VoC tests blog platforms: decides to stay at WordPress.com

I’ve been testing Blogger (beta) as a possible replacement home for Voice of Canada. I also tested TypePad, SquareSpace and Iuplog, but none of them worked out. I thought you might be interested in knowing why I thought about switching, and why I decided to stick with WordPress.com. You never know, you might you might want to create your own blog someday.

Why I decided to test Blogger, and what happened when I did…
big_bad_wolf_cartoon.jpeg1. I was thinking of adding Google word ads to VoC as a way to keep the wolf from the door, even though I really didn’t like the idea of mucking up my beautiful WordPress.com site with ugly advertising.

2. WordPress.com does not allow advertising on their blogs. I believe you can put them on WordPress systems that you host yourself, but it requires technical ability that I don’t have and, frankly, don’t want to acquire or maintain. ‘Teching’ around with code isn’t my Unique Ability.

3. Blogger has Google ads integrated right into Blogger beta. Nice, but I really started wondering if I wanted my site to take on that ‘splogger’ look (A ‘splogger’ is someone who builds blogs just so they can put ‘spammy’ ads in them, hence ‘Splogger’)

4. Blogger also allows you to add your own code. For example, it allowed me to insert an oh-so-elegant webform for the VoC News subscription function instead of the ‘subscribe by email’ method I’m using here at WordPress.com. It’s possible that there’s a way to do it on WordPress.com, but I haven’t been able to make it work, yet. It took me 5 minutes on Blogger.

5. Blogger also allows you, within limitations, to control the appearance of fonts in your template with an easy-to-use interface.  

6. So, why didn’t I switch after investing MANY hours testing Blogger? Well, after copying over 3 posts from my WordPress.com site, I discovered some serious flaws in Blogger, at least as far as I was concerned:

a. I wanted to create a minimalist look similar to my WordPress.com site. Unfortunately, all the Blogger templates in the ‘Minima’ style seem to have a bug – when you insert block quotes (indented section) all the text from the blockquote down changes spacing from 1.5 to 1, while the text above the blockquote remains at 1.5. I tested every version of the Minima template. I checked the forums for help. One guy asked for help with the exact same problem, but no one answered him. No one answered me, either.

b. Try to find a way to contact Blogger. Good luck. I realized I was going to be on my own, and I didn’t like it.

c. Blogger provides no statistics. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

d. I don’t know how to put this any other way, but the WYSIWYG interface is a piece of garbage. God help you if you make a mistake. No undo button. No way to remove blockquotes other than diving into the html and hoping you can re-code it back into shape. Oh, you can apply the blockquotes easily enough with a button – you just can’t remove them. Really. There is a ‘recover post’ function, but every time I used it, it deleted the bottom half of my post, and I had to start all over again.

e. If you accidentally delete a picture while trying to cope with the WYSIWYG eccentricities, don’t plan on going into the Blogger image section to select it. You can’t. You have to download the image again from your computer.

f. The ‘preview’ function doesn’t. The page looked perfect in ‘preview’ but still was messed up when published.

Other blogging platforms I tested:
www.typepad.com I found their WYSIWYG editor to be even worse than Blogger’s because it doesn’t want to scroll down so you can select text. It will, eventually, but it proved so frustrating that I gave up on the whole platform. I cancelled the account after just half an hour of testing. $4.95 USD/month for the base platform I tested. Despite their promise of “complete control over your blog’s design” I found that I’d have to upgrade to $8.95 or $14.95 in order to actually get that control. They also want your credit card info up front, although they don’t actually charge it until your 30 day free trial is over. After using their WYSIWYG interface for a while, I wasn’t about to give them any of my money.

www.squarespace.com (UPDATED) $7 USD/month. Nice system, very flexible architecture, and you can control the HTML style sheet quite easily. You’ll need to because they only have a handful of templates that haven’t changed in the year since I tested them as a website-builder option for another non-blogging project. You can, however, change the colour schemes within the template.

As mentioned above, this wasn’t my first test of the SquareSpace system. I have a lot of respect for its functionality and flexibility having tested it in great depth more than a year ago for a non-blogging project. Unfortunately, the template choices really limit the platform to those users who are comfortable with the technical aspects of locating/installing/modifying and troubleshooting their own templates.  

I would love for SquareSpace to widen its appeal with a bunch of new off-the-shelf templates, or partner up with a 3rd party who could make it easier for non-techies.  

UPDATE: In my original post, I stated that if you wanted to adjust the style sheet, it would cost $17 USD/month for their platform. I was contacted by SquareSpace’s founder, Anthony Casalena, who advised me that the ability to control the HTML style sheet is included in their lowest priced offering of only $7USD/month. The $17 level includes additional bandwidth and the ability to control the XHTML sheet. I don’t have a clue what the difference is between HTML and XHTML – I’m a writer, not a techie.  See the comment at the end of this post for Anthony’s remarks and the VoC reply.

www.iuplog.com A free system (like WordPress.com) from a Canadian company in Burlington, Ontario. I have had several blogs on their system for quite a while now, but chose WordPress.com for Voice of Canada. This is why: the templates are very ‘not-minimalist’ and there are only 6 of them. The other main drawback is that the system seemed to be getting very slow to load my pages. I really want to like these guys, I really do. It’s just that (I think) they’re more focussed on enterprise-level stuff. I did find their support to be very responsive and, did I mention they’re Canadian?

www.wordpress.com My current system. Free. Quick uploading. Great stats. WYSIWYG editor is a little limited, and a little quirky at times (blockquotes included), but you can usually overcome. I’m beginning to realize that all blogging WYSIWYG editors are troublesome; I don’t know why this has to be so because MS FrontPage uses a very complex WYSIWYG interface, and I NEVER have to go into the coding view to fix stuff.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, some kind fellow WP users turned me on to some ‘WP Tricks’ and some ‘reasons why’ that address some of the few frustrations I’ve had with WordPress.com.  See the comments below, especially if you’re a WP user! Thanks to all who took time to offer suggestions, and especially to the ‘Eclectic Geek’ for the ‘missing’ toolbar. I am forever in your debt!

