You probably can find dozens of reasons for creating a blog. In addition, you can probably find dozens of companies that will host a blog for you. Given the choices and the reasons available, trying to decide on the best blog hosting service for you can be an overwhelming decision. How do you find the best one for your use? I will suggest there is no easy answer, but I will suggest that WordPress should be one of the services you evaluate.
NOTE: I will quickly admit that I am biased. The words you are reading right now are hosted on a WordPress blog. I have used several different blogging services over the years to host this newsletter. I switched to WordPress several years ago and am very happy with the company’s services. I have no plans to switch to anything else.
Why would you want a blog?
There are a number of reasons why a genealogist might want to crate a blog. Here are a few ideas I can think of:
Keep track of your own family history research and advise your relatives of your progress. If your relatives are monitoring your progress, it is possible they can contribute information to your research efforts, especially as they read about various items you discover. Reading about their ancestors’ lives often serves as a “memory jogger” for various bits of information they may have heard or known about years ago. Many of such bits may be new to you. In some cases, a blog reader who lives near the locations where your ancestors lived also may be able to perform some “in person” research for you.
Share your own life experiences. A blog can be similar to an online diary. Such a blog can be very interesting to your friends and relatives. Optionally, you can add a password to your blog so that it can only be read by the people to whom you grant access.
Genealogical and historical societies often use blogs to publish society newsletters online, to publicize upcoming events, to publicize books the society publishes, and to publicize all sorts of news and events of potential interest to society members and non-members alike. Some societies even add a “for members only” section that requires a password to access. A society blog often is one of the most powerful publicity tools a society can use.
Ethnicity interest groups often use blogs focused on specific ethnic groups and the genealogies of included families. Examples include Polish-American groups, African-American genealogy, Jewish genealogy, Hispanic genealogy, French-Canadian genealogy, Irish genealogy, German genealogy and more.
Almost all genealogy conferences now use blogs to publicize events, to distribute updates on speakers and presentations to be offered, to supply information about hotels and restaurants in the area, and myriad other reasons.
Archives and libraries often use blogs to provide news about recent additions to their collections, seminars, and other events being held by the archive or library, lists of holidays and other times the library or archive may be closed, solicitations for donations, and more.
Genealogy industry blogs are very popular. Almost every company in the genealogy business publishes a blog containing frequent updates about the latest additions and updates to the company’s offerings, publicity about future additions and changes, disseminating FAQs (Frequently-Asked Questions) that many customers ask, and many other customer support activities. Nearly 40% of US companies use blogs for marketing purposes. Two-thirds of marketers say their company blog is “critical” or “important” to their business.
Genealogy industry news: perhaps you want to compete with Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. (Comment: Come on in! There’s room for more.)
A blog makes it easy to reach a sizable audience on the World Wide Web. Most people read blogs more than once/day. In a recent survey, 90% of the respondents said they read 5 to 10 blogs frequently. Among those respondents, 23 % of their Internet time is spent on blogs and social networks. See 10 Interesting Key Facts and Figures about Blogging, Bloggers should know at http://goo.gl/d0EHiA for details.
WordPress is the most popular blogging system in use on the Web and also probably is the easiest to use. At more than 60 million websites, WordPress was used by more than 26.4% of the top 10 million websites as of April 2016. That means that of all the web sites you visit, more than one out of every four is running on software written by WordPress. The latest data comes from W3Techs (at https://w3techs.com/), which measures both usage and market share.
WordPress is completely customizable and can be used for almost anything. Thousands of plugins and widgets and themes are available from the company and from third-party vendors and individuals alike. WordPress is limited only by your imagination.
It is estimated that more than 40% of internet bloggers use WordPress as their publishing platform. See 10 Interesting Key Facts and Figures about Blogging, Bloggers should know at http://goo.gl/d0EHiA for details.
WordPress is available in two major offerings:
WordPress.org (notice that address ends in “.org”) is a web site where you can download WordPress software and install it on your own web server. The software is available FREE of charge. Everything in WordPress.org, from the documentation to the code itself, was created by and for the community. WordPress is an Open Source project, which means there are hundreds of people all over the world working on it (more than most commercial platforms). It also means you are free to use it for anything from your recipe site to a Fortune 500 web site without paying anyone a license fee, plus a number of other important freedoms. Some notable WordPress clients include CNN, CBS, BBC, Reuters, Sony, Fortune.com, Volkswagen, and Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. (That last one might not be as notable as the others.)
