Hosted Blog Platform Test Write-Up [en]

I’ve tested 13 free platforms, and this is a write-up on the experiment. The ones I preferred were Blogsome, running Wordpress, and Mon-Blog (in French), running DotClear.

Edit 26.12.2006: For those of you trying to choose a free blogging platform, I’ve now been recommending without hesitation for some time now.

As the people I hang out with on Freenode are painfully aware of by now, I’ve been on a blog platform testing binge. In total, 13 free* platforms tested. Here is a quick list of my test blogs — you’ll find detailed comments about each platform on the test blogs themselves, and a general overview below. The ones I preferred were Blogsome and Mon-Blog.

The platforms were tested with FireFox 1.0 on OSX, Javascript enabled, set to block pop-ups and force links opening a new window to open in the initial tab/window (we’ll see this setting seems to have caused problems with many visual editors).

My main interest was to have a peek at what existed (personal curiosity) and see if it was possible to claim the blogs on Technorati. What follows is an account of my personal user experience on these different platforms. It is not the result of a battery of systematic “benchmarking tests”, though here are some of the points I paid attention to:

  1. was it easy to create an account, or did I have to fight?
  2. how easy was it for me to sign back in, afterwards?
  3. overall, did I find the features I expect from a weblog? (note how subjective that is)
  4. how did writing a post go?
  5. could I add images?
  6. could I change the template?
  7. could I add links to my other test blogs? (linkroll management)
  8. could I claim the blog as mine at Technorati?
  9. did I bump into availability problems?

Lets get the last point over with first. I succeeded in claiming blogs on all platforms except three: NRJ blogs, Skyblog, and LiveJournal. The reason for that is that the last two platforms limit links in the blogroll to weblogs using the same platform. This prevented me from using the blogroll to add the Technorati code necessary to claiming the weblog.

Note, by the way, that I am talking about the free version of LiveJournal, as the paid version does not have this limitation. NRJ blogs, by far the worst platform amongst those tested, does not permit linking at all (even in posts!) I’m not even sure if it deserves to be called a “blogging platform”.

As far as linkrolls or blogrolls are concerned, ViaBloga gets top marks for their “almost-automatic linkrolling”. You can simply type in the URL of the blog/site you want to add, and it retrieves title and rss feed, and also creates a screenshot and thumbnail of the site. It really makes you want to add links to your sidebar. One-click blogrolling, if you like. Otherwise, most link management systems are pretty standard.

Some, like MSN Spaces, make you click “Add Link” between each links, instead of systematically presenting you with a form allowing you to add a link each time you go in link management. This is one of the minor but irritating usability problem which plague MSN Spaces. There are major ones too, but I won’t list them too (no paragraph breaks for me, login problems, timeout problems, clunky interface, ugly permalinks, horrible markup) — they are detailed on my test MSN Space.

Visual editors are neat when they work, but they are a great pain when they do not work. Because of my browser settings, I failed adding links to my posts at ViaBloga, for example. I also failed to add photographs at CanalBlog, HautEtFort, and 20six because of this. BlogSpot is clear enough about the fact you need an external service like Flickr if you want photos on your blog, and both LiveJournal and U-blog seem to fail the photo test for various reasons.

Both Skyblog and NRJ blogs are very limited blogging services, the latter being a very pale imitation of the former. Skyblog focuses on making it easy for teens to put photos on the web with brief comments, and, despite many other shortcomings (no permalinks, interface issues, server overload at peak times), I’m forced to admit it does it pretty well — which partly explains its success (it’s the main French language blog platform in blog numbers). The other services passed the photo test with more or less ease (don’t forget I’m a geek, so uploading a photo first, copying the URL and inserting it into a post isn’t an issue for me — it could be for some).

At some point, I had trouble connecting to the following services (or timeouts): Skyblog, MSN Spaces, and 20six (I can’t remember any others, but my memory might be failing me. NRJ blogs distinguishes itself by refusing to publish certain posts, or waiting a day or two before being so.

Now, before I get lost in random comments, I’ll give you a quick low-down on each of the solutions tested, as well as links to other people who have recently reviewed some of them.