I haven’t figured out how to insert a simple webform for my newsletter subscription; not sure if I even can. They’re pretty strict about allowing anything to interfere with their architecture – I imagine that’s why the system loads quickly and how they manage over 430,000 blogs for free. For now, my ‘subscribe by email’ function works.

Other good stuff re WordPress.com: They’re accessible; you’ll actually get a ‘volunteer’ (!) to answer your question (check the help files and forums first) faster than most services that you pay for in your non-blogging life. 

My Decision…
In the end, I decided to stick with WordPress.com, and include some links to the suppliers I use on the side menu and on a special page (see ‘Support VoC’ on the top menu).
In keeping with my style, though, I always want people to know that I’m being paid if they buy something. This way, they can decide if they want to support VoC or not.

In Summary…
This wasn’t a waste of time at all. I learned to appreciate what I had; I’m not going to mess up my beautiful site with a bunch of word ads (they are getting tiresome, aren’t they?); and I’ve found a creative and honest way to – hopefully – support Voice of Canada. Later, maybe I can just pay someone to build me a blog that’ll accept tasteful display ads and the webforms I need.

A word to WordPress.com…
3littlepigs_cartoon.jpegI really appreciate your vision, and I would also appreciate your assistance in helping your bloggers generate some revenue within that vision. I’m not looking for something for nothing (I’m amazed at what you provide for free!)  – I would gladly pay you $10/month or more for a premium WordPress.com service that included a strategic partnership with a blue chip ad service company that would allow me to tastefully place some ads on my blog.

You know, it’s hard to change the world if you’re constantly worried about getting eaten. How ’bout some help with that wolf, huh?

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6 responses to “VoC tests blog platforms: decides to stay at WordPress.com

  1. I’m glad you’re staying. WordPress is a great platform. With the editor, try Alt+v to get the Advanced Toolbar. Thanks for your test. My gut instinct is now confirmed. Best wishes to you.

    VoC REPLY: Thanks for the wishes, and for the tip re the Advanced Toolbar – IT WORKS! Now I have to update the post! Been so busy using the system that I  haven’t spent enough time learning it! Thank you! Mark

  2. VC: Somone more knowlegdable about the WYSIWYG getting will have to verify this for me but I could have sworn that you can change fonts and underlines in the editor. You just have to do it manually on the HTML page. It will still take though. You can also do it with the paid CSS upgrade for $15 a year per blog if you want.

    The editor is troublesome because TinyMCE is designed to be downloaded quickly over a dial up line and has to be small and feature limited. (And a pain if you ask me) Frontpage is on your computer at home and can be as big as MS wants to be.

    Forms are not allowed as they are a security risk.

    You can add in adverts to the wordpress software that you can download and install yourself. It’s just a matter of copying the javascript code from Adsense into a theme. A lot of themes have small bits that say ‘Put Adsense code here’ in them.

    Hope this helps,
    -drmike

    VoC REPLY: Hello and thanks, ‘drmike.’ 

    1. See the ‘eclectic geek’s’ comment above re using Alt + v to bring up the advanced tool bar. It works!

    2. Re WYSIWYG editor: you’re right, I forgot about the gazillions of megs that FrontPage takes up! I guess we should all be grateful that the web-based stuff works as well as it does!

    3. Re forms: being a non-techie, I’ll just file this one under ‘BECAUSE!’ and keep using my email link.

    Thanks! Mark

  3. Hi
    Very much agree with u on the comparison of blog platforms. I too spend quite some time on it (before coming to WordPress), but none of them turned to work out. But now there is no looking back 🙂
    And as for the WYSIWYG editors, you might want to consider some offline blogging tools, that should solve the issue for u.
    I would suggest BlogDesk or LiveWriter , both work amazingly well with WordPress (including image upload)
    Happy Blogging !!!
    -Sathya

    VoC REPLY: Saytha, thanks for the reply. You guys blow me away! Thanks for the tip re the offline blogging tools; I’m going to check them out.  

  4. Thanks for mentioning/trying Squarespace!

    SS is actually only $7/month with full stylesheet control — the more expensive option is for people who need XHTML template editing as well.

    Hope this clarifies 🙂

    VoC REPLY: Anthony, thanks so much for taking time to write. I apologize for my ignorance, but I haven’t a clue what the difference is between HTML and XHTML. I didn’t see anything on the list for the $7/mo service that mentioned the ability to edit the style sheet, but I did see it mentioned in connection with the higher-priced option. (please correct me if I’m wrong!) I definitely looked, both times I tested the system. It seemed so clear to me that I didn’t even think to ask about it. I’ll correct the post, of course. Thanks again for clarifying that! The last thing I want to do is mis-represent your service because it’s a very unique and flexible one, the limited template selection notwithstanding. Mark

  5. thanks for the comparative reviews – I am going to check out the recommendations

    VoC REPLY: You’re welcome! If I were going to start a blog today that didn’t require ad revenue, I’d most definitely stick with WordPress.com. If/when I decide to place ads, I’d host my own WordPress.com site. Another option is to build your own site using the successor to MS FrontPage – it’s called Expression Web Regards, Mark

  6. esoftwareplus

    Very nice and informative site. Keep up the good work.

    VoC REPLY: Thanks for the compliment, I do try hard to keep VoC worth reading. Regards, Mark