September 1, 2014

How to Restart a Blog When You’ve Been on Hiatus for Three Years

Posted by: of Stephan on 05/14/13

I left my blog dormant for a few years, but I’m finally back in the saddle! I drafted up a post entitled “How to Restart a Blog When You’ve Been on Hiatus for Three Years” because it seemed fitting. Here are my main points to get you started:

1. Jump in and write something. No apologies. Or a lengthy explanation or justification for being off the grid.

2. Get some tools or processes in place that will make it as painless as possible to post. Like Dragon – which incidentally is available as an iPhone/iPad app.

3. Hire a virtual assistant if that will help you. (More on using VA’s in a future post).

4. Roll out a site redesign at the same time to let everybody know you’re reengaged and committed.

5. Don’t try to get all your readers all caught up on your life all in one post. You’ve got plenty of fodder for many blog posts – so save it for later.

6. Finally, silence the perfectionist in you. I have this bad habit of pouring over my blog posts – my articles even more so – trying to make them perfect. I put a dozen hours or more into articles on search engine land. That’s crazy. That’s not good use of your time. Much better to freeze all those great ideas and insights stuck in your head – share them with the world. It’s okay if the sentence structure isn’t always on the mark. It’s a blog post for Pete’s sake.

Windows Desktop Blogging Software

Posted by: of Online Marketing Blog on 05/17/07

Sometimes, writing blog entries via a web form just doesn’t work. That’s why I’m looking forward to Mariner Software’s new blogging client called WinJournal. The WinJournal name might be familiar since Mariner Software also created MacJournal.

Currently in beta testing mode, WinJournal offers journaling, blogging and podcasting in one application. The blogging capabilities work with all popular Windows blogging software including: MovableType, TypePad, WordPress, Live Journal, Blogger and Windows Spaces. WinJournal also allows you to publish blog entries to a web server via FTP so it can be used as a web site editor as well. WinJournal can also be used to write entries stored locally.

Other options include: wiki style links, spell check, auto save, security/encryption, WYSIWYG text editor, calendar, multiple journals, labels, full screen mode and tabs. There is also a skins manager to change the look an feel of the WinJournal software. This is a good thing since the default skin under XP isn’t so good.

Other popular desktop blogging software includes: Qumana, , , , , Rocket Post 2 and Zoundry. Thomas has a short review on desktop and web based browsers at OMB.

TypePad Adds Technorati Tag Support

Adding Technorati tags to posts has never been easy in TypePad. In fact, I created a little movie a while back so that clients could watch it as many times as they like.

But now TypePad has added a Technorati Tags field near the bottom the New Post page. Just separate your tags with commas and you’re all set. No need to muck around with the Edit HTML tab.

While this is a good solution for most users, not being able to get under-the-hood does frustrate me on a few points:

  • I don’t like to brand my tags as “Technorati Tags.” I prefer the more agnostic “Tags.”
  • I like the flexibility of sending those links to places other than the Technorati tag pages. I.e., a tag on Search Engine Optimization could point to my page on SEO at my own Web site.
  • I prefer pipes over commas. (I know, small thing.)

However, if you’re a TypePad user and you’ve wanted to take advantage of tags (which help drive additional traffic to your site) without learning HTML, this is a great solution for you.

Now, what to do with my movie?

AWeber Offers Email Subscriptions to RSS Feeds

AWeber FeedMany blogs offer email subscriptions to their blog, usually via Feedblitz or Bloglet. As I mentioned in a previous post, now AWeber, more well-known for its autoresponder service, is also offering an email broadcasts of RSS feeds.

What I like about service is how customizable it is; you can create an HTML template that complements your blog design. AWeber also offers a series of predesigned templates for you to choose from. HTML and plain text versions are automatically generated. Confirmed opt-in is required, so you’ll only be sending these emails to people who really want them, keeping you safe from charges of spamming.

There’s no additional fee for this service for people who are already AWeber members, but membership is $20/mo. (AWeber memberships also offer powerful autoresponders and the ability to publish email newsletters.)

I especially like the flexibilty you have with the layout and the ability to add messages to outgoing emails. In the example above, you can see that I created links to articles on my Web site. Through the admin system these messages are easy to change, even if you’re not comfortable with HTML. There is also the ability to track clickthrus and view other reports. You can also choose how many posts will appear in a single email broadcast.
Two things I don’t like about the current AWeber offering, however:

  1. You can’t choose between full text and excerpt; the system automatically limits your email with a “Read more…” link.
  2. Images and links you may have created in your feed do not carry into the email version.

Tom Kulzer, the CEO and Founder of AWeber says both these features are being considered for a future release.

One other thing that may work against AWeber is the fact that Feedblitz now offers many if not all of these feed related services, plus others, for just $4.95/mo. Although I haven’t yet tested Feedblitz, it appears to offer a compelling alternative.

iWeb: Apple’s New Blogging Platform

Announced during MacWorld earlier this week was the release of iWeb, a new part of iLife ’06.

iWeb includes blogging software and integrates seemlessly into the rest of iLife, which includes iPhoto, iMovie and iTunes, among iOthers. By using the rest of the suite, bloggers will have drag-and-drop options, such as dragging an iTunes playlist into the blog. Of course, links will be automatically created to the iTunes music store where visitors can purchase said songs.

Although the software seems to be targeted to personal bloggers rather than business bloggers, a lot of creative types such as ad agencies are likely to give this platform a try, giving it a certain inevitable buzz.

Will iWeb impact the blogosphere? I don’t know…did the iPod change the way we listen to music?

I got this through Wired, which had an opportunity to put iWeb through its paces.

WordPress.com is out of beta! Come and get your (better) free blog!

Posted by: of A View from the Isle on 11/24/05
No more Golden Tickets required to get your own free WordPress.com blog.  The hosted, free WordPress blogging platform/service is now open to all.  I was lucky enough to get an invite early on and that experience made me a huge fan of WP.  I’m now a big proponent of using it for DIY installs.  It’s easy, works well, and is pretty easy to skin/design.

wordpresscom.jpg

Blogger, watch out … you certainly have your work cut out for you.  WordPress.com blows you out of the water, frankly.  I guess, Matt … I hope you and your team are ready for the onslaught.  I hope you don’t get slammed with curse of popularity.
 
Hat tip to TipMonkies where I saw this first.
 

More TypePad Time Outs

Posted by: of ExecutiveSummary.com on 11/16/05

Typepadtimeout_1I
was setting up a client’s new blogs in TypePad this afternoon when I
got this error. You may wonder why I’m still using TypePad for blogging
clients…I’m wondering the same thing myself.

What’s more frustrating is the only option is to click the OK button. How about a "Not OK" button?

This is just a day after TypePad users received an email from TypePad offering a
rebate on 0, 15, 30 or 45 days, depending on how much the user was
affected.

While we are not done with our work, and
there is always the chance of outages on any web service, we believe
that the worst performance is behind us, and it is now time to focus on
how we can make these problems up to you.

Well, I
was debating between 15 or 30, but I’m glad I held off. Now I’ll take
the full 45, though I’m not  sure that will make a difference.  Business bloggers need a platform they can rely on, not a rebate when it goes down.

