I have learned almost everything I know about blogs by using LiveJournal.com, a 10-year-old, community-based, online journaling system. LiveJournal (LJ) has what I feel is a very distinct culture, and can best be described as individually and collectively-maintained blogs coexisting in a tight-knit blogosphere. Like other blog platforms, LJ now has sophisticated editions of blog formatting tools, like video embedding and HTML coding, however LJ is unique in that it is built around LJ “friendship.” Each entry an LJ member writes can be public, private, or friends-only, much like a Facebook page. Friends, in turn, customize their “Friends Page,” which lists recent posts in their entirety on one page.

Collectively-maintained blogs are called “Communities” on LJ. These are groups of LJ members interested in a particular topic, some or all of whom have posting access to the group blog. These communities become extremely active. The celebrity gossip LJ community “OhNoTheyDidnt” recently had comments suspended because in just four years, the group has reached the total maximum of user comments LJ servers could handle (16,777,216). LJ has the combined feeling of social media and a totally customizable RSS feed. However, because of the restrictive nature of commenting on the website (a person must be a registered LJ user to comment, or face comment deletion and banning from users) LJ is not right for a blogger who wants to generate a lot of non-LJ traffic.

Bias acknowledged, when compared to LiveJournal all other blogging platforms feel unexciting and similar. WordPress and Blogger, my initial choices, seem painfully similar in design and function. Blogger has the advantage of mobile phone posting and better layout customizing design options. These speak to the needs of a blogger to feel completely able to express his or her self, at any place or time. However, WordPress wins with its spam comment-blocker, hits tracker, and an interesting comment tracking feature, which allows you to keep track of comment threads you have entered. This last feature is helpful in blog networking, which can be a bigger help in driving traffic to your blog than tagging and hyperlinking.

Tumblr was difficult to get a feel for, however that seems to be intentional. The landing page is minimalistic and focuses on personality rather than selling the features of the website. The company is still young compared to more established platforms and seems to want to compensate with quirkiness: A basic blogroll on Tumblr is called a list of Tumblr Crushes, users don’t blog, they “tumblelog.” Tumblr is geared towards microbloggers who create short media-rich posts with little text, often to show off artwork. The overall design of the website is bold and colorful compared to more understated design themes of WordPress and Blogger. However, it seems that the lack of recognition keeps Tumblr blogs from receiving much traffic or attention, defeating a lot of the purpose in blogging.

The last two blog platforms I considered seemed the most visually compelling, professional and strong in technical support: Typepad and SquareSpace. SquareSpace provides website design for businesses like the Marc Ecko clothing line. In addition to keeping track of site visitors, SquareSpace has professional preset layouts, a data collecting form builder which converts data into emails and Microsoft Excel files, and advanced photo gallery support. Typepad seems more geared towards bloggers, but business-minded ones. The design is much simpler and all blogs have a plain, white background. Among the features, there is a lot of focus on the money that can be earned by e-commerce advertising on Typepad-supported blogs. There is also a blog traffic measure, a spam blocker, and there are tools for search engine optimization.

Overall, SquareSpace offered more interesting blog hosting services than TypePad, but both sites were pay services. Even though the most basic version of each website costs less than $10 a month, having to pay for the services removes the informality of blogging that some bloggers enjoy. It seems the five years I have spent on LJ have clouded my judgment. I remain unsatisfied by these other platforms even though, as a whole, they offer more features than LJ. The very social nature of LJ is what makes the blogging experience more meaningful with that platform.

Well you can see which one I’ve chosen.  Feels good to be starting something new after so much time in LJ land.