My colleague John Foley asked for some advice on starting a personal blog. He wanted to know which software or service to use. I had two recommendations: The TypePad service if he wants to have a blog that's open to anyone, or the Vox service if he wants to control access to the blog.
I didn't say this because I know these services to be the best around. I don't; I haven't done a survey. But I know both those services do good work, and John will be satisfied if he goes with them. Later, he may outgrow them, but they're great starter services, and perfectly fine for many people for their entire blogging careers.
I recommend TypePad because I use it myself, for my personal blog, and I've been happy with it since I started on it 11 months ago after my previous hosting company melted down.
Vox is operated by the same company that operates TypePad, Six Apart. Vox is a good service if you want to limit access to some or all your posts. For example, many parents are cautious about posting information about and photos of their kids; Vox lets you limit access to those posts so that only friends and family can see them, while less-sensitive posts (like your opinion about the last couple of episodes of Lost) are viewable to anyone in the world.
(Those eps totally rocked, by the way. I think that Juliet is actually working against the Others, don't you?)
These are both good platforms for friends-and-family blogs, by which I mean online journals that have fewer than 100 readers. These blogs describe what the author did and saw that day, photos the author uploaded to his Web site, and links to pages of interest elsewhere on the Web. Sometimes a friends-and-family blog can grow into one of the most popular blogs on the Web, but that's more rare than lightning striking. Mostly, friends-and-family blogs never get more than a dozen readers, and often their authors are quite happy with that.
TypePad also will host much bigger blogs. It will host commercial blogs with advertising and traffic-tracking tools and links to affiliate programs to generate revenue for the author.
Google hosts the Blogger service, but I don't recommend it. You have to register to comment, and you have to fill out a CAPTCHA (an acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart" intended to prevent automated scripts from performing certain functions, like filling in the squiggly letters you see on the screen) every time you leave a comment on a Google Blog. The default templates for blog design are ugly.
WordPress runs a sophisticated blogging service with many loyal users. If I were shopping for a new blogging platform today, I'd give WordPress a long, hard look.
Another interesting option for a first-time blogger -- or a veteran looking for a lightweight, fun way to blog -- is Tumblr. Tumblr provides you with a set of forms that help you easily build posts around photos, quotes, links, conversations, or videos. Gina Trapani at Lifehacker explains how it works. Check out her Tumbleblog, Scribbling.net, for an example.
Twitter is an odd option that's growing more popular fast. Posts are limited to 140 characters. You can update posts on the Web or via text messaging, and aggregate other people's Twitter blogs into streams that are readable over the Web or via text messaging.
Pricing: TypePad starts at $4.95 per month or $49.50 per year. You get 100 Mbytes of storage and 2 Gbytes bandwidth per month. Pay more for additional blogs hosted on your domain, and more storage and bandwidth. The company also offers services for enterprises.
Vox is free, as is Twitter.