When startup prince Marco Arment tweeted out a clarion call for writers to break their blog free of oppressive content hosting sites, he was keying into the eternal blogger quest to maximize freedom without having to wrestle with clunky open source plug-ins (or, you know, actually having to learn to code).
In response, news sites starting offering alternatives to Medium. Here are some suggestions from Timo Reitnauer at IWantMyName, running the gamut from the uber-simplified Tumblr to posting via Dropbox.
Here are some tools to get you up and running fairly quickly with a serviceable website and a blog where you can post your strokes of genius.
With clean editing navigation and drag-and-drop UI, Squarespace lives up to its name with modular “blocks” chosen from an extensive list of content types (simple text, video, even radio), making this super simple for multimedia types. But it’s the expand-and-pinch front-end blog design tweaking that sets Squarespace apart from its competitors, allowing the code-illiterate to yank around their page appearance (complete with listed pixel dimensions) instead of guesstimating length-by-width dimensions as they go back and forth from front end to back end.
It’s slightly annoying to get prompted to save every time you want to change a field in the editor, but it beats accidentally navigating away and losing that cat-pic slideshow you labored over for half an hour. It also comes with prominent access to analytics and walks you through creating an inline shop with considerations for taxes, coupons, shipping–all those things you’ll care about once xtremepups.squarespace.com takes off.
Plus, the boys and girls in its customer support are known for their 24/7 service. Sadly, these services cost: There’s no free version, though there is a 14-day free trial, and tiered services start at $10/month-to-month (though real functionality starts at $20/month-to-month).
Less elegant but still functional, Virb retains a topbar navigation and smattering of themes with clear labeling (Business, Music, Portfolio, Restaurant, etc). After the free trial, Virb comes in at a nominal price of $10 flat fee/month for all its WordPress and Blogspot-esque bells and whistles.
With much more emphasis on mobile, Facebook integration, and posting-on-the-go through their app, Weebly is intent on getting your content shared. The editor is particularly useful, not only for its easy top bar navigation and mobile view editor but for the “free content search” included in multimedia embedding: In a visually dominated content world, the search for appropriate and usable photos tacks on posting time. Themes tend to be a little more varied, though many are clearly catered to the personal. After the free trial, plans start at $4.83/month for Standard, $9.83/month for Pro (which includes site search, HD media, larger file upload, etc).
Oh, Tumblr: Nest of fandoms and endless content recycling. Unlike the other offerings, Tumblr doesn’t cost a cent–but its premium themes do, which you’ll probably want to pick up ($19-$49) after you realize how often you see the same half-dozen professional-looking free themes going around. Add to that a curiously limited customization palate depending on theme and Tumblr looks weak in the personalization department. But with Tumblr, you’re not investing in your site’s individuality–you’re investing in the built-in Tumblr community, which sends 87 million posts into the world per day. Yes, those same rabid fan-people can spread your content like wildfire at the push of a “reblog,” doing most of your marketing for you. They won’t see your pretty designs if they “follow” you, but it’s a free subscription piped right to their dashboards. Here, more than anywhere, visual content (especially GIFs) are king.
The core WordPress CMS is used by a surprising amount of professional services (amateur to pro journalism outlets, startups), so it’s no surprise that they’ve got a tried-and-true content-posting UI. WordPress is customizable, but doesn’t have the flashy UI and handholding of SquareSpace or Weebly.
Professional WordPress servers like Page.ly have arisen out of this stability, taking care of bandwidth and security for subscription fees. If you’ve grown your site beyond the capabilities of the amateur circuit of content hosting listed above, Page.ly offers $24/month for personal use with nominal features (more for the $64/mo Business and $149/mo Premium levels), but the prime advantage for such professional hosting is pageload speed and dependable security.
Tired of blogsites holding your hand through the editorial process? Try DropPages–a site that links a folder in your Dropbox to a domain. Once registered, you’re off to the races. As in, download a theme from the available (a paltry three at the time…but hey, they’re young), put it in your chosen Dropbox folder, and proceed to edit everything via HTML in good ‘ol Notepad. The advantage? You can edit it anywhere you can access a Dropbox folder: mobile, tablets, other computers. It’s all in the cloud, baby.
Love the clean interface and organization of Evernote? Cool–Postach.io lets you blog with it. Similar to DropPages, Postach.io links to your Evernote account and lets you post/blog on the go, but it also has more themes (and lets you sort and choose on its site) than the nascent DropPages. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.
So which platform is the best? None, of course–they all serve different needs with different pricing options. But for general-purpose blogging with more options and less hassle, we have one we prefer.
This web-based solution implements MarkDown and includes a well-implemented, hassle-free version-control system for collaborative writing and publishing. Register to Try Draft and your writing space is defined. Simply begin a new document and start typing. The interface is completely uncluttered, with a few formatting choices in dropdowns. Draft keeps every keystroke, so you needn’t save until you have a complete version draft of your document.
Choose “Mark Draft” to create a saved version, and draft keeps every version so you can travel back through if you’ve misplaced, lost, or inadvertently destroyed some gem of personal prose. Want more backup security? Export as Text/Markdown or HTML. Draft implements the Ink File Picker, so you can export directly to your computer, and since Draft is intended to be a blogging platform, you can create settings to publish directly WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter, Blogger, LinkedIn, Mailchimp, Buffer, or a WebHook URL. Like Google Apps, Draft supports simultaneous editing by collaborators.
There’s a reason we went over this platform in-depth. The drag-and-drop, pinch-and-expand UI is clean and natural, facilitating experimentation without requiring page reloads to tinker with different parts of your blog. This is a site for armchair designers endeavoring to tweak their site into something unique, unlike the carbon-copy blogs that erupt out of Tumblr or Blogspot’s limited themes.
Its crown jewel is the blog platform’s shop assistance: If you intend to sell merchandise or personal products, there’s plenty of options front-and-center for organizing purchasing straight from your blog. Ten dollars a month is reasonably cheap for a site; it’s $8 a month if you commit for a year. The “professional” level is only $16/month for a similar commitment.
[Image: Flickr user Matteo Paciotti]