Why we’re (probably) sticking with our (non-optimal) weblog system (for now)

…waiting for MovableType to rebuild 800 posts is but one more reason to wake up and join the WP crowd (yes I will James, no need to spur me on, it’s a matter of time). MT is like, so…. 2002. Tired.Alan Levine

In a few minutes I’m going to a meeting which should push forward the long-overdue upgrade to UBC-OLT’s weblog and wiki hosting environments. As of now, our plan is to install the latest release of http://www.sixapart.com/movabletype/”>Movable Type as our weblog system, and most likely Wikka Wiki for the free-text crowd (though our pilot with PMWiki has been quite successful).

The decision on a weblog platform has been tough. I can’t really disagree with Mr. Levine’s assessment of MT — especially the point about rebuilding (though the dynamic publishing option with the new version may address that). I’ve been underwhelmed by our test intallations of MT 3.1x — it’s okay, but hardly revolutionary. I had hoped that version 3 would have had more useful user administration features for large numbers of users. And it would be sexier to do something open source.

So why are we sticking with a ‘tired’ system? You may also be asking…

Why not WordPress?

I’m impressed with what I’ve seen and heard about WordPress. And if I followed one of my personal maxims on technology use (just do what the coolest, smartest people you know are doing) this would seem to be where the mojo is (no offence to everybody else). If I was just picking a system for myself, it would probably be my choice. But the standard WordPress requires a fresh install for every new weblog, which renders it unsuitable for us. My read on WP Multi-User is that it is presently too buggy, and the office techies have some serious reservations concerning the way that it is built.

Why not Drupal?

This one ranks pretty high on the cool scale as well, and I know lots of very groovy people doing very groovy stuff with it. I had initially eliminated Drupal from consideration because it did not allow for individual templates for weblogs, though it looks as if that is becoming less of an issue with the latest and pending releases. Ultimately, the uniform branding issue points to the essential purpose of the system, with aggregation features promoting a “communal blogging” approach, as opposed to MT’s more “author-centric” one. It may merely be an indication of UBC’s culture, but my read on our users here is that they like the stand-alone qualities and easy personalisation that MT offers. Then again, we’ve been running MT for the past two years, so it’s hard to guage if there is an untapped potential market for the more social, systemic approach.

If we had unlimited resources, I’d try to run MT and Drupal concurrently to support both these approaches. But obviously we don’t… and to be frank part of the reason we are likely sticking with MT is because our people already know it. I am hopeful that in the near future we will be able to establish some sort of partnership with another organization to allow us to begin using Drupal without doing a full-on installation of our own, but that’s another story to be told at another time.

Why not b2evolution?

We gave b2evolution a good test run — there are a few things I like about it, mostly having to do with user management, which is nicely set up to support a large number of bloggers. Ultimately I don’t feel like we can make the jump for two reasons: a) our test migration of MT blogs to b2 was a little screwy in places (especially comments and trackbacks) and b) I found the user interface a bit cluttered and confusing — a few of our testers also expressed this concern (it strikes me as a case of an application trying to do too much).

The upside…

Part of the reason we are looking to stick with MT is sheer momentum (or lack of it, depending how you look at it). We have a couple hundred active weblogs on the old system… and moving to MT 3 should be the simplest option in terms of migration, training and user adaptation. The relative lack of change from MT 2 to 3 is a positive in this respect, I would expect that most users will notice little difference between the versions, and most of the stylesheets and mini-codehacks we have developed over the past couple years should also be salvagable. By my estimation, these issues outweigh the costs of licensing. For the short term, at least, MT 3 feels like the lowest risk option.

It’s quite likely I am demonstrating my ignorance with this snapshot overview of our options. And I am more than willing to listen to my peers with regards to factors (or other systems) I have not taken into account. The thoughts expressed and work performed by others has already moved my soul to confused upheaval. By all means, pile onto my delirium.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well…

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8 Responses to Why we’re (probably) sticking with our (non-optimal) weblog system (for now)

  1. Scott Leslie says:

    Brian, any comments on the adoption of Wikka Wiki over PMWiki? What was missing in PMWiki that you’ve found in Wikka Wiki? Advantages, etc? Love to hear your thoughts if you had time (or maybe we can just grab a beer some day).

  2. Brian says:

    I should try to blog a follow up on the wiki decision. Quick version: Wikka has most of the features I like about PMWiki (and the password features are a must-have), and has nice native support for displaying RSS feeds, and supports the Freemind mindmapping plugin.

    But I am still wavering — I have been pleased with PMWiki.

  3. Alan Levine says:


    I’d likely be making the same choice as you for setting up blogs for others to use- I should have paraphrased that I was talking about a single user blog as I am luckily not in the business of creating blog spaces for others.

    I am interested in the final wiki decision as I do want to make a move this summer from UseMod which has been reliable, but lacking enough features for the potential uses. With a subtle bump of wiki interest here (from zero to perhaps 8 people), I need a better answer for making wikiware recommendations.

    (As a side bonus, your MT seems ping happy- I get 4 trackbacks per post- I am not complaining as apile of pings is an email boost, but you may want to know)

  4. Rob Wall says:

    Thanks for putting your thoughts online, Brian. I have a couple of projects on the go where I need to be looking at similiar considerations. For at least one of them, I think that Drupal meets our needs quite nicely for some of the reasons that you gave as disadvantages in your setting.

    I am also glad to hear you are looking at WikkaWiki – I’ve used UseMod, but its time for some more features, and Wikka just *rawks* – double-clicking in the document to edit it is the most intuitive interface idea I’ve seen in a long time!

  5. Brian, any thoughts on MediaWiki? I’ve been mulling that one over, considering the benefits of having something with the same look/feel of Wikipedia as an incentive for participation.

  6. Brian says:

    Alan — I hope it didn’t seem as if I misrepresented your post (and sorry about those pings)

    Rob — glad you like Wikka… my one concern is I haven’t kicked out the jams with that system enough to get a sense of stability and usability.

    Gardner — we have been running a small MediaWiki pilot, which has gone OK, though my personal opinion is that MediaWiki is a little too complex and rich for casual users. Then again, maybe Wikka is too. D’Arcy Norman (U Calgary) likely would disagree — he likes his MediaWiki installation quite a bit. I had not considered the potential buy-in benefit with resembling Wikipedia… interesting point.

    I feel like I’d better get cracking with a “Why I chose Wikka” posting…

  7. James Farmer says:

    Yes, thanks for sharing this Brian, excellent stuff!

    A couldn’t agree with you more when you say:

    “a “communal blogging” approach, as opposed to MT’s more “author-centric” one”

    is a problem with Drupal… and I think that WPMU is too buggy at the moment for a full-rollout (although I’d be interested in hearing the stresses that tech guys are having)

    So yeh, right decision I think, not exactly breaking the bank either…. maybe things might change down that line :o)

    Cheers, James

  8. Kalev Hunt says:

    Hi Brian,

    I just looked over Wikka briefly and have to say, you chose it over MediaWiki?! The way it lists changes/page history is just… well, pretty bad. I’ve done a lot of piddly Wikipedia editing in the last few months and I love MediaWiki. What about it is too rich? I mean, on the surface it works just like any wiki–I don’t think its richness obscures its basic wiki functionality. The success of Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia babies points, I think, to the fact that it’s easy to use. There are enough people using it for enough obscure topics that I can’t believe everyone contributing is a super-techie or even a regular techie.

    Now, I don’t know how difficult or easy it is to administer, or how light or heavy it is, but from a user perspective, I wouldn’t go for anything but MediaWiki.

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