Massively Multi User Weblogging

UPDATE: Since there seeems to be some serious interest in this topic, I’ve started a wiki page to compare the packages.

I’m starting to toss some more ideas around for a proposal to kickstart a weblogs@ucalgary.ca project. Ideally, the system would be able to integrate via LDAP to the university’s authentication system, so people wouldn’t have Yet Another Login to remember. It should also scale to thousands of weblogs.

There are several software candidates I’d like to test a bit more before moving forward: (in no particular order)

And no, there isn’t an existing weblogs@ucalgary.ca project (what’s up with that?), and I’m not heading one up (but am willing to do so if need be). I just want to get my shit together so I can put an informed proposal together when I get the time.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time now (even tried to provide some services on the Learning Commons webserver, but that never took off for anyone but myself 🙂 ). It was pretty much sparked into the forefront by the NorthernVoice conference, and the Academic Weblogs session in particular.

UPDATE: I’ve set up a test install of Drupal 4.5 to try it out. It seems pretty impressive, but I may decide to turn off some of the bells and whistles so noobs don’t get too freaked out…

60 Comments

  1. I’m interested in the same sort of project. So far, I really like WPMU, except for the fact that the install always seems to go really funky on me. I’m hoping that it matures rapidly now that WP 1.5 is officially released.

  2. as richard says you can user friendly urls in Drupal
    like northernvoice.ca/lunch (which is an example of a friendly URL and
    but like manila this must be set by the user
    but unlike Manila it’s easier to set up!
    any questions about this?
    email me roland AT bryght.com!

  3. Roland, thanks for the feedback! I did find the pathauto module, which does a good job of making decent paths automagically. I just need to figure out how to give each user or group their own “folder” instead of mashing all path aliases into one group (so I could put a post in “/dnorman/first-post” and Roland could put one in “/roland/first-post”

  4. James Farmer

    Excellent stuff D’Arcy… well worth considering too… personally I think it depends on your context / timeframe / aims etc. and that Drupal & WPMU are options worth exploring (as are Manila & MT)… will post more later…

  5. HI D’Arcy,

    On the wall of our office is the material from a site that we found really useful (Brian, Michelle C or Novak found this – I just think it’s neat).

    http://www.asymptomatic.net/blogbreakdown.htm

    I’m not sure how up-to-date it is, but what I like is the “requirements”/features identified – a lot of work went into creating this, for sure! Its a really good start.

    Few other sites:

    From my buddy Paul Browning:
    http://www.isc.bris.ac.uk/blog/Members/glpb/News_Item.2004-03-28.3616/view

    http://www.microcontentnews.com/articles/blogware.htm (from 2002, still prettty cool)

    http://www.isc.bris.ac.uk/blog/Members/glpb/News_Item.2004-03-15.0514/view

  6. Hi D’Arcy: What about b2evolution? I know it handles up to 1000 users no problem. Besides, since it is an open source project, you may easily integrate it to the existing university authentication system?

  7. I was thinking about Blosxom. I really like it for its back-end simplicity (and I’ve used it for a couple of generations of my weblog) but the front-end is a bit lacking for noobs. I can’t really tell a humanities prof to SSH into a box and EMACS a file. Well, maybe I can, but they won’t do it. Yes, there are some plugins to make editing a bit easier (and possible via the web), but even they are pretty rough when compared to the web interfaces of just about every other option. I’d love to be wrong about this, though 🙂

  8. woah. a comment explosion! Thanks to everyone for pitching in your ideas/thoughts/comments!

    Tim: b2evolution, IIRC, is basically deprecated, and the developer has switched to working on WordPress Multiuser (since WP is the current incarnation of b2e, that kinda makes sense).

    James: Thanks for the thoughtful post comparing the various weblog packages! I’ll post my comments on your site.

    Michelle: Thanks for the links! I hadn’t seen some of those before (and sadly, the blog breakdown at asymptomatic.net appears to be down – actually the whole machine appears to have gone on hiatus).

