Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Review: Blogger versus Wordpress

Since February, I am a regular Blogger (Blogspot) user. Google's mass-market blogging tool started out simple and is gradually adding features, widgets, templates and editing features.

I am also a Wordpress user since May on the Full Circle Magazine site. Hands-on with the grand-daddy of blogging tools, I now understand the loyalty of its legions of fans.

The traditional view is that Blogger is for ease of use, Wordpress is for power and flexibility...

I won't go into hosting, since Wordpress enables you to host your own blog on your own server at your own cost, or use the free (restricted) version. Blogger is only hosted by Google.

Editing
The editing windows are comparable in terms of function, but I find Blogger easier to use for its large icons and simplified editing pane.  Wordpress has a vast amount of (small) controls on the one page.

Tracking
Blogger has no in-built tracking but allows scripts and 3rd party tools (incl Google Analytics). Wordpress gives you limited in-built tools.

Import/Export
Blogger will export XML for blogger only (although you can manipulate it and there are conversion scripts available in the wild). Wordpress will export various formats and import form all the major blog platforms. Tools abound for converting to or from either platform, as long as you haven't customised the hell out of your source.

Theming
There are thousands of Wordpress themes available and you can modify almost anything you want (not always easily however). Wordpress has more in the way of custom templates, child themes and so on, which let you extend functionality if you are a theme developer.
Blogger has a recent new Designer front-end for choosing and editing templates, of which the selection is much better, but still fairly small. You do have a huge range of mods you can do from here; by the time you edit fonts, colours, backgrounds, add move and layout page elements, you can makeover a standard template beyond recognition. If all else fails, you can edit the raw CSS/HTML editing your Template/CSS - not hard if you have some HTML, CSS background, almost impossible if you don't, especially when it's someone else's code  including extensive javascript for a proprietary platform. Designer is somewhat picky about the code and validates the edits it allows on the platform. You have to play by Google's rules on its' servers. You can upload any compliant third party template you like (conformant to the rules).

Blogger page elements like header and footer are contentious issues as they a) look ugly, b) seldom fit your theme c) steal real estate and d) contain links and info you'd rather not have appear in your pages. Terms of Service state you may not remove them. Most Blogger users wouldn't know how. Those who know how, do. Strictly speaking this is a take-down offence.

Neither platform will miraculously bestow good taste or ability in site design. You can make them both look hideous (although the basic Blogger templates will do this for you - faster).

Always backup both blog AND template before you mess with it.

Storage
As much text as you want, but image space on Blogger is limited to 1Gb. You get 3Gb on Wordpress, where video and audio is restricted to Podpress, a paid service. For both, you can of course link to and embed to play any media you host elsewhere. Blogger is easier to configure, Wordpress is more complete.

Posts and Pages
Both now allow you to create a limited number of static pages in addtion to your blog posts.

Widgets
Blogger now has an extensive library of widgets, not all of great quality (form and/or function), which help bring it up to parity.

Tags/Labels/Metadata
Blogger 'uses labels', Wordpress has tags and categories. These drive sorting and filtering. Wordpress is more powerful.

Search
Blogger Search this Site (powered by Google) is far from ideal. It's supposed to index all entries and provide full text search and mine doesn't even after 4 months; it clearly fails to properly index archived posts.
Blogger provides vague advice on setting up your meta-data for SEO, trading on the advantage that Google manages to crawl everything for web-search. Wordpress has a good reputation for doing the SEO work internally for you.

Google also has many other services that you may/would need for your blog like: Albums, Groups, Webmaster tools, analytics, Custom search, Calendar, Docs...

Feedback and Spam
WordPress has the Akismet spam filter by default, and while this works better than ever, it can and does give false positives with frequency. Blogger allows self-hosters to add various 3rd party plug-ins for spam filtering and other functions. If you expect a lot of traffic, expect a lot of effort managing it or deploy a tool but constantly monitor and tweak it.

Persistence
Be warned that both Blogger and Wordpress reserve the right to close down blogs without warning (check Terms of Service; if you don't like it, don't use it).

Wordpress upgrades have a history of blowing up layouts or even entire sites. Back-up before upgrading anything. In fact, given the scares on security vulnerabilities over the last year, backup frequently (see also; terms of use, above).

Verdict
Blogger is driving for parity and is getting close, but I think the opening statement still stands - Blogger has the edge on ease of use, Wordpress appeals for power and flexibility. Ask what it is you want out of your blog and how much tweaking and hacking do you want, or are capable of doing yourself?  RC

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