Multi User Weblogging – what are your options

Written by James
22
Feb

D’Arcy gets to the meat as regards multi-user weblogging and I can’t hold back (even though I have a million other things to do)…

So you want to do “Weblogs @ YourOrganisation” do you, well here are your options:

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Manila

Manila from Userland is the original multiuser blog tool, it’s powerful and well put together and forms the basis of some of the original multi-user experiments such as Schoolblogs and most famously Weblogs @ Harvard put together Userland’s former CEO Dave Winer.

With Manila each user can have their own blog within minutes (you can enjoy the experience yourself at Schoolblogs at the time of writing), they’re powerfully customisable and can serve as content management systems as well as weblogs. However… it’s also got a clunky interface, is a long way from intuitive (well, to me and several others I’ve tried to do work on it with) and will set you back US$1099 (or US$499 academic) a year.

Pros: proven, mature, powerful
Negs: clumsy, costs, tricky to use

Drupal

Drupal is a powerful, flexible and clean Content / Community Management System… “Community Plumbing”. It allows the creation of sites with collaborative books, polls, ‘stories’, forums, public aggregation and, among other things, each user to have their own blog. For example, if you visit the IncSub Association (a Drupal site) and register then you can simply start a blog by going to ‘Create Content’. This has been used by a host of organisations very effectively including Weblogs@UPEI and Urban Vancouver (something about Canada & Drupal…) and Kairos News – although arguably the last two are collaborative publications rather than numerous individual blogs.

What Drupal seems to offer is an excellent opportunity for people thoroughly engaged in a particular community to have a blog / make a contribution in that space. However, the blogs that users can create are extremely limited in their flexibility (for example it’s impossible to put your own header up, yet alone play with a blogroll) and much more importantly each blog is so integrated into the particular Drupal installation that there is no real independence, user control or flexibility. In an educational context this would mean a new blog for each course… not a good solution necessarily if you would like to capitalise on the ongoing establishment of virtual presence that blogs offer (but still a heck of a lot better than solutions WebCT & Blackboard offer!)

Pros: simple, powerful CMS, open source, great community
Negs: not independent, inflexible blogging tool

Movable Type

Movable Type was the darling of multi-blogging prior to it starting to cost with Liz Lawley putting together MT as courseware packages and plenty of other educational and business organisations installing the software as a corporate or educational blogging tool. In essence an MT installation gives you a fully functional and powerful blog and while I’ve had no personal experience of keeping one, these have been the tool of choice of many a blogger.

One of the gripes about MT multi-blog use has always been the lack of an automated multi-blog generating script (for example for UBC) which may have something to do with the interests sixapart have in the success of TypePad but that combined with the costs ($40 – $1300) and the lack of the kind of vibrant community open source projects enjoy are drawbacks [although you could probably argue that it’s got a vibrant paying community…]

Pros: Fully functional weblogs, powerful & mature
Negs: Costs, community, ease of implementation

TikiWiki

TikiWiki is an incredibly functional Content Management System based around a wiki and incorporating the facility for users to each keep a blog. Essentially this is the same as Drupal (except more functional and harder) and blogs are part of the community in the same way.

If you want to have a wiki / gallery / multi-blog CMS with plenty of other features then this might work for you (one nice feature is that blog headers can be individualised) but it’s held back by the same constraints as Drupal plus a much higher level of difficulty of use.

Have a play with a Tiki Blog at the IncSub Wiki, you’ll have to register & log in first but after that it’s pretty straightforward (just follow the ‘blogs’ link in the menu).

Pros: Incredibly functional, incorporates strong wiki functionality, open source, big community
Negs: Very complex, not very beautiful, a challenge to the administrator

WordPress Multi User

WordPress Multi User is essentially an application of the celebrated WordPress weblogging system which allows for anyone to create their own, fully functional WordPress blog. I use WordPress because I think it’s the best weblogging system available (open source or otherwise) and so the facility to provide each user with a WP blog is a very good one indeed, it’s also incredibly easy to set up one, create yourself an IncSub Blog for example.

However, this is still in it’s very early stages of development and there are quite a few bugs (especially related to permissions and controls over the creation of new blogs) and it’s not a system that I would encourage anyone to rush full pelt into right now… but, if this develops towards a good beta in the next year or so then with integration with LDAP there’s no knowing where it’ll go… personally I’m putting my money with this one.

