International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Many travellers are "lite-bloggers" without even realising it. They share photos and anecdotes, relying on Internet tools like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to update their families and friends about their journeys.
But for other travellers who dream of keeping their photos and stories in a personal travel blog, several tools bridge the gap between posting status updates and creating a complex website.
On 13 March the social networking site Twitter bought the free sharing, lite-blogging site Posterous, marking yet another step in the field of easy-to-use blogging software. Last summer, similar platform Tumblr gained its 20 millionth user, overtaking the previous giant of blogging platforms, WordPress. Meanwhile, WordPress rolled out new features for speedier and more intuitive use, and Google-owned Blogger continues to experiment with unique functionality.
So which of these blogging platforms is best? All are free to use and all allow users to update their blog via e-mail, by attaching photos and media files. Additionally, these platforms give travellers the option to publish their posts to a social networking profile, or alternatively, to keep everything private.
Best when images and simplicity matter most
Founded in 2007, Tumblr is essentially image-based blogging, letting a photo speak a thousand words, whether it's a picture of a delicious Eisbecher (ice cream sundae) you're having on a trip to Germany or a photo of your kids playing on the beach. Images run large, with the option to make them take up the full size of a screen, which is why Tumblr has become a hit with people who don't want to stress out about writing fully formed thoughts. Unlike other platforms, it encourages users to post quotes, music or video, presenting these items robustly and artfully. Tumblr requires only about 15 minutes to set up and mere seconds to update. Its apps for Android and Apple devices make blogging-on-the-go with a smart phone easier than any rival service. Tumblr also stands out for its trail-blazing user interaction features. For example, you could have your friends and family members set up accounts and then follow your "Tumblelog" to have updates flow into their news feed, called the Tumblr Dashboard, sparing users from having to actively visit your travel blog. They can also re-post content from your blog to share with friends, and add comments under their own name. You can control who has access to comment and see your blog.
Best if multiple people will be posting
Google-owned Blogger allows users to publish their first post within 30 minutes of starting, or even sooner if the user already has an account with Google. Blogger has a simple interface for writing posts and uploading photos, which is similar to using a Web-based e-mail service to write an e-mail. Uniquely, users can also write a post in Microsoft Word or Google Documents and then import it into their blog. Blogger also offers "viewer customisation", meaning readers can choose to see your blog in their preferred format -- such as magazine style (with sprawling horizontal layouts) or e-mail-inbox-style (with a series of bulletins) -- by adding "/view" onto the end of any Blogger-powered website address (take a look at travel writer Pauline Frommer's Daily Briefing ). In another perk, the blogging platform allows up to 100 users to update a single blog, which means there is plenty of access for friends on a group trip. On the downside, Blogger presents images in default formats that are small and formal looking (a bit stuffy for a travel-themed blog), and its templates — or pre-made formats—aren't as stylishly and colourfully-designed as those offered by its rivals.
Best when presentation and details matter
WordPress is the leading open-source blogging platform that provides the most sophisticated controls of all of the tools mentioned here. Unlike the other sites, you can store your content on your own server (for free), which means you can easily have your own URL, and the only person who controls your data is yourself — no one can post ads on it or republish it without your permission. The faster option is to cook up a blog that is stored on WordPress.com (also for free). The site offers a vast array of templates for presenting your content; multiple users are also allowed. Setting up can take hours, though, depending on the level of customisation you desire. It also lacks the intuitive and fast socialising tools of Tumblr. But if your plan is to start travel-blogging to earn money, either by selling ads on your blog or by using your blog as a platform for selling your travel books or photography, then WordPress has the best tools. The platform makes it easy to add advertisements to your blog and it often appears high in search engine results when people are looking for blogs on your travel topic.
One to avoid
Posterous was founded a year after Tumblr and introduced several innovations that were quickly copied by Tumblr, such as the ability to update your blog by sending an e-mail message to a special address. The two platforms spent recent years copying each other's moves, and they're fairly indistinguishable now. Posterous's main claim to fame among travellers has been its streamlined way of keeping images and text private, optionally limiting access to friends and family who Posterous users authorise. Sadly, the consensus of tech experts is that Posterous may now flatline, because most of the company's employees will switch to working on projects for Twitter. Posterous hasn't revealed its plans, but it pledges to shortly reveal how users can export their content to Tumblr and other sites. (Lifehacker has published its own exporting method, for users who can't wait.) The company's interest in providing a way for its users to leave their platform is a sign that it's not committed to growing.
Sean O'Neill is travel tech columnist for BBC Travel