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    CMLP Legal Guide: Getting Your Content Out to the World

    by David Ardia
    February 10, 2008

    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.

    Getting Your Words and Other Content Out to the World

    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.

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    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:

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    • 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
      expansion.

    • Terms of Use: Perhaps most important in terms of this
      legal guide, each of the services mentioned in this guide has extensive
      terms of use that govern who owns the content and data you and your
      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:

    Tagged: blog-hosts cmlp legal guide terms of service website-hosts
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