Why I switched to WordPress

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. Speed.  My current WordPress installation serves pages three times faster than my Squarespace site.  That’s not trivial.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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 &nbsp; characters that screwed up those systems.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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:

  1. Have to manage a server.  (For me I have to manage a server anyway for other reasons, so this isn’t so bad).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  • http://www.slaughterdevelopment.com/ Robby Slaughter

    WordPress is like what Winston Churchill has to say about democracy: it’s a terrible system, except for all the rest.

    Welcome to the worst best blogging platform!
    .-= Robby Slaughter’s latest blog post: Caught Goofing Off =-.

  • http://twitter.com/joshuabaer Joshua Baer

    Thanks for the writeup of your thought process. I’ve been using hosted TypePad for a long time and it seems to have most of the same benefits. But I keep wondering if there is something I’m missing with WordPress so I enjoyed reading your description.
    .-= Joshua Baer’s latest blog post: joshuabaer: @bdainton we have it in our bathrooms at @DatranMedia and @OtherInbox =-.

  • http://www.corporatepreneur.com Dale

    Thanks Jason!

  • http://blog.locut.us/ Ian Clarke

    Hey Jason, sorry Squarespace didn’t work out (since I believe I was the one that inspired you to try it).

    I completely agree on the spam issue, it is also a major source of frustration for me with Squarespace, and it may eventually drive me to try alternatives too since I don’t get the sense that the Squarespace people understand how serious this problem is.

    I actually started out with a self-hosted WordPress blog, and I dropped it for a downside that you don’t list – security holes are exposed in WordPress with alarming regularity.

    This isn’t a theoretical concern, since people write scripts to find WordPress installations and exploit these holes to install trojan software. This has happened to be twice. The effect was that we had to do a complete audit of the affected server (since there was other important stuff on it).

    But worse than this, the trojan installed some malware which Google discovered, which meant that any recent version of Firefox or Chrome would display a big malware warning for several weeks on my blog after I discovered the problem.

    In short, WordPress’s inability to write secure software cost me a lot of time. And annoyingly, their glib response to any criticism about their security? “Oh, you should have upgraded the moment we released a new version”.

    Sorry WordPress, but I have better things to do than to drop everything and upgrade on the (very frequent) occasions that someone discovers a security hole in your software. There are many other web apps, including PHP apps, that seem able to avoid the frequent security holes that plague WordPress.

    Anyway, sorry – rant over :-)
    .-= Ian Clarke’s latest blog post: Video of talk on Swarm =-.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Good point about the security problems…

      It’s strange to me that with the amazing popularity of WordPress there isn’t a better hosting option than WordPress itself. The services listed on the WordPress home page refer to shared hosting services that merely come with a default WordPress installation, but that’s not what’s needed.

      What I’d like to see: A cloud service dedicated only to WordPress. A limited number of approved plugins, all upgrades and security concerns handled for me, and all the clustering/balancing/failover/backup crap needed for good uptime.

      I suppose WordPress.com is supposed to be that, but the plugins they offer are extremely limited. I supposed that’s necessary to achieve those other things?

  • http://www.ricardodsanchez.com Ricardo

    Jason,

    It is cool that there are so many options, different people have different needs. Of course the problem of SPAM with Squarespace is no doubt a serious problem, hopefully they will read your blog and realize popular bloggers as yourself are switching to other platforms for a problem they could have fixed a long time ago.
    Let us know how WordPress works for you in a few months, you might convince other people to switch to it if you tell us this is in fact a good blog platform when using the self hosted version.

    Thanks.
    .-= Ricardo’s latest blog post: Microsoft AJAX content delivery network (CDN) =-.

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      Exactly. The annoying thing is that I’ve been vocal with their tech support with these issues. Never got a response beyond “Thanks for your input.”

      Also if I could see progress, like every three months an incremental improvement, I would have stayed. But there’s been nothing new for a year.

  • http://www.dbxtra.com Rudolf F. Vanek

    Jason,
    >>>Sandbox. When I want to try a new layout or a new plug-in or whatever, I might break the site.

    Where can I get such a script? Did you do it by yourself or is it a plugin?

    Regards

    Rudolf F. Vanek

    • http://blog.asmartbear.com Jason

      I wrote the script, but I can describe how it works.

      1. Pick a disk location for the sandbox and set up Apache to run on it. Also configure a new Apache virtual host to serve it up, like instead of blog.mydomain.com you could use test.mydomain.com.
      2. To copy over, rm -rf /sandbox then cp -a /wordpress /sandbox. That “-a” instead of “-r” is to preserve permissions and mode bits.
      3. Duplicate the MySQL database with mysqldump -u root wordpress-db | mysql -u root sandbox-db. Pipes a dump of the database into a separate database for use by the sandbox.
      4. Edit /sandbox/wp-config.php to point the DB_NAME PHP macro to the sandbox database. (In my script I just keep a whole sandbox wp-config file separate.)
      5. Run a query like this to configure the sandbox wordpress database to use the sandbox URL: UPDATE options SET option_value='http://test.myblog.com' WHERE option_value='http://blog.myblog.com'

      • http://www.dbxtra.com Rudolf F. Vanek

        Jason,
        That sounds great.
        I’ll try that out.
        Thanks a lot.
        BTW: great blog; love it.

        Rudolf F. Vanek

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  • http:://youfailed.us/ Sheldon McGee

    There is a lot of WordPress hate out there . . . mostly for security problems and partly because of caching problems (no wp-cache by default) but I find for a small site it’s awesome. Sure, updating can be troublesome and is annoying (and scary . . . though I’ve never upgraded and had to use the backups that I always make first) but it’s so easy to add Sitemaps and RSS and twitter integration and just about everything else. And since the code is open (and, more importantly, the themes are!) with a little PHP you can do anything you want!

  • http:://youfailed.us/ Sheldon McGee

    Oh, and not liking that when I click on my name in the above post the link it to: http://blog.asmartbear.com/http:://youfailed.us/. I unchecked the “Automatically include link to your latest blog post” just to see what happens with this post.

  • Alan Houser

    I’ve been hacking WordPress for five years now, and agree with you that the user can do whatever he wants in WordPress.

    However, it’s the same type of arguments a PC user makes when comparing their new Dell to a MacBook Pro.

    Squarespace kicks ass because it’s not bloated with all those third-party non-supported plugins. It’s a different animal alltogether.

    I have and will continue to move sites from WordPress to Squarespace. I will also recommend WP to those clients where it makes more sense. So-far, the only time it makes sense is pro-bono work.

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  • http://softwareprototyping.net John Clark

    This is very interesting. My blog is on wordpress.com which is fine but I find the restrictions limiting. Ironically, I moved it there from my server (I was running my own anyway) as I’d had no end of quibbles with my installation of WordPress.

    Now, I’m seriously thinking about moving it back. Grass is always greener, etc….
    .-= John Clark’s latest blog post: Save money: invest in a big display =-.

  • http://www.salespeople.co.za Lizzie | Sales People

    WordPress is undoubtedly the number one open source blogging and CMS system available at present, and they sure are not resting on their laurels either, with regular updates and tweaks to make the best even better.

    My only gripe is that it is still quite complicated to work with & setup for a non-techie type. I was lured into purchasing a theme, which was supposed to make my life easier…..no chance! And to actually get somebody to just setup and tweak the theme for me has proven even more problematic.

    Having said this, I am still a huge WordPress fan, and am confident I’ll get it to work for me sooner rather than later. Good luck on your blogging journey with WordPress.

    Be well

    Lizzie

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