Step 1: Choose a CMS

This article is now somewhat out-of-date since I collapsed 4 of the blogs into one (Reading, Religion, Theology, and general updates are all in the same blog now, with separate blogs for writing projects). However, the principle is still the same, and the history of my experience with blogging is relatively accurate. Therefore, I’ve decided to use this entry as a reply to Lorelle’s current challenge, rather than writing a whole new one with most of the same content.

Prologue

In 2004, I became fed up with LiveJournal and Xanga. I had begun the former because a girl I liked (circa 2003) had a LiveJournal, and through my joining I discovered a great many of my friends were already using LJ. The next year, however, all of the people I met hosted their blogs on Xanga rather than LiveJournal, and so I created one of those as well to keep in touch with them. Not surprisingly, it was a pain to keep both sites updated, but that wasn’t the worst of it. LiveJournal and Xanga crashed regularly, so when I wanted to blog, I couldn’t. This was inexcusable.

Therefore, I hopped on NewEgg, specced out a new computer, and within a couple of weeks I had built a webserver in my bedroom. The entire experience was geared towards learning as much as I could, so I installed Linux on it (which I had never used at the time) and set up everything from scratch. WordPress was the blogging software I had heard the most about, so I ran through the 5-minute install and away I went.

For a little while, anyways. As a writer, I had a lot of work sitting around that I wanted to put on my website, and knowing as little as I did at the time, I created a static page on WordPress for each piece. Suffice it to say that WP doesn’t handle a large volume of pages on the backend very well, and once the database queries began taking 3-5 minutes for me to find a page so I could update it, I began casting around for a new content management system (CMS). Mambo was recommended by a friend and, after learning its somewhat ridiculous administrator interface, I created a second website just for my writing.

Those of you who have used Mambo, or Joomla! which is very similar, know that it has its strengths and weaknesses. It worked fantastically to display my work, but due to the very nature of it, my writing site stagnated. I always told myself I’d go back and revise items, but once I put them into Mambo, I didn’t have to think about it again. Moreover, it was such a pain to get the site themed and looking like I wanted it that I invariably “set it and forgot it.” The admin interface could be frustrating and nitpicky, as well as cluttered, so I often avoided logging in for as long as I could. In general, it wasn’t an enjoyable CMS to work with. And while WordPress was significantly more enjoyable, it simply couldn’t do the job.

The Present Era

As a sidenote, I looked at Drupal briefly, but was equally unsatisfied with it (perhaps more so than I was with Mambo/Joomla!). I began to despair, wondering at a solution, when I stumbled upon an article by Lorelle on WordPress that discussed the problems with using pages rather than blog entries. The wheels began turning, and I thought, “Why not have all of my writing be blog entries? Why do poems and stories need pages of their own?” Having them in the blog gives me all of the controls I’m used to, chronological organization, and an opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to: revise and share my work.

Therefore, I hatched a plan to use WordPress as my CMS and blog entries rather than pages to post and organize my work. As stated in my About page, there are five main topics on which I desired to write, but I couldn’t throw this all into a single blog or nobody would bother reading it. Moreover, I didn’t want to actually have five separate blogs, hearkening back to the days of LJ and Xanga (to which I crosspost automatically now through plugins) because updating would be a colossal pain (as would upgrading the software, especially since WP releases an upgrade every 3-6 months now, it seems). Therefore, I decided to try a personal installation of WordPress-MU.

WordPress-MU is often associated with WordPress.com and Blogsome, where you can install no plugins and the themes available are selected by the developer and largely uncustomizable. Due to this, the software has a stigma against it as being restrictive, but the truth is that around 95% of the code from WordPress is shared with WordPress-MU; they are very similar programs. And since I am doing this to create blogs for myself, there are no issues with restrictiveness.

To provide readers the option of only reading the content in which they are interested, I created a blog for each topic on which I intended to write (as well as corresponding LJ and Xanga accounts to which they crosspost for those who prefer to subscribe via those services). Because it is all through WordPress-MU, I administrate and post to the blogs from a single backend interface, and I will only have to upgrade one location for all of the blogs to benefit.

On the negative side, due to some of the redirection settings and requirements of WordPress-MU, some plugins (like the Ask-Apache 404 Google WordPress Plugin) simply refuse to work. Themes not written specifically for WP-MU will have problems with its registration page, and the configuration files require some hacking if you want everything to look nice (particularly if a user gets a 404 error but you don’t want them to register a new blog). WP-MU was created with the intention of running a site where users can create new blogs, so I’ve had to work around the software a bit for my purposes.

Nevertheless, it feels like the best CMS for me at this time. Few bloggers write on as many topics as I do and I haven’t heard of anyone organizing their site in this fashion, but this solution works well and gives me all of the benefits I want. WordPress is a very nice CMS and, while it certainly isn’t ideal for everything, I keep coming back to the question Lorelle asked that set this all off: why not use blog posts?

I am confident now that, at least for me, the answer is, “There is no reason, therefore I shall.”

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