All I want for Christmas is a new blog …

Screenshot of OpenSourceCMS
The OpenSourceCMS website will allow you to test-drive any of the blogging tools and content management system tools on offer.

It’s getting to that time of the year again and I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Gareth, what’s the best blogging software for me?” Well, have I got good news for you.

I know you’re thinking that because over the last couple of weeks I’ve had quite a few emails from people asking what they need to run their own blog, rather than signing up for one of the free blogging services like Blogger.com or WordPress.com.

I mean, obviously I’m going to recommend WordPress, because I think it’s the best thing since someone invented custard doughnuts, but it’s a free world and you might like something else. But which blogging application do you choose? And how do you know what is available?

The good news is that someone over at OpenSourceCMS has thought about that for you. OpenSourceCMS is like a test-drive centre for a whole bunch of open source (which usually means free to use, free to adapt to your own use) blogging and Content Management System (CMS) tools, such as WordPress, Drupal, Mambo, and PostNuke. You can see how they look, feel and work, both as an end-user and as an administrator.

What’s impressive about OpenSourceCMS is that all the tools on offer automatically reinstall themselves every two hours, so you play with them to your heart’s content in the sure knowledge that every 120 minutes all your tampering will be forgiven and the CMS or blogging tool will be restored to a virgin, sinless existence.

Once you have your blog-of-choice you can then go about setting up your own website and install the blogging software. I won’t go into all the details here, but in a nutshell you’ll want to do the following:

  1. Buy a domain name
    I buy all mine at 123-reg. Very good value, and they offer you a lot of control of it afterwards.
  2. Buy hosting web space (with support for MySQL and PHP)
    I’m with WebFusion, who while not the cheapest are pretty reliable.
  3. (Point your domain name to your web space)
    If you are unsure about doing this bit manually a lot of hosts these days will offer you a ‘free’ domain name as part of the package. The instructions on how to do this at 123-reg are excellent. I’ve not had a problem with setting up 3 or 4 sites.
  4. Create a MySQL database
    MySQL is just the name of a kind of database that is popular with website builders. The database is what stores all your amusing blog posts. You will usually need the database name, database username, database password, and its location (usually localhost).
  5. Upload the blogging/CMS software
    Using the magic of an FTP application, such as WS_FTP.
  6. Install the application
    I can now install WordPress in under 5 minutes, from creating a new MySQL database, through uploading, to running the installation script.

Obviously, each system will have its own peculiarities so make sure you read the installation instructions carefully; there is usually a good user knowledge-base associated with each system too where you can find help and advice. WordPress, for example, has the WordPress Codex (wiki) and WordPress Support (forum).

A lot of blogging tools these days also allow you to customize your site with themes; you can download one that you find, or you can create your own.

Get your site the way you like it, and then it’s over to you, your input devices, your digital camera (optional) and a healthy dose of imagination, creativity and humour. The world of blogging is only a mildly-geeky hop, skip and an upload away.