  • Pros: WordPress, very easy to sign up
  • Cons: might need to be a bit of a techie at times

Being an avid and enthusiastic WordPress user, the idea of a hosted WordPress-powered blogging platform was very exciting to me. No bad surprises as I already knew the interface (I’m biased, of course), and no major bugs that couldn’t be addressed after posting about them in the forum. I didn’t try the visual editor there, but I assume it will make it more newbie-friendly. Definitely the platform I recommend for the moment.

MSN Spaces
  • Pros: none
  • Cons: way too beta (buggy)

After Roland Tanglao, Robert Scoble, and a dirty word test at Boing Boing, let me add my two cents by saying I am unenthusiastic about MSN Spaces. It’s still way too rough around the edges. Not usable as far as I’m concerned.

  • Pros: community, well-established
  • Cons: lots of settings, limitations of free accounts (no Technorati claim possible)

Well, LiveJournal is LiveJournal, and I know that to get a good idea of what it can do you need the paid version. My first impression was that it seemed to have lots of options in the admin part (a bit confusing), but other than that, it was pretty easy to get going and posting. Google will point out to you many more complete reviews of LiveJournal, so I’ll stop here. My main point was, however, to see if I could claim a free LiveJournal as my blog at Technorati, and that was not possible (short of adding the code via JavaScript in the head of the page, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to go that far for my test.)

  • Pros: well-established, nice admin interface
  • Cons: lack of categories, trackbacks, and image hosting

No big surprise here. I used Blogger for years (though not BlogSpot), and I liked the interface I found during my test a lot. They should wake up and get categories and trackbacks though. We’ll be in 2005 in less than 3 weeks. A good, solid option for people who can live without categories, trackbacks, and hosted photographs.

  • Pros: great link management, wiki-like features, active development
  • Cons: some usability issues and minor bugs; not free

ViaBloga has many good features. The “configurable blocs” system (invented by Stéphane for, which allows you to easily move about elements of your page, is just great (once you’ve figured it out). The platform has real wiki-like capability via keywords, and “cross-links”, which work like a kind of automatic trackbacking system. On the shortcomings side, I would say that although the features are great, the usability and user-friendliness of the administration aspect, which is a little confusing, could still be improved. I’m not a beginner, and it took me quite some time to figure out a certain number of things (and I know Stéphane and Delphine, so it’s easy for me to get direct help). And no, it’s not just because I’m “used” to other systems — I should still be able to figure things out easily.

  • Pros: well-established, community
  • Cons: community (!), some usability problems (cf. ViaBloga)

Joueb is ViaBloga’s community-oriented little sister. The first French language hosted blogging platform seemed to me a little more kludgy than ViaBloga, but there is a happy community there, and Stéphane is an active developper, always ready for feedback and making improvements to his babies. If you’re looking for a French weblogging platform with a strong community, I’d say this is a good choice.

  • Pros: great if all you want is upload your phone photos, spit out a comment, and allow people to comment (though Flickr does it better)
  • Cons: no permalinks or trackbacks, limited server availability, teen-sms-talk and link-whoring comments

I remember when Skyblog was launched, the francoblogosphere was boiling over in horror at this kind of bastardized blogging solution where teens posted pics of their friends and commented in sms-speak. (Sorry, can’t find any posts right now, will add links later if I do.) As I said, Skyblog does not do much, but it makes publishing photos and short texts easy, and it’s pretty successfully targeted at a certain audience. My pupils have Skyblogs and they are obviously all the rage. Lots of photos, hardly any text, and comments abound which either say “ur 2 kool”, “u suck”, or “com visit my sky”. Not very interesting as a blogging platform, as far as I’m concerned, but obviously successful.

NRJ blogs
Edit 18.12.04: it seems confirmed that NRJ blogs hasn’t launched yet, and Google caught them by surprise.

  • Pros: none
  • Cons: sucks (I mean, some posts don’t even get posted, and finding your blog URL demands a thorough investigation)

I’ll say it loud and clear, NRJ blogs suck, and as a pretty obvious consequence they aren’t taking off really well: less than 50 blogs created since they launched (and NRJ is a major popular radio!) However, I can’t find a link on their home page, so there is a possibility this was a preliminary soft launch. In any case, I’m getting my few days of fame as an NRJ blog star. Neuro, Mr_Peer, and Kwyxz also tried NRJ blogs and were all but impressed. See their posts or my test blog for detailed complaints.

