19 Nov

From iBlog to WordPress

Alex has written up a great post describing the experience of changing blog software from iBlog to TypePad, and comparing their respective pros and cons.

I want to do the same for WordPress, since, like Alex, I also get questions about this from iBlog users.

I’m going to follow Alex’s format here, sort of.

Getting Started

WordPress is server-side software that you have to run on a web server. This means… you have to find a server. You can’t run it on .mac, but it is possible that if you have access to another server through your ISP, that you might be able to convince someone to install it. Your server must have PHP4 and MySQL installed, but those are pretty common now.

I think that if you are using your OS X Mac as your webserver (which you can — the webserver capability is included) that you should be able to install WordPress on the Mac and run it there, but I can’t really say anything about that as I am not using WordPress that way. If you do this, make sure your ISP allows you to host a server on your account.

In our case we already have an in-house web server so I installed the software on that server.

Once you have a server with PHP and MySQL, and you’ve downloaded the WordPress software, it’s time for the “5-minute install” — and they aren’t kidding, it really is fast. Basically you just unzip the package into an empty folder, copy a file, modify a couple of variables, upload it all to the web server, change permissions on one of the files, then load one of the PHP scripts in your browser. This automatically sets everything up, and then you go to the admin page and customize your settings. It was so fast and easy that I was very impressed.

Features

As Alex said:

iBlog, being a desktop application, can’t offer server-side features by nature. Thus, iBlog users have to use third party services to provide commenting, trackback, media listing, blog rolling, photo album, etc.

This was quite frustrating and slowed down page loading quite a bit. WordPress includes many of these things, however. Commenting is included in both pop-up and in-page forms, and there are RSS feeds available for all comments or for comments on a particular post. Trackbacks and Pingbacks are supported and seem to work well. There is a neat Link Management system, with a bookmarklet to add links easily at any time.

I don’t think WordPress currently has any particular photo album or media listing features, though. There is a File Uploads section of the settings that may have something to do with photo uploads, but I haven’t used it so I don’t know.

You can also set up your blog with GeoURL info automatically, as well as assigning each post a different location if necessary.

The blog can be set up for team blogging with different levels of access. You can blog by e-mail, and automatically ping weblogs.com and blo.gs.

It also has search functionality on the displayed page so that anyone can search for posts.

Cost

WordPress is free. You just need to put a link to the WP site on the main page. And they suggest buying something from the developer’s wish list, but it’s not required. 🙂

Setting up

Set up and configuration can all be done through a web interface, though you can also edit files directly if you like. There are some places where it shows that it’s still beta, but in general it’s really well done. Good job!

I was able to (mostly) replicate my old iBlog style (it’s the Rusty Stripes theme you can see under Change Themes). There are some differences but they are there because once I started messing with the template and the CSS I couldn’t resist making changes. And once I did that, I decided to redesign the page, hence the Starry Skies theme.

You can edit the templates or any other file within the web interface, as long as you set the right permissions. But if you don’t, no fear — the web interface will remind you if it sees you didn’t do it. Or you can edit the files directly in a text editor. I used BBedit for most of my editing, but I use the web interface for quick fixes sometimes.

The XHTML generated by WordPress is 100% XHTML transitional compliant, with the exception of posts with the (read more…) feature, which have a tiny bug (an excess /p tag). (So this page won’t validate because of this long post I wrote.) Of course, you can change the template to be anything you want, and it’s possible to make it non-compliant with your changes. The default CSS is pretty good… I don’t remember if I tried to validate it or not, but I think it’s probably compliant. The RSS feeds are compliant and the software provides several different formats.

Importing

There are some formats that can be imported into WordPress, including Blogger. I didn’t try this even though my oldest posts are in Blogger. I’ll just leave those posts where they are.

As far as the iBlog posts, I used iBlog’s export feature to export them into a text file, and copy and pasted from that. I only had 40 posts so it didn’t take very long.

If I ever have to export from WordPress, I expect it will be much easier, because of its database foundation.

