I occasionally have the pleasure of reviewing a product that I am so taken with that I adopt it for personal use. And on very rare occasions, it’s a piece of software or tool that I’ve needed for a while but hadn’t had the time to research and buy or download. WordPress.com, the free blogging platform and hosting service, rolled into my life at precisely the right time. Experienced bloggers who want full and deep control over their sites need look no farther. It’s also the right tool for new bloggers who plan to invest in their blogs long term—you’ll learn more as you go, while still being able lay your foundation immediately.

Less experienced bloggers might prefer Google’s Blogger, which offers an excellent intermediate-level experience with less of a learning curve, or even Posterous (free, 3.5 stars), for the very casual blogger who can’t be bothered with deep customization. Tumblr (free, 3 stars), which is very similar to Posterous, is another decent option for casual or rapid-fire bloggers who post short and sweet but often. Posterous is a little friendlier than Tumblr, and includes a paid option to register your own domain name, which Tumblr does not offer. With Tumblr, you have to go offsite to get a unique domain and work out the integration issues yourself.

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WordPress.com isn’t wholly new to me. I’ve used it in the past as a contributor, but someone else hosted and managed the blog. Until about two months ago, I had never been behind the wheel, commanding the controls, steering through blog waters on my own with WordPress. But now that I have, I see how powerful WordPress is. WordPress.com gives you the most control of any free blogging platform I’ve seen. The learning curve is manageable, although it does require some time, but in my use, I was actually excited to get over the hump. I wanted to learn more. I stayed up late into the night playing with designs and adjusting settings. The more I used WordPress, the more I wanted to use WordPress.

Sign Up and Dashboard
To sign up for a free WordPress.com account, you have to enter your blog’s desired address (free if it ends in wordpress.com or $17 per year at press time to buy a .com, .org, .net URL), a username, password, and email address. At sign up, you can also select your preferred language.

Domain names are a big consideration for serious bloggers. WordPress.com’s option to buy a domain name right at the sign-up point removes the hassle of trying to figure out where to register your own domain name and how to integrate it into your WordPress account.

Like WordPress.com, Posterous also offers to handle registering a domain name for you for $24.99 per year (or $129.90 for 10 years) with 50 email addresses included, and full legal ownership and DNS control given to you. Blogger doesn’t offer this option currently, keeping its hands clean of unique domains. You can use your own domain in Blogger, but Blogger won’t do the heavy lifting for you. Tumblr is in the same boat, and slightly less helpful than Blogger when it comes to integration.

WordPress.com’s dashboard looks like a dashboard. The environment says, “Come, creator, and build something behind the scenes!” It looks more like software than web design, and for that, I’m thankful. With Tumblr, on the other hand, I struggled with not being able to tell when I was in the dashboard and when I was looking at the front end of a site. Tumblr’s back-end design says, “Use our product, or well, since you’re here, why don’t we distract you with some other blogs and pop culture stuff?” WordPress.com labels its dashboard categories clearly (e.g., Posts, Media, Settings, Appearance), an important point of business for software because that’s how you get to your deep controls. It does take some time to learn by heart where the tools are nested, but until you’re fluent in WordPress, intuition can guide you fairly well.

Article source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2299388,00.asp

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