Multi User Weblogging – what are your options

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?

59 replies on “Multi User Weblogging – what are your options”

  1. 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.

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