This is the second in a series of posts calling attention to some of the topics covered in the recently launched Citizen Media Law Project Legal Guide. The first topic I took up was choosing a business form. In this post I discuss the
various issues, both legal and practical, that arise when you select a
platform for your online activities.
So you’ve decided that you want to publish online. There is a wide
range of platforms you can use to get your words, video, and other
content out to the world.
Of course, the easiest way for you to get online is to simply
go to a website that allows user comments or forum posts and add your
two cents to the mix. If you want a more permanent home — and one you
can control to some degree yourself — you will want to consider
whether to join a service such as Blogger, TypePad, Livejournal, or
even MySpace (yes, we know it’s a social networking site), that will
host and manage your content for you or whether you want to create your
own, independent website. Each option has its advantages and
disadvantages. Here are some of the things you might want to think
about in deciding which platform — or platforms — you will use:
- Ease of Use Services that provide blog-hosting
capabilities or social networking pages/profiles (we will call all of
these services “blog-hosting providers”) are often the easiest way to
find a home online. These services tend to be very simple to use;
everything you change and all content you add is done through the
host’s easy-to-use web site interface which makes it very easy to add
text, photographs, or other media. The layout of your page or pages is
typically created through various templates and basic formatting
options, although some sites allow access to the template code for
advanced customization. These sites are often free, but additional
features—such as a greater ability to customize the site’s format—may
come at a premium. Creating your own website, on the hand, can be much
more complex depending on how much customization you do. The Citizen
Media Law Project site runs on Drupal, which is a free, open-source content management system with a great deal of flexibility. See the section on Creating a Website of this legal guide for more information about what you will need to do to create your own site.
- Advertising: Many blog-hosting services have built-in
advertising capabilities that you can implement with the click of a
button. Certain sites may be affiliated with certain advertising
companies (AdSense or BlogAds), that you can easily incorporate into
your blog. Some of these sites, however, may restrict you to the
advertising services they provide, some may not provide any, some may
allow you to bring advertisements in yourself, and some may completely
disallow ads. If you create your own website, you can decide for
yourself what advertising you want on your pages.
- Anonymity: Perhaps the major advantage of blog-hosting
providers is that they often provide the easiest way to blog
anonymously. Many of these services do not require names or credit card
numbers for registration, so by signing up through an anonymizing
service using a free e-mail account, you gain greater protection from
being unmasked, even in the face of a subpoena to the hosting service.
For more about anonymity, see the Anonymity section of this legal guide.
- Credibility Concerns: The very ease of their use may
lead many blog-hosting services to project a less professional
appearance than a well-designed, customized website. Also, the web
address you’re given by one of these services may result in you not
being taken as seriously as you would be if you had your own domain.
For example, some blog-hosting services give you an address that they
choose, like “www.blogservice.com/3k6jrv,” or they append your name to
their URL, like “www.blogservice.com/yoursite” or
“yoursite.blogservice.com.” One possible way around this is to
register a domain name like “www.MyBlog.com” and have that redirect to
your bloggingservice.com page. This allows you to promote your site
using your “www.MyBlog.com” while retaining the ease and cost benefits
of using a blog-hosting service. For more information on how to do
this, see the section on registering a domain name in this guide.
- Functionality: With blog-hosting services you’re operating on their
site, so you don’t have access to all of their site code to make your
page do exactly what you want it to do. It can be difficult to do much
more than a straight, chronological record of posts with, perhaps, a
collection of links in a side bar and a place for users to leave
comments. Furthermore, while they are customizable to a degree, that
customization is limited compared to the possibilities provided by a
conventional website. You can find a summary of the functionality you
can expect from the bigger blog-hosting services on the Using a Blog-Hosting Service page.
- Networking: You should consider whether you are trying
to reach people you already know personally, a specific community of
interest, or the public at large. If you are interested in reaching
only your already-existing social circle, you might want to consider
some of the publishing-type functions on social networking sites, such
as Facebook’s “Notes” function. Another option is to use an online discussion group tool, such as Google Groups or Yahoo!.
Starting a blog or website can allow you to reach a wider audience, as
any Internet user can find and read your site. Of course, you can aim
your blog or website at a smaller community of interest as well. Some
blog-hosting services, through community identification features and
other affinity services, allow you to tap into a community of users
with similar or related interests.
- Revenue Generation: Some blog-hosting services don’t
allow any advertising. Many that do allow advertising have deals with
particular companies. While this is a good start, it can sometimes make
it difficult to bring in alternate or additional advertisement systems.
It’s important to consider where you want to go with your blog in terms
of expanding your revenue model. While a simple Google AdSense sidebar
may seem fantastic early on, you should consider your future needs for
legal guide, each of the services mentioned in this guide has extensive
users create, when the service can remove content that it deems to be
problematic, and what your rights are if a dispute arises. For more
information on the legal issues you should be aware of when choosing an
online service, see the section on Legal Issues to Consider When Getting Online.
As you read through this section you might be asking yourself what
the difference is between a blog-hosting service and a web-hosting
service. Generally speaking, a blog-hosting service will permit
you to publish only a blog on their site, whereas a web-hosting service,
depending on which service you choose, will allow you to create a site
with almost unlimited functionality. Of course, some blogging software,
such as WordPress, will allow you to create a “static blogpage” without
any chronological entries as your home page. In terms of what the
reader sees, there is no difference between such a site and a standard
website, but you will still be limited to the functionality inherent in
your blogging software.
Once you’ve made a decision about what type of platform is best
for you, it is time to get online. Go to one of the legal guide sections listed below for more information: