By Amy Lupold Bair, Susannah Gardner

Hosted services take a whole lot of responsibility off the blogger. The blog software company manages the data, software, and web hosting; the blogger manages the content. Some services, such as Blogger, do it all for free, whereas other services, such as TypePad, charge a monthly fee to run your blog.

Yet other services, such as WordPress, offer a level of free service with the option to upgrade when your blogging requires a little more power. Hosted blog software allows you to make someone responsible for the entire gauntlet of technical tasks that don’t excite you.

Seasoned blogging veterans may recommend that new bloggers start by using a hosted service that’s free. The reason is simple: If you find the idea of having a blog appealing, but you have never tried blogging or played with blogging software, you might not like it all that much in reality.

A free blogging service allows you to test drive blogging before making a huge time or monetary commitment. A word of warning: Free blogging platforms come with pitfalls and restrictions such as a ban on paid ads on your site. Be sure to read terms of service documents carefully!

Benefits of hosted blog sites

An upfront cost of zero is very attractive to new bloggers. If you want access to blog technology and have a limited budget, free looks just about perfect. Not all hosted software is free, but most of them generally have quite reasonable costs. A hosted blog that charges a monthly fee is still a minimal investment, on par with other inexpensive hobbies.

But free or inexpensive isn’t the only upside to hosted blog services. They really take the complication out of starting a blog. For the technophobe, a hosted solution is ideal because you have very few technical issues to worry about. Hosted services take care of

  • Web domains

  • Software maintenance and updates

  • Data storage and backup

  • Template design and management

Hosted solutions are also generally quicker to set up than is software you have to install on your own server, so you can start blogging sooner when you choose one of these solutions. Plus, should you choose to migrate your blog to a self-hosted server in the future, free software is available to make this process possible.

Updates on hosted blogs are generally free, and the software is available to the end user 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sounds like a really good deal, huh?

Basic limitations of hosted blog sites

Before you sign yourself up, be sure you understand the tradeoffs that come with using a hosted blog service. Ultimately, you don’t control your own blog. If the company goes out of business, takes servers down for maintenance, or decides to change its offerings, you’re pretty much stuck with the results.

A free hosted solution, for example, might suddenly decide that it should start charging; one that already charges can always raise its rates.

Most hosted solutions let users make some modifications and tweaks, but you can install only a limited selection of plug-ins and extras. In many cases, the level of customization is quite limited. With hosted blog software, that ubiquitous WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) acronym is a double-edged sword: You can’t actually do more with less.

If you blog on behalf of a company or business, you might want to cross a hosted solution off your list for a couple of reasons:

  • You probably need to make your blog part of an existing website, integrated into the look and feel of the company brand. Hosted blogs don’t allow this customization or integration.

  • With a business blog, you need control of the data. Putting the blog on your own server removes any doubts about security or data ownership.

When you think about whether to use a hosted solution, be sure you understand the terms of service of that host. Some hosts reserve the right to cancel or remove your blog or blog posts.

Make sure to read all the fine print for the host that you want to use! You don’t want to run into legal restrictions that mean you can’t actually use your blog the way you want to, and you definitely don’t want to suddenly find your blog missing if the hosted software company decides you’re in violation of its rules.