Should I use "managed" hosting for my blog?

March 30, 2010 Off By Chris Hinton

Blogging is an incredibly accessible form of self-expression. Anyone with an Internet connection can set up a blog and be writing within a few moments and, other than the cost of the connection itself, this can be done completely free. I’m going to talk a little about the benefits and pitfalls of hosting a blog yourself and of going with a managed option. Today we’ll look at managed blogs, and tomorrow we’ll look at self-hosting.

Managed Blogs

A managed blog is one provided by a company such as Blogger or WordPress.com where they handle all the technical setup, hosting, upgrades etc. Other than some user settings there’s very little for you to worry about in these cases; the software is already in place and running for you. What could be simpler? Managed blogs are an attractive option for the first-time blogger.

Free!

While there are some managed blogging platforms you’ll pay to use, or premium features that must be paid for, the big advantage is that they are often free. If you’re just dipping your toe into blogging this can be an enticing prospect. If it turns out your blogging mojo is a little limp you won’t have lost anything and can simply walk away from the project.
The downside of “free” is that people can fail to value what they’ve got. I have a friend who recycles furniture and sells it on cheaply and, even in the case of referrals from social agencies, always charges something for the goods. Why? Because when people got stuff for free they didn’t value it, and were soon back for more furniture after damaging what they had just got.
With blogs, getting everything for free can mean it’s all too easy to walk away when things aren’t quite going as well as you’d hope. The number of abandoned blogs on free services like Blogger and WordPress.com are testament to that fact. If you’re using a free service, dig deep when things look tough and don’t just walk away from it!

Technical Simplicity

As I wrote that heading I thought of all the people I know who would still struggle with a managed option. Technical simplicity doesn’t mean there aren’t a load of options available to play with, some of which may be confusing at first, but means that you don’t have to worry about the deep techie issues.
MySQL database? You don’t need to care. What version of PHP is your server running? Again, who cares? Hang on, I have a server!? Honestly, don’t worry about it.
If you’re really worried about the prospect of having to get your hands dirty with technical details, and don’t have a friend or want to pay a company who can look after that for you, managed hosting may be the way to go for you.

What are the downsides?

There are a few downsides to managed hosting that I think we need to examine. The first is the lack of ownership, as mentioned above. Some people see “free” as the same as “valueless”. It will take willpower not to see your blog that way.
The second is that your readers can see a free blog as having less value. When looking for authoritative information people are more likely to trust “technicaltips.com” (not a real website) than “technicaltips.blogspot.com”. Why? Because there’s a perception that the former is a more professional outfit than the latter. You might want to consider that in the light of the reputation you’re trying to build through your weblog. You can, of course, buy a domain name and point it at your free blog, which will help solve this particular scenario.
Finally, control. WordPress.com doesn’t allow you to install plugins directly, and you must use one of the pre-installed themes. You can tweak the CSS later, but can’t install new themes yourself. Blogger offers a load of useful “gadgets” and the themes are very customisable if you know what you’re doing, but there’s still not the same level of control as if you were hosting the system yourself.

Conclusion

So, thus endeth my thoughts on managed blogs. They can be perceived as much less professional than hosting a blog yourself or buying a domain name, and are a little restrictive in terms of controlling the setup. However, they’re a good option if you’re just dipping your toe into blogging, or don’t want to have to care about any of the technical details of setting up a website.
Tomorrow we’ll look at self-hosting, so check back then! What are your thoughts on this topic so far, though? Let us know in the comments.