Pros: Open Source, powerful leading blogging tool, great community, simple multi-user function
Negs: Alpha, regular WP templates don’t work

pLog

Plog looks like a pretty exciting option being an open source, pretty featureful system that supports multi-user blogging rather well indeed (such as here at Bloc de BalearWeb I could even do it without speaking Spanish so that’s gotta be easy :o) – thanks to Todd for the link!)

I set one up and it’s got a pretty clean interface ‘n all together with a lot of nice templates so it looks like there’s a fair bit of potential here. I’d be really interested to hear any pLog users views on how it compares, especially to MT & WordPress.

Pros: open source, pretty fully featured, clean
Negs: 0.3.2 at time of writing so a long way behind WP & MT

LiveJournal.org

LiveJournal, synonymous with straightforward teenage focused sites as it is, is always going to be a great option for people looking into this aspect on multi-user blogging. Apparently you can set up a LJ system for yourself using their source which sounds great but is probably / definitely a bit beyond me.

I imagine if you had your own LJ system running you’d have a fantastic opportunity to develop the kind of multi-user social networking blog tool that might be suitable for K12 or community groups. Am not sure of the degree to which the functionality of the system would suit someone looking for a blog come CMS tool for an organisation / workplace or the kind of flexibility / advanced possibilities that might work in a Uni.

Pros: Great for under 21 networking, simple & proven interface to use
Negs: Have no idea how to install it / don’t know of any examples (besides LJ itself), limited flexibility and control

Roller

Dave Johnson took time out to point to the fact that Roller is most definitely an open source multi-user weblogging app and the fact that Sun are implementing it in their enterprise software probably means that it’s a good thing to look at. I can’t really comment on that but it certainly does look like you can get Roller up and running in a multi-user weblogging environment as JRoller have done (go there and set up your own Roller blog if you fancy).

So from my playing there I’d say that the kind of blog that Roller sets up isn’t far beyond the kind of Blogger blog experience (simple post / categories / links / template options) which in some ways could be seen as great (simple) but in others not so great as, the capacity for users to ‘own’ their spaces, to configure them independently and feel in control of their blogging experience is very limited. There isn’t much ‘incorporated subversion’ if you know what I mean. Could be a great option for the K12 / straightforward angle though. Thanks for the heads up Dave.

Pros: Open source, simple & straightforward use
Negs: Not that flexible for users, bit simplistic

Blosxom

Tom was kind enough to elaborate on my Blosxom questions and it certainly does look like Blosxom can be used pretty simply in an enterprise / multi-weblog kinda way. He also describes here that the OS implementation of tools like this is quite possibly the way forward: “Apple seems to be doing just about the simplest thing that could possibly work” and while I’m not sure I entirely agree with that (talking as a former Radio user here) it’s a useful debate.

Does anyone know of a site using the multi-user Blosxom plugin where I could have a crack at it?

  1. Obviously I’m biased (I work for the company that makes Movable Type, and I run our Professional Network), but I think that community is one of Movable Type’s strengths. I’d bet we’ve got a third-party developer community as big as all the tools above combined, and we certainly have the most dedicated resources within our company for advancing our blogging platforms.

    In addition, we’re focused by being a company that’s all about blogging. I think that’s an important consideration when picking a tool, too. Great work on your overview!

  2. James, thanks for the updated comparison!

    Right now, I think I’ve narrowed it down to either MovableType, WordPress Multiuser, or Drupal.

    I’ll need to use the LDAP connectivity for any solution, so the 30,000-odd users don’t have to manage separate weblog accounts.

    Do you have any thoughts on how any of these actually work via LDAP (i.e., can you have multiple authors on a weblog if using LDAP? In my brief reading, it looks like they implement LDAP as a fallback authentication, so it sort of short-circuits the software’s internal concept of “author” – I could be wrong, though – hopefully).

    I was thinking about Drupal, but am a bit concerned about how to export the data in a meaningful way (say a Prof wants to “upgrade” to a personal copy of WordPress or MT or whatever, how do they get their content out? a lock-in won’t fly with our users…)

  3. I think that plog (http://www.plogworld.net/) is also a viable option–I’d probably pick it over Drupal or TikiWiki because it just does blogs. It offers a nice “summary” page where users can register, and you can display the newest blogs, most popular posts, etc. You can see an active example at http://bloc.balearweb.net/.

  4. Anil, what’s a good way to measure a third-party developer community?

  5. I’d include LiveJournal in that list — it’s demonstrably a highly scalable multi-user system, after all, and it’s (mostly) GPL. I hear that it does require a lot more technical know-how to run than some of the other systems, though.

