Jul 18, 2010

Choosing a blog software platform

Since starting my translation blog in late 2008, I've launched two others reflecting my personal interests with dogs and the experience of hunting in Germany. I don't update the others nearly as often as I could or probably should, because I need to reserve a little of my non-working time for eating and sleeping. But these other blogs have been very useful for gathering personal experience in how to work with certain blog software and what to avoid.

Having worked with other types of content management systems in the past, I find that blogging tools are relatively easy to master and offer a better alternative to most static HTML-based sites. Informal tests I have conducted show that content posted in a blog environment is indexed better and faster than on sites with older designs. This means that CVs, descriptions of services offered, etc. will probably get viewed more often by potential customers and business partners. The wealth of widgets and plug-ins available for different platforms also offer a lot of flexibility for customization and experimentation.

One thing I've learned is that some mechanism for filtering comment spam is critical. There are many different mechanisms practiced for comment vetting; on a number of translators' blogs the practice seems to be "once approve, always passed through". Others (like me) check every comment, though if I do find a "white list" function somewhere in the tools for this blog, I'll certainly add most of the regular respondents for administrative convenience. What I do try to keep out are spurious comments or self-serving links that add nothing useful to a discussion. On the one blog I operate without comment spam filtering, I get dozens of trash messages each day like the one show here. The purpose is to add a link to a scam site for gambling, drugs or other undesirable things. I don't see that on my translation blog - Google's Blogger environment filters garbage like that out quite effectively - nor do I see it on my dog blog, because the filter plug-in I use has been very effective.

My time to deal with technical troubles outside my main revenue-generating activity (translation) is very limited, so I appreciate the convenience of the hosted solutions. As far as I know, I don't have the full control over every aspect of the format in the same way I do with the two Wordpress blogs hosted on my own domains, but then perhaps I do: I can modify the HTML code of the template here directly if I am inclined to do so. And when I decided to change the URL for the blog to a domain name I owned, it took about ten minutes to arrange the switch; old URLs are forwarded automatically. And dealing with graphics (adding photos, screenshots, etc.) has been generally easier to manage than with the two blogs where I have "more control".

The Google platform I use also appears to have good facilities for creating migratable backups of the templates and content. If I were interested in fooling around with "monetizing" options like AdSense or Amazon, many of these are already integrated in the infrastructure and are simple to implement. That's not something that interests me much, as I lack the time for something that I consider deadly dull, and if I want to generate cash there are more interesting ways to do so. My rare flings with such things are either experiments or a deliberate endorsement of a company whose products I feel are beneficial to translators (like the AIT links currently in the sidebar and at the bottom). Nonetheless, for those with an interest in such things, I think there is less work involved in setup and maintenance if you use someone else's infrastructure to the greatest extent possible.

That feels like a strange recommendation given that I programmed and developed applications on mainframes, desktops and web environments for about 30 years. And I'm sure that a number of people I know and respect will be able to explain very persuasively why I really should tinker with every last bit of the configuration for the blog myself, but they remind me a little of my friends who always called me an idiot for not building my ow PC from individual components. I listened politely to the criticisms, made lame excuses about a lack of time and went back to work on my functioning systems while theirs seemed perpetually out of service due to endless compatibility problems and hardware failures.

I think each of the "canned infrastructure" solutions available for free, such as Google's Blogger, Wordpress (hosted) and TypePad have particular advantages that may fit an individual language service provider's needs better or worse. It's worth experimenting with several briefly to see what feels right, though I have no hesitation in recommending the solution I use for this blog as a simple, effective communication platform. It's far from perfect, but it's good enough, and I don't have time for more.

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