Starting Your Own Blog, Privately
Recently, someone mentioned they wanted to start their own blog. My response, in which I outlined what I thought would be the best options, ended up being quite long. This gave me the idea of writing my recommendations for blogging using privacy-respecting tools up as an article. So, here is how to start your own blog, using privacy-respecting tools.
Note: the content of this post has some overlap with The Best Blogging Platform for Students; however, this will be more of a practical guide for starting your own blog.
It's helpful to decide up front whether or not your blog needs its own name. Domain names are easy-to-remember web addresses that anyone can buy with a domain-hosting service. These names are usually inexpensive, unless you pick a name with a high value. 'theprivacydad.com' was cheap, but I am sure a more general name like 'privacy.com' will be expensive, if it is even available.
A domain name can give your blog a clearer identity. Had I decided not to buy a domain name, then this blog would have been called
Having said that, it's perfectly fine to start out with the blogging platform's generic URL as your domain name; in many cases, you will be able to change it later.
Deciding whether or not you want a domain name may help you choose the right platform for your blog.
A second key consideration is deciding whether or not you are willing to learn Markdown. Markdown enables you to format your text using text-based annotation. For example, to write 'Markdown' in bold at the start of this paragraph, I preceded and ended the word with a set of two asterisks:
The advantage of using Markdown is that you can save formatting instructions in your written text itself. This avoids dependence on a particular software package for the correct formatting. I am sure we've all experienced at some point the layout mess that can occur when you try to convert a Word document with complex features into a Google Document. Writing in Markdown ensures you keep ownership of your words and your formatting.
Once you know the basics, you can format your text using Markdown symbols in any text editor. I began writing this article in Standard Notes, then copied it over to my Markdown editor of choice, Ghostwriter. These tools are free and mostly intuitive to use. I will write about specific Markdown editors at a later point.
If you are not interested in learning Markdown annotation, then you can choose a blogging platform that contains its own word processing editor. Some of the suggestions I'll list below have this option. A common, basic type of text editing is 'rich text editor'; computer operating systems have one built in.
What follows below has been updated since publication.
I have spent a long time looking for privacy-respecting blogging platforms and testing them out. There are many that require self-hosting, which is technically involved and won't be discussed here.
The recommendations below, in no particular order, are the best platforms I've been able to find so far for people who are interested in starting a blog privately without too much technical involvement.
1. Notepin.co, anonymous and free...but
The main webpage invites you to start your first post, which can be formatted by clicking on the word you want formatted. Once you publish, that's when you're asked to create an account.
2. Listed.to, publishing from the Standard Notes app
In my previous post on blogging platforms, I describe how to use Listed in combination with Standard Notes. I have also written up a detailed review of Standard Notes.
Standard Notes is an encrypted note app with a strong focus on privacy. Listed is an extension that allows you to publish any note to your blog. It is all straightforward to use, and can be done for free.
The free option does require knowledge of Markdown, as you are limited to plain text. With a subscription, you can just write and publish your blog posts using the rich text editor or other note-types, and not worry about Markdown for formatting or inserting tables.
Listed states that:
Custom domains are available for Standard Notes members with an active Plus or Pro plan. Domains include an HTTPS certificate, and require only a simple DNS record on your end.
3. BearBlog, all-in-one private blogging
I use BearBlog for this blog. BearBlog does require you to get familiar with Markdown, but there is good help on the site itself. Premium users can set up custom domain names and get good support from the developer.
I write my drafts in a Markdown editor (Ghostwriter), then copy the text over to BearBlog's online editor, and make the final edits there. Once published, I save a copy of the post, including Markdown annotations, in my note app. I've used this method for a long time and like it a lot. BearBlog is good on privacy and transparent in its policies.
4. Write.as, subscription-based service with strong privacy focus
Write.as came to my attention after I published my first article about blogging for students. One reader recommended it as another all-in-one solution for privacy-focused blogging.
