May 23, 2006

Notes on Blogger vs Movable Type vs Wordpress

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.

-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.

So what are my conclusions:

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.

posted at 02:11 AM by raul

Filed under: interweb

TAGS: blogger (2) export (1) import (1) movable type (2) mt (2) wordpress (1)


05/23/06 06:05 PM

Great Post - I am going to link it at my blog as I am always being asked whats the difference.


05/23/06 07:47 PM

Here's my one issue with WordPress -- won't support embedded video players. Any tips?

05/23/06 08:46 PM

There is a free version of MT for personal use. That's what I linked to and that's what I use.

05/23/06 10:01 PM

Wordpress does support embedded video. Just run this google search.

05/23/06 10:41 PM


05/24/06 01:28 AM

I hate to drum my own drum, but if you're looking for a WordPress-based blog system, that automates all the difficult tasks of blogging, I'd recommend Supercharged WordPress. Fully loaded with lots of functionality. Of course, that's for those people who are looking for functionality, but ease of use is not forgotten.

05/24/06 02:26 AM

Supercharged Wordpress is one of the lamest things I've seen in a long time. Basically it's wordpress with a bunch of plugins pre-installed. All are available for free. And you charge $50. Are you high? Not to mention that all those plugsins (did I mention they are free) boat the code unnecessarily. Any normal person would be better served by choosing only the few plugs they need. And your blog is pretty much the lamest thing I've seen in a long long time. A vest with sunglasses?! HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH dude you are seriously ridiculous.

05/25/06 06:34 AM

You say:

"MT has the option to generate static pages or the dynamically create pages. Wordpress can only generate pages dynamically."

Thats not fully true... there are some plugins that allows to create static content in WP, example:

05/25/06 09:17 AM

I looked into that plugin but as I understand it, it's only to create a few specific static pages, not to generate your entire site as static pages....

Static page plusses:

1. if your blogging software is down you still have a site.

2. they google well

3. in a pinch you can simply copy the site directory to another server

Static page minuses:

1. If you change your template you have to regenerate your entire site.

2. they take up space on the server.

06/01/06 02:39 AM

If you use something like WP-Cache2, your output will be written to static pages on the fly... best of both worlds. The requests still go through WP, but they don't hit the database at all.

Google has no way of knowing whether or not your pages are dynamic or static, so don't worry about that.

09/20/06 12:50 PM

Danny, I resent your comment. OK, you don't like my blog. What's that got to do with engineering? If you think there's no value in quality control and bundling, I have 60 customers that beg to differ with you -- but that's your right. Now, resorting to ad hominem attacks, which you do, well, that's got nothing to do with a well-founded argument.

The plugins don't bloat the WP codebase. If they aren't activated, WP doesn't incur in any overhead. And Turbocharged doesn't activate any plugins by default. So I find your bloatware claims unfounded.

09/20/06 12:51 PM

To the anonymous commenter that said Google has no way of telling dynamic vs. static pages: oh, yes, Google does have that ability, via HTTP headers and query strings. If you want to be in search engines, better be wary of PHP and WordPress caching settings, and permalinks. But, well, I guess I'm raining on wet here.

10/15/09 10:07 PM

I'm thinking of changing from wordpress to blogger because I'm sick of wp being so buggy. Galleries break all the time and it can often take about 10 goes to get some things to upload or update... I've had lots of problems with it over the last few years. Then again, I like to host on my own site and have unlimited images. What's the solution? Am afraid to update wp too often in case it breaks for good or gets worse.

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