Medium? WordPress? Can’t decide? Here are our favorite blogging sites

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We can merely speculate how much mind-numbing gawking would occur if Johannes Gutenberg could witness the unbridled scope and sheer reach of  even the most dismal of weblogs. Although their modern form wasn’t conceptualized and implemented until the mid-’90s, their roots date back to the revolutionary advent of the web and the ensuing technological advances that followed. Today there’s seemingly a weblog — aka a “blog” — covering every topic you can think of.

Despite the fact that “blogging” has become a bit of a dirty word in professional media circles in the last decade, the majority of the internet still embraces the practice. As such, the number of platforms offering to help creators build and host a place to publish their content for little to no money has increased exponentially. Whereas there used to be a handful of major blog-makers, there are now many, many options.

With the deluge of content — both personal and professional — going live on the web every day, the best blogging services not only offer the tools for hosting your writing, photos, and video, but help you find an audience for them. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, but the main distinguishing factor between a “blog” and a “social network” in the modern era is the amount of control you have over how it looks. And that gap is shrinking. Quickly. Features that were once considered major selling points, such as built-in analytics and customizable domains, are now pretty much standard.

That said, below are a few our favorite blogging service. For the most part, we’re recommending the best options based on the balance between fine control and augmented social reach. Since these are blogging services, presumably for personal use or to showcase one’s professional work on an individual level, everything we recommend is easy to use. None of the platforms require any coding, either.

Medium

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Medium has become the place people go when they want to write in-depth on a topic. Originally created as a relatively minimalist platform for essays, longer stories, and content that generally would not be declared “bloggy,” the platform has steadily built up its wealth of features into an expansive publishing platform.

The key to its success is its frictionless interface. Just press the “write a story” button in the top-right corner, log in through Twitter, Facebook or Google, and start typing. The platform uses an intuitive WYSIWYG-style system to allow users to add sub-headings, line breaks, photos, and video anywhere. The CMS — aka the content management system — just feels good to write in.

Similarly, Medium offers a fluid approach when it comes to pieces of writing and how they are collected. After you finish writing your post, you can publish it as a one-off piece, or submit it to a publication. In addition to publishing through your own channels, you can submit stories to other users’ collections, many of which accept submissions. There are also editorial systems for collaborating with other writers within the platform, as well as tools for designating writers and editors so blog owners can work with friends (or strangers) while retaining as much control as they wish. The platform also offers settings for built-in licensing rights — in addition to standard publication settings, such as scheduling — so writers can easily specify what other users may and may not do with their work.

Medium’s community, however, may be its most enticing feature. The readers and writers who use the platform have a penchant for seeking out and elevating the writing they love (or hate). Whether it’s sharing a personal story, an open letter responding to something in the news, or original journalism, the platform has managed to establish a culture where contributors are not only interested in creating their own work, but consuming the work of others.

As a result, there are now a handful of professional media outfits who use it as their primary publishing platform, including print magazines such Pacific Standard and new outfits like Bill Simmons’ Grantland successor, The Ringer. The White House even uses it to publish full-text versions of the president’s most important public addresses.

There is one slight downside to Medium, however. While the platform does offer the ability to create and customize photo galleries, or add video, it is a definitely text-first platform (most content platforms made for “blogging” are). Visual bloggers won’t have problems sharing their work via Medium, but they may not find it so inviting if their work lacks a written portion.

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Tumblr

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Tumblr, on the other hand, is perfect for blogs with no text at all!

The share-happy home of GIF and meme-based blogs was created as a lighter version of the traditional weblog, and as such, it explicitly does not require text. Now, as time has passed and the defining characteristics of blogs have shifted — most notably, the fact that every blog must be its own website — Tumblr feels like the closest thing to a modern standard for blogging.

To create a post, you click one of seven types of formatting — text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, or video — and insert the content you’d like to post. Don’t let the number of options scare you, though. A “text” post is simply a standard blank page, which you can outfit with images as well as text. While the formatting can limit your design options on individual posts, writing and publishing a standard blog post is quick and easy.

The beauty of Tumblr is its casual nature. Don’t feel like writing a long post today? Just post a photo. Don’t have an original photo you like? Just reblog someone else’s! Many of Tumblr’s most popular blogs don’t produce any new content at all — they simply compile interesting content.

Like Medium, Tumblr also affords bloggers a built-in community for whatever subject they choose to write about. If you are a blogging enthusiast writing in-depth about a specific topic, no matter how niche or obscure, there is already a community of bloggers and readers on Tumblr for you to join.

While you create your own customizable Tumblr blog, which function as a simple feed-based home for your writing, most Tumblr users will see your content through their own feeds. These act much like Facebook’s news feed, but with larger images. Fans of all stripes read tag-based feeds and special sections curated by Tumblr staff, which, in turn, lead them to new creators like yourself.

Of course, the platform isn’t without its problems. Whereas Medium is a platform primarily focused on text, Tumblr is geared more toward images and gifs than anything else. Though readers will click and read text posts, writers may struggle to find an audience for their long-form writing. In that same vein, the nature of Tumblr’s sharing culture may also be problematic for creators who are protective of their content. Reblogged posts will point back to your original post, but sadly, attribution can often get lost in the shuffle when a post goes viral.

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Facebook Notes

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Ok, We are going to make a bold suggestion. If you are not a professional, you don’t really need a blog to regularly write online — at least, not a separate blog with its own discrete brand and URL. Readers generally don’t seek out content anymore, they let it come to them, funneled through social media feeds such as Twitter and Facebook.