I've been in touch with the creator and, like the BearBlog developer, found their approach open, supportive and interested in privacy.
Similar to Notepin.co, Write.as encourages you to start writing before signing up, though it then turns out this is a temporary demo. It quickly becomes clear that Write.as works primarily as a paid service with two different tiers.1 Reading through the details, it seems Write.as targets both beginning and professional writers, with included options like micropayments and team blogging.
Write.as contains a suite of separate tools (called 'Musing Studio') that enable image hosting, comment management and submissions.
While it is possible to use the software that runs Write.as for free by self-hosting it, that would require some technical know-how beyond the scope of this article.
Images and videos
One thing to keep in mind with these more minimalist tools is that you will need to either host the images you want to use yourself, or link to published images, and hope those linked images never get taken down.
Hosting images is simple—you should be able to use any image publishing platform. Keeping in line with the goal of privacy-focused blogging, I would recommend hosting your images on Pixelfed, a German decentralised alternative to Instagram.
To size and position images will require a bit more work on some of the above platforms and perhaps some HTML code. Here, I have found the BearBlog support really helpful. But you can also just insert images or just write text-focused articles, like I do here. Notepin.co enables uploading images in its paid version (currently not recommended), as does Write.as. Standard Notes currently requires linking to images hosted elsewhere, like BearBlog.
Comments and interaction
With BearBlog, I set up a subreddit to enable comments for each post on Reddit. Comments are not a feature of BearBlog by design. The only interaction is a small upvote arrow. While a bit of a pain to set up a separate comments page for each post, I like not having to worry about comment moderation on the published blog itself.
I don't see a comments box or other interaction features on Notepin.co.
With Listed.to, you can choose from a range of emoticons to respond to a post, but there is no comment feature. There is a 'Guestbook' option where readers can leave a comment on the blog in general.
The Musing Studio suite has a tool called 'Remark.as', which enables managing comments; keep in mind this feature will only be accessible for bloggers who pay a subscription fee.
Reader engagement, analytics and community
Once your post is published, you'll want to try and reach readers, and hopefully retain them. You may also find it interesting to see what other bloggers are publishing. I'll conclude this post with a brief overview of the tools to look out for.
RSS feeds enable readers to follow your blog without sharing their details; your newly published posts will simply feed into their news aggregator. I've tested RSS with the free and paid versions BearBlog and with Listed.to, and it works well in both. I don't see any mention of RSS in the Write.as pages, and have not been able to test it out myself. Update: someone pointed out that it is possible to get an RSS feed from a Write.as blog by typing '/feed' after the blog URL.*
Email subscription is another useful way to engage with your readers. BearBlog has a simple email subscription tool that registers the addresses but requires you to manually copy these to your email software to send out newsletters. I always make sure I paste these addresses in bcc for privacy. It would be nice to see this automated in future. Listed.to has a 'Subscribe' button if you use the paid version of Standard Notes; I can't remember at this point if that works in the free version too. You can also disable this option. Write.as allows up to 500 newsletter subscribers in their Pro tier and over 500 in their Team tier.
Analytics tools can give you an idea of how your posts are doing. You can see which posts are popular, which countries your readers are from and what platforms they are using. BearBlog has an analytics tool built in that gives me general but useful statistics; there is nothing there about specific readers, and you can opt to publish your analytics. There is a recommendation to pay for a privacy-focused analytics tool called Phantom, which I have not yet tried. I don't see any mention of analytics built in to the Listed.to platform. Write.as includes privacy-respecting analytics.
Finally, community pages enable you to see what other bloggers are writing. BearBlog has a 'Discover' feed that show trending and recent posts in two columns. I love the anonymity of this stream of published writing, and have over time made friends with fellow BearBloggers. The Discover feed, with all its random and sometimes profound thoughts make me wonder if this is the better version of the Internet that unfortunately never took hold. Putting musings aside, I don't see a community feed for Notepin. The community feed for Write.as' is called 'Read Write.as' and includes interesting features, such as a list of all contributors and links to a forum and Mastodon page to discuss writing. Listed.to has a community feed on its homepage, with featured and recent writers, a nice way to introduce newcomers to the community.