This feels like a dysfunctional relationship where I keep on hoping my significant other will change and everything will be fine. And we all know how those turn out.

I’m sick of TypePad!

Posted by: of A View from the Isle on 11/8/05
Okay, I’ve had it.  TypePad has been sluggish/down all morning (Pacific time) for me and I think their grace period is over.  I know that they’ve been having infrastructure problems.  I know they have plans in place.  But it doesn’t look like things are falling into place for them.  Look, I think the TypePad model is great.  I think MT is a super platform and this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Qumana blog and several of my other blogs are run on Blogware.  But, man, TypePad is just blowing it today.  This is further strengthening my case for true “business class” blog hosting.
 
I have something like 4 articles I wanted to publish to Business Blog Consulting but I can’t even get into the TypePad web interface to enter the posts in manually (lets not even talk about Qumana posting remotely).  Our discussions over at BBC are getting pretty serious about jumping ship.  Sorry Anil and Mena … hey we might even use MT for the new site, but I’ve had it.  We can’t run businesses like this.  I know that at least one colleague was due to train a client on TP today.  Hmm, that’s not going to happen.  Worse, many less tech savvy clients don’t really distinguish between a hosted system not in the consultant’s control and something the consultant has a hand in.  Not to mention the fact that the consultant recommended the system in the first place.
 
Look, I get just as frustrated at Blogware too.  Blogware, though, I know, is making real efforts to make things better.  How about you Six Apart?  Speaking of which, both Blogware and SquareSpace folks left comments on my post … guys?
 
Update: As you can see I am finally able to post this here on BBC.  I don’t speak for all the authors at BBC, only myself.
 
 
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SixApart’s Mena and Ben Trott explain current problems with TypePad

Posted by: of BlogWrite for CEOs on 10/27/05

Update (2 days later): SixApart’s CEO Barak Berkowitz provides more details. He posted his Message from the CEO to the TypePad blog and also sent it in an HTML email to customers:

Dear Debbie,  

As you might know, some of our users have been experiencing slow performance with the TypePad service over the past few weeks…

Pretty nice. To back up a minute… we (meaning a bunch of contributors to this blog) are taking partial credit for these blogged
responses from SixApart. We started complaining vociferously on
Wednesday Oct. 26th (first me and then Tris Hussey, Rich Brooks, Toby Bloomberg and Paul Chaney) about the recent slowness and outages with TypePad, SixApart’s popular hosted blogging service.

The result? SixApart co-founders Mena and Ben Trott posted a reponse,
the first real explanation we’ve gotten from the company after several
weeks of problems with TypePad. The number of TypePad blogs and the
activity on them (the good news) has outstripped their server capacity
(the bad news), they tell us. They’re working to move TypePad to a new
data center (which hasn’t been going smoothly).

Moral of the story? The blogosphere works. You kvetch enough. You get everybody’s attention. (Addendum: we’re quite pleased with the effect of our buzz campaign.) Now let’s  hope they can fix the problems…

Backstory
I sent Anil Dash
(a SixApart VP) several emails yesterday begging him to "listen up" and
to make lemonade out of lemons, so to speak. Anil is a friend and
colleague. I suggested he get the top dogs at 6A to acknowledge the
recent problems and address them more transparently than the cryptic
messages we get on 6A’s Status Weblog about "temporary service degradation."

He listened.

Another
takeaway… there are many channels of communication. You need to use a
combination of public and private ones. The blogosphere is a very very
public place. It’s not right for everything.

Is TypePad the Wrong Tool for Business Bloggers?

Posted by: of ExecutiveSummary.com on 10/26/05

As many active bloggers out there know, TypePad has been paaaaaaaainfully slow lately. If you have a TypePad account, posting has been somewhere between difficult and impossible.

Here at Business Blog Consulting
(the other BBC), behind the locked doors of our Yahoo Group, there’s
been a lot of chatter about leaving TypePad for greener pastures. 

Debbie Weil, over at BlogWrite for CEO’s and a fellow BBC blogger, takes TypePad to task with her post Listen Up SixApart: some of your TypePad customers may switch. Because Debbie’s, well Debbie Weil, Anil Dash from Six Apart actually responded on her blog.

I know that other BBC contributors plan on posting their own
thoughts both to BBC and to their own blogs in the next 24 hours, and
as I get a list of those posts I’ll update this post.

For me, this reminds me of the mid-90′s when AOL’s email went down for about two days.
People lost it. Businesses claimed they were being ruined. Congress
held hearings on what could be done. And Steve Case said something to
the effect that it showed how important AOL was to American Business.
(At least that’s how I remember it.)

I believe the lesson business owners learned from that is that
whatever your communication medium is, it needs to be rock-solid.
Piggy-backing your communications on a consumer product like AOL is no
way to run a real business.

Until recently I recommended TypePad as a platform for business bloggers…especially compared to Blogger,
which doesn’t have half the bells and whistles TypePad offers. However,
as more businesses turn to blogging as a legitimate marketing tool they
are going to expect enterprise-level solutions…not “waiting on
TypePad.com” messages.

The recent problems with TypePad and slowdowns at Technorati
show that blogging is growing at a mind-boggling rate; businesses will
continue to flock to it, and so will dollars. Whether TypePad is going
to be part of the solution for business bloggers or an also-ran will be
determined by how they respond to their current problems.

Hosted blog platforms need to move to “business class”

Posted by: of A View from the Isle on 10/26/05
I gather from my friends that TypePad had a little issue yesterday.  Okay, they were down or sluggish.  Blogware has had its share of problems too (Disclosure my personal blog is sponsored by Blogware).  Debbie vented her frustrations (here too) and in true Blogosphere style Anil Dash of Six Apart replied in a comment to her post.
 
I’m not going to bash SA here.  There’s no point.  The blog hosts are all having the same problems scaling.  Think about it realistically, how many blogs are created per day?  How many posts?  Top it off with occasional deluges of comment and trackback spam, and you have a real infrastructure issue to handle.  My hat is off to them for working hard to fix and prevent problems.
 
That being said, blog hosts are only slowly
becoming aware that for many of us our blogs are mission critical parts
of our marketing, communications, and daily life.  When Blogware has been
sluggish and I can’t update the Qumana blog … man you don’t want to
have sensitive ears in my presense for sure.  What is needed are
improved SLAs
and hosting for business users.  Squarespace is trying to reach this
market, but they built a whole new platform (Qumana supports
Squarespace, btw)-which means porting things over.  Painful at best,
terrible failure at worst.  I think TP and Blogware need to both
improve their architecture and start to offer a higher level of service
for business users.  Think about the opportunity here … business
users, is your blog critical?  Keep everything the same, but pay a
small increase in monthly cost for … benefits.
 
The other side of it is that many folks are going to start moving to install your own set ups.  At Business Blog Consulting we’re talking about moving to WP.
Seriously.  The move wouldn’t be that hard … lord knows we have
enough geeks capable of doing it.  There is both a threat and
opportunity here.  Let’s see how it all shakes out.
 
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Listen up SixApart: some of your TypePad customers may switch

Posted by: of BlogWrite for CEOs on 10/26/05

Update: SixApart’s Anil Dash responds.