  • Pros: has the usual set of features you expect from a blog
  • Cons: admin interface can feel a little rude at times

CanalBlog was a pleasant surprise. The admin interface takes over your browser, but it works pretty well and it’s user friendly enough in a “MS-Office-lookalike” way. The layouts you can choose from are clean, and they have comments and trackbacks. They have ads, though. I’d say they are a viable platform (er… a viable choice of platform).

  • Pros: nice admin interface
  • Cons: no trackbacks

Too bad they don’t have trackbacks! I like what I’ve seen of the admin interface, nice and clean and uncluttered. As many other platforms do, they force me to go through the home page to log in (which I dislike), but honestly, like CanalBlog (and maybe more, if it wasn’t for the lack of trackbacks), I’d say they are an honest French language blogging platform.

  • Pros: has the set of features you expect from a blog
  • Cons: ugly, cluttered admin interface, server downtime

I really didn’t like 20six. I find their layouts ugly, the admin interface is hell, and their server was unavailable for hours at one point when I was about to do my photo upload test. Even though they know what trackbacks are, I wouldn’t recommend them (go CanalBlog instead).

  • Pros: community, features more or less ok
  • Cons: probably doomed

Well, I’ve spoken a lot about U-blog already, but more in a blogo-political context. When there weren’t so many French language blogging platforms around, U-blog used to be my recommendation. On trying it now, I can’t help saying that it feels a little broken, or abandoned. I was faced with an error when trying to upload a picture, and some of the links in the admin section tell you that this or that feature is only available with the paid version. Given the platform doesn’t seem in active development anymore, I wouldn’t recommend it.

  • Pros: DotClear (clean, beautiful, all functionalities)
  • Cons: launched three days ago

Now this, ladies and gentlemen, was a last-minute and very pleasant surprise. Mon-Blog is based on the weblog engine DotClear, which I have long held in high regard. For the first time, I’ve had a chance to see the DotClear admin interface, and let me tell you, it’s as beautiful as the themes they provide to dress your weblog in. Nothing really missing feature-wise, though it seems templates won’t really be customisable at Mon-Blog for the moment. The service has just launched and some creases need ironing out, but the forums and the developer are reactive. Just go for it. This is clearly my first choice for a French blogging platform.

I hope this will have been of interest to some. Thanks for your attention, and I’m glad to be over with the testing!

Edit 16:20: I’ve just add quick pros/cons bullet points (thanks to acrobat for the suggestion and the proof-reading).

Edit 13.12.04: ViaBloga was included in this survey although it is not a free platform. It is free for non-profit organisations, however. The mistake is mine — being an early tester, I was offered six months free, and in my mind had not switched ViaBloga to the “paying platforms” category. See my comment and Stéphane’s on the subject.

86 thoughts on “Hosted Blog Platform Test Write-Up [en]

  1. Very interesting and useful But what about Blogger ? I am using it, and I discover flaws every day, but it works, still. What do you think about it ?

  2. 11/12/2004 – Plateformes

    Steph nous propose un intéressant test de plateformes de blogues (dont de nombreuses francophones) : Hosted Blog Plateform Test Write-Up. Mais, justement, pourquoi cet article est-il écrit en anglais ?…

  3. Hi Stephanie, It is too bad you have done your test exactly when one of our ublog server crashed (>no picture upload) and that you did not try TypePad in French, you can have 30 days free, let me know if you want a test account.

  4. Just a mention…. works as the photo uploading tool, so it iss not so bad. I used blogger a couple of years and, and it has improved LOTS. Titles, nice permalinks, comments, nice templates, nice admin interfacee, and picasa and hello. Easy for non-geeks.

  5. Jérôme: Gosh, you’re right. Believe me or not, I absolutely hadn’t realized (well, remembered) that ViaBloga was not free. I was given a test account quite early on…

    I’m not sure what I would have done that if I had realized it earlier on. If I do TypePad, then I should do Radio, the LiveJournal paid version, and God knows how many countless others. Let me think about that.