  9. Matt, thanks to the pointer to communityserver! I was wondering what the EDUCAUSE blogs were running on. At first glance CS appears to be a Windows-only executable. Is that true? The download of CS 1.0 is a .exe file…

    .Text is a .asp package, so won’t run here (no windows servers if at all avoidable – I have enough headaches)

  10. hi D’Arcy,

    I tried installing wpmu on one of our linux boxes, but it kept on giving me SQL errors (i.e table didn’t exist, so then I manually created it, but then it kept on giving me an error about other tables already existing). Googled the error; turns out Donncha addressed it on his blog not too long ago as other users were experiencing the same problem. He said that if the user just logged in, the errors would go away. Did that, but the errors refused to go away. :/

    Anyway, we’re giving plain-vanilla wp a try with a pilot group running a webzine. We’ll see if they like it — if not, I think they’d also like to try pybloxsom. Anyone tried that?

    fyi: the University of Minnesota’s UThink project (one of the most mature campus-wide blog projects I’ve seen yet) uses MT. http://blog.lib.umn.edu/

    sidenote: twas nice to see you at the Northern Voice conference! 🙂 it’s too bad you couldn’t come to the after part-ay though; it was an open bar. ():} next time!

    – angel m

  11. Michelle, it was good to see you on Saturday. Too bad I missed the open bar 🙂

    I was able to get WPMU more-or-less working here on the XServe, but didn’t attempt LDAP integration yet. It would be a really good candidate right now, but I’m unsure how collaborative weblogs will work with LDAP authentication…

    PyBlosxom is based on the concepts of Blosxom, which I’ve used quite a lot. That’s another really good option, which is insanely flexible. The only problem with those are the tools used to enter content – because it’s text file based, out of the box it requires you to ssh into a box and emacs stuff. There are plugins to enable a web interface for editing, but they were a bit rough last time I looked (last spring?)

  12. pyBlosxom isn’t very actively maintained at this point, so beware of that. I publish to my blosxom blog using MarsEdit and a MetaWeblog (I think) plugin. There are also plugins that give you a pretty normal web interface for entry.

    The problem here is that I can’t imagine the choices won’t be vastly better in two years, so it seems like a bad time to invest in a complex option.

  13. bonjour, fellow canuck
    I stumbled on your software comparisons & thought i’d chime in – I recently did a similar survey of the options, though i did not need the scalability you will.
    anyhow, Drupal stood out in it’s power & elegance
    textpattern seemed the most elegant & had the best admin usability, but not really meant for a large application like yours
    the only other contender i thought you might want to have a good look at is Expression Engine (‘EE’; kind of the evolution of pMachine). It seems as elegant and powerful as Drupal but worked a little more the way my brain does, and it’s initial setup/defaults had better usability (for me, at least – i like a more clear separation between frontend and admin).
    EE is US $199 but the code is open (for hacking and modifying; not ‘open source’ proper) and the usage license is pretty favorable, so if it saves you a few hours of pain, over your favorite open source package… it’s worth it.
    Those ‘in the know’ are usually pushing Plone – which looks great – but it’s Python-based, rather than PHP, so the learning curve was too much for me to take it on…

  14. looking over your choices, i think you shouldn’t limit yourself to systems that call themselves ‘blogs’ – the difference between a multi-user blog and a community oriented CMS (content management system) is more semantic than anything; hence my mention of Plone above….

  15. Jules, true, but I’m thinking people will have a hard enough time grokking a “blog”, never mind a community oriented content management system 🙂 I’ve added plone to the wiki, and will take a closer look ASAP.

  16. As I understand it the architecture of WordPress MU right now just duplicates all the tables, so it doesn’t appear to be particularly scalable. Auricle wrote about it recently http://www.bath.ac.uk/dacs/cdntl/pMachine/morriblog_more.php?id=376_0_4_10_M

    Drupal 4.6 (next version) will support multiple Drupal sites off the same source code in an intelligent manner, but the blog component is still too elementary.

    I’ve tried to “get” Plone about 5 times now and I still find it inaccessible, although it’s (probably) beautifully engineered. You feel like you *ought* to go with it.

    I like Drupal. If it doesn’t do what you want, it can be made to.

    Glad to see all the interest.

    David

  17. David, thanks for the info. As much as I’d love to use WordPressMU, the table replication stuff just won’t scale – it would be an administrative nightmare.

