It’s not that hard to make bread. You simply need the right combination of flour, yeast and water, plus an oven to cook it in. With a little work, you can end up with a delicious loaf most of the time. Plus, you can customize the recipe to exactly your taste.

So why doesn’t everyone make their own bread?

Because it’s a kind of pain in the ass. A lot of things can go wrong, leaving you with a blob of sticky dough. It takes time. It requires bowls and pans that have to be washed, plus an oven that heats up your kitchen. And truth be told, most people aren’t exactly Nancy Silverton.

All in all, it’s much easier to buy a loaf at the store.

Blogs are like bread.

To make a blog, you need something to write about, plus software and hardware to put it on the web. 1

When I first launched in 2003, I assembled everything on my own computer, then uploaded it to a shared host. In baker parlance, I mixed the dough in my own bowls, then carried it down the street to the community oven to bake it. I was outsourcing the expensive hardware.

By 2004, I outsourced most of the software as well, running Movable Type on the shared server. Later that year, I switched to WordPress, which has continued to run the site ever since.

I like WordPress a lot. It’s remarkably easy to install and theme. It’s powerful and flexible. It has an extremely active development community, so if there’s a feature you’d like, someone’s probably already built it.2

But make no mistake: you’re still baking your own bread. Things can go wrong. Really, really wrong. And when they do, it’s a lot of work to fix it. A bad loaf of bread is disappointing. A bad error in your database can be catastrophic.

Over the weekend, there was a lot of uproar about a worm attack on WordPress installations that wrecked some notable blogs. Amid the sometimes-smug observations by the unaffected, I found one point that needs to be elevated to basic principle:

Most people shouldn’t be running their own blogging software.

Services like Tumblr, Posterous and Blogger are excellent and free., the hosted version of WordPress, gives you 90% of the benefits with none of the hassle.

In 2003, I had to run my own software. There was no choice. But if I were starting a blog from scratch today, I would do it on one of these services.3

Some people like making bread.

For all the hassles, there are some benefits to doing things yourself. Just like the artisanal baker can tinker with a recipe, the self-hosted blogger can tweak things just to his liking. He also has more control over his content — some services make it difficult to migrate.

In a month or two, I’ll be launching a revamped version of this site, which will continue to use WordPress. That means I’ll have to keep up with security updates, backups and a lot of general troubleshooting. There will be more worm attacks and self-inflicted wounds. I’ve decided it’s worth it. For most folks, it’s probably not.

If you’re considering starting a blog, ask yourself whether you really want to bake your own bread. Odds are, you probably just want a sandwich. Buy a loaf and get to it.

  1. Countless blogs are started without the “something to write about” part figured out, which is usually why they go dead after three weeks.
  2. This weekend, I installed a plugin that automatically sends a backup of the site to my Gmail account. Total time: five minutes.
  3. Also over the weekend, I nuked a few stray WordPress installations that had gone fallow. One of the pitfalls of WP’s easy installation process is that it’s tempting to throw up a site to test a concept. A year later, that mostly-empty blog is an attractive nuisance. I suspect that 80%+ of WP installations fall into this category. I’d propose the install scripts like Fantastico default to closed comments and randomized admin usernames.