As I was browsing the various plans and instructions, it seems all four platforms give you some control about how public or private your want your blog posts to be, with toggles in the settings menus.
Blogging presents a strange conundrum when it comes to data privacy, because you are publishing your words online, for all to see. Privacy policies should address what happens to your personal data, for example, when creating an account, or paying money. But where are your actual words stored, and how? What happens to your words when you delete your own blog? Can the owner of the platform see the words themselves if a blogger opts for using it as a private personal journal? Who retains the rights of published material? What about AI training? I have reached out to all four platforms with these questions, and here's a brief overview:
- Since Listed is a public, searchable site, posts are stored as unencrypted, plain text, on servers not run by Standard Notes (see this overview)
- Listed blog entries and author records are technically not tied to a user's Standard Notes account data; most individuals will not be able to associate the blog with the author unless they introduce themselves on the blog
- To delete a blog or posts, Listed users must first delete via the Listed extension before deleting their Standard Notes account
- all data is stored in a Postgres database in the US
- There is no sensitive and non-public data stored on Bear, and is therefore private-by-default. For example, if the FBI provided a warrant to retrieve some data from Bear, they wouldn't get anything that isn't already publicly available on the blog
- the "you retain rights to your data" means that Bear does not have rights to your data. We can't republish it or, say, use it to train an AI model. When you take your blog down it gets completely wiped from the database and is unrecoverable
In this post, I have presented four recommendations for those who are considering starting a blog, but want to keep their work private and simple.
My vote goes to BearBlog. I can see that the requirement to learn Markdown may be a hurdle, but I found it quite fun to learn and like the extra control it gives me over my own texts. It is a great, minimalist blogging platform, developed with a clear and consistent vision.
The Standard Notes & Listed.to combination seems to add complexity, by asking you to publish your blog from a note-taking app, but you quickly get used to it, and, as with BearBlog, you can use quite advanced features for free. The paid version opens up a much richer blogging experience that enables writers to avoid Markdown. Listed would be my number two choice, after BearBlog.
Notepin.co seems a good option for quick, anonymous blogging. If you want more than that, you will need to subscribe, which I can't currently recommend.
Write.as does not offer a free tier for blogging up front (see footnote 1 below), though if you are tech-savvy, you could try self-hosting their software. This has unfortunately limited me to reading their documentation, rather than experimenting with the platform myself to gain first-hand experience. Write. as do have a clear vision and consistent focus on privacy, and I hope to experiment with the platform in future.
While I have made the distinction between free and paid-for features throughout this article, it's only fair to end here by stating that the subscription costs are very reasonable on all four platforms.
After some more research, I added the section on privacy above. I will update that as I receive answers to my questions from the developers.
After completing this post I remember that fellow blogger Kang has recently switched from BearBlog to a platform called Mataroa. I have not yet been able to try it out myself, but must say it looks really good and should probably be added to this list of recommended platforms.
Write.as free tier flexibility
For teachers on a limited budget wanting to use Write.as with students, it sounds like the people at Write.as are open to finding solutions; you just need to contact them. Same goes for other bloggers on a tight budget, by the sound of this article.
Recommended blogging tools:
Notepin.co (with some reservation)
(Mataroa.com, not yet tested!)
Listed/Standard Notes and Q&A pages
Further relevant tools and guides:
The Best Blogging Platform for Students
The Markdown Guide
Ghostwriter, Markdown editor (Linux, Windows)
Musing Studio, includes Remark.as tool
Phantom privacy analytics tool
BearBlog's Discover feed
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I have since learned that Write.as has a fair, flexible policy for new free accounts, as explained in this article.↩