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Starting your own blog hosting site… Is it worth it?

For the past few days, I’ve been planning to put together a blog hosting website. A blog hosting site seems to make sense… Blogs are more popular than ever, and providing you have some unused web hosting space, you can use your existing webspace to put up a hosting site.

First, a few conditions I came up with for a successful blog hosting site. After all, with MySpace, MSN Spaces, Blogger, WordPress, and then the realm of blogging sites you can install on your own webspace, there’s really a lot of competition.

  • free (most of the popular blog hosts are)
  • profitable (gotta pay for the domain name and web space at the very least)
  • easy to use, feature filled blogging available
  • somewhat easy to maintain

Now here is the big problem. At the very least, it has to pay for itself. Usually this is where forced ads come in (Google’s Adsense being popular). However, there are services like Blogger where you aren’t forced to eat ads. In fact, all they put on your blog is a small bar at the top. So unless you plan on putting ads on your main sign-in/sign-up page (which looks oh so unprofessional) you have to find something that makes your blog worth having advertising on it. Here’s what I came up with for that:

  • Offer more features, more templates than other hosts, etc.
  • Have the blog service “aimed” towards a certain crowd. For example, “educational blogs” free for people working at an educational institution. Use a domain name to coincide with this.

That’s really all I could come up with. After a little more pondering, I decided the blog site would have to be of the following:

  • Be free with a small ad at the bottom, or paid to have absolutely no ads, toolbars, etc.
  • Be free with no ads, hoping to make money by selling links or advertising from the main page of the site once it becomes popular.
  • Be paid, but offer ftp access to a subdomain so that the user can put on whatever blog software they want.
  • Be free, offering ftp access, but implementing code to attach an ad at the bottom of every page.

Really, that’s about it. With all the free quality blog hosting out there, the only way to get someone to pay for a blog is to make it entirely their own, without anything intrusive. Even then, they’re still sitting on a subdomain and for a few dollars more, they could just register a domain and find some cheap or free webspace. Otherwise you’re relying on ads, and with many other ad-free places out there, you don’t stand much of a chance.

There are a few blog hosting packages you can buy. The only worthwhile free one is WordPress Multi-User, which is built on WordPress (extremely popular blog software). It’s actually quite good and is making progress, but is still in development and not recommended for production use. Unfortunately, in addition to that, it’s also pretty limited in the options for the users. For example, they can’t customize their own templates unless you want to make your web space incredibly unsecure. Aside from that, you’re looking mainly at custom solutions, usually for a pretty penny.

The final nail in the coffin of this idea for me was when looking for a domain name. Even as a .ca domain name, all my popular picks were taken, and even quite a few that surprised me. The cards just weren’t right.

After the entire ordeal, including hours of reasearch and planning, I decided that this is just one of those endeavors that isn’t really worth it. The time and effort involved is huge, and to break even would be extremely difficult. There is already competition out there, and it’s fierce. Thinking about email, there used to be a whole whack of free email providers. Now, most have dried up, and aside from yahoo, hotmail/msn, google, and the other major players, all that is really left are the ISP’s, and hosting tied to a domain.

In short, I don’t believe that for anyone, starting their own hosting site will be worth it. However, for anyone determined to take the plunge anyway, here are some things I would suggest:

  • Find a ‘niche’ market. Direct your hosting towards them.
  • Offer something the other hosts don’t. Maybe an added feature, free webspace, built in chat, full customization of their templates, ftp access, the option to use their own blog software, an easier to use interface, *something*.
  • Remember to find a way to grab income. I’ve read about a few who have offered blogging for free, and are now out of webspace/bandwidth, and searching hard for donations. The blog site has to pay for itself in some way. It would be nice if you could be paid for some time too, but as long as you have the basics covered, the rest can be considered gravy if you want.