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All Blogged Out

May 30, 2006

Websites are organic. Some of your better commercial sites like Amazon, or the search engine cornerstone of the internet Google, don’t do a whole lot of visible tweaking. Behind the scenes, of course, the technology is constantly changing. Back in college a gent from Amazon’s database team gave a talk to our Software Development class. He had a lot of perspective on the evolution of the DB systems there, and over the course of about three years they used half a dozen schema. On less formal sites like Randomdialogue.net and Pixiepalace.com, I’m less ambitious because I’m lazy.Lazy or not, in the last year I’ve switched my site from my own home-grown blog system to Blogger and I’ve moved Katie’s Movable Type site over to WordPress. As such I’ve had the chance to get a feel for all three of these popular blog publishing packages. I’ll lay out my experiences with each of these packages, and state what I have and haven’t liked about each system.

Movable Type

SixApart’s blog publishing software was the bee’s knees in late 2003/early 2004. The same company that has since gone on to purchase LiveJournal was *the* system to use when Katie asked for a simple-to-use site in March of 2004. I put together the package on her site with no reservations, and have since come to regret that decision. Not long after we published Pixiepalace, Movable Type went commercial, effectively ending support for non-pay sites using the blogging package.

MT offers up a pretty standard WYSIWYG input box, along with basic formatting. Blog entries can be categorized, but only one can be associated with an entry when you first post it. To add more categories to a post, you have to go back and edit it. You can manage additional pages outside of the blog format via the system, but it’s somewhat kludgey. There isn’t any organization to the pages, other than alphabetical. They do allow for different templates on the pages, but they don’t allow for categorization. Overall, MT offered a solid blog publishing and editing package.

The real problem was Spam. Katie’s site was marked almost from day one by spambots, and I tried with all due diligence to kill them off. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get a break. The first thing I rolled out, of course, was Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist, and for a time this stemmed the tide. Anytime something unsavory got posted, Katie would swing the Banhammer. Spammers always beat out the tech, though, and soon the flood was back. I tried two other additions, one similar to Blacklist (supplementing it), and another adding a whole comment management system to MT’s admin page. Neither of them were very memorable, and I can’t for the life of me recall what I used at this point. I even renamed the comments page to avoid the simplest of the autospammers. We finally were reduced to moderating every comment, so she could manually approve friendly comments and /kickban the baddies.

I’ve heard some good things about MT 3.x, but my experiences with the system have left me with a very sour taste. I’m not supremely technically skilled, but other more clueful admins have had problems as well, so I don’t feel so useless. While it was once a thing of beauty, I can no longer recommend MT as a wise choice for blog publishing.

Blogger

When I retired my aging home-grown code, I was looking for something that would replace the publishing portion of the site, and nothing else. Blogger fit the bill perfectly. Blogger does nothing but push out the text in a formatted fashion, write to archive pages, and update an atom feed. The interface is about as advanced as Movable Type’s. Blogger also offers some additional ways of submitting posts. There is a moblogging system where you can email or text message in your posts, and the templating system is very intuitive for someone who’s not interested in messing around with CSS. If you are a CSS ninja, you can reskin the site that way too.

Downsides are numerous compared to more robust systems. You can’t publish to the future, manage out-of-blog pages, or categorize posts. The templates are nice, but there aren’t that many options available within the system. The commenting system Blogger offers isn’t all that great, so many users utlize external systems (like HaloScan on this site). There is also the possibility that the Blogger site can be unavailable when you want to publish a post, though that has yet to happen to me.

Thanks to the HaloScan system, I’ve yet to have a single piece of comment spam. Other than that, my experience with Blogger has been merely adequate. I appreciate the fact that it requires no database backend, operating off of pure html. I recommend it as an extremely simple way to set up a blog, and if you don’t have your own web space it’s probably the only system I would recommend. Google’s pet blog system does what it does with a minimum of fuss. If you’re looking for bare bones, it’s good mojo.

WordPress

Frustrated and annoyed with the MT system, I began looking around for a replacement. EmotionEngine and Nucleus CMS were considered by both of us, but WordPress just impressed to hell and gone.

Besides the basic publishing setup, WordPress offers up several bells and whistles. You can hide parts of the post below a cut, and post to the future. Categories and subcategories are supported, and ownership of posts can be modified on the fly. WP supports pages within the system, complete with categories and comments. The system also allows for tracking of links, with categories of their own.

The links can be displayed, along with every other piece of content on the site, in whatever way you’d like. WordPress has a series of simple interface php functions that can output the database’s information pretty much any way you want. The skinning function is so malleable that the WordPress-using community has spawned an entire realm of easy-to-use Themes. As much as I hate shopping, skimming the Theme community’s works was a lot of fun. We looked through a couple of dozen packages before arriving at the one Katie is using.

WordPress also offers the ability to utilize compact pieces of code, referred to as Plugins. Plugins are simple add-ons to a website, each with a specific purpose. There are Plugins for almost every tweakable aspect of a site you’ve ever seen. They’re easy to install, and can be combined with Themes to create extremely powerful sites that look and act nothing like the typical WordPress install.

WP finally does what blogging packages have tantalizingly promised since they started seeing widespread use. If you don’t want to munge code, you don’t have to. You can expand your site if you know how to read, and are able to download and upload. The system realizes the egalitarian dream of the interweb: My mom could use this with a little prompting.

WordPress is so shiny it hurts. My best analogy is that my wife and I have been putzing along in VW Wagons, only to find that we could have been driving BMWs the whole time. To add insult to the injury of other blogging systems, WordPress even has several user-friendly ways of importing content from other systems. If you’re looking to start a new site or are tired with your current one, I can’t fall over myself enough to suggest WordPress.

If you do decide to switch to WordPress, I have commentary on Pixiepalace.com about the transition process. Happy Blogging!

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  2. Buon luogo, congratulazioni, il mio amico!



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