    I’ll modify the post to add a warning and explanation about ViaBloga, but not just right now after 5 hours sleep.

  6. > Believe me or not, I absolutely hadn’t realized (well, remembered)
    > that ViaBloga was not free.
    I DO believe you 🙂

    I just thought it is fair to split free and paying plateform since you can not really expect the same service no ?

    Besides that should you go on with paying blogware may I suggest a test on Kaywa ( ? Let me or Roger know…

    And if you still have some time on the free plateform, I have heard that was good, would be cool to have your opinion but is is Sunday so you might as well rest and watch TV 🙂

  7. Jérôme: is based on DotClear, as is So I expect them to be quite the same. One difference to note is that tooblog adds a banner on top of every blog, banner which breaks the page XHTML validity (one of the strong point of DotClear and its themes).

    And tooblog’s interface, compared to DotClear’s (I haven’t tested mon-blog), is kludgy. There’s no way to modify the templates (this does not come as a surprise, as they are probably installed in a common place for every user), and they did break the layout of every theme (viewed with Firefox) with the modifications they made.

    Another difference with mon-blog, is the community: every new blog and post is featured on the front page of tooblog. And when signing for a blog, you have to choose under wich category of their category you would be listed.

    There was also the feeling to have to sell my soul when signing up with tooblog (no, I don’t want news from you by email; no, I even more don’t want to receive commercial news from your partners…)

  8. Woops… small mistake. “you have to choose under wich category of their category” should of course read “you have to choose under wich category of their directory”. Sorry.

  9. Ces profs, ils ont vraiment du temps à  perdre 🙂

    Joli boulot! D’accord avec toi concernant joueb, c’est très ardu à  prendre en mains. Pour 20six, je te trouve un peu dure (enfin bon, j’ai pas vraiment testé la nouvelle version). Et concernant ublog…c’est vrai que ça fait de plus en plus truc à  l’abandon.

    Mais t’as pas testé la meilleure des meilleures des solutions: les blogs staracademy. Posts censurés sans explications, pareil pour les commentaires, ce qui fait qu’ils ne s’affichent pas en direct mais des heures plus tard, impossibilité de commenter si on n’a pas de compte et, évidemment, pas de trackback, pas de possibilité de changer son layout, etc. Un vrai bonheur.

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  11. Nice reviews throughout. I agree with you on the ones i tested. I also would use Blogsome if i wasnt scared of Blognapping…I used a small service Mblog before… and they stole my blog and wanted me to pay 35$ to get access to my own material….

    So since being free service you should take into account the ones behind the service…Blogger having Google as their owner will probably evolve further on…i wait for trackbacks and categories since i think those feauteres are important….especially categories…

  12. Categories and trackbacks are so 2002…
    Keywords and fully automated backlinks are much better. 🙂

  13. You should have a look at SquareSpace, which is high end.

    I use Viabloga for my personal blog and Squarespace for my pro blog. Both are terrific, and well above competition.

  14. Même si je me doute un peu du résultat final, ce serait intéressant de recenser les plateformes qui proposent un service d’export, ou à  défaut un template d’export (à  la Blogger). Et le format de l’export : ASCII, Movable Type, RSS, Atom, XML whatever…

  15. Hi,
    I’d like to make an adjustement to what Julien (comment #11) said about as I am the one who launched it.
    Indeed Tooblog is based on Dotclear and I’m using Their templates.
    If you check the XHTML on the W3C xhtml validator, you’ll see that the syntax is correct, eventhough, I’m not responsible for the fact that some users posts messages with wrong XHTML!
    Yes I’m putting some banners which are only advertisement for Tooblog.

    For now, it’s not possible to make changes to the templates, like on mon-blog, but I’m thinking about a solution that will allow users to use their own templates.This might be available for the first quarter of 2005…

    Now for the comparison with mon-blog, you’ll have to note that they also do have a community aspect as they do like tooblog, publish the last edited messages!
    On tooblog you are indeed asked if you’d like to receive some informations from tooblog, and only tooblog, but that’s not intended for advertisement, only for information on the hosting service.

