May 23, 2006
Warning geeky post. Most regular readers are excused.
For over a year now I've been meaning to switch the engine behind this blog from Blogger to Moveable Type. While Blogger is dead simple, it's development ground to a halt after the Google acquisition. Features now standard on other blogging systems like the ability to add a "previous" link to the bottom of a page, categories, and the ability to sort archives in ascending order are all MIA. Moveable Type pioneered many of these features and I am comfortable with the system as this is what I use to run my photoblog, but importing from Blogger is tricky especially if you want to preserve comments due to Blogger limitations.
I've been pretty happy with Moveable Type and it has steadily been improved over the years but I've noticed a falloff in 3rd party plug-ins and hacks recently... MT's sometimes hairy installation and confusing upgrade process are the system's main barriers to entry especially for non-techie users....but after everything is installed MT is fast and flexible. All this is a long way of saying I just haven't gotten around to switching because of the hassle involved.
Recently a friend recommended Wordpress, she had upgraded recently and had found it a smooth & easy process. I had tried Wordpress a few years ago and found it buggy, but recently I've been seeing lots of nice Wordpress based blogs so I decided to give it a spin. True to it's publicity I had Wordpress up and running in about 5 minutes. A few minutes later it was importing this blog and surprise surprise everything was imported correctly (the only issue was that it reverted a few customized settings in the original Blogger blog to their defaults after the import).
While the new version of the blog isn't up yet, I've been going back and forth between the systems all week. I'm biased by my familiarity with Blogger and MT, but here are some notes on the three systems for those of you thinking of switching, upgrading, or starting a new blog. All my notes are for people installing the blogs on their own webservers.
So what are my conclusions:
-Both MT and Wordpress store all your entries in a database on your own server. Blogger saves your entries on a google server but outputs the actual pages to your sever. MT has the option to generate static pages or the dynamically create pages. Wordpress can only generate pages dynamically. The advantage of the Blogger method is that even if your webserver dies completely, you can always republish the content elsewhere, the odds of Blogger/Google losing all your posts are small. If you server dies with Wordpress or MT and you aren't backed up offline you've lost everything. The disadvantage of the Blogger method is that if Google has a hiccup, you can't post to your blog.
-MT has the easiest and simplest export option (It has a one click option to output all your entries to a nicely formatted text file which can be easily imported later). Exporting with Blogger or Wordpress via a custom template is not difficult if you know what you are doing, but there are no easy presets for novices. There are a couple of WP plugins to create text files but all of them have issues. These are two of the best I've found: Script #1, Script #2
-Wordpress has the best import features hands down. It allows you to import blog entries from a number of systems and seems to do so flawlessly. Even comments are correctly handled. MT's allows you to import from a text file, but that file must be in the MT's format. Obviously it imports it's own export files perfectly, but I have yet to find a perfect solution for getting Wordpress or Blogger to output files that can be easily read by MT. The main issue is comments which always seem to get screwed up. Blogger doesn't have an import function-it simply doesn't exist. I once helped a friend write a little PHP script to email each of his WP entries to Blogger via Blogger's 'Mail-to-Blogger' function. It was a bit of a kludge but it worked, it would be easy enough to do this to get a MT database into Blogger as well. Comments would be lost.
-If you want to customize the mechanics of the blog, you have an extremely limited set of tags in Blogger and it's impossible to get under the hood and add a missing function like yearly archives [blogger's tags]. There is no plugin mechanism. Given Blogger's lack of development (there have been no major functional upgrades in almost 2 years) you're pretty much stuck. Moveable Type and Wordpress both have richer tag sets [MT Tags, WP tags]. Both are also highly customizable via plugins. In MT perl is the preferred plugin language, in Wordpress it's php. Both allow you to use php in page templates. The big difference at least to the user is that MT plugs are accessed through easy to read tags. Wordpress modifications are php code and are accessed by bits of php code which can be difficult to read. Another drawback of php as used in Wordpress with dynamically generated pages is that a small typo can make the entire blog simply disappear until the error is fixed. Even the admin interface can vanish. Because MT can generate static files, your blog will still exist if you make an error, you just can't post new content. Another Wordpress issue: on some servers you will need to fiddle with htaccess files to creating google friendly permalinks.
-You can style pages in all 3 systems using CSS. Blogger basically only has a single template which it uses for everything. MT and WP both allow you to style archive pages and individual pages as much as you wish.
- All three systems now have good standards compliant templates to choose from. On the web countless scores alternate templates are available... good, bad, and horrible. Design-wise I like the Blogger default templates best although all of them are overused. Moveable Type and Wordpress default templates are more functional with the crucial additions of both search and categories.
-The biggest difference between systems to the reader of your blog will probably be speed. Perhaps because both Blogger and MT generate static pages, those pages load much faster than the same pages generated by Wordpress. But it's not just the pages that are slower, it's also the admin interface and the speed with which the blog updates (If you set MT to dynamically generate pages it is still much faster than Wordpress on the same server with the same content). In my case Wordpress pages often took several seconds to load while MT/Blogger pages were almost instant. There are sites devoted to Wordpress speed tweaks that do improve things. The biggest improvements came when I installed a caching plugin.
-Perhaps I am just being dense, but I found the Wordpress archive schema difficult to wrap my head around and spent way too long massaging urls so that they appeared the way I wanted (I want urls for the new blog to match those of the old so that people's links don't break). I've had no problems in MT making the archives conform to my wishes. Blogger's archives aren't super-customizable but a simple admin interface provides several easy archiving options.
-Two Wordpress selling points of note 1) it is open source so if you're a gearhead you can tinker endlessly and 2) it supports Widgets-small modules you can add to your sidebar and move around with ease.
-Both Blogger and MT play well with google. For reasons I don't fully understand wordpress pages are googled less well, especially interior and archive pages. To test this I set up 3 blogs using default templates on the same server containing sentences with unique nonsense words and linked to them externally. Two weeks later I googled. Items on all 3 index pages were googled (MT first, Blogger second, WP third). Searching for words in archive pages, the WP results where missing completely.
-Wordpress is much better at dealing with comment spam in the default configuration. MT can be brought up to speed with plugins (the Askimet plugin ported from wordpress is particularly effective. Blogger's spam controls are invisible to the user and uncustomizable, but I have to admit they generally work fairly well blocking most SPAM before it arrives. All systems allow for moderated comments.
I recommend Blogger to most people who lack coding or designing experience. It's easy, it works, and it's hard to break.
I recommend Wordpress to those of you who like to tinker, especially if you are into php. My issues: difficult to read code, confusing archiving, and lack of text export are all offset by Wordpress' almost infinite customizability and it's active community. I was tempted by the huge number of user plugins and easy to use widgets but ultimately I was looking for a balance between control and simplicity.
My choice was the one I started with, Moveable Type. Movable Type is perfect for people who don't care to fiddle around under the hood as long things work reliably. Installation is the only real issue. Otherwise I like the clean code, the speed, the power, and the easy archiving. I have found plugins to work around most of MT's limitations. And I came up with a solution on how to get my Blogger posts & comments imported-- first I import from Blogger to Wordpress which grabs the comments correctly and then I export to MT via a plugin. Now if I could just stop comparing the systems and actually do the work of putting up the new blog.