  6. James … excellent! I read D’Arcy’s post and thought it was a great start to some work that needs to be done. I have a post saved in my WP system ready to go about trying to get a multi-blogger experience going at Penn State … this (and D’Arcy’s) was a great start to what I am sure will be a long haul at my University. Nice work–>

    C

  7. Thanks for all the comments so far guys, I’m flat out today but’ll try to get a few more in, a Tiki demo & review some comments []’d later.

    Have a look at Blosxom, pLog and maye LiveJournal… anyone got any thoughts on Roller?… any more?

    Good Q Matt… how do you measure a community???

    Cheers, James

  8. Whatever do you mean by “It looks to me like Roller is going to become part of Sun’s enterprise software offerings (here and here) so there’s not a heap of point following that up at the moment”? If anything, that is a reason to follow up, not a reason against. Anyhow…

    Roller is a great choice, Sun has over a thousand blogs running on it. JRoller.com has > 7000. There are numerous other large scale sites. Roller is open source software licensed under and Apache license and that ain’t gonna change.

  9. Hi Charlie, fascinating, engaging and persuasive presentation… dunno how that one slipped the aggregator net. Much appreciated! (Although I think you demonstrate very well how powerful Drupal is for an individual / group rather than the kind of enterprise weblogging application we’ve got here).

    Dave, thanks for your comment, very much appreciated , I asked for corrections / extra information and this is exactly what I wanted… never even came across JRoller before and didn’t know that it was Apache, will make appropriate edits.

    Cheers, James

  10. Heh, knew it wasn’t regular run off the mill Spanish… my linguistic prowess knows no bounds! Thanks for the info.

  11. I mused about software a couple of days ago and the link between matching tools to user requirements and it prompted me to blog some thoughts . And this afternoon I just spent an afternoon looking at hosted multi-user Blog options. The three I looked at were Modblog , Blogdrive, and Blogger

    In short, the best option for a multi-user Blog with the ability to upload files was Blogdrive, of course the level of functionality we needed for the project (the ability to upload files) costs money. With this comes a degree of complexity that might prove a barrier if the need isn’t strong enough to come to grips with the software.

    If we didn’t need to upload files Blogger was a really simple to use, and if uploading files isn’t top on your list this would be great to use with students down to a primary age.

    With Modblog, we couldn’t see how it was possible to do multi-user Blogs, it might be though that we just couldn’t work out what was going on.

  12. You may also like to consider the Pebble suite of tools written by Simon Brown that includes a blog server with a multi user mode, a J2ME client for mobile phones etc.

    The blog server is written as a Java web application, is released under open source and is under active development. We have been very happy using Pebble to set up some private blogs for students at Oxford University as part of RAMBLE, a project integrating moblogs with VLEs. It has prompted wide ranging discussions on blogs in our educational context.

  13. As our origins lie in Europe and we are relatively new to the US market you might not have noticed our service so far. 21Publish is a hosted service that is solely designed to create your own private-label blogging community. It has a centralised hub from which to build, manage
    and deploy your blogging community. It lets you host an unlimited number of blogs for your users. 21Publish is a spin-off of 20six a leading blogging community in Europe so it is a very mature product and has a proven performance for thousands of simultaneous users.
    It has a 2 months free trial option. Maybe you can check it out to see if you find it worth to be included here…
    Stefan

  14. James, great posting. I agree with you that Manila is powerful but has no user-friendly interface for beginners – so Manila is IMHO not the right platform to start a blogging service in an institution. If you like to make your list a little bit longer, you have to check b2evolution ( http://b2evolution.net) which is one of the most powerful and easy to use multiblog-applications. Another one that is suitable for blogging-noobs is BlogCMS ( http://www.blogcms.com). You can check both systems at opensourcecms (http://opensourcecms.com).

    Cheers

    Marco

  15. Everyone seems to have forgotten b2evolution!

  16. A Blosxom derivative is the simplest thing that could possibly work from an administrative point of view. To the end user, maybe not.

  17. Thanks for all the comments guys, I saw Ramble a bit back and was interested… think Pebble will definitely have to be on the table.

    I, like D’Arcy, was very much under the impression that WP was the new b2 and hence b2evolution was superseded by WPMU in some ways so I haven’t looked at it in much detail. I s’pose with WPMU in alpha it should be worth a look at the moment and will certainly make note for future investigations!

