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June 05, 2007

Build Your Website on a Blog Platform

The distinction between blogs and other types of website is quickly fading.  This is very good news for non-technical people who want to have a website because the blog services like TypePad which I use for Fractals of Change are both very easy to use and very cheap.  TypePad starts at $4.95/month.  Basic service from competitors WordPress and Blogger (owned by Google) is free; but I haven’t used them so I don’t know enough to write about them.

For most individuals and many organizations, the basic TypePad service or its counterpart is more than an adequate.  The price you pay (or don’t pay) for these services also includes very professional and reasonably reliable hosting.  You don’t have to be connected to the Internet all the time to have a website because your blog service is.  You don’t need an industrial grade computer, either; they’ve got that.  If you or your company or non-profit are paying any significant amount for web hosting and not getting special services like e-commerce support, you may want to reconsider and just use a blog as your website.  Your user need never know the difference and don’t have to know anything about blogging.

A huge advantage to having a blog platform as your website is that all the content is directly accessible to you.  You don’t end up paying somebody else to make updates and waiting for them to happen.  You can be as up-to-the-minute as you care to be; mistakes can be corrected instantly; opportunities immediately exploited.

All the blogging services come with a set of templates so that you can be up and running with a decent looking site in a very small amount of time.  You don’t have to learn HTML (the language of most web pages) and you don’t have to be a web designer.  The downside is that many people use these templates so your site won’t look unique unless you have a pretty good design sense or do delve into the HTML. 

Even if you decide you want the services of a web designer, in most cases it’s best to have the designer build your site on a blog platform so you can change and modify it rather than build a custom platform for you.  Note that this may not be what the designer wants to do.  Some very good web hosting services offer design as a loss-leader to get you onboard and, reasonably enough, aren’t going to do this work without the prospect of a recurring revenue stream.  If you have a serious e-commerce site, you won’t find the tools to build this or the capacity to host it cheaply available on a blog platform – at least not yet..

What got me started on this chain of thought was what I learned when I was helping daughter Kate with her blog site On Jewels: An Appreciation of Art.  Kate has some good lists of galleries and jewelers which started out in the sidebar of her blog.  Trouble is that these lists are getting very long and it’s awkward to scroll down them in the sidebar.  She wanted to make special pages out of them which would appear in the context of her blogsite.

“Well,” I said, “I do know how to do that but it’s very complicated and you need to know some HTML and I’m not sure at all you can do it with the basic TypePad service.” It’s easy to up-sell nerds like me to more expensive, harder-to-use stuff.

“What happens if I just click on this New Page link?” she asked.

“Huh? What?”

Turns out that what she wanted to do – make a page on her blog site which is not part of the stream of periodic posts – is dead simple in TypePad.  You just click on New Page rather than New Post, create the new page with the same easy-to-use tool you would create a post with, and link to it from anywhere on your blogsite.  Don’t know how hard this is to do with other blog platforms but suspect not very.  Ouch! You won’t believe the hacks I went through to do this either because TypePad didn’t have this feature when I needed it or because I never looked for such a simple solution.

This New Page capability is a big deal because it means you can use TypePad to create a website with all sorts of dynamic content which doesn’t look anything like a blog.  If you want blog-like updates to keep people informed or keep them coming back, fine; but the users of your website don’t have to know anything about blogs or blogging.

It was our other daughter, Kelly, who first alerted me to the possibilities of using blog tools for other purposes when she created a date-driven archive for the non-profit she worked for with blog software.  She was being pretty nerdy when she did that, but you don’t have to be a nerd to make a pretty good and very cheap website on a blog platform today.

Of course, since I am a nerd, I had to test this capability by making an “Hello World” page.  It’s what nerds do.  If you go to it, you’ll see what Kelly and Katy got me for Father’s Day (I opened it early).

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