Keeping the pace of these blog platform reviews hopping, here’s the next one about GreyMatter by Joni M. Mueller. I have to say, the review itself is great, very well-written, thorough and honest. Honest to the extent that, althought Joni obviously loves the platform, she admits it may not be for everyone.
My summary of the review: It’s a server-side, PERL-based platform, like Movable Type, which means, among other things, it requires rebuilds of the archives when you make significant changes to the templates. Joni tells how this process early on crashed her then mom-and-pop web host’s servers and she was polited asked to take her web site elsewhere. (Bad blogger! Yikes!) Also, GreyMatter is no longer being actively developed by its principal developer, although there remains an active, die-hard community of plug-in and hack makers. It is also not so easy to install for novices. For those reasons, Joni suggests it’s better for those who like playing around with the underside of the tools and maybe not ideal for most corporate blog installations.
Read her whole review for yourself below. Please offer your feedback on both the review and especially the platform in the Comments thread.
General performance. What makes this different/better than other blog publishing platforms?
GreyMatter was one of the first Perl-driven blogging tools out there. That was back when the choices were Livejournal, Blogger and GreyMatter. The difference with GreyMatter was of course its power. At that time, it offered things that the other blog tools did not. GM was written and developed by Noah Grey.
What are some of the best advantages about this platform?
It offers powerful blogging tools like a calendar, searching, comments, IP banning and karma voting, something even today seldom offered in any other blogging tool. Most people probably would never use the karma voting feature of GM, but it might come in handy for a review site (books, DVDs, software, etc.).
One of GM’s best features is its ability to be completely customized. There are a dazzling, if not daunting, array of templates with which to tweak and customize your layout.
What are some of its disadvantages?
Because it is based on Perl, not PHP, the rebuilds that plague other Perl-driven sites also plagues GM. And if your site is hosted on a small server (as mine was way back when), you may end up crashing your web host’s servers. This is not likely to endear you to them, nor GreyMatter to you.
Another disadvantage GreyMatter has is that you have to know your way around an Unix server pretty well and understand completely the difference between an URL and a server path to install GreyMatter. Either that or know someone who does. The installation of GreyMatter is not for the novice.
Also, because GreyMatter is no longer being actively developed by its creator, it will likely stall out at its current version, 1.3. However, there’s a close-knit community of GreyMatter enthusiasts who have taken up the torch and offer a robust and active support forum, where new plugins and hacks are being engineered constantly. GreyMatter is no longer in the forefront of the blogging world, if it ever was, but it’s keeping stride with its bigger competitors and has a very loyal fan base.
What’s the killer feature, if there is one?
There are two features that I think have the “wow” factor above all other blogging tools:
- As mentioned before, its karma voting feature.
- GM creates a log, as does MovableType, of all the activity on your site. But unlike MovableType, GreyMatter alerts you to any hacking attempts that occurred and provides the hacker’s ISP. (See Fig. 1)
What features does it lack or need fixing?
Streamlining the cumbersome installation process would be a plus. There was a very big security issue about a year ago for those running GreyMatter in conjunction with PHP. But the flaw was isolated and patched and it’s just as safe as any other Perl program now.
Where does the publishing engine reside? On its own hosted servers, like Blogger or TypePad? On your own web server, like Movable Type? On your desktop, like Userland Radio? Other? (Outerspace?) What advantages/disadvantages do you see in this approach?
GreyMatter is very much like MovableType in that it must reside on its own server. As mentioned before, you must have a robust web host. When I first installed GreyMatter, my site was hosted by a local ISP, a true “mom and pop” operation. In no short order, GreyMatter apparently ran amok on a rebuild and the ISP operator had to shut the servers down for several hours while he found the offending program (GreyMatter). I was asked, albeit nicely, to find another server from which to run GreyMatter. I am happy to say there are many web hosts out there who can handle GreyMatter and the strain it can sometimes place on a server. There are many, though, who have taken the stance that it is a hoggy program and will not allow it on their servers.