As I wrote here and here a few weeks ago, I’m one of thousands running a business blog on TypePad. The service has been excruciatingly slow of late. (Just now I thought I’d tear my hair out while waiting for this post to Save.) Sometimes it’s down altogether.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a “trash 6A” blog entry. It’s a please please please listen to your customers before it’s too late message. The buzz is building. There’s talk of moving some high-profile blogs (including this one) to WordPress or another platform.

My advice? Post fast. Post fresh. Be transparent. The blogosphere is gonna bite if you don’t. And get something up on your Status Blog (which, BTW, doesn’t have an archive so it’s conspicuously not quite a blog) or on Mena’s Corner that acknowledges the problem.

C’mon guys. We love you! Don’t disappoint.

SixApart talks openly to customers about bad stuff

Posted by: of BlogWrite for CEOs on 10/13/05

SixApart is one of the companies largely responsible for the migration of blogging from personal musings to the small business and corporate world. Their hosted TypePad service has been wildly popular amongst professionals. IBM legend Irving Wladawsky-Berger uses TypePad (instead of IBM’s blogging platform); Seth Godin uses it. Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, uses it. Intuit’s QuickBooks uses it here and here. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America uses it. This blog uses it. And lots more.

So when the TypePad service goes down, as it did earlier this week, it’s a pretty big deal. Lots of business blogs disappeared for hours. And if you’re the publisher of one of them, as I am, it strikes fear in your heart. Has the damn thing been swallowed up? All those thousands of words gone forever?

Sixapart_status_blog_2

I was in a panic to put it politely. For me, and thousands of other customers, this was a crisis. Frustratingly, there was scant information at the time on SixApart’s supposedly real-time status blog.

Well, I’m delighted to report that 6A now gets this crisis blogging thing (see above). They’re talking to us. They’re telling us, candidly, what happened:

Both Monday’s and Tuesday’s outages were the result of hardware failures…

That’s really all customers want. We care more about being kept in the loop than about how bad the news is.

It’s just that we want the information in real-time, during the crisis. Tell us something, anything immediately. Acknowledge that there’s a problem (even a big problem) and that you’re working on it. But do it in plain English. Get the CEO to jump on the "status blog," if necessary. Don’t for heaven’s sake leave it up to your techies to pen one sentence about a "temporary service degradation." That’s jargon. It’s not communication.

Hard to do in a crisis, I know. But it’s the whole point of having a blog as a channel for real-time communication. To turn your customers, who are momentarily in a panic, into your evangelists. And who better than SixApart to model how this should be done. Thanks guys, for being responsive to my comments.

Note: turns out you can back up the contents of a TypePad blog into a file and download it to your computer. I just did it here. Now that would be a good tip to give TypePad customers, wouldn’t it? Doesn’t reflect badly on 6A and is a gentle reminder that these are just machines after all.

Okay Paul … here’s my review of WordPress.com

Posted by: of A View from the Isle on 09/27/05
Paul wrote a post yesterday about being invited to try the new hosted WordPress service.  He asked for a review … and well here are my thoughts thus far …
 
I’ve been playing with my new WordPress.com blog—ProBlogging How to—for a while now.  First thoughts, I really like it.  Qumana connects in a cinch.  I’ve been cross-posting and re-posting without problems.  The site isn’t getting much traffic yet, so trackback and comment management isn’t something that I’ve had to deal with.  On the down side, the admin/dashboard has been a bit sluggish at times and I would like to edit the template (I did choose a standard one, and really like it).  Beyond that, looks good.  Heck it is beta, gotta cut Matt some slack!
 
I’m very excited to have another serious blog hosting option out there.  Yes, I still like Blogware.  I also think TypePad and Bryght are solid too.  I am curious about the WordPress.com business model, though.  Is is going to be free? (Way unlikely, IMHO)  Ad-supported?  Tiered?  I’d love to know.  Matt, ping me … let me know, please?
 
 
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WordPress.com

Posted by: of Blogging Systems Group on 09/26/05

I just received an invitation to set up a WordPress.com (com, not org) blog. I did, and I like it. The interface is clean and more compact than the admin interface I’m used to. They have several decent looking skins, though I don’t like the fact you can’t access the source code. At least, I didn’t find a way to do it. But, then again, I didn’t spend much time on it either.

This is a hosted version of their platform, similar to how SixApart does it with Typepad. Of course, it’s free, just like the server-side version. It is currently by invitation only however. Just submit your email addy and they will extend an invitation to you at some point I feel sure.

I’d be interested to feedback from those of you who’ve tried it out, especially if you have a more in-depth review. I’m just not an in-depth review kind of guy. Heh.

What Do You Think of Blog-zilla?

Posted by: of Blogging Systems Group on 08/6/05

Blogzilla_2

I’m trying to decide if Blog-zilla is for real or a some type of blogspam program. I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you’ve tried the thing.

Drupal Blog Publishing Platform Review

Posted by: of ExecutiveSummary.com on 09/12/04

Our latest review of a blog publishing platform comes from Harold Jarche and Cameron Bales about Drupal. I knew relatively little about this platform, so I found this review particularly informative. It is thorough and generally quite positive.

Overall, the system sounds quite sophisticated, with advanced CMS (content management system) features that go beyond most blog platforms, particularly in regard to scalability and performance issues as well as administration controls. It is an open-source platform, like WordPress, with an active and growing base of developers and users. Also like WordPress, it is based on PHP, which aids its performance and scalability strengths, and like WordPress (and Movable Type), it requires users to have their own web server or web host. Read Harold and Cameron’s full review below.

Drupal Review

By Harold Jarche
Cameron Bales

Drupal (droo-puhl) is the English pronunciation for the Dutch word ‘druppel’ which stands for “drop.” Drupal is a website building system that allows blogs, stories (like slash), forums (like phpBB). You can set up a publishing workflow so some users are writers and some editors. It has XML/RSS publishing and Aggregation features. Once you figure it out, Drupal is easy to use with the basic features. The great feature about Drupal is how scalable it is. It can start as a small website, but expand into an enterprise CMS.

General performance: What makes this different/better than other blog publishing platforms?

If you are planning a large or busy site you may be excited by the search function, which will search all body text on your site, the cacheing, which pre-builds page content so there are not so many queries to the database so pages are sent faster, and the throttling, which will turn off high-cost features when the site is busy. Cacheing and throttling will allow your Drupal site to survive a “Slashdotting” better than many CMS tools. If you don’t have access to your logs, or for a different view on access to your site, Drupal has built in statistics so you can see what content is popular. You can use this to put up “Popular Today” or “Popular for All Time” information in your site.

Notes on performance:
opensource_performance.pdf
Comparing CMS Performance

What are some of the best advantages about this platform?

Drupal is not a hosted solution, so you will need to find a server. This is an advantage for those who wish to control their content, a critical issue after many years of blog posts, especially if you want to write the next Pulitzer-winning novel. For hosted Drupal solutions, a commercial alternative is Bryght.com.

Being more than just a blogging tool, Drupal is searchable CMS, allows you to quickly build a taxonomy (easy metadata), create static content, and add multiple bloggers. It is a complete web site, portal and blog tool.

The Drupal network uses a distributed authentication system, so that you can use the same login for any Drupal site that has the function activated. It’s one login & password, but for multiple sites. The Drupal community is quickly growing, with over 1,000 registered sites.