    I hope you did nevertheless appreciate the quality and speed of this platform, and hope that for the next test, climtothestars will not miss it!
    All my best

  16. marko: my test blog still doesn’t validate, even though the errors are less important than when I first tried 😉 (there are two divs with the same “links” id, both of them are in the template). There’s still the link in the profile “Je ne souhaite pas recevoir d’offres des partenaires de : .t o o b l o g !” (emphasis added)… And you’re right, mon-blog added the “community thing” lately…

  17. Hi Julien!
    My mistake about the “profile” is now corrected, sorry about that!
    Now about the XHTML validation, I will try and correct the code!
    Thank you very much for your insights!

  18. Nous préparons des améliorations au niveau de un annuaire des blogs, non accessibilité directe des blogs X etc…

  19. Désolé de poster deux fois à  la suite.

    Je voudrais réagir quant au commentaire numéro 23 de

    Nous avons aussi developpé sur les derniers blogs ouverts, les dernières parutions. Et j’ai fait ce soir un petit annuaire des blogs.

    Toutes les nouvelles inscriptions, doivent choisir une catégorie pour leur blog et son indexés dans l’annuaire.

    Nous allons donc grâce à  cela pouvoir également retirer les dernières parutions les blogs adultes.

    En se qui concerne la pub, nous n’avons pas de bandeaux publicitaire de notre coté, nous avons uniquement mit 3 petits liens pour 3 de nos partenaires.

    Et étant l’administrateur et président de l’association JeunZ (, nous disposons de leur structure pour l’hébergement et tout l’aspect technique ;-).

    Et on code au jour le jour pour améliorer les services. Si vous avez des idées venez en parler sur ou ici même 😉

  20. Si je peux me permettre, je trouve que forcer à  choisir une catégorie pour l’annuaire lors de l’inscription n’est pas une bonne chose. Cocher une case “blog adulte” si c’en est un, ok, mais une des forces d’une bonne plateforme de weblogs, c’est de rendre l’inscription la plus facile possible. Devoir se catégoriser dans l’annuaire, pour certaines personnes, ça va être difficile (“euh je sais pas ce que je vais mettre sur mon blog”) et ça risque d’être le pas de trop qui fait qu’ils renonceront à  l’inscription.

  21. Oui mais au niveau de l’annuaire il faut bien les catégoriser non? J’ai pensé à  faire une case adulte Oui Non. Mais après comment faire l’annuaire?

    A moins que je ne fasse alors pas un annuaire par catégorie, mais uniquement une liste des TOUS les blogs inscris chronologiquement.

    Se qui me parait être une bonne idée aussi :).

  22. Steph, the Ublog down for pictures upload was exactly two days, when you tested…

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  24. En effet ça a séduit bon nombre de webmasters… Une centaines de blogs ouverts aujourd’hui par rapport à  se que nous faisions d’habitude c’est énorme.

    Et la plateforme est maintenant bien stable… En attente des blogueurs 🙂

  25. I’ve tried a number of blogging resources too and see here that I missed some. The ones I’ve tried are: Blogger/BlogSpot (which I still have–5 Blogger blogs, actually), AOL (where my photoblogs are and where I have ftp space with my membership), LiveJournal (which I also kept), BlogDrive, Blog-City, modblog, MSN Spaces, DiaryLand, and Bravenet. I was going to try Xanga, but it was skewing a bit too young for my tastes. I didn’t try all the things you did but was mainly interested in ease of setting up and customizing a blog with a free, online service and IMO, Blogger won hands down. I would like them to add categories, tho. And I like LJ for the Friends feature, which is why I kept it. It’s like having a little bulletin board with how the comments can be in answer to each other.

  26. Thanks for the very useful writeup. A couple of comments:

    As well as being an aggregator, Bloglines is also an extremely basic free hosting platform. In fact, I use it for
    one of my blogs.

    Adding trackback to Blogger is free and easy, thanks to Haloscan. I’ve added it to another of my blogs.