What’s the geek factor on this? How comfortable can non-technical people be with it?
On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the Geekiest of Geeks, I rate GreyMatter a 7 on the difficulty level. There is difficulty in its installation, and further difficulty if you are an HTML novice in dealing with its vast array of templates. Once you’ve mastered both, however, you will find GreyMatter very powerful.
What’s the learning curve? Totally intuitive? Lots of features, thus requiring more time to familiarize yourself with all of it?
The learning curve is a bit steep, but the rewards are worth it in terms of having the ability to create your layout exactly as you want it. Spend a bit of time getting to know GreyMatter’s templates and how they work. The documentation is very informative and easy to understand. It reviews all the tags and their possible uses so you get a good understanding of what you need to set up to get your blog up and running, while you work behind the scenes on the layout.
What’s involved in setting it up? If you’re not technical, do you need help?
While the installation can be troublesome, GreyMatter does have a diagnostic utility that checks to be sure you’ve made your files and directories writable, so if you haven’t it will be easy to go back and fix them so they are. The setup instructions walk you through configuring a hypothetical site so you aren’t left completely in the dark about how to set up GreyMatter. But someone who’s never messed around with FTP and CHMOD or used Tel-Net or the Unix shell commands is going to need to go through some trial (and error) by fire!
Are there platform restrictions? (E.g., PC/Mac, APS vs. Linux servers, SQL Server, etc.)
There aren’t any restrictions that I’m aware of, but you must have a minimum of Perl and access to your cgi-bin folder to install GreyMatter.
Who produces it? Is it an open-source community, a labor-of-love by some programmer, a company with financial backing? What is the likelihood this development team is going to still be at it a year or two from now, providing new features, etc.?
GreyMatter was created and developed by Noah Grey, a photographer. He continued development and support for GreyMatter until around 2002 or early 2003, when he announced that he would no longer be developing it. Then, support for GreyMatter through its forum was taken over by FoshDawg, who maintains the forums and keeps track of the various hacks and mods that continue to be written for GreyMatter as of this writing!
Where is the software developed? How is language support in English (the web site, the manual, the support communities, etc.)? Other languages?
Other languages are supported through mods/hacks found here.
What’s the pricing of it?
GreyMatter is free (although it is not open source), and there are no licensing fees for personal or commercial use.
Is there tech support?
Yes, through the GreyMatter support forum.
Is there a good user manual?
There is an excellent online installation and user manual that ships with GreyMatter. It is very detailed and walks you through the installation and configuration of GreyMatter. It can be viewed here.
Is there a third-party developer community? If so, how active?
Is there a vibrant user/support/forum community? If so, what are the URLs of such?
Is there support for photos galleries?
GreyMatter natively supports uploading of images and because of its large assortment of customizable templates, it is well-suited to a photoblog, but not “straight out of the box.” Here’s a tutorial on creating a photoblog with GreyMatter.
Is there a built-in Blogroll/Link List kind of feature to manage blogrolls?
Unfortunately, no. However, most people are familiar with and use Blogrolling.com, which a user is certainly free to incorporate into his or her GreyMatter blog.
Can you post via email? Mobile phone/moblog?
Yes, you can post via e-mail only through a hack/plugin found here.
Does it email posts to subscribers who so choose?
Yes, through another hack/plugin found here.
Anything notable in the archive features?
Because of GreyMatter’s array of templates, it’s possible to completely separate your main entries’ style from that of your archives.
Does it support comments? Comment-spam filtering? If so (the latter), what’s the approach?
Comments are natively supported in GreyMatter. It also has a mod/hack that verifies that the commenter’s email address is valid. That can be found here.
Does it support trackback?
Through a plugin, trackbacks and RSS feeds are now supported. One such hack can be found here.
Any idea how well it works on a Mac, with Mozilla or other non-W2K IE platforms?
I have no way to test it on a Mac, but I know that it (the GM control panel; I have no control over your GM-powered website!) renders fine on all the Gecko browsers, in Opera 6 and 7, in Avant and IE6.