Posting

Posting is easy. There is the web interface, but also there are bookmarklets, and I’m told you can also post using external tools. But I haven’t tried those. The web interface is quick and easy enough for me.

You can type code directly into the web interface, and there are buttons to help with the code. These buttons do work in Safari, but I don’t use them much since I type HTML pretty quickly. 🙂

If you don’t know code, you can get by pretty well. It automatically puts in paragraph tags, for example. (And it automatically changes “straight quotes” to “curly quotes”, and double-dashes to em dashes!)

As mentioned above, you can blog by e-mail, but I haven’t yet tried this.

Customer Service

As free software, there isn’t really paid support… there is a support board at the WordPress site, though, and for the most part, the developers seem quite responsive. Other users are also helpful.

Summary

Like:

  • Server-based. Lots of great features built-in. This means faster page load since I don’t have to load BlogRolling.com lists, etc.
  • Flexibility to make any changes I want, without having to regenerate the whole blog as I did with iBlog. I can even hack the PHP itself to change the blog’s functionality, if I get up the nerve! 🙂
  • Lots of RSS feeds — for the blog, for comments, etc. And multiple RSS formats!
  • The developers are obviously committed to compliant code and a good user experience.
  • The process of getting started was fast and easy. The slow part was designing the new look of Slumberland, but that is not WordPress’ fault. If I wanted to go with a page that looked similar to the default, I might have had the new blog ready to go immediately. (As it was, I spent a couple of days messing around with it, and copying old posts over… and then decided I might as well switch since it was so much fun.)
  • Contains all the features I had been wanting for ages, pretty much.

Dislike:

  • Could have better stats, but this is not a big deal to me.
  • The default template is set up to put all of your sidebar links in one big category. It took me a while to realize that there was another function I could be using that would split them up. Hopefully they will get some documentation about this in future releases.
  • Um… I can’t think of anything else. 🙂

Basically, I am quite happy with WordPress. I liked iBlog in a lot of ways, but WordPress is much more enjoyable to use since the subtle irritations of the iBlog experience just don’t exist in WordPress.

7 thoughts on “From iBlog to WordPress

  1. First of all, loove the site, and am quite envious of your header … the 1920s pen/ink illustration of Nemo and the Mackintosh-insprired typeface feel very comfy, if that makes sense. I’ve installed wordpress as well, just to play with it There are a couple of features that server-side apps like wp, MT and other have that would be great to include, including the whole trackback thing. What I realized as I slogged through the process, failing my way to success, was I was spending more time on medium than message … not that that’s the fault of wp.

    As you’ve been driving the slumberland.org bus for a while now, you’ve already come up against the great “blogistential” question … that of “why do this?” There are already lots of blogs about blogging, blogs about media … so what do I have to offer for the avg. oif 23 readers per day?

    I’ve been able to successfully avoid answering that question by messing with WebSlog incessantly. And at some point, I’ve got to stop the niggling and get to the purpose of WebSlog, whatever that is.

  2. Thanks for the compliments. 🙂 Did you see the other themes as well? They all have the Nemo picture but are otherwise very different. (The Nemo is from around 1905, a New Year’s illustration that Winsor McCay drew. Nemo’s hands look funny because in the original — which was black and white — he was holding hands with other characters from the Sunday funnies. I adapted this drawing years ago to use on something else and never did.)

    I’m not sure I’ve thought much about “why do this?” I just do it. I published zines when I was younger, and wrote for several magazines (professionally, sometimes), so when the web came along I just gradually started writing things for my site. I don’t really worry about attracting readers; I just post things that I find interesting, and figure that there have to be at least a few other people out there who would be interested as well.

    So the basic principle is, I think, to blog for yourself, and be yourself. If you post something you get from somewhere else, put your own opinion there too. (This is where I fail sometimes, because I don’t always take the time to do it well.) Make the blog an extension of your personality and not just an impersonal link list. (I’m not saying your blog is one of those, just that it’s a good general principle.) And then one day you’ll look at it and realize it’s become something in particular.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

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