    21Publish looks like a good venture but I think the critical thing from where I’m standing is to have a system set up on your own servers rather than a hosted version. Thanks for the heads up though (and IncSub is Australian not US :O)… although admittable it’s sometimes feels like that…)

    Cheers, James

  18. http://elgg.net/ is open source, supports multi-user blogging, and does weblogging, social networking, tags throughout, file sharing, and access control, all in a very decent interface. It’s fairly new but looks solid.

    Right now it’s invite-only, but I’ve found a way in. Ask me for an invite if you want to try it out.

  19. alfred - call me al

    There are two more multi-user blogs that I don’t think have been mentoned yet:

    a blog addon for the IPB forum system (costs money) link

    and NewLife Blogger, an open source simple blog focused on many users. link

  20. Thnaks Al, Invision doesn’t look like it comapres much up to MT and as that’;s th e’priced’ competition…

    However, NewLife looks v. interesting indeed… I’ve been thinking quite a lot about LJ and possibilities of late and this could be a good way to start playing…

    Cheers, James

  21. Matt England

    I’m a complete Blog-admin newbie, but I’m looking for multi-user/multi-blog capability.

    Why no references to Nucleus? It appears, at first glance anyway, to have a significant multi-user/blog/author capability:

    http://forum.nucleuscms.org/viewtopic.php?t=5714

    Just curious; I like to think I’m not biased because I’m only looking…

    -Matt

  22. Hi Guys,

    Good questions… I like Nucleus too (clear, clean, kinda funky) but I think the multi-user capability is that it allows one user to have multiple blogs rather than multiple users simply have multiple blogs… but I could be wrong, please do correct me if I am!

    Cheers, James

  23. By default, all Nucleus installations come with a createaccount.html file through which visitors can register as member of a site. This option has to be enabled by the administrator of that Nucleus blog, though.
    As a site member, you don’t immediatelly have a weblog created for you, but the NewMemberBlog plugin [1] can add that functionality. Also, you can give existing site members the possibility to become writer on a blog through a signup form that can be displayed using the NewAccountlugin [2].

    [1] http://wakka.xiffy.nl/newmemberblog
    [2] http://wakka.xiffy.nl/newaccount

    FYI, http://tipos.com.br/ is probably the largest known Nucleus powered site. WIth +60 blogs, hundreds of items and thousands of comments it shows Nucleus can be used to achieve a lot.

    All right, I’ll stop promoting my favourite blog tool. ;)

  24. No don’t it’s interesting!

    I think the fundamental difference here is that I’m looking at tools which allow for multiple single instances of blogs (kindof ‘your own space’) rather than becoming an author or contributor to a particular shared space (although that’s basically what Drupal is, in a way)

    Does that make sense?

  25. Plone is a powerful object-oriented CMS with two decent and rapidly improving blogging tools, Quills and SimpleBlog. Quills is the newer of these, and supports comments, trackbacks, and the blogger api. The unreleased (to date) 0.9 version can be found on their SVN server. I am analyzing multi-user blogs for higher-ed roll-out, and have narrowed it down to WordPress MU, MovableType, and Plone. Plone takes the cake as far as features, like undo, versioning, and scalability, as well as potential uses, but may have to step aside for the for-cost solution of MovableType. For what its worth, I’ve run a MovableType 2.x implementation since 2001, and Plone for a few weeks longer. Prior to that it was GreyMatter, and prior to that, it was all hand-rolled.

  26. Thanks Ken, I know Plone is a powerful and well-liked tool (unfortunately I haven’t been able to play with it as it’s not php / mysql) and people like Tom Hoffman have been doing great stuff with it… but I’d still caution against using a ‘one size’ system which people then have to fit into… and suggest that the kind of things offered by B2evo, MT & WPMU where communication is centred on the individual (as here: http://incsub.org/?page_id=19) will have far greater chances of success.

  27. Yes I have, I installed it just the other week for a us acad and it’s um, not a great deal of kazoom to say the least.

    Basically you get to select from the blog options which of the (pre-uploaded) themes you would like to have your blog run as… which is, I guess, better than nothing.

    But (and this may have been caching issues) it then seemed to switch your entire experience of the site to that theme.

    And of course the themes available are, while being very good, not totally interchangeable.

    So a bit of a thumbs down I’m afraid… although Drupal as community plumbing and as independent sites keeps on getting better and better.