a self-hosted WordPress blog. The initial set-up of a self-hosted WordPress blog takes a bit more time (in most cases two to four hours, possibly more depending upon the extent to which you customize your blog) than setting-up a Blogger or Tumblr blog, but it is time well spent.

Self-hosting a WordPress blog means that you will have to buy a domain and subscribe to a hosting service. (Just to be clear I’m talking about using the free WordPress software available from WordPress.org not WordPress.com which is not a self-hosted blogging solution). GoDaddy is the world’s largest registrar of domains. Name Cheap is also a commonly-used registrar. Before you buy your domain do a quick Google search for “GoDaddy discount codes” and you’ll find lots of ecoupons that can yield a savings of 20-35%.

My recommendation for a hosting service is MediaTemple. MediaTemple provides truly outstanding customer service when you call them. The help documentation is also fantastic because each tutorial has a rating of easy, medium, or hard as well as an estimate of how long it should take you to complete each task. When I see a medium or hard task that looks like it will take a while, I pick up the phone and call for help and a patient customer service representative bails me out. GoDaddy does offer hosting services. However, I don’t recommend using GoDaddy’s hosting service for two reasons. First, it costs more than similar services. Second, the user interface and support documentation is confusing (hopefully, this improves in the future now that GoDaddy owns MediaTemple).

After buying your domain and getting your hosting plan going you will want to experiment with the look of your WordPress blog. There are a lot of free WordPress themes (designs) available on the web. Some of the free themes are very good while others are not so good. If you’re going to use a free theme there are a few things to look for. First, make sure that it has been updated to run on the latest version of WordPress. Second, take a look at the terms of use. Some free themes state that you must leave certain links intact. Third, consider how much support you’re going to need in customizing the theme. If you’re not adept at coding in WordPress, you may find that a free theme doesn’t provide enough help documentation for you.

After struggling with free WordPress themes for a while I finally decided to buy some themes from WooThemes. WooThemes themes are professionally designed, optimized for SEO, and have helpful tutorial videos and documentation. When you buy one theme from WooThemes you get two others for free. Basically, for $70-$100 you get three supported WordPress themes.

Blogger: This is Google’s free blogging service. It takes just a minute to start a blog through Blogger. Blogger offers a nice selection of colorful themes and templates to choose from. Customizing the layout of your blog is as easy as dragging and dropping elements into place.

If you have a Gmail account you already have a Blogger account. Just sign into your Gmail account and in the top menu select Blogger from the “more” drop-down menu. Blogger takes care of all security updates for you.

The downside to using Blogger is that you don’t have access to a server. If the service goes down (occasionally it does) you can’t call Google and ask for help. Likewise, if Google suspends your account (it has happened to two people I know) your blog could be offline until the the issue is resolved. The final downside is that eventually you will want to customize your blog beyond the limitations of Blogger.

I still run Free Technology for Teachers on Blogger. The only reason that I have kept it there instead of moving to a self-hosted WordPress blog is I have 8,000+ posts on that would have to be moved. Moving those posts would require changing the permalink structure and verifying the validity of each link. It would also mean a hit in SEO. If I had I known more about blogging platforms when I started Free Technology for Teachers, I would have used a self-hosted WordPress blog. All of my subsequent projects including Worms In the Fridge have been built on the WordPress platform.

Disclosure: I did use affiliate links for MediaTemple. If you click those links and then purchase from them I do make a small commission but it does not affect the price you pay. 

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