A review of current blog platforms....
July 4, 2015
I’m not sure how many people might’ve noticed (although, they may have from the change in URL structure…), but I recently switched back to wordpress, after using octopress for maybe a year or more? I’m trying to remember why I decided to go back to wordpress… but my memory fails me since I think I made the decision and made the move while I was delirious from neuroleptic malignant syndrome.
There are a few things that my ideal blogging platform would have:
- Self-hosting. I find this is a pretty key element for me because, for my long posts (actually for most of them), I like being sure that I own my data.
- Data portability. As my moving around demonstrates, I like trying out different platforms. Or changing every so often. If a blog isn’t self-hosted (or even if it is), being able to move your data from one platform to another is pretty important. Especially ensuring that the data is useable.
- CLI and GUI. Sue me, I love the commandline and I like being able to post from it. I also like having the option of GUI for whenever I want it.
Overall, I still like octopress. I might even end up going back to it. I think the main reason I didn’t like it was because recompiling my blog after a post took an annoying amount of time because I have so many posts. Like, sure, I’m only talking about a minute or two, but I’m impatient, ok? The other thing, is that I didn’t like that I had no option for using a GUI. Posting always depended on me having access to a CLI environment where I could access/pull the git repo where my blog source was stored. This meant, more or less, that I could only post from my home computer or from work. And nowhere else. Overall, sure, I rarely am using any computer other than those ones… Except often when I travel, I hate carrying my too large laptop. Which meant that I couldn’t post from my tablet, should I desire to do so.
I wouldn’t recommend octopress to anyone unfamiliar with the commandline. While I was familiar with the commandline when I decided to move from wordpress to octopress in the first place, it still took a bit of time for me to learn the specific skills I needed to install the blog and actually have a website up. While the docummentation is actually pretty good, it still requires a technical level that many people may not have.
However, octopress is a pretty good solution for someone who wants to have a self-hosted blog/website for free (if they have the requisite skills). Since you can host your blog on either heroku or github pages, you can actually get a free self-hosted blog. Both also allow for free custom domains.
Some people (for understandable reasons) might also be put off from the fairly small amount of themes available for this platform.
WordPress gives you both a self-hosted or a hosted option (at wordpress.com). WordPress, being one of the most popular blog and website CMSs, is easily the most data portable platform. They have a variety of plugins to import and export your data. This is one of the primary reasons I went back to using it.
For wordpress, I prefer the self-hosted option after wordpress.com suspended my account for spam (for some reason unknown to me, since I was obviously not spamming anyone). This, of course, highlights one of the biggest problems with hosted blog services: you are subject to their terms of services. And if you blog on certain topics (and you know which ones I mean) you leave yourself vulnerable to people abusing reporting structures to get your account shutdown/suspended/etc.
The problem I have with wordpress is that there really isn’t a great CLI interface for it (yes, I’m familiar with wp-cli but this requires you to be logged into the server to use for posting/managing and many webhosts do not provide commandline access). Sure… you can email posts in (which can be sent from the CLI) but that isn’t the same. And I pretty much always forget to do it.
The other other problem is that wordpress is a pretty… muscular CMS for just blogging. Idk. It feels like overkill. There is also a wide variety of themes available, which is super good.
The other other other problem is that self-hosting wordpress will cost money. Both for the hosting and for the domain name.
Tumblr also adds a social element to your blog, which can be good or bad. One of the nice things about wordpress or octopress is that you can decide whether or not you want comments. You have a lot more control there. While tumblr doesn’t have ‘commenting’ in the same way, reblogs essentially function in this way and you can’t turn off reblogs.
The other challenging thing with tumblr is data portability. Tumblr doesn’t provide any native way to export your data (or backup your blog, as the case may be). Yes, if you use tumblr-rb (or access the API in some other fashion) these things are possible, but this isn’t a workable solution for most people since it requires a level of tech knowledge that a lot of people don’t have. The other problem re: data portability, is that even if you know how to get your data out, this data requires a lot of cleaning, since most solutions don’t (can’t) distinguish between posts you’ve reblogged from your original content (and I’m assumig that most people only want their original content).
As with wordpress.com, using tumblr means being subject to their (always changing) terms of service. This means that your blog can be arbitrarily deleted (and, yes, this does happen to marginalized people). Arbitrary deletion and difficulties exporting your content means that there is a certain level of risk that you could lose some of your writing forever.
This last aspect is pretty much the main reason why I’ve never ever had my main blog (or only blog) be hosted by tumblr. I don’t trust them.
The blog platform that I wish was actually finished, lol. Ghost is currently at 0.6.4. And this just isn’t complete enough if you have hundreds of posts like I do. It doesn’t have a search function (in the front or back end). Nor does it have an archive page like octopress provides (which also doesn’t have a search function). Which basically means that any person browsing has to navigate your hundreds of posts page-by-page. Which isn’t tenable for someone like me.
Which is a shame, because the reasons behind the creation of the software make sense to me. It is a blog platform intended to be focused on writing and the backend interface is really nice to use (although, learning markdown is compulsory and some people may not like that).
They do offer a self-hosted or a hosted option. The hosted option is kind of expensive, imo, but for most people this is the best option since installing it isn’t nearly as easy as wordpress and your choices of hosts is significantly smaller because it is in node.js (and most of the standard and cheap webhosts really only allow you to install php based applications like wordpress).
All in all… ghost just can’t be recommended at this point. Maybe once it is actually finished it’ll be worth another look.
I always start thinking about trying medium until I remember how much I hate the design of the site. And since you cannot pick your own theme for your blog, you are stuck with that fucking ugly default/only one.
Yes, sure, you can export your posts (if memory serves). You can’t self-host or use a custom domain. All of which is ‘meh’ to me.
That is about that.
I was going to write a bit more about the possible ICANN policy change where domain annomyization might be removed for ‘commercial’ websites… Because this is kind of a huge privacy risk for a lot people (since ‘commercial’ can be really broadly interpreted). But I guess I should also mention that having your own domain is already a privacy risk, since registrars still require your legal name and address, even if they mask this. And it is pretty easy for people to get their hands on this info (if they know what they’re doing).
Plus, it costs money, so not an option for everyone.
One place where you ‘self-host’ (in a way) your blog (in the sense that you maintain direct control over your data) is scriptogr.am. At present it is free. And basically you can blog either by making your own documents in the respective dropbox folder or use their web-based GUI. I’m really interested in this possibility… but it is still buggy and I can’t get certain things to work right. Which is a problem. My guess here, too, is that once they’ve worked out the bugs, they’ll start charging money. So it’s hard for me to recommend.
The basic takeaway here is that their are always compromises and there is no perfect system. And that I was bored and decided to write this post.