WordPress.com (notice that address ends in “.com”) is a commercial web hosting service that allows anyone, from individuals through Fortune 500 companies, to create a blog and to have it hosted on WordPress.com’s servers. Using the servers at WordPress.com avoids almost all the headaches of installing and maintaining your own web server(s). WordPress.com has an excellent reputation for reliability and ease of use, and also for having many of the latest features available in any blogs. Prices for hosting a web site on WordPress.com range from FREE to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars per month for very large blog sites. Most individuals obtain either FREE or very low-cost blog services from WordPress.com.
NOTE: Creating and maintaining your own web server, downloading, installing and maintaining software on that web server are all highly technical topics that are beyond this article. If you are a skilled Linux systems administrator and webmaster, you undoubtedly already know where to find appropriate documentation.
If you are not a skilled Linux systems administrator and webmaster, I would strongly suggest you use the easier path of having your blog hosted and maintained on the WordPress.com servers.
The remainder of this article will focus on the easier path: having your blog hosted and maintained on the WordPress.com servers.
The WordPress software was first created by Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little in 2003 and released as open source software. Since then, thousands of programmers have added enhancements to the WordPress software, created plugins, widgets and themes, and contributed to the support of the software.
Eventually, the growth resulted in Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little forming the company Automattic (always spelled with two t’s). Both WordPress.org and WordPress.com are owned and operated by Automattic.
Creating and running a blog on WordPress.com requires very little technical knowledge. If you know how to surf the World Wide Web, and if you are comfortable using word processors and other computer applications, you undoubtedly can create and operate a blog.
WordPress.com offers several different levels of blog hosting at various prices. Most individuals and smaller libraries, archives, and societies will choose one of the two lower-priced options: FREE or $2.99 per month (billed annually). Both of those offerings include up to 3 gigabytes of storage space, more than enough space for all smaller blogs.
The FREE offering is limited to a domain name ending in “wordpress.com,” such as http://myfamilyblog.wordpress.com, while the $2.99/month offering offers custom domain names, such as: http://myfamilyblog.com.
The FREE offering will include advertisements on your blog while upgrading to $2.99/month allows for removal of the ads.
A side-by-side comparison of the various offerings may be found at https://wordpress.com/pricing/.
You can start a blog in 20 minutes
First, decide on a domain name. A domain name should reflect the purpose of the blog, if possible. It also needs to be a name that is not already in use by someone else. For instance, the Podunk Genealogy Society might want to create a shared domain name, such as: podunkgenealogy.wordpress.com. For $2.99/month (billed annually), a custom domain name can be used, such as: podunkgenealogy.com. If your first choice of name is already in use by someone else, you will receive an error message when you try to create yours. You then will have to think of a new name.
Next, follow the “Get Started” information at https://learn.wordpress.com/get-started/. It lists the major steps for creating your blog.
NOTE: I noticed the “Get Started” information at https://learn.wordpress.com/get-started/ does not yet mention WordPress.com’s newest offering of $2.99 per month (billed annually). That price was added to the offerings only a few days ago, and obviously the “Get Started” information has not yet been updated. Don’t worry about that as the option for $2.99/month will be on the menus when you select the service and price of your choice.
Once your new blog has been created, you will want to customize it to fit your needs and preferences. To do so, read the information at https://en.support.wordpress.com/start/ and follow the various links on that page to the subjects of interest to you. One of the links on that page points to a “Blogging Email Course,” comprised of two weeks of bite-size assignments designed to help you publish posts, customize your blog, and engage with the blogging community.
Publishing a personal blog or a blog about a society’s or employer’s products and services can not only be a satisfying experience; it also can be a big help to other genealogists who seek the information you possess. The cost of creating and running a blog can be zero or close to zero.
Good luck with your new blog! Once it is up and running, please post a comment in the Comments section below this article to announce the name, purpose, and URL (web address) of your new blogging effort.