Tech Post #11: Choosing Blogging Software

(I feel this post is really incomplete- I could talk about a lot of other topics: the template system, the database architecture, the software architecture of the PHP scripts, etc. So this is more a “buying guide” then a real comparison!-B)
I had the same conversation three times the other day. It was about Movable Type vs. WordPress. Full disclosure: I adore WordPress. But I’m also on a multiple user system on Movable Type (SF Metblogs), so I have experience with that. I started blogging on Blogger (, so I can add that to my blogsume.

This is a completely technical conversation and not at all about the content of blogs, which we all know is what really makes them popular and well read, not the tools used to create them!
So I’ve narrowed down 3 basic questions to ask yourself when choosing blogging software:

1) how much do you want to adjust the template?
2) do you want to pay for a server account, or go all free?
3) do you like to add features randomly- stay up with the Jones’ or you don’t care

1: WordPress is a hybrid, it has built-in looks and then it has depth for those that want to go in and tweak quite a bit. Blogger- only a few canned ones, and very limited access if you want to do more. Movable Type (MT): Probably the most control, and there are templates, but I don’t think you get the “1-click” ability to change themes (look & feel) like you do with WordPress.

2: To pay or not to pay. You get no control over your domain ( with free ones. So suck it up! If you want a vanity domain, you end up paying $6-15 a month, and then you are at the whim of whatever they have installed, or you can install it yourself, which requires UNIX knowledge. I did the server option for my mom, and the ISP had WordPress installed with a 5-minute installation process that was really very sweet. Big key benefit of paying and getting a vanity domain: if you change your tool for some unforeseen reason in the future, you don’t lose out on all of your cross-posts and friends. I moved from blogger to and my technorati ranking fell quite a bit (yes, I care about that, it’s silly I know.)

3: Plug-ins/Widgets/Those fun add-ons! Blogger has no plug-ins, it’s all hosted by Google. (the free vs. the installed on your server version) seems to have very easy access to plug-ins. I have a few friends on there and they adopt new plug-ins faster than I do. Since I’m on a server with a wordpress install that I did, I manually install plug-ins. I also have to stay up to date with wordpress upgrades. I do a lot of custom programming on my sidebar, though, so I’m very happy with having this manual setup. Movable Type seems to have equal access to cool new open source plug-ins like WordPress. Knowledge of UNIX and Perl required for installing funky plug-ins on MT, but I could be wrong. MT seems more flexible, but also more bare-bones.

Quick note about photos. That is a big determining factor, for me, in using blogging software.
I currently upload them to flickr and link off to them from whatever blog I’m writing. So usually poeple upload photos to their server, then link off the blog. Why do I go to Flickr first? Because I quickly learned that batch-resizing 30 or so images took time, and Flickr does it automatically!

But uploading is only the first step. Adding photo links to your blogs is time-consuming and requires vast HTML knowledge (or as vast as HTML goes!) Movable Type’s image handling is far more sophisticated then WordPress and Blogger. I’m not sure if this is because MT is barebones & scaleable, or because WP & Blogger are oversimplifying. Nonetheless, both sites could improve and match MT at some point. Another benefit to Flickr is that it gives me another channel to acquire readers, which I cross-link back to my blog. Now, if Flickr had a trackback mechanism, that would be cool.

An Ongoing Debate: WordPress vs. Movable Type
A friend (Hi Eric!) sent me this article: Moveable Type vs. WordPress. Eric mentioned some of the key difference between the admin areas of MT and WordPress. I like WordPress’ interface, and after installing it 5 times one week and setting up two multiple user sites, I have to say that others tend to find it easy to use too. To the degree that I’ve worked on MT, it seems more scaleable and is better “out of the box” for multiple-author sites. One very annoying thing, though, is that each time you “save” in MT it creates flattened files out the content, which requires time. So it’s not as quick to post as WordPress. The downside of WordPress’ architecture is that it reads from the database each page load, so that takes time on the user’s end. It’s all about where the hit is: for the authors, or the users. So that seems easy- make the authors wait. The problem is what I’ve experienced on sf metblogs- people post a few times because they don’t think their first one has “gone through.” You get a messy and over-posted site.

Administrative Interface
Big criticism in this guy’s post was the administrative interface and professionalism – which I don’t think is important. The admin tool should be easy to understand. I actually disagree with the author, I think MT’s admin feel is confusing and misleading, whereas WordPress’ is clear and simple to the point of being (gasp) self-explanatory. I also applaud Matt & the whole companies’ community, which allows for a lot of innovation and shared knowledge. I frequently search for wordpress php commands and find not only good documentation but a lively discussion and improvements, posted by various members.

Tags vs. Categories
Wordpress has “categories” that aren’t discrete, but are a little harder and messier to maintain. MT has “tags” which are free-form entered for each post. They are listed below the post and are essentially content tags on the article, for public searching. I’ve actually heard people say these are the same things, but to me they are very different, and each software builds a different set of features around them, to even enhance the difference it seems.