The latter overhauled its “notes” platform in 2015, and turned the vestigial feature into a light blogging platform that resides inside the social network. It offers a simple writing interface, with standardized and customizable formatting. Each note features a large lead image, but you can add more further down the page using a context-based design that’s very similar to the Medium CMS. Notes doesn’t feature the same amount of customization as other platforms, however, and you cannot embed a video in a note. Technically, if you create a professional “page” — which is separate from your personal account — you can get access to statistics, though they are not as detailed as what you’ll find on other services.

While the platform uses fewer customization options than other dedicated blogging services, there is one thing Facebook has over every other platform; your personalized audience. When you publish a note, it lives as a native page on Facebook. It gets sent your friends, your friends’ friends, and anyone else who might come across it. You can make different posts private, semi-private, or public at will.

If you just want to routinely write and have a place where the people you know can find your work, I can think of far worse places.

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Honorable Mentions: Atavist (Web) and Adobe Spark (Web/iOS)

Long-form publishing platform Atavist isn’t really made for blogging, per se, but it is a powerful content management system for constructing a digital magazine or bespoke pieces of online content. As an example, one of our writers used it to put together his post-grad-school journalism portfolio.

Users can publish individual stories through the Atavist website for free, but you will need to set up a  “Pro” account ($8 per month) to set your own domain and customize a logo. A premium account also unlocks a useful feature that’s unique to Atavist, which is the ability to put your projects behind a paywall. The platform takes a hefty 20 percent of the profit — or less, if you pay a higher monthly fee — but it remains one of the only platforms in existence that facilitates writers charging for their work.

In the same vein, Adobe recently released a new page-making platform called Spark, which offers a similar set of tools but with an emphasis on photography and visual projects. In addition to an intuitive browser-based web app that functions akin to Atavist, Adobe rebranded three of its mobile apps — Adobe Post, Slate, and Voice — as tools for creating content for Spark projects. They’ve since been renamed “Spark Post,” “Spark Page,” and “Spark Video.” All three feed into the platform, though bloggers may want to start with Spark Page, which is specifically geared toward making “web stories,” and is the most text-centric of the three. It’s not the typical blog format, but it’s a place to dump your musings and make it look pretty.

If you want your blog to live on your own website…

While the modern web has made it possible (and often preferable) to create a home for your content without creating an entirely new website, it’s completely understandable if you want to create a site of your very own. Whether your blog is simply one part of a larger plan for a personal landing page, or you simply feel more comfortable working in your own space, these may be your best options for building a nice website from scratch quickly.

That independence comes with a price, though. While some of our picks do offer a free option, bloggers who plan to build their sites should generally go in preparing to pay monthly or annual fee. The sites that do offer free hosting often force users to display ads for the privilege, while holding back useful features.

WordPress

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According to a 2015 study by 3Tech, more than 25 percent of active websites were built using WordPress. The open-source content management system remains one of the most capable blogging platforms ever constructed. While services like Tumblr may better reflect the sensibilities of the modern online content consumer, who shares and consumes media interchangeably, WordPress offers much more control. The platform’s sprawling backend allows you to customize every facet of your site.

Creating a blog hosted through WordPress.com is also simple and straightforward, whether you opt for an elaborate premium theme or choose one of the hundreds of freemium offerings. Adding additional elements, such as an archive tool, is as easy as dragging the available component into a coupled sidebar.

Despite the steep learning curve associated with some of the platform’s more advanced customization features, posting is by far the easiest task to utilize on the platform. Like Tumblr and Blogger, users need to do little more than enter a title, add their content, and press “publish.” And while it isn’t quite as active or pronounced as Medium and Tumblr, WordPress does have an internal social network layered inside the system, which can push fellow bloggers to your site.

WordPress is arguably king when it comes to sheer customization and advanced levels of control. The platform’s steep learning curve is daunting, however, and can require an extensive amount of time to master. Nonetheless, users can essentially make the site look and perform however they desire with a bit of ingenuity, an extensive look at the diverse online tutorials, and some help from its active user community. If Digital Trends runs on the platform, why shouldn’t you?

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Weebly

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Weebly is another website building option that offers a flexible framework and broad appeal through a set of simple, yet robust, customization options. Both the blogging CMS and backend customization utilize the platform’s straightforward, drag-and-drop interface, and feature a large swath of template options and access to a bundled HTML and CSS editor. WordPress might offer more depth, but Weebly feels a little easier to handle if you’re new to the world of web design and content management systems.

Like WordPress, a freemium account comes with a limited range of features, along with the Weebly branding. It would be wise to, at the very least, spring for a starter account, which costs $8 a month.

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Squarespace

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Comedian Marc Maron’s infamous podcast, WTF, utilizes Squarespace.

In a nutshell, Squarespace prides itself on offering sleek and versatile website templates that make professional-looking websites affordable for individuals and small businesses. The platform also benefits from a modular construction system that makes it easy to create an aesthetically pleasing site, one that goes far beyond what you would expect to achieve without any CSS or coding expertise.

Though many of Squarespace’s features and templates are tailored to accommodate e-commerce sites, the platform offers robust options for both individual and team blogging. The service also offers widgets that allow you to implement everything from real-time Twitter and RSS feeds to search utilities and contact forms.

Importation and simple synchronization with cloud services like Dropbox are also welcome additions for veteran bloggers looking to make the switch from WordPress, Blogger, or Tumblr. A website with a blog will run you $12 a month, but you can start building your site and play with the tools before committing if you opt for a free trial.

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