What are some of its disadvantages?

Because Drupal has so many features, and different authors have different ideas on the best way to control them, administering Drupal can be a bear while you are figuring out where the control you want is. And 5 months from now, the next time you want that control, again it can be frustrating to know it’s there, but not sure how to get to it.

Currently there is no easy way to upload a file (image, pdf…) with a post; you need to get the file on the server (image module, file upload module) and then know how to make the link to it. This should be fixed in the upcoming version 4.5.

Testing servers for upgrades, new modules, or radical new templates can be a hassle with Drupal, since you have to remember a few places to change the name of the server and clear the cache.

What’s the killer feature, if there is one?

With Drupal, you can start small, but it’s very powerful, so that this one system can stay with you as you grow. Drupal is first a CMS, but also an easy blogging tool, once it’s set up. The killer feature is content management.

Any content (blog entry, book page, image, poll, story) can be marked as “Published” (visible), “in moderation” (ready to be published/approved by editor), “Promoted on front page” (advertised; a portion of the beginning of the content will be show on the front page), “Static on front page” (similar but highlighted at the top above simply promoted items), “Create new revision” (keep copy of present version, and old version possibly with a note on what you changed).

You can set up different user groups with different roles and abilities: some can blog, some can write drafts of stories, some can post stories, some can comment, some can moderate comments.

What features does it lack or need fixing?

By default, Drupal has no easy tagging or WYSIWYG features; they must be installed by module so you can tell they are an accessory, not part of the core of the system.

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?

The publishing engine requires your own web server, or you can opt for a commercial Drupal service provider. This means that you have to purchase a domain, get hosting services and then setup the CMS. This is a disadvantage in terms of initial costs, but in the long run will give you more control over your content.

What’s the geek factor on this? How comfortable can non-technical people be with it?

Cam (the geek) found installing Drupal and getting it running the first time pretty simple. Harold (not a geek) did not even try. The instructions are good. You have to be sure the .htaccess file is read and mod_rewrite can work so friendly urls can work. Getting the basic database definition loaded was fairly simple using PHPMyAdmin. More difficult is the administration since there are so many features, installing non-core modules that may need database tweaks, and upgrades if you want to have a testing server. It is less geeky that TikiWiki and differently geeky than Gallery.

Once the main system was setup, Harold has had no difficulties maintaining content, tweaking the system and modifying the layout.

What’s the learning curve? Totally intuitive? Lots of features, thus requiring more time to familiarize yourself with all of it?

As mentioned, the learning curve is not too steep. You can set up a basic installation, and let it run. Later, you can add features and functions. Our sites have been set up in the course of a week, with probably a total of 6 to 8 hours of work, but some of this is loading graphics and getting the right look and feel.

What’s involved in setting it up? If you’re not technical, do you need help?

If you don’t manage your own webserver already, then it is strongly suggested that you get help with the installation. This is not a “setup everything in five steps” installation. Once set up, you will need almost no support.

Like most every open source project, the manual is aiming at a moving target so it may be covering a feature in a previous version; they cleverly don’t have screen shots and they allow comments on the manual pages of the site, so users who can’t edit the body of the pages can make notes on them.

Are there platform restrictions? (E.g., PC/Mac, APS vs. Linux servers, SQL Server, etc.)

Drupal is PHP-based, and Linux is the suggested operating system. Our installations are running on a Mac G4 with no problems at all.

The main code works with most any SQL database, but if you add contributed modules you may be restricted (often just mySLQ sometimes PostgreSQL or Microsoft SQL Server as well); check the docs for the specific module. “Friendly URLs” (no “?” in the url; better for users and search engines) will require mod_rewrite. Because the software resides on a remote server, you will need to make sure the remote backups are happening (possibly simpler than backups on your desktop). You may want to make sure you have access to a database admin tool like PHPMyAdmin if you want to poke around at your database by hand.

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.?

Drupal has been around for three years and has a good developer community. Drupal should be around for years to come. They recently celebrated the 10,000th node (forum topics, project issues, book pages, images and stories) since April 2001; that’s a good measure of how robust the online community is, and there is also a very good dialog in the mailing lists for support, developers, and another noting CVS changes.

The download page at the Drupal site lists about 100 third party modules and about 10 third party templates available for the current version of drupal.

Where is the software developed? How is language support in English (the web site, the manual, the support communities, etc.)? Other languages?

Language support for many single languages per web site (English, or German, or French, or Russian) is supposed to be good and getting better. Drupal doesn’t have good support for bilingual sites, but we haven’t found anything else that does either. The main site, manual, and mailing lists are almost entirely English.

What’s the pricing of it?

Drupal is GPL’d [i.e., free under the General Public License] and works with Apache or IIS web servers, PHP (4), and an SQL database.

Is there tech support?

Tech support is available through the online forums. The support section of the website lists a fair number of people who can offer paid support, either helping you use or set up some feature module, or template, or people who will make you a module or template for a fee. We haven’t used any of this fee based support.

Is there a good user manual?

Like most every open source project the manual is aiming at a moving target so it may be covering a feature in a previous version; they cleverly don’t have screen shots and they allow comments on the manual pages of the site so users who can’t edit the body of the pages can make notes on them.

Is there support for photos galleries?

Yes, but there is no easy way to upload a file (image, pdf…) with a post; you need to get the file on the server (image module, file upload module) and then know how to make the link to it. This should be fixed in the upcoming version 4.5. Each user can have a personal photo gallery as well.

Is there a built-in Blogroll/Link List kind of feature to manage blogrolls?

There is no built-in blogroll feature, but some workarounds are available on the developer forum. Not easy at this time. Drupal allows posting by XML-RPC blog APIs.

Can you post via email? Mobile phone/moblog?

The Mailhandler module allows registered users to create or edit nodes and comments via email. Authentication is usually based on the From: email address. Users may post taxonomy terms, teasers, and other node parameters using the Commands capability. There is not much feedback to date on how well this works.

Does it email posts to subscribers who so choose?

Some administrators may want to download, install and configure. The notify module may be downloaded and installed separately. Users can then request that Drupal send them an e-mail when new comments are posted (the notify module requires that cron.php be configured properly). This has a high geek factor.

Anything notable in the archive features?

Archives as in show a calendar and click a date to see what was posted on that date is available. Archive as in rollback of page content is also available.

Does it support comments? Comment-spam filtering? If so (the latter), what’s the approach?

There is a comment system, you can set it up to accept comments from anyone, or just signed on users. If you allow everyone to comment, there is currently no specific comment spam filtering, but at the same time Drupal isn’t so popular that it has attracted anyone to write a tool to automate comment spamming in Drupal like they have in Movable type (yet).

As the admin, it is pretty easy to see all the new comments on your site and read them and possibly delete them; you don’t have to visit each page to check the comments manually. The admin can set the maximum number of posts per minute, to slow the automatic spammers. You can also force all commenters to preview before they post, another mechanism that will slow down spammers. See also a comment by Morbus Iff on spam filtering in Drupal.

Does it support trackback?

Trackbacks and pings are supported.

Any idea how well it works on a Mac, with Mozilla or other non-W2K IE platforms?

