Friday, February 20, 2009

Switching from Blogger to WordPress--Advantages and Disadvantages

After a few days of experimenting with WordPress, I wanted to make some initial observations on the process of importing from Blogger and the advantages and disadvantages I've found so far.

I had already set up a WordPress account before, so I could leave comments on WordPress blogs, so setting up my own blog required only a few clicks. I was annoyed, however, that they only allow letters and numbers in your URL, so I had to go with corthodoxy.wordpress.com rather than c-orthodoxy (as on Blogger). Setting up the blog and choosing a theme was simple, and unlike with Blogger, many of the WordPress themes actually look good unmodified (for a point of contrast, see what my current Blogger theme looked like before I modified it, here). It's a good thing, too, because they let you change precious little about the theme you choose--but more on that in a bit.

Importing from Blogger was also pretty easy. There is a page in the Dashboard specially devoted to importing and exporting, and it took only a few clicks and a bit of waiting for them to transfer all 350+ posts and 990 comments from Blogger. I did have a couple of hiccups: the process seemed to hang up about two-thirds of the way through. So I ran it again and this time it seemed to hang up almost immediately. But when I checked the blog itself I found that all the posts had imported just fine.

The only real problem I had with the import, and it was a minor one, was with the tags. I use a lot of labels on my posts, and I was very pleased to see that WordPress imported them as well. However, for some reason about a dozen posts had one or more tags replaced by a long number. Further, when I had thought the first import failed and tried it again, it was these posts which WordPress re-imported (since it skips those it has already done), leaving me with two copies of each of those posts, one with the correct tags (but no comments) and the other with comments but incorrect tags. I have no idea what would cause such a glitch, but it took a good hour to sort it out. All in all, however, I was very impressed with the importing process and, even if I decide to stick with Blogger, at the least it has given me a backup if I ever need it.

So on to the advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages of WordPress over Blogger:

  • The first and most important is the one that led me to try WordPress in the first place--the need to create a usable backup of my content. Blogger makes this both "dangerous and unpredictable" (to quote Ben Linus), but WordPress makes it remarkably easy. Not only was I able to transfer everything from Blogger to WordPress (and this itself is a form of backup), it only took moments to download the entire contents of the blog (posts, comments, tags, pages, etc.) into a nice and small xml file (mine was 3.1mb). To make sure the file is actually usable, I set up a test blog (kenbrown.wordpress.com) and uploaded it, and it seemed to work fine, or should I say: and there was much rejoicing!
  • Of less importance but still high on the list of advantages is WordPress' generally more aesthetically pleasing look and feel. I think the WordPress version looks far better and more professional than the Blogger version, and judging by the poll, most of you agree (if you don't let me know). While for long term readers (especially those using RSS feed) the look of the blog is not the most important thing, for first time visitors it can make a big difference to whether they stick around, and I am willing to put up with a few functional limitations for the sake of a cleaner and more professional look.
  • While Blogger strips out all the formatting (except hyperlinks) when you copy text into its post editor, WordPress preserves it. Since I often compose my posts in Word and copy them into the editor, this is a huge plus, as it saves me the hassle of either: 1. Manually adding html to the post as I compose it, or 2. Manually restoring italics and other formatting after copying into the editor. WordPress also allows me to add a fold so that longer posts need not take up so much space on the main page (as I've done with this post on the WordPress version), and allows you make posts "sticky" (always at the top of the page).
  • WordPress version seems to load faster and more smoothly than the Blogger version.
  • WordPress allows much better control over categories and tags. Blogger has only one kind of label system, while WordPress has two, allowing you to put posts in broad categories which are listed at the bottom of page, and provide more specific tags which can be displayed or not (I've got it set to show just the most common tags in a cloud). Since I had collected nearly 600 labels here on Blogger, the ability to organize them in this way was a big advantage for WordPress. Perhaps even better, WordPress allows global editing of tags and categories. I can change the name of a tag once and apply it to every post I've ever used the tag on. I can also convert tags to categories and categories to tags, either individually or all at once, none of which Blogger allows.
  • WordPress allows pages (e.g. this one), while Blogger does not.
  • WordPress offers much better comment management on the back end, and just added comment threading as an option.
  • WordPress only shows real trackbacks, not those annoying fake ones that show up on practically every Blogger post ever since they added their new blogroll widget.
Disadvantages of WordPress Compared to Blogger:
  • On the other hand, WordPress places severe limitations on your ability to modify themes, and each theme determines a vast range of settings on your blog. For instance, the theme I am currently using only allows you to change the masthead image--that's it--you cannot adjust the color scheme, fonts, text size, layout, etc. In Blogger this is true to a limited extend. For instance, the template I am currently using allows me to change some aspects of the color scheme but not others, and I have no control over things like column width. But WordPress goes further, tying all sorts of other settings to the theme, like whether archives show full posts or only excerpts, or which widgets you can use. You have to pay $15 a year if you want to be able to modify the CSS, and even then you are quite limited in what you can change.
  • Related to this, WordPress offers a much more limited range of widgets than Blogger, and gives you much less control over the widgets themselves. For instance, the only option you have for the blogroll is to add categories. You cannot even control what order the links appear in--it is alphabetical whether you like it or not. If you want to make a separate list of links (as I have for "featured posts") you have to code it manually using the text editor, because there is no option to add a second link list besides the blogroll (at least not in this theme). Similarly, you can add a tag cloud or a categories cloud, but you have no control at all over how many search terms it will include or how to display them.
  • Unlike Blogger, with WordPress you are also limited to 3 GB of media; it's $20 a year if you want 5 GB more. I'm not sure how big of a deal this is yet, since it doesn't seem to count the pictures that I had already uploaded on the posts I imported from Blogger (even though it kept them), and even the YouTube video I posted this week is not being counted against my total. But I'm not sure if that is just an error--I coded it in manually rather than using the built in "add video" button, since I didn't notice that button until after I'd done it myself. In fact, the only "media" it is counting right now is the masthead image, using up a miniscule 32kb.
  • WordPress (or is it just the theme I chose?) doesn't allow comment previews, which may not matter to some people but to a perfectionist like me, that's kind of a big deal. In fact, you have no choice but to include the comment field on the same page as the post (Blogger lets you choose between several options).
  • Finally, WordPress does not allow Java. They have a work-around for YouTube and a few other things, but not for others. For instance, you cannot use GoogleAnalytics with WordPress, which is a bummer, though not a huge deal.
Annoyances:
Finally, some things that don't really fall into the advantages or disadvantages categories, but annoyed me just the same. Take them with a grain of salt as I'm certain I've run across at least as many with Blogger over the last 18 months, I've just gotten used to them and so forgotten what they were:

The Dashboard is a bit counter-intuitive, to me at least. The comment emails WordPress sends are much harder to read than those Blogger sends (but on the plus side, they only send emails for other people's comments, not your own). The built-in statistics are very limited, and for some reason they divide days based on GMT, rather than local time (I can't call this a disadvantage because Blogger does not include built-in statistics at all). You can't import WordPress back into Blogger (again, I can't call this a disadvantage because the problem is with Blogger, not with WordPress, but still--it does mean that if you switch to WordPress, there's no easy way to go back).

All in all then, I'm still pretty divided on whether I should switch. I really like the look of WordPress (at least with this particular theme), and the ability to do simple back-ups is a big deal. On the other hand, while individually none of the disadvantages are all that bad, they are not trivial. The limitations on modifying themes and widgets are probably the most annoying, though much less important to me than they would be if Blogger (with its very bland templates) imposed the same limitations. The 3GB media limit may turn out to be a bigger deal, but I don't post that many pictures anyway, and I'm not sure what all will actually be included in that total, so I'm not sure. The biggest thing is just the hassle of making people update their RSS feeds and blogrolls, but that's only temporary. Thus I am leaning towards WordPress, but I'm gonna wait a few more days before deciding and am still eager to hear your feedback.

7 comments:

abandonallfear said...

Your images and YouTube vids will not take up space on WP because they're hosted elsewhere.

YouTube vids are hosted on YouTube (you just have some code in your post that embeds it - ie. it's not playing from your blog, it's playing from YouTube.com)

Your images will be a similar link to the hosted image that blogger provides. Check and see for yourself (right-click and go to image location then look at the address bar - it will be blogger with a string of numbers/letters which is the unique identifier for that image). Of course new images will have to be hosted on WP unless you go for a flickr account or something.

Regards to backup, if this is the most important thing, blogger now has that functionality I thought? Under basic settings - import, export, delete blog.

With regards to themes, you don't have to stick to the ones blogger provides as samples - try out sites like this: 50 more beautiful Blogger templates. Many people have created free and creative commons templates to use on the web. WP also has many free templates, but you can only install these on self-hosted (so you are basically stuck with what they provide).

I think it comes down to business models. WP take the approach that for the extras people will pay and that's how they make their money. Google takes the approach that if they allow people to put up adwords, then they will get a slice of that revenue.

James Pate said...

I'm still trying to figure out wordpress. It's complicated!

Ken Brown said...

Alex,
I wondered if YouTube videos would not count due to the hosting issue; I hadn't thought about the fact that the same would be true of the images imported from blogger. In any case, I don't use enough pictures to really need to worry about the 3GB limit if youtube videos do not count towards it.

The more important thing is the import/export function, and you are right that Blogger does have this now. It must be a pretty new thing, however, as just last week this (which is now blank) detailed a much more complicated process that involved replacing your whole template. The (new?) import/export function still only works for Blogger--you can't import from another platform--but it does take care of the main draw for WordPress: simple backups. And they work too; here's my successful test.

On the other hand, I've looked around for better Blogger templates and haven't (yet) had much luck. I did find a couple interesting ones (there's even a knock-off of that same WordPress theme), but when I tried to deploy them, they failed.

If Blogger can do import/export, however, then aesthetics are the only major issue that would draw me to WordPress, so it's worth poking around for a workable alternative on Blogger.

Lex Fear said...

It's true, sometimes cutting and pasting a template into Blogger does throw up errors, it's to do with the xhtml widgets I believe.

I remember I had to poke around in the code a bit to find where blogger was adding an extra tag or something like that.

However, yes I believe it's worth the effort if this is the only thing holding you back.

It's funny you know because if I'm entirely honest, when I'm using WP I find myself thinking "if only they did this like Blogger..." but when I'm on Blogger there will be sometimes when I'm saying to myself "Why can't they do this like WP?"

So in the end there are pros and cons to each, it seems to be a choice between what functionality you can live without and what alternatives can you find!

Ken Brown said...

Yeah, I'm starting to think it's just one of those "the grass is always greener on the other side" kinds of issues. For every positive there's a negative; it's just a matter of deciding which trade-off I can live with.

Then again, I could try and do both at once, but that only reminds me of another cliche: "you can't ride two horses with one..." well, you know.

Mirela said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Ann


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Ken Brown said...

Thanks Mirela! I do hope you follow me over to Wordpress for new content:

http://corthodoxy.wordpress.com/