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Friday, July 26, 2002

Which blog is best for business?

Choosing between Blogger Pro and Radio Userland, I came down in favor of Blogger for this weblog. It was a difficult choice, and one that I didn't have a lot of time to research, so the decision was mostly based on gut feel — but I still feel good about the decision I made.

I think the disadvantage of the Userland solution is exemplified perfectly when you look at's new weblog section. It has Userland's look and feel stamped all over it — to the extent that the recently updated weblogs page doesn't even have the standard navigation bar down the left-hand side. As a publisher, I would — I do — find that unacceptably restrictive.

There are of course disadvantages to using Blogger, most notably the frequent glitches as its maker Pyra slowly upgrades the underlying architecture to better cope with its success. At $50 per year (currently $35, until they iron out the glitches) Blogger Pro isn't priced to be as Pro as most commercial site owners would really feel comfortable with. Its main benefit (and the clincher for me) is that it gives you complete control:

  1. You can adopt, modify or create any page template design you like. You just insert Blogger markup tags at the points where you want the weblog content to appear.
  2. It FTP's your completed pages to your own server. This makes it super-easy to add a Blogger weblog to an existing site, which is the case with most businesses.

Although in principle Radio Userland also allows you to do that, in practice it's tricky to set it up that way, whereas it's Blogger's default mode of operation. I think that's why more businesses seem to be choosing Blogger than Userland, although Userland is more popular among well-known individual bloggers or for larger knowledge-sharing intranet implementations.

Another factor that swung me in favor of Blogger was that Radio requires installation on my local PC, whereas Blogger functions entirely in the browser. Personally, I've given up installing software locally (unless absolutely unavoidable). It's just too much hassle. As one of Radio's new Salon recruits says in his blog: "it's 2002, and they made a web-based app that requires a fat client. way to go, guys. i wouldn't have thought it possible, without an infinite number of chimps and typewriters."

Shortly after I had made my decision, CNet published a review of weblog publishers that also narrowly came down in favor of Blogger. Last week, John Hiler of Microcontent News published a very comprehensive survey of blogging software options, which explains the background to both Blogger and Radio Userland, and what the differences really are, as well as mentioning some larger-scale shared weblog platforms. He also includes his own company WebCrimson's offerings, which I think look like they'll be serious competition for Blogger and Userland once the planned paid-for services are introduced.

Of course, no mainstream website publishing platforms currently include out-of-the-box support for blogging functions — that will come next year, as I explained in an article a few months back.

There's been a recent flurry of articles about using weblogs in business. I recommend these two:

posted by Phil 1:15 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Monday, July 22, 2002

Weblog comments on test

A new weblog commenting system went live on this weblog today. It will be on test for a day or two while I tidy up one or two rough edges. Then I plan to roll it out on the main Loosely Coupled weblog as well, and I'll document here how I went about setting it up.

The easy thing to do would have been to use one of the popular weblog commenting systems documented by Phil Ringnalda in his (Unofficial) Blogger FAQ. But virtually all the hosted systems are designed for personal or enthusiast sites, and few of them charge, which I feel makes them inappropriate for use on a commercial site. So instead I decided to build one using Xara Modules, which as I've mentioned in several recent posts, we already use for various other site functions.

Advantages of doing it this way:

  • Almost unlimited control over the appearance and layout of comments and submission forms
  • The same commenting system can be used for comments on other types of site content
  • I can consolidate comments from multiple pages and weblogs in a single system (so effectively it can act as a discussion forum as well as a commenting system). It could even collect comments from weblogs and/or other pages across multiple sites if I wanted.
  • It's scalable (so Xara tells me) with no noticeable loss of performance up to thousands of users and tens of thousands of records.
  • I can download a copy of the entire database in comma delimited format any time I like, either as a backup or to move to another service.
  • Despite all this power and flexibility, it requires only rudimentary HTML skills and no server-side code.

Disadvantages of doing it this way:

  • It lacks some of the features you'd expect in a commenting system, eg IP barring
  • It's not a packaged system, so it does require a certain amount of effort to set it up
  • If the feature becomes very popular, my costs will rise in proportion to usage.

More than anything else, though, what I find really exciting about this is that it hasn't taken me long at all to figure this out and get it going, and I haven't had to involve any programmers or developers. I just went ahead and used the self-service tools that Xara provide to create some functionality I wanted for my site. I can try out new ideas for myself without having to wait in line for developers to misinterpret my inadequate design brief, and when I've finally got it working and demonstrated that it meets my business objective, I can point to it and say, "OK, that's what I wanted."

I feel this is very empowering. What do you think?

posted by Phil 9:49 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Building a website using plug-in online services: the Loosely Coupled experience

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