We have used Drupal with a Mac using Safari, Mozilla and IE; as well as a Windows PC using IE and Firefox. All work well.

Does it pioneer any other new blog features that other platforms don’t have?

Not that we know of. The login feature across distributed hosts may be something special.

Does it support multiple authors? If so, does it have decent permission controls? (E.g., can you limit authors to publish only to draft?)

Drupal supports multiple authors, but they each get a separate blog, so it won’t look like a group blog. There is a meta blog of all bloggers on a site. There is a wide range of permissions that the admin can control; this is more usually used for the content management sections of a drupal site, not the blog sections.

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?)

Drupal uses a modular architecture, so that individual features, like navigation blocks, can be globally changed. Installable modules (plug-ins) can allow features including image galleries, alternate text input styles (BBCode, Wiki, HTMLArea WYSIWYG formatter, Markdown with SmartyPants, Textile), Trackback, and lots of other things.

Is it well suited for public corporate blogging? Why or why not?

Drupal could work well for corporate blogging because it is easy to add bloggers to any installation. Every user gets a personal blog, as well as a personal image gallery. Its scalability would be well-suited to corporate blogging.

Is it well suited for internal corporate blogging? Why or why not?

Drupal could work just as well for internal blogging because there is only one database for the entire site. That way anyone can find information with a single search. The search feature is great, and a blog can be used as personal knowledge management system. Many of Harold’s consulting reports and analyses begin by searching previous posts on his blog.

What other blog platforms have you used that you can compare this to?

Cameron installed and used Drupal for four sites, and has used TikiWiki and Gallery for one site each. Cam has administered a Communigate web server, installed compiled and configured ht:dig for a few sites, used Webmin for Bind and Apache or bare httpd.conf config for over 100 domains. Harold has used Blogger and QuickTopic in the past. We find that Drupal is powerful and flexible, and plan on sticking with it.

Blogging is about the text and having a site that is friendly to users and Google so people can find you, and people will use you. Google quite likes our Drupal sites. For users finding things on the blog, using taxonomy links, links for navigation, or the search all work well.

What else do we need to know about this system?

Next Version 4.5.0 will probably be available Mid Sept 2004.

Multiple sites one installation. It is fairly simple to have multiple sites use one installation of Drupal. You will need to edit the Apache Config file to point multiple sites to the same file location on your server, and have multiple config files that tell which database to use based on which hostname is accessing the site. This allows me to have a directory on my server with 4.3.x installed with a couple of sites, and 4.4.x in it with a couple of sites. Upgrades at the last decimal point can usually be installed with no worries about feature changes so to upgrade all your 4.4.x sites from 4.4.2 to 4.4.3 just dump the new/changed 4.4.3 files in there and you have upgraded all the sites.

Upgrades in the middle decimal point usually have feature/database changes so just dumping the new files on working sites is not the way to go. Usually I duplicate the database, set up a new host (450.bales.ca for the upcoming 4.5.0) set up a config file pointing to the database duplicate, add the 3-4 additional modules I want run the upgrade script, test, configure new features and then once I’m happy make the new install respond to my regular hostname. Remembering to change the Drupal config file so the base url is www…, clearing the cache so you don’t have links to pages on 450…., updating the Apache config properly are a few of the gotchas. It might be simpler and safer to make sure you have a good backup of the database, and do away with the temporary hostname.

Books. You can set up different style sheets for Drupal to use when printing a page – when you choose print page Drupal will group all the sub pages in a ‘book’ for printing in the same print job. A great feature about books is the “Printer-friendly version”, which will take all of the sections and sub-sections of a book and place all of the text and images in order on a single web page. This makes the creation of a brochure from the web very simple.

Templates. We haven’t played with a lot of the template features with Drupal – basically we use one and edited the CSS to get some better colors. There is a group of people in the developer community very interested in the templating and there are 2-3 basic templating methods. The problem with templates is that there are no previews available, so you have to install them before you can see them.

Meta-tags. Drupal uses a meta-tagging system they call “Taxonomy” I’ve seen similar things in Movable Type. This allows hierarchical relationships between your meta tags. If you remember your biology courses you may remember organisms being sorted by Taxonomies. Using/administering/understanding this taxonomy system causes quite a few headaches for new Drupal users.

Here is part of the Taxonomy I use to tag articles on my site:
none
Canada
-New Brunswick
–Sackville
—Sackville Town Council
-Nova Scotia
–Amherst
–Halifax
Coming Apocalypse
Technology
-Computer
–Linux
–Macintosh
–Windows
-DVD

By tagging an entry to be on the topic of “Coming Apocalypse” a link appears on the page allowing users to see all the items in that category.

Drupal links:

UPDATE:
I posed some new questions, which Harold and Cameron graciously answered:

Does it let you publish in XML syndication? If so, in which formats? RSS 1.0? RSS 2.0? Atom? Others?

XML publication – RSS by default (rss version=”0.92″) Atom by plugin module. (We may already have answered this)

Does it have a spell checker?

Yes by plugin module, requires installation of aspell or ispell.

Does it have a wiki-publishing component?

There is a wiki module but as far as I can tell it is for formatting your posts (IE similar to Textile or Markdown) not really for wiki free flow page creation or permissions. Of course page creation isn’t very difficult and you can set up your permissions to be similar to many wikis. There may be many Drupal sites with Wikis

Can you easily set up multiple weblogs from one account or instalation of the blog publishing software, or must you create multiple accounts or installations?

(also probably already answered)

One Install of Drupal can fairly easily support multiple hosts with different content, and a single host can have multiple accounts all with their own Blog.

Does it support categories? If so, how about hiearchical categories (e.g., Movies / Horror, Movies / Comedies, Movies / Thriller, Books / Fiction, Books / Biographies, and so on)? What about surpressed categories? (That is, in the monthly archive, publish all except the “Breaking News” category)?

Yes (answered in the last catch all section under Taxonomy) Unsure about the surpressed categories.

GreyMatter Blog Publishing Platform Review

Posted by: of ExecutiveSummary.com on 09/9/04

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.

GreyMatter Review

by Joni M. Mueller

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:

  1. As mentioned before, its karma voting feature.
  2. 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)

Fig. 1: Grey Matter Hacking Alert
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?

GreyMatter has a loyal following and many people are actively developing plugins and hacks for GreyMatter at FoshDawg.net/gm/mods/ and at the Flipped Cracker site, FlippedCracker.net/gm/.

Is there a vibrant user/support/forum community? If so, what are the URLs of such?

Yes, indeed. Since Noah Grey no longer develops GreyMatter, it has been “adopted” by FoshDawg, and its support forum is at GreyMatterForums.com.

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 Authors Screen
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)

GreyMatter Open and Close an Entry
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?

See above

What other blog platforms have you used that you can compare this to?

I started out using Blogger, then found GreyMatter and was intrigued by its karma voting, calendar and search box. Its closest competitor is MovableType*, as they are both Perl-based programs.

I’ve also dabbled a bit in pMachine*, Geeklog, Mambo*, e107, PHPwcms, TextPattern*, and WordPress*.

*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.

UPDATE:
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?

No.

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.