Does it pioneer any other new blog features that other platforms don’t have?
GreyMatter is no longer being actively developed, but new plugins and “hacks” are being written for it constantly. Most of these are simply features that allow GreyMatter to keep step with the rest of the blog tools out there, so it’s not breaking any new ground right now.
One plugin/mod/hack that I think is worth having is the spellcheck hack.
Does it support multiple authors? If so, does it have decent permission controls? (E.g., can you limit authors to publish only to draft?)
GreyMatter supports an unlimited number of authors and you can restrict them through the control panel. (See Fig. 2)
GreyMatter doesn’t have a “draft” setting per se. But it has a unique feature where you can open or close an entry. This causes it not to be shown on your site. And if you decide you want to reopen the entry, you can do so at the click of a button. (See Fig. 3)
Also, not asked, but worth mentioning is that if you want more than one GM blog on your server, you must install each separately. And there’s no “miniblog” or other way (other than through complicated PHP calls) to run both blogs on one page.
Does it support a simple modular design for page elements? (E.g., when editing templates, are things like blogroll lists, sidebar elements, headers, etc., managed as separate entities, or are they all just in the HTML of a single template?)
Yes, it does. It has separate sections for a “header” and a “footer” so that constant information (such as copyright and colophon information, often contained in a footer) can be written once and called by any page in the GreyMatter template scheme.
Is it well suited for public corporate blogging? Why or why not?
I wouldn’t recommend it over MovableType or WordPress for several reasons. One, because it’s not supported any longer; two, because any PHP-based program (e.g., WordPress, pMachine) will place less load on one’s server and is leaner; and third, and most important, the learning curve on a program like this is fairly steep. You’d need one or two people in the company who are well-versed to set up the journal for all the other users. With other journaling programs being so much more popular and more widely supported, it’s just not something I’d offer as a choice.
Is it well suited for internal corporate blogging? Why or why not?
What other blog platforms have you used that you can compare this to?
*Denotes active testbed site and extensive use.
What else do we need to know about this system?
When it first arrived on the scene, it was an elegant program for those who wanted to roll up their sleeves and dive into the backend of a journaling program. With the advent of Blogger, and the growing popularity of blogs in general, people started wanting something that needed less know-how to get off the ground. MovableType seemed to strike a happy medium between geekishness and wham-bam click and go blogging. It still does, but since that time, there’ve been many more programs flocking to fill in any gaps. For the longest time, it seemed that GM and MT were in a dead heat. Perhaps had Noah Grey continued a more active role in GM, it may be in a different place today, but I could sit around and speculate all day. In sum, GreyMatter is a great program, if you are willing to hunt down the mods and hacks for it. If you like complete control over every single detail and every single piece of output of your blog program, GreyMatter still has that thrill factor.
I asked the author to add in a few other questions, which she graciously did:
Does it have a spell checker?
Not natively, but you can via a plugin.
Does it have a wiki-publishing component?
Can you easily set up multiple weblogs from one account or installation of the blog publishing software, or must you create multiple accounts or installations?
You must install separate instances of GreyMatter in your cgi-bin folder if you want multiple blogs running GreyMatter on the same server. Also, there is no way to call one GM blog from within another so you can’t have a sideblog or miniblog.
Does it support categories? If so, how about hierarchical categories (e.g., Movies/Horror, Movies/Comedies, Movies/Thriller, Books/Fiction, Books/Biographies, and so on)? What about suppressed categories? (That is, in the monthly archive, publish all except the “Breaking News” category)?
GreyMatter does not natively support categories, but does so only through a plugin. Caveats abound with this plugin as it apparently alters GreyMatter’s underpinnings quite a bit.
Does it let you easily create a “remaindered links” blog-within-a-blog, a la Anil Dash’s Links Blog? (Obviously, you can kludge this in most systems, but I’m wondering if some blog software has it off the shelf.)
No, and there doesn’t appear to be a plugin, mod or hack that will accomplish this either.