Gregg and Dale were wondering why I switched blogging platforms from Squarespace to WordPress.
If you were not wondering, you should stop reading now. :-)
Here’s what I’m doing with WordPress that was impossible with Squarespace, even after repeated appeals to their tech support.
- Comment spam management. I get between 5 and 20 spam comments per day, and it’s been increasing. Squarespace has no support for automatically flagging obvious spam (like contains the word “Cialis”), using blacklist sites, or CAPTCHA. Wordpress not only has all these options, but features like “Moderation required, unless a comment by this user has already been approved.”
- Awesome comment system. The better the comment system the better the conversations. I’ve said before that I measure the “success” of this blog by the quality of the comments. When the comments round out a post, when people argue with me and each other, when the points in the comments are stronger than the post, that is success, because we’re all learning and growing, including me.In Squarespace I had no control over the lame commenting system. I wanted threaded conversations at the least, but ideally I want Gravatars, a “recent comments” sidebar widget (to further reward those who join the conversation), and promoting my commenter’s own blog posts automatically (more reward).Yes, I could have switched to DISQUS or Echo, but then I would have lost all my existing comments. (Had this been the only problem with Squarespace, I would have probably just used one of those systems and said “oh well” to the existing comments.)
- Full backup. Squarespace lets you back up posts and comments but not the files you’ve uploaded (i.e. images). Now that I’m hosting WordPress myself, I’m now backing up the entire system to Amazon S3 daily or on-demand.
- Speed. My current WordPress installation serves pages three times faster than my Squarespace site. That’s not trivial.
- Site design. Wordpress has “infinite” control over your theme. As you can see, I didn’t change a whole lot yet, but for example see the new home page layout with two columns, the summaries, and the thumbnail images. I like the freedom to do more in future.
- Automating social media buttons. Similar to “layout,” but now talking about code and not just layout and graphics, I’ve written custom code that automates things like those “Retweet” buttons on the post, and emits them in a different way in the RSS feed. Before I had to make those buttons manually, and even then it didn’t appear in the RSS feed!
- RSS control. Besides those buttons, there’s things like special formatting or a footer for the RSS feed that I couldn’t do in Squarespace. For example, on the site the <blockquote> tag has an orange line down the left side, but in the RSS feed it didn’t, which means I couldn’t convey the same meaning. For example, sometimes I just indent text without the orange bar — in the feed you can’t tell the difference! Now I’ve added code that does this in the feed too.
- SEO control. I can now control everything about a post — title, URL, meta-description, etc.. With Squarespace you can’t. Besides losing out on some SEO, other widgets and toolbars (social media support systems) pick up on those things too. In Squarespace, the title was so screwed up it even had broken SGML characters and inexplicable characters that screwed up those systems.
- Sandbox. When I want to try a new layout or a new plug-in or whatever, I might break the site. With WordPress, I have a script that completely duplicates the current blog (files and database) into a sandbox. Then I can screw it up, and only after I’m satisfied with the changes do I apply it to the real blog.
- One site to rule them all. Currently I don’t have anything on this site except the blog and the about me page. But in future that will likely change (whether or not it’s actually advertised in the menubar). With WordPress, this is not only easy, but the other pages can be “anything” if I need them to be — even just arbitrary PHP, even without e.g. the sidebar. Since this is my de facto personal website, that’s important to me.
- Community support. There’s 7.5 million WordPress blogs, so there’s lots of information on the web if you get stuck.
The downsides to self-hosted WordPress have been:
- Have to manage a server. (For me I have to manage a server anyway for other reasons, so this isn’t so bad).
- MySQL out of memory errors. A known problem in WordPress; I’ve run into this a few times. Long story, but hopefully is solved now.
- Future scalability. Right now scalability isn’t a concern — I’ve tested it with tools and it’s fine, plus I can increase the power of my virtual host just by spending more money — but if it ever were, that would take work. The work is pretty obvious, e.g. using a CDN for static content, using nginx for caching and front-ending multiple Apache servers, etc., but it’s still real work.
But geeks like me enjoy screwing with servers, so we tend to turn a blind eye to the downsides… :-)
Why not Typepad or MoveableType or something else? Because I knew WordPress would work, so I didn’t bother looking.
P.S. Proper post up tomorrow.