    I installed Plone, and it seems cool, but I think I prefer Drupal.

    In my head, it’s down to a horse race between Drupal and MovableType – and that depends on how effective the LDAP authentication hack for MovableType is.

  18. D’Arcy, if you’d like, I’d be glad to give you more information about how LDAP can work with MT if you’d like. I can also brief you on how to set up dynamic pages if you prefer in Movable Type, which is built in since version 3.1.

  19. James Farmer

    Makes sense at the mo to think about MT or Drupal if only trough maturity (although it does look like there might be some good open source alternatives to MT out there…) … personally I reckon you’ll be best off (by a long way) with MT because of of the independence of the blogs and the way you then get to work on creating a really cool aggregator/cum CMS (but that’s easy for me to say :o)

    Am not sure about how scalability with WPMU would work, I’ve posted your thoughts on the support forum David with my own. ‘Twill be interesting to see what the developer perspective is on it.

    Cheers, James

  20. Anil, I’d love to hear your thoughts on LDAP and MT. Please send any information you have on the topic (and the dynamic pages) – I have a demo install of MT 3.15 that I’d like to set up to use LDAP as part of the eval process.

    James, thanks for forwarding the scalability concern to the developers of WPMU! I’ll follow that thread.

  21. D´Arcy, great posting – I am thinking about a comparism page in german for some time and you and JF have done good work in advance – thank you. I am wondering why you think b2evolution is deprecated. IMHO the developer Francois Planque has nothing to do with WordPressMU – some days ago there was a message that the b2evolution development will be continued (see http://b2evolution.net/news/2005/02/21/a_quick_update_about_the_development). By the way I think b2evolution is the most powerful Open Source MultiBlog Software you can find. Another one is worth to mention: BlogCMS (http://www.blogcms.com).

    Cheers
    Marco

  22. Marco – I’d read that WordPress was described as the “successor to b2evolution” – I just assumed that meant it was being replaced by WordPress. Perhaps that was more intended as “spiritual successor” since b2e had been rather quiet for a while? Looks like b2e has no LDAP support (and Google didn’t turn up any hacks or plugins or modules or whatnot). No LDAP makes it a non-starter for me, since the last thing I want to be doing is winding up maintaining 30,000 weblog accounts 🙂

  23. not sure why James Farmer think’s Drupal’s blog capabilities are “elementary”. in my opinion they are great but hey I am biased!
    James: What exactly do you mean by elementary?
    And IIRC correctly, Drupal does have an LDAP module.
    If that’s the only thing you need Darcy (i.e. LDAP), let me know and I am sure we can work something out

  24. Hi Roland,

    I think we might be getting our wires crossed between Drupal offering blogs to all users of one site and Drupal as a stand-alone blogging tool (i.e. where each user has one install).

    In the multi-users / one site option I think it’s pretty obvious where the limitations lie (in terms of format especially), in the individual set up I certainly have fewer complaints save that it in that use it kinda falls into the Manila trap where offering so much as it does as a CMS the focus on blogging is a little blurred. But that could well be just me…

    I’d be keen to experiment with the individual option more but not seeing a simple set-up method (a la WPMU) – LDAP ‘aint simple for me! – and considering that any current install I could set-up would each require an individual SQL dbase then I’m not really in a position to really take it to town… just yet.

    Correct me if I’m wrong about the above BTW!

    Cheers, James

  25. .Text and CS:Blogs both run ASP.NET … which should be compatible with UNIX using MONO (http://www.mono-project.com), but I’d be cautious about the time commitments / performance issued associated with trying to get it up. There might be others that have had some success with it, but I’m not sure. dasBlog (another ASP.NET app) is supposed to be coming out with a Community Edition as well, but I don’t know what the timeline looks like.

    As Frank Carver mentioned above, Pebble might be an interesting Java-based environment … I believe I remember hearing that Sun has highered the original developer to work on it full-time (along with contributions from the rest of the open source community).

    I’m looking forward to reviewing your WIKI ….

    Matt

  26. Great post. Any thoughts on multi-blog applications, not just multi-user apps? I’m looking for viable alternative to MT to run multiple blogs with having a single UI to manage them. Is this possible with WPMU?