  27. je me permets de t’intéroger en direct, un “ami à  toi” ayant fait un coup de pub pour ton article “at home” ( )… “et quel est ton point de vue sur over-blog ( ? connaissais tu cette plate-forme (créée en sept 04 (à  peu près, pour la “version” publique), environ 7000 blogs actifs (je crois) dont plus de 300 créés hier en 24h…?

    gratuit, indépendant, et les mecs ont de grosses c… enfin, ils en veulent… Un avis extérieur plus objectif ?!”

    je suis curieux 😀

    t’ai linké. Trés bel article 😉

  28. Je voudrais vous dire que Blogsome est devenu encore mieux avec beaucoup de nouveaux templates de WordPress qui sont extrêmement bien fait. Il y a toujours un accueil chez Blogsome pour les gens d’un pays fracophone. Nouse avons beaucoup des bloggers francophone. Excuse mon francais.

    Just to let you know that Blogsome has got even better with a bunch of new WordPress templates which are extremely well designed. It only takes 2 minutes to get up and running with it.

  29. A quand un nouveau test car les plateformes ont pas mal évoluée depuis le dernier test 😉

  30. desormais sur blogspot on peut faire heberger simplement et gratuitement des photos, le code html est automatiquement generé.

    NB felicitation pour ce test et pour ces sites et blogs crés.

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  32. Is this all about fun-only journals? I see no mention of money from adverts. Do any of you try to make any money from your web journals?

  33. je suis sur, un équivalent de skyblog et ça marche on ne peut mieux. Ceux qui ont créés ce service ajoute continuellement des fonctions et ça reste très facile. Les blogs sont thématisés avec des annuaires, ça évite de lire des trucs nuls !!! Je suis curieux de connaitre ton avis dessus. En tout cas c’est gratuit, pas comme chez loic !!!!

  34. Une catégorie est indispensable pour choisir un bloget ce que l’on pense y trouver.

  35. May I also recommend to have a look at
    I’m biased of course, but it’s the only blogging platform I know of that also integrates a paypal-ready shop, discussion forums, CMS, image gallery, career tools and a kitchen sink. Ok maybe not kitchen sink but you get the point 😀

  36. Please Make Holes in My Buckets!…

    Facebook is Stowe’s fault. Twitter was because of Euan. Anne Dominique is guilty of getting me on Xing/OpenBC. I can’t remember precisely for Flickr or LinkedIn or — OMG! — orkut, but it was certainly somebody from #joiito. The …

  37. I’ve tried all the hosted blogging platforms and I must admit BlogSpot was very impressive but you’ll never beat having your own WordPress blog in my opinion. It gives you so much more functionality.

  38. This post is dated December 11th, 2004 and is outdated. With the New Blogger, (formerly Bloggr Beta) you have categories (called Labels) now, something you said is missed sorely in Blogspot, drag and drop LAYOUT which enable an non-HTML savvy blogger to easily customize their blogs without having to get into the template editor. It is very easy to set up and run. And you can get lots of tips from Blogger Tips and Tricks which have received lots of good comments from grateful bloggers. See Comments left on Blogger Tips and Tricks by grateful bloggers. Not only that, a DMOZ human editor found the blog informative and have listed it in DMOZ. See DMOZ, the most important directory, and Blogger Tips and Tricks got listed without even submitting.

    Plus the author have been honored as a BlogStar by Blogger as announced in the official Blogger blog – Blogger Buzz. See BlogStar.

    Plus Google have been extremely generous. They even allow custom domain which mean you can register your own domain and get Blogger to host it free for you. Not only that, they generously allow you to place ads, even those that compete with Google AdSense. What more can you ask? I have no hesitation in recommending Blogspot.

    Peter (Blog*Star)
    Blogger Tips and Tricks

  39. peter: thanks for your update on the Blogger situation — indeed, this test is quite outdated, and the blogging tool scene has changed quite a bit since I did it.

    Next time, however, I’d appreciate if you tried to town down the self-promotional tone of your message. Parts of your message read so much like PR copy that I almost sent your comment to the spamtrap.

  40. Hi Stephanie.. I know it’s an OLD post but please add to your list of free hosting providers. It would be great if you could do a review on it as well.

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