Blogger’s choice

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Since I want my new site to be regularly updated with fresh content, I thought getting to grips with blogging technology would be great idea. While I have no interest in writing long touching posts about the sad but true story of my feline pet’s reproductive ineptitude :confused:, the web log as an organizational structure has many advantages. Beyond being easy to update, it is also an efficient and familiar format. People on the web are familiar with the conventions of interacting with a blog, which makes them more receptive to the content. For me the most important aspect of the web log format is the ability to allow readers to comment on content. In some ways blogs seem to not only allow, but encourage commentary and discussion, which can only add to the strength of the content.

Maintaining ‘updatingly yours’ is part of my learning process to become comfortable with the formatting and design of blogs, as I foresee having a handful of sections in the site which would benefit from this structure. When I first decided to start this section, there were a few decision to be made, because the blog is a very varied animal. To begin with I decided that I didn’t want to go for one of those ready-made blogging services, purely because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of my content depending on an external service.

The next decision to make was which of the many personally hosted blogging tools to use. There are many out there, but the first one to catch my attention was MovableType. Sites made with it seemed well organized, and some of them were gorgeous. When I explored further on their site, however, a few things put me off. Firstly this software is not really free. The terms and conditions for “personal non-professional use” can be very iffy when you are a freelance designer, one of those rare breeds of homo sapiens who never seem to be NOT working. The second issue was a technical one. MovableType depends on a back end database engine. This is near impossible to test out on a free web space because it is considered a high end feature by web hosts; it puts an excess strain on their servers.

So, Movable type was out. Next I came across Blosxom. It was tiny! I loved it. It could work with just a CGI-BIN, which some free hosts do provide. It was totally free and open source, and its database engine consisted purely of directories and simple text files – definitely something I could live with. In addition it could be augmented with a plethora of plugins to do almost anything I could think up. So, I downloaded the 17Kb file loaded up the web page with the installation instructions and waited for the magic to happen. Unfortunately it didn’t. For one thing, Blossom’s documentation needs some major work. Second, and more important was a technical issue. Blosxom works by creating the blog page live every time someone requests it. While that sounds good in theory and has many advantages, it is an unnecessary strain to put on a server, especially a free one.

I was almost giving up on the whole blog idea when I came across Greymatter quite by chance. The reason I hadn’t found it before is that it was actually the first of these type of tools, plus the development had been almost non-existent over the last couple of years. But, it was open source so I tried it, and here you have the result. The thing I liked about Greymatter was that it worked pretty well to begin with, once all the necessary settings had been entered. Also it is a bit of a Goldilocks story because, while MovableType is very user friendly (by all accounts), and Blosxom is a code hackers dream, Greymatter forms a very comfortable middle ground. You can change everything from the ground up when the need arises, but it is quite happy to work away to a default satisfactory level if you don’t want to bother. Best of all, Greymatter creates static HTML pages whenever new content is added and there is no need for repeated running of CGI scripts.

Greymatter still has a long way to go before it reaches the level of development activity behind Blosxom, but that is partly because it is considered an old fogey in the very trend-conscious world of blogs. However, what it lacks in vitality, it makes up for in its robustness. From the first moment you run Greymatter it feels mature and stable. So maybe it should come as no surprise that a search on Google for the ubiquitous “powered by …” line produces the following number of results.

“powered by blosxom” 40,000
“powered by movabletype” 71,900
“powered by greymatter” 199,000

Greymatter’s age and its system of generating permanent static pages might have something to do with the large number of search engine hits, but it is good to know that a good piece of code has not faded into oblivion. While Blosxom remains a good choice, and something I might consider in the future if I simply must have any of its extra features, at the moment Greymatter is the perfect system for my needs.

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