Multi-blogging software January 23, 2007Posted by ficial in web 2.0.
Lately I’ve been busy trying to get a blogging system up and running at Williams. The three main alternative were: send people to other hosting sites and just maintain a jump page, install (or let people install on their own) blogging software into peoples home directories, or set up our own multi-blog hosting system. The middle we dismissed after the very short thought experiment of trying to support 200+ users each with their own particular tweaks. The first option was appealing in many ways, but we’d lose out on the college brand (on a couple of levels – not only would we lose the williams.edu in the URL, we’d demonstrate that we weren’t willing (or perhaps able) to support such technical work ourselves). If it had been only one or two people interested we still might have gone for it, but we’re looking at probably 10s to start with scaling up into 100s before too long. So, that left us with finding (or writing, as a last resort), installing, and supporting some multi-blogging software. This job fell to me.
I examined a number of different possible software sets. Mostly I stayed in the world of PHP-based ones, becuase there are more people in the office that understand PHP than other languages. Ideally we wouldn’t have to get involved at the code level, but when dealing with open source software life is rarely that easy. Though I forget the details of how it went now, I ended up trying WordPress-mu first. This worked pretty well, but I had some issues with the way it handled the DB structure – it had to create a new set of tables for each blog. Still, I was ready to go for it when I came across a reference in a forum somewhere to Lyceum.
Lyceum is very similar to WordPress (it’s based off the same core code), but it’s been heavily re-worked to support multiple blogs. One of the big changes is on the DB side, where they modified the structure (and all the DB access routines) to use a fixed number of tables (to the end user that probably makes no difference at all, but as a coder and as the person likely stuck supporting the product, I like that model a lot more). I downloaded it and installed it and with a few relatively easy config changes it was up and running.
However, like most blog software, out of the box the blogs look pretty plain. In theory the multitude of wordpress themes should work fine in Lyceum. I got a bunch of decent looking ones and tried them out. They fell into these categories:
- Seriously broken – causes the blog to be non-functional until the theme is deleted at the file system level
- Broken – the blog is mostly useable, as long as you don’t want people to leave comments or anything like that
- Single-blog only – the theme would word fine if there were only one blog, but with multiple blogs it just doesn’t do it. This takes two forms. The first is a code level problem where the theme is simple unaware that it must distinguish between multiple blogs, so you get bleed-over (e.g. the link categories listed are those for all the blogs in the system, not just the current one). The second is a design level one where the theme is built to be installed for an individual blog and modified at the file level.
- Minor tweaking needed – the theme works once a couple of minor code-level changes are made
- Works fine – the theme works well enough to use out of the box
Out of 25+ themes, I found 2 seriously broken, 4 broken, 10 single-blog only, 7 that needed minor tweaking, and 5 that worked without any changes. It’s not quite the ratio I’d hope for, but not too bad when all’s said and done. We’ll try it for a while and see if the users are satisfied. If not then we may explore some non-PHP software, probably either Roller or blojsom.