WordPress Blog Publishing Platform Review

Posted by: of ExecutiveSummary.com on 09/8/04

A couple of weeks ago, I put out a call for reviews of blog publishing platforms. I got a number of offers to review platforms, and several are now in the works. Strikingly, I got more offers to review WordPress than any other platform, by a wide margin (I did, however, note that I didn’t need reviews of the popular platforms Movable Type, TypePad and Blogger, as I will write those myself).

Anyway, I’m pleased to hereby present the first review about WordPress by by Jeremy C. Wright of Ensight.org. Since I am not familiar with this platform personally (or any of the others I solicited reviews for) and the reviewers who volunteered are obviously fans of their respective platforms, I would love to hear from the rest of you in the Comments thread on this post as to what you think of the review and, more importantly, the platform in question.

UPDATE:
On the recommendation of an off-site commenter, I think it’s probably appropriate for me to give my summary of what I took away from each of these reviews, so here’s what I’d say for WordPress: Overall, Jeremy is quite enthused about it. It’s PHP, which means it generates pages dynamically and doesn’t need to rebuild the whole archive the way Movable Type and other PERL-based platforms do. It’s open-source and free and has an active developer and forum community; based on number of offers I had to review this platform, I’d say it’s got a lot of interest and momentum behind it. While you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to set it up, it is not a piece of cake, either. Jeremy says that may inhibit its ideal use for internal corporate (“intranet”) blogging, as it would probably require someone from IT to set up every new installation, as opposed to being something folks in any department could do themselves. Overall, though, he gives it high marks.

Oh, also, I actually had Jeremy rewrite the review, because his first draft didn’t conform to my question-and-answer format, which he graciously did. Here, for the record, is his original version of the review. The revised version is below here on my blog.

WordPress Review

by Jeremy C. Wright of Ensight.org

There are, quite literally, hundreds of blogging platforms and packages out there. Choosing the right one for you can be such a daunting task that most people simply pick what is most well known, without necessarily picking based on quality of the software or even longevity of the platform.

Thankfully, WordPress is both well known and deserving of its status as the most popular PHP-based blogging platform available.

General performance: What makes this different/better than other blog publishing platforms?

WordPress is fast, has a quick installation, low learning curve and yet is incredibly powerful. It includes a robust plugin system, a full comments system and blogrolling and linkblogs as part of the software. In addition, it includes mobile features like Blogging by Email and Bookmarklets that let you blog any page you are on quickly and easily.

The WordPress community is large and vibrant and the developers are top notch. And, to top it all off, WordPress is free.

What are some of the best advantages about this platform?

Ultimately the choice of blogging software will always come down to a few fundamental questions: Are you looking for a hosted solution? Are you looking for a PHP or Perl-based product (or some other platform specifically, like ASP.NET)? What other features are looking for (comment spam protection, multiple authors, multiple blogs, photo gallery, etc)?

WordPress is designed for those who are not looking for a hosted solution, who are looking for a PHP based solution and who want certain well architected, yet foundational features: standards compliance, dynamic templates, a fully fledged comment system (including anti-spam protection), ease of plugin installation and more. If these are the types of things that are important to you, WordPress may just be the perfect fit.

Finally, the developers are going to stick around. They’ve been doing blogging software since 2001 and are a large part of the blogging community and have been able to create a fantastic product used by thousands upon thousands of bloggers.

What are some of its disadvantages?

There a few smaller features WordPress lacks. Mainly it isn’t that WordPress lacks features, but that certain feature sets are weaker than they need to be. For instance it is difficult to moderate what authors are able to publish and the comment spam protection system is weak and difficult to maintain.

What’s the killer feature, if there is one?

WordPress’s feature which puts it above many other platforms is it’s templating system. Essentially, there is one core template, contained in the index.php file. Every page takes its design from that main one. That doesn’t mean every page needs to look the same.

Each element of the template is modular. So, in order to remove the calendar, you simply remove the <?php get_calendar(); ?> code from your index.php file. Ditto with monthly archives (<?php wp_get_archives(‘type=monthly’); ?>). Keeping the design modular allows for a very flexible presentation layer.

What features does it lack or need fixing?

WordPress’s comment spam protection features definitely need to be looked at. Recently, comment spam overtook email spam as the most intrusive form of advertising for users to have to deal with. Many blogs get hundreds of comment spam attempts per day, and WordPress’s system of having the author moderate each individual comment is far too cumbersome.

In addition, WordPress lacks the ability to have static archives, which are important for larger sites with many older entries both for backups and to decrease server load.

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?

The publishing engine resides on your own web server, like MovableType. If you already have your own web server or are using space provided by a shared hosting provider, WordPress will be ideal for your situation. However if you aren’t, the setup and installation of a WordPress blog will require you to purchase a domain, sign up for hosting and then setup the publishing engine.

However, having the software be your own allows for a much greater level of control and flexibility as you can modify the software as you see fit.

What’s the geek factor on this? How comfortable can non-technical people be with it?

Assuming a non-technical person is able to do the initial setup in terms of database details, actually using WordPress is very easy. The documentation is clear and concise and the interface is very easy to work with as it is broken into tasks: Write, Edit, Options, etc.

This means that just about anyone can log into the Control Panel and get to writing very quickly.

What’s the learning curve? Totally intuitive? Lots of features, thus requiring more time to familiarize yourself with all of it?

WordPress’s learning curve is only as steep as you need it to be. While there are lots of features and there is a lot of depth, someone can get started as simply as logging in and writing. They don’t need to setup categories if they don’t want to. They don’t need to do anything besides write, if that is all they need to do.

However there are a lot of options for permanent links for your entries to how articles are read and how dates are displayed through to link blogs and blogrolls. All in all it is simple enough to learn, but deep enough to keep using even for the most advanced user.

What’s involved in setting it up? If you’re not technical, do you need help?

WordPress bills itself as having the simplest installation on the planet: The 5-Minute Installation. To be honest, I’ve found it generally takes me 7 minutes, but then I can be kind of slow. Either way, here is the entirety of the installation instructions:

  1. Make sure your host meets the requirements. Also, have a database ready with proper username and password.
  2. Unzip the package you downloaded.
  3. Open up wp-config-sample.php and fill in your database details. Save and rename the file to wp-config.php.
  4. Upload all the files to your webhost
  5. Run the installation file. Relative to where you uploaded the files, it’ll be in wp-admin/install.php.

Yep. That’s it. 5 steps.

Beyond that, you will need to login to WordPress, change your password and get acclimatized to the environment. However, the WordPress introduction and wiki provide a lot of help in this area.

In addition, if you are stuck, the WordPress Support Forums are always buzzing. If you need a hand, that’s often the best place to look. As a suggestion, though, you may want to try the Search feature before you post your question as it’s likely that any installation issue you are running into has been encountered, and solved before.

Ultimately WordPress is designed to be simple enough for the casual blogger, but to have the flexibility even the most experienced blogger would need.

Are there platform restrictions? (E.g., PC/Mac, APS vs. Linux servers, SQL Server, etc.)

The only requirements for WordPress are that PHP v4.1 or later be installed and that MySQL v3.23.23 be installed on whatever server you are running. The actual OS can be Windows, Linux or Mac as long as the database and scripting language are present.

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.?