  27. WPMU should be able to do that, but each blog (IIRC) has its own set of users, so unlike MT where you could share users across multiple blogs, with WPMU you’d have to replicate the users into each one. Semantic difference, but adds some admin overhead (and what to do when a user changes a password on one blog and then has trouble logging into another one because it still has the old password?)

  28. James Farmer

    Hmmmm… in my exp. default collaborative blogging holds little of the promise that individual (and then ad hoc collaborative as reqrd) blogging does… if you’re after a shared space wouldn’t a multi-user wiki / DB app work much better?

    Good Q though, so MT provides a central user account that can then have multiple blogs … I kinda like that structure, could you apply it to other tools (like, say, a wiki?)

    Cheers, James

  29. Yeah, there’s a bunch of tools to integrate MT with wikis, and MT’s account management system’s been integrated with a lot of different systems to be login for other tools.

  30. I know this may be heresy, but has anyone tried to migrate from Drupal TO WordPress, MT, or any other “pure” blogging software. Quite honestly, my experience with Drupal (and I’ve used it for one for 3 months now) has been frustrating at best. I’m very technical and have major issues with the entire user experience. I can’t imagine how the “average” user would get a Drupal installation up and running effectively. After a few months of pounding on it real hard, I can see how its great software for many uses, but as a blogging tool it just doesn’t work as well as the others designed for that purpose.

  31. Tom, we’ve had a number of people come to the same conclusion (Drupal’s a good tool, but sometimes you want a strong blogging tool) and there are a number of scripts to migrate to MT from Drupal if you need.

  32. Histrionic

    It seems like it’s harder to make a blogging system grow up into a CMS than to make a CMS scale down to a blog tool. However, the lines have been blurred over the years, and I think that’s a good thing. To me, a blogging tool seems like a special purpose instance of a CMS, but I understand that reasonable people can disagree on this point. For my money, I’d rather have a CMS even for my own site, but maybe I’ve just been doing this for long enough that I feel the need for “something more.”

    You also should probably assume that whatever you do, you’ll need plugins to do everything you want, and include that in your evaluation. It was true for Manila in 1999, and I think doubly so with the active communities you see for blogging/CMS tools today. For some systems, you may need/want to contribute to the community by developing the kinds of modules you need, because others may as well. (I think the CivicSpace contributions to Drupal are a good case in point.)

    I’m not sure what a “strong blogging tool” refers to. I’ve definitely seen the definition of blogging change over time — no it seems to be required to have trackback/pingback/whatever to even be considered a blogging tool. (Even Drupal has those things, even though it doesn’t have a blogging focus.) You can look at certain tools as the market leaders for some features, but each tool has its reason for existing, its strengths. Federated authentication, ala TypeKey, could now be considered important, but let’s note that Drupal had this kind of support years ago.

    Ultimately, it seems reasonable to pick a tool that’s flexible enough to support your needs (and the needs of the intended users), be supportable (hence the desire for LDAP authentication, which I’ve been bugging vendors about since 2000, and it’s *still* a big issue), and has enough community support to evolve and help with support/plugins/etc. Having been locked into one closed CMS/blog tool already, I am not sure I’d want to go that route again — that may also be something you want to consider.

  33. Histrionic, thanks for the thoughtful comment! I’ve already deployed Drupal 4.5.2 as a first shot at the project. The thing went from “no, there is no project” to “hey, we could do this” to “it’s running. anyone want to play” in under 2 weeks.

    There’s still no official weblogs.ucalgary.ca project, but it’s running, and people are using it. That’s more the spirit I was hoping to foster anyway, as opposed to an IT-mandated committee-fest.

    http://weblogs.ucalgary.ca

  34. Vivek Chandran

    Hi James.
    Do you know any multiuser blogs without not requiring virtual subdomain setup?

    Thanks
    Vivek
    “WordPressMU requires Virtual subdomain setup, otherwise known as wildcard dns
    or wildcard subdomains. At this time this is not something that we offer at
    Lunarpages in our shared hosting plans.” From my hosting company lunarpages

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