a year later: an overview of multiblog software options

Let’s start by looking at how we can explain the growth of MovableType even with the outrage over the commercial model. I think that this growth can be explained by a change in strategy within SixApart (publisher of MovableType) and a change in the demographics of the MovableType user community. When SixApart unleashed the payware model last year a lot of people, myself included dropped the software and made a stink about it. Instead of trying to retain us as users SixApart began targeting a different set of users. Now that they had used “early adopters” as beta testers they had a polished product and had rolled out their TypePad hosted blogging system. This is the real secret. I would venture to guess that the majority of the income at SixApart comes not from MovableType but from TypePad (and now the paid version of LiveJournal). Think about it. All the software companies are trying to move us to a subscription model instead of a purchase model. By offering a hosted blogging environment with many more features than Google’s Blogger SixApart can capture bloggers who want to move to a better platform than one of the free sites but who lack the technical skills and understanding to start their own website. The trick is that users like this didn’t exist before, at least not in any significant number. In the past year there’s been an explosion in blogging. It seems that everyone you meet has a blog these days, and only a small percentage have their own websites. This growth in the blogging community is what has made TypePad so successful. SixApart is getting at least $5/mo for each of those users, not a bad deal for them at all. I’ve also found that very few of the people with the know-how to setup thier own website are using MovableType these days, somehow I don’t think this really concerns SixApart because those users aren’t paying a monthly fee. Enough about why SixApart is still growing and on to the main event.

Readers of my previous article will remeber that I was pretty excited about a piece of blogging software called b2evolution so why haven’t we heard more about this? I think it’s because b2evolution offers more than the average blogger needs. Most bloggers have one blog, maybe a few authors and are just looking for a convenient way to get some stuff posted on the web. Evo offers a lot more, what we call multiblogging, that is the support for multiple blogs from one installation. The key benefit here is user management and that you only need to keep one codebase up to date which quickly becomes a pain if you have more than a few blogs. This added complexity led to fewer users using evo because they simply didn;t need the power. This caused fewer developers to stick with evo making marketing a harder job, it’s a vicious cycle that ends up with a niche product which is really what evo is today.

Meanwhile things have been going pretty well in the WordPress camp. There are a lot of bloggers using WordPress and for a good reason, it’s probably the best blogging software for an individual blogger today mostly becasue of the active development and plugin community.

For the past week I’ve been looking at blogging software again, specifically major projects that support multiblogs, a key requirement for me and something that you’re least likely to hear about in blog software reviews. There’s still a lot of interest in multiblog capability within WordPress, but as one developer who was working on that put it

“I started converting the wp-admin/ folder to return strings from HTML content, instead of directly echoing and using inplace raw HTML, and realized I just opened a can of worms that could last for months, and months. So I have basically stopped working on Multi Press? and have started from scratch with a pure PHP5 OOP solution based on SQLite from the ground up.”

WordPress just wasn’t designed as a multiblog solution and all the hacks in the world can’t change that. There’s a (somewhat) seperate product called WordPress MU that’s attempting to change that but they’re still working within the WordPress codebase and staying tied to the same engine, one which just isn’t designed for multiblogging. I’ve played with MU but it just doesn’t cut it. Compared to a product like b2evolution there’s just no comparison, evo is so much easier to administrate and MU still feels like a hacked together solution, there is no grace within the admin UI at all. I think that unless WordPress rewrites their core with multiblogs in mind or MU splits off and does the same this will remain a hacked together solution.

James Farmer recently reviewed some multiblog software over at blogsavvy and his review shows just how few real multiblog programs are out there. Of the six programs he reviewed two are really community management, not blogging solutions; two more are commercial; one is WPMU (discussed above) and the last is a very much simplified program that’s severly lacking in features and design. I’ve worked with Drupal before and I really like the concept, but it’s really a terrible blogging program and is still pretty raw overall. elgg looks interesting, but again it’s really community management software with an emphasis on education. Manila is commercial software and is usually regarded as out of date as far as blogging features go. MovableType has been discussed above, is commercial, and a lot of the user based devlopment community has moved to other platforms so don’t look for a lot of user initiated plugin development on this platform either. pLog, recently renamed LifeType, is very WordPress-esque without the big development community and with a less than nice backend (admin) UI. Interestingly, James didn’t mention evo at all which says a lot about their lack of marketing.

All this pretty much leaves us back where we started, b2evolution is still the best solution for a multiblog environment. It’s certainly the most mature and capable product in the bunch and compared to some of the beckends I’ve see working in the evo backend is a dream. That’s not to say there aren’t any problems. For one, the evo dev team is notoriously bad at communicating with users, even in their own forums which are run by an entirely different team of people. The dev team is also pretty small and several of the former devs have moved to WordPress because they just didn’t need all the advanced evo features and didn’t have time to maintain them. Secondly, the plugin architecture is really awful. This means that there are very few plugins availible and people usually do dirty hacks instead which may be faster but inevitably break when you upgrade. The sntispam blacklist which was probably the best solution last year to the comment spam problem has grown to an almost unmanageable size and new (and better) techniques have developed since then but we have yet to see them in evo, partially because of the poor plugin architecture. The next big version of evo (1.6) promises to address some of these concerns and should be a big leap forward but with the poor communication from the devs I have no idea when it will be out, you can see current progress in the CVS tree though. Hopefully once evo has a better plugin architecture we’ll see an increase in communitry involvement from users who don’t have time to be devs but can throw together a plugin to add features. For my money this is one of the key advantages to WordPress, the core is pretty slim but there are a lot of plugins that add all kinds of features such as new antispam techniques. As one WordPress user put it last year “The first open source blog engine that supports such enterprise level scalability will clean up … and still be as usable for those who just want a more modest personal publishing solution.” As for me, I’m still waiting for the multiblog engine that can clean up the competition. In the meantime I heartily recommend b2evolution as the most user friendly and mature of the multiblog platforms.


  1. Yeah, b2 is still the best for the multi-blogger but as noted the development pace needs to increase as well as the plugin architecture which like WordPress trying to go multi could take a long time to figure out the recoding. I still use it but if anyone comes up with the power of b2 with the plugin ease of WP that sucker’ll rule the day.