WordPress is an open-source labor-of-love by a large team of programmers and a vibrant support community of thousands of users who love to help out and welcome new bloggers to their community. The development team has been doing blogging software since 2001 and has no plans to stop. They love the medium, love the community and have great plans for the future.

Where is the software developed? How is language support in English (the web site, the manual, the support communities, etc.)? Other languages?

The software is developed largely in Canada and the US. It supports mainly English, though there is documentation and plugins available to transform WordPress’s language into some other ones like French or German.

What’s the pricing of it?

WordPress is completely free under the GPL license.

Is there tech support?

There is support through the WordPress Support Forums and through the WordPress Wiki and Documentation. The primary means of support, though, is the Support Forums.

Is there a good user manual?

Yes. The user manual is available on the website at the Documentation homepage.

Is there a third-party developer community? If so, how active?

There is an active developer community releasing a myriad of plugins (more than 100) and hacks (more than 200). Also, users are able to request help instituting new plugins and hacks (hacks are where code changes to WordPress are necessary to enable functionality).

Is there support for photos galleries?

There are currently several plugins which enable this functionality, though it is not part of the core build.

Is there a built-in Blogroll/Link List kind of feature to manage blogrolls?

Yes, there is advanced functionality for Blogrolls and Linklists.

Can you post via email? Mobile phone/moblog?

There is Blog by Email functionality built into WordPress, and there are moblog plugins available as well.

Does it email posts to subscribers who so choose?

WordPress does not notify subscribers by default when new posts are posted; however, there are [XML] feeds that users can subscribe to in their Feed Reader of choice, and there are plugins to allow users to subscribe to new posts, if the blog author so desires.

Anything notable in the archive features?

WordPress provides very advanced Archive Customization and Archive Rewrite functionality.

Archive Customization:

Your archive URL’s can be fully customized. In fact, the options are sometimes quite staggering. Any combination of categories, authors, post ID’s and date parts (year, month, day, date, minute and second). For example, an Archive Format of:

/archives/%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/

would give you a URL of

/archives/2003/05/23/my-cheese-sandwich/

Archive Rewrites:

In addition, once you have figured out how you want your archives to look, WordPress gives you all of the .htaccess configuration information you will need (if your host supports it), so that your URL’s will appear to be real files, which means search engines will index them more quickly and effectively.

Does it support comments? Comment-spam filtering? If so (the latter), what’s the approach?

One of WordPress’s weak areas is the area of comment spam. While the Comment system itself is very capable and fully fledged (a full members system, users can subscribe to a comment feed or get notification of new comments through a plugin), the comment spam protection is very basic.

WordPress’s anti-spam system is based primarily on a Moderation Queue. This moderation queue is designed so that any comment which doesn’t match the criteria you specify doesn’t get shown until you approve it. You can choose to either approve every comment, or allow comments through as long as they contain a name and email address and don’t match a word in your Blacklist. In addition, if a comment contains more than a specified number of links it can be placed automatically in the queue (as spam often contains more than 5 links).

The issues with this system are twofold. First, there is no large, central list of words spammers are using like there is with MT-Blacklist. Second, because every comment goes into a queue, you do need to “manually” delete all of the comments in the queue.

That said, there are a couple of hacks and plugins to make life easier including WP-Blacklist (an attempt at duplicating the MT-Blacklist functionality for WordPress) and some easier comment spam moderation techniques. However there isn’t yet a single technique, like MovableType’s MT-Blacklist which is both overwhelmingly effective and incredibly popular, though several people are making inroads.

Does it support trackback?

The WordPress developers are committed to standards in all their forms, from the W3C‘s markup requirements to Trackback and Pingback.

Any idea how well it works on a Mac, with Mozilla or other non-W2K IE platforms?

Because WordPress is web-based, the choice of platform is up to the blog author.

Does it pioneer any other new blog features that other platforms don’t have?

Beyond all else, WordPress pushes “simplicity”. By now most blogging platforms are copying one another’s features, but the simplicity of personal publishing on WordPress is still very hard to beat. Certain platforms like Blogger and TypePad are definitely up there, and WordPress stands tall right along with them in terms of ease of writing, publishing and maintaining a blog of any size.

Does it support multiple authors? If so, does it have decent permission controls? (E.g., can you limit authors to publish only to draft?)

WordPress is built around the concept of multiple authors. While it does only allow one blog (technically) it is geared towards unlimited authors in unlimited categories, which is always a nice thing.

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?)

WordPress’s design is entirely modular, and can easily be extended because it is PHP-based. Currently only the WordPress elements (calendar, link lists, etc) are modularized; creating other modular elements, however, is quick and easy.

Is it well suited for public corporate blogging? Why or why not?

While WordPress’s suitability for corporate blogging will vary depending on a given company’s requirements, there are a few features which I believe it is lacking, based on my experience with corporate blogging:

  1. Individual categories or subsets of content cannot be locked away from certain readers (without hacking the system, which is quite possible since you could ensure that only users of a specific Privilege level saw certain content)
  2. Users cannot be forced to save every entry in Draft format for later approval by an editor or manager
  3. There are no built-in metrics to gauge how effective the blogging platform is being for the company

However, that isn’t to say WordPress isn’t appropriate. Because it is such an open platform and is so easy to use, it is entirely possible companies may try it and find out that it fits perfectly, with some minor modifications (which are easy, given WordPress’s open architecture).

Is it well suited for internal corporate blogging? Why or why not?

WordPress’s ability to meet a corporation’s internal needs will vary. However, because it is difficult to setup new blogs on an ongoing basis (unlike other systems you cannot simply point and click to create new blogs), it may not be the most appropriate solution for internal blogging.

What other blog platforms have you used that you can compare this to?

The first piece of blogging software I started using was b2, nearly two years ago. I spent three months with that blog and that blogging software before I burnt out. The reasons aren’t important, but basically boiled down to not properly defining the scope of my blog. The software was fairly difficult to work with, but was very easy to customize.

I knew that for my next blogging foray I wanted something more powerful. So, when I started Ensight, along with a group of friends, we decided to go with MovableType. It was easy to setup, had a large community and had a powerful templating component (at least, coming from b2 it did).

In addition, I’ve used a dozen more platforms (Drupal, Blogger, etc.) when guest blogging or helping others troubleshoot issues with their blogs. While I don’t necessarily consider myself an expert on every blogging platform, I am just about as much of a blogger as you can get, for good or for bad.

What else do we need to know about this system?

Some of WordPress’s other key features include:

Standards Oriented: The WordPress developers are committed to standards in all their forms, from the W3C’s (http://w3.org/) markup requirements to Trackback and Pingback. In addition, the WordPress developers have chosen to develop common API’s and an easy to use plugin architecture to allow others to work closely with the software without having to jump through any needless hoops.

Dynamic templates: I touched on this earlier. Essentially, having a dynamic templating system means that when you hit “save” on your blog post, it is live. When you make a change to the core templates driving your blog, it is live. No waiting around. No fussing. And definitely not mussing. Mussing is such a pain, and the WordPress developers have definitely made the templating system muss free.

Easy Importing: One of the biggest reasons for WordPress’s growth, besides WordPress itself, is that the development team have created importers for every major blogging platform out there, including Movable Type, Textpattern, Greymatter, Blogger, b2 and many others. If you are using a different platform, chances are someone from the community has either written an importer or they may even help write one for you.

