Summary: Just a bit of mindless blather about blogging software, since I’ve spent a bit of time trying some alternatives out. Might be of interest if you blog. If not, I’ll only bore you.
If you read this by RSS, sorry for the reposts that seem to have been happening – I think it’s a result of me trying out different software for our blogs. Either modifying the Blogger settings to publish stuff ready for importing elsewhere caused it to make the whole RSS feed look new, or it knew exactly what I was playing at and it’s upset. Sorry, Blogger.
Still, just through it might be worth posting about my findings, in case it’s any help to anyone.
The defending champ of blogging here at PigPog. We’d gone our own way, with a load of home-made PHP scripts holding everything together, and it struck me one day that I was spending more time on the mechanics behind the site than on the content. Without content, PigPog was looking a bit sparse. I had a bit of a play, and discovered that Blogger could be persuaded to output PHP pages, using PigPog’s standard set of ‘includes’, so they’d fit in quite nicely.
We set up three blogs on Blogger – one for me, one for Sam, and a separate one for articles. After a while, we dropped the articles, then later added Filter and Quotes. It’s all worked quite nicely. We have access to any tools that support Blogger, but it all still gets neatly hosted on our own site, and looks like the rest of PigPog. There’s a bit of extra PHP work to make the front page stay up to date, but it’s nothing too complicated. It couldn’t be – I’m not much of a programmer, more of a copy’n’paster.
Why thinking of switching? Well, I was fascinated by trackback, and Blogger doesn’t do trackback. I also liked the idea of having everything under our control – if Google decide to change the way Blogger works one day, we could just lose our ability to blog. Old stuff couldn’t vanish, but it would give us a bit of a problem. I don’t imagine they would do anything to break things, but you never know.
Movable Type is the obvious choice. It’s commercial now, and because we have two authors (Sam and I), it would cost us $70. Not too much to pay if it’s good, but enough to think carefully about.
Installing it wasn’t too difficult, though there seemed like quite a bit of configuring in text files to do before uploading. With a few guesses at the settings, though, it didn’t take too long to have a working test blog.
I was slightly surprised at the lack of features. It’s not really that there weren’t many, but I’d expected more, somehow, for the money. We’d need a few extensions to make it really work the way we’d want it, and I’d still have to cobble a front page together in PHP. Customising looked like it could be a bit tricky, too, especially since it’s all written in Perl, and my brain falls over at anything more obscure than fairly simple PHP.
WordPress is an alternative to Movable Type. It’s open source, and it’s free (beer and speech). It’s also written in PHP, which is good.
I was impressed. WordPress was a fair bit easier to install than Movable Type. All went smoothly. A couple of changes to a text file, upload, then just point at the setup scripts to finish the job. It keeps you informed every step of the way about what it’s doing, too. It’s ‘Five Minute Install’ was just that.
WordPress continued to impress me. Setting everything up was pretty easy. Creating entries was pretty easy. The documentation was a bit lacking, but there wasn’t anything that was too difficult to figure out. Then I hit a problem. It only supported a single blog for a single installation. We already use four blogs, and we’re more likely to add to that than remove any. I tried working out ways to get around that with categories, but it would always be a problem. We could create four seperate installations of it on the server, but then we’d have to manage templates and such like across all of them, adding to the work.
One of the things that’s always been a bit of a problem for me with blogs is that they’re very good for date-related stuff – stuff that will only be relevant this month, but not so good for stuff that isn’t. I’ve written several articles about computing, and about productivity, but the only way to find them is to use Google, or to know what month they were written in, and scan through everything I wrote that month. It should be easier than that – visit my blog, click ‘computers’, and there should be a list of articles about computers. Same for productivity. Blosxom works a bit more that way.
Installing isn’t too bad. You are expected to get your hands dirty in the Perl script, but it’s well labelled. Upload the one script, and you’re done. There’s no fancy admin interface. Your blog entries are just text files you upload. It’s all pleasantly simple. The Zen of blogging.
But! No PHP
Then I hit the problem. It’s a Perl script. It chucks out HTML fine. I could make it chuck out PHP instead easy enough. PHP wouldn’t actually process it, though, so it was a bit pointless. I never really found a good way around this.
So in the end, I came around full circle, and decided to just stick with Blogger. There’s features that are missing, but I’m sure they’ll add them soon enough. If there’s no sign of trackbacks in a few months, maybe I’ll have a look around again, but for now, we’re staying where we are. I was in serious risk of wasting every bit of time on the mechanics there again – time to get back to the content.
Update: I did a bit more reading, and discovered that Movable Type uses PHP in dynamic mode. In static mode, it’s just chucking out text files, which can be PHP just as easily as HTML anyway. I’m having another play with it now, and I’ll report back later.