In addition, the Plugin architecture is fantastic.

WordPress’s plugin system is incredibly simple: upload the plugin, login to your WordPress Control Panel, Navigate to the Plugins section and click Activate for the plugin you have just uploaded. Done. And if it doesn’t work as you’d hope, deactivate it.

If the plugin is for design changes, you may need to add a line of modular text (like the Calendar module I showed you in the Templates section), but for all other plugins, code changes are kept to an absolute minimum (which generally means you don’t have to do anything but Upload and Activate).
How many Plugins are there, and how do you find them? Your first stop should always be the Plugin page at the WordPress Wiki. It contains a list of more than a hundred plugins ranging from Per-Post Styles to the popular Auto Shutoff Comments Plugin. There are also plugins for photo galleries and a whole suite of other nifty blog tools.

If these aren’t enough, there are also “pure code” plugins, known in the WordPress community as Hacks. These will range from the mundane to the…odd (World Kit comes to mind).

What’s the Verdict?

Obviously I’m biased. I chose WordPress and I feel like I would never look back. While I’ve had issues, the amazing developers and fantastic support community have always been there to help me when I’ve needed it. For me, that has been extremely important. I never expect software to be perfect, but when the community helps me get it as close to perfect as I need it to be, that to me is a good sign.
Again, WordPress is open, flexible, dynamic and completely customizable. The template, posting, plugin and link management systems are world class. With some slight polishing of user permissions and comment spam blocking, WordPress could easily become the choice of just about every blogger out there. If these are the kinds of things you are looking for, WordPress is definitely for you.

UPDATE:
I asked the author to update this review with a few additional questions, which he graciously did:

Does it have a spell checker?

WordPress does not have a spellchecker as part of the software, however there are 2 spellcheck plugins that I am aware of, though I haven’t used either one.

Does it have a wiki-publishing component?

WordPress does not have a Wiki component.

Can you easily set up multiple weblogs from one account or instalation of the blog publishing software, or must you create multiple accounts or installations?

No, WordPress is currently a single-blog platform. There are several ways to get multiple blogs together on one blog site, however they require independent installations of WordPress.

Does it support categories? If so, how about hiearchical categories (e.g., Movies / Horror, Movies / Comedies, Movies / Thriller, Books / Fiction, Books / Biographies, and so on)? What about surpressed categories? (That is, in the monthly archive, publish all except the “Breaking News” category)?

WordPress supports categories, category descriptions and nested categories. I have tested it to 5 levels of depth, though I’m sure it goes much deeper than that. WordPress does not support the suppressing of categories, though there are several hacks and plugins that do accomplish this functionality.

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.)

WordPress does not currently support a format like Link Blogs, however it does allow for the easy addition of links to the Link Management system. This feature is “kludgeable” by installing a separate version of WordPress or through several hacks and plugins.

Calling for Blog Publishing Platform Reviewers

Posted by: of ExecutiveSummary.com on 08/11/04

I want to commission reviews of the following blog publishing systems:

UPDATE: Based on your feedback, I’ll also include the following platforms for review (what the heck, it’s only my money, right?):

That is, of course, presuming I can find folks out there willing to write about all of these. (NOTE: Movable Type, TypePad and Blogger aren’t on this list because I am prepared to write those reviews myself.)

I am ready to pay the princely sum of $25 per review in real cash money (of the PayPal variety, anyway) for a worthy review according to specs outlined below. Sure, it’s crap money, but how much do you get paid to blog now? Besides, if you’re interested in getting paid to help anyone set up a business blog on your chosen platform, this may be a decent lead generator.

If you’re interested, here are the conditions of the deal:

  • You should NOT send me a review unsolicited. This is an important test of your ability to follow directions. You should instead send me an email describing why you are the best person to for the job of writing such a review
  • You should have at least a few months’ of experience blogging on the platform you intend to review
  • You should have no close affiliation with the company that produces the software in question or other potential conflicts of interest
  • You must adequately address all of the review points I note in the review guide below.
  • You should be at least technically literate enough to address all of the questions below.
  • You can also post the review to your site, but for my palty $25 I can repurpose the review however I see fit, including packaging all these reviews together in a report for sale or other creative uses.
  • If I accept your review for publication on this site, I won’t edit it except to correct spelling, grammar, etc. though I may add bracketed editorial comments, if I’m so inclined.
  • You need to have a PayPal account, as that’s how I plan to send reviewers payment.

There may be other qualifications I haven’t thought of yet that I’ll explain in private correspondence if we get that far.

If you’re interested, keep reading below the review guide:

Review Guide

Reviewers should address all of the following points in their software review:

  • General performance. What makes this different/better than other blog publishing platforms?
  • What are some of the best advantages about this platform?
  • What are some of its disadvantages?
  • What’s the killer feature, if there is one?
  • What features does it lack or need fixing?
  • 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?
  • What’s the geek factor on this? How comfortable can non-technical people be with it?
  • What’s the learning curve? Totally intuitive? Lots of features, thus requiring more time to familiarize yourself with all of it?
  • What’s involved in setting it up? If you’re not technical, do you need help?
  • Are there platform restrictions? (E.g., PC/Mac, APS vs. Linux servers, SQL Server, etc.)
  • 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.?
  • Where is the software developed? How is language support in English (the web site, the manual, the support communities, etc.)? Other languages?
  • What’s the pricing of it?
  • Is there tech support?
  • Is there a good user manual?
  • 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?
  • Is there a built-in Blogroll/Link List kind of feature to manage blogrolls?
  • Can you post via email? Mobile phone/moblog?
  • Does it email posts to subscribers who so choose?
  • Anything notable in the archive features?
  • Does it support comments? Comment-spam filtering? If so (the latter), what’s the approach?
  • Does it support trackback?
  • Any idea how well it works on a Mac, with Mozilla or other non-W2K IE platforms?
  • Does it pioneer any other new blog features that other platforms don’t have?
  • Does it support multiple authors? If so, does it have decent permission controls? (E.g., can you limit authors to publish only to draft?)
  • 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?)
  • Is it well suited for public corporate blogging? Why or why not?
  • 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?
  • What else do we need to know about this system?

UPDATE:
These additional questions have since occurred to me:

  • Does it let you publish in XML syndication? If so, in which formats? RSS 1.0? RSS 2.0? Atom? Others?
  • Does it have a spell checker?
  • Does it have a wiki-publishing component?
  • Can you easily set up multiple weblogs from one account or instalation of the blog publishing software, or must you create multiple accounts or installations?
  • Does it support categories? If so, how about hiearchical categories (e.g., Movies / Horror, Movies / Comedies, Movies / Thriller, Books / Fiction, Books / Biographies, and so on)? What about surpressed categories? (That is, in the monthly archive, publish all except the “Breaking News” category)?
  • 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.)

If you have other points you think I should include in this review guide, please recommend them in the comments field. Also, if there are other blog publishing platforms you think I should add to this list (excluding TypePad, Movable Type and Blogger, which I plan to review myself), please also note in the comments section. If you are interested in writing such a review for me, please send me an email making a case for why you’d be the best person to do so.

 

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