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Tikun Olam Moves from Typepad to WordPress

First, I wanted to announce that I’m the proud father (& mother!) of a new baby WordPress blog: Tikun Olam: Make the World a Better Place. Can’t tell if it’s a boy or girl!

Let Us All Now Praise Famous Men

But almost all the credit for this miracle goes to Carthik Sharma, my ‘midwife.’ He answered my e-mailed call of despair a few days ago & did tons of work helping me to convert my old Tyepapd blog to WP (& it wasn’t easy!). No task or request fr. me was too large or small for him. In fact, I’ve never had such a wonderful, smooth interaction with technical folks before in any other setting. So from the bottom of my heart–thank you Carthik.

Typepad: Goodbye to All That

And for those of you interested, why did I switch from Typepad to WordPress? A succession of problems and issues developed in the Typepad environment and I just felt that I didn’t have a sufficiently flexible and expandable system for my current needs. First, one of Typepad’s worst and most glaring deficiencies is comment and trackback spam. But it’s larger than that–encompassing user control of one’s blog and control of access to it by unwanted ‘invaders.’

In general terms, Typepad was no longer sophisticated, adaptable or flexible enough for my needs. I must’ve submitted Help tickets with 30 suggested features (maybe more, I didn’t keep count). In fact, let’s take just one for example: I wrote this post in my TP blog calling for a feature that could link together a series of blog posts on the same subject so that it would be easier for a reader to read everything you’ve written on that subject (and I wrote a similar TP Help ticket long before I wrote this post). I got one of those polite “We’ll look into it” responses from support staff. They suggested I use Categories but that would not have served my purpose at all since it would not have displayed links to each post in the series within the posts themselves. In fact, it showed they weren’t really understanding what I was suggesting.

WordPress and the Beauty of Plugins

When I moved on over to WP guess what I found? In-Series plugin which does precisely what I’d been asking TP to consider for nearly two years! Again, remember it’s Open Source and created by an unpaid volunteer so it wasn’t the easiest to install for a code-deficient fellow like me. But once I got it working it was a beauty to behold. It gave me the power to order my blog content as I wished and make it more accessible to my readers–plus it saved me time by automating the cross-linking of multiple posts. And power used wisely is a beautiful thing.

So, Anil Dash, if you’re listening: go back to your TP programming shop and get your users something like In-Series. Otherwise, WP will leave you in the dust!

All my other feature suggestions were greeted politely and non-committally. You could tell that your suggestion went into some technical bottom drawer never to be heard from again.

Typepad always felt to me like a top down blogging system. Everything was pretty centrally controlled. It also felt to me too corporate with its ambition for global reach (and probably profit). I never saw even in the Unofficial Typepad Forum, where you might expect to see people trumpeting their hacks, a whole lot of technical innovation or hacking. Yes, there was some. But nothing like what you get with an Open Source system like WP or Firefox. And that’s what I’ve liked so far about WP. If you find something lacking chances are another user’s noticed it too and done something about it by creating a plug-in. There is an immediacy about responding to bugs and other issues. If something’s wrong, let’s fix it. It sure wasn’t that way with TP. There are many good things about TP, but speed in launching new features isn’t one of them.

Is Open Source potentially quirky and unreliable sometimes if you find a plug-in with a bug or conflict? Sure, but I’d rather have the innovation and creativity along with the quirks than live in a blog system where you have to wait for innovation to dribble down to you from on-high programmer heaven.

Which brings me to another reason why WordPress is significantly more robust than Typepad. When SixApart is weighing which features to adopt for TP, the Trotts have to determine how much programmer time they’ll need and how to spread their programmers over their various projects, how important a feature might be and how many users would actually use it. That’s why no one from Typepad ever paid serious attention to my suggestions. Because they didn’t feel there would be sufficient need or interest in my suggested features.

These considerations are hardly relevant in an Open Source system like WordPress. All it takes is one enterprising programmer to see a need for a feature and he or she writes some code, tests it and voila–you have a plugin (I’m sure the process is significantly more complex than that–but you get my drift). Then users determine whether the programmer’s idea was a good one or not by adopting it (or not). You couldn’t get a more democratic system than that.

Typepad, Spam and Other Forms of Abuse

Typepad in an announcement a few days ago trumpeted that it would be introducing Typekey to TP users. All well and good. But all they said about the rollout was "soon" ("Expect to hear more about these features in the coming weeks."). Well, "soon" can mean a lot of things. And why has it taken so long? Typekey has been available to MT users for some time. Plus MT has other anti-spam features like the MT-blacklist not available to TP.

On my TP blog, my spam comes (oops, ‘came,’ I’m gonna have to get used to using the past tense in referring to TP) in waves. I might get 10 spam comments (including trackback spam) in a day and then go a week before I get my next one. I’d say I averaged one or two every day. But if you look at my Help tickets they’re 95% spam related (reporting spam IPs for global banning). And banning someone either from your blog or globally is tedious and time-consuming. First, find the e mail comment notification. Highlight the offending commenter’s data. Open your browser and a new TP Help ticket & paste the data into the text field & then submit. Just imagine doing that 12 times in a day as I have! If you want to ban within your blog you have to open Comment Banning & paste the IP address into the proper field.

Why does TP make it relatively easy for spammers to get to blogs and so tedious for bloggers to get rid of the spam once it’s published? TP will tell you that they have spam filters which capture the lion’s share of it. Maybe so, but mountains of the junk still get through.

Another deficiency is that Typepad will essentially not ban globally any abusive commenters (read my sordid tale of blog abuse and TP’s unsatisfactory response to it) no matter how severe the abuse and no matter how many of its Terms of Service conditions have been violated (at least that’s been my experience). TP claims they have no technological means of individually identifying comments and so have no ironclad way to know commenters identity.  And if that’s so why don’t they develop one?  I much prefer a system like WordPress where I have myriad ways to control access to my comments.

In fact, my last hate commenter caused me so much irritation (with TP and the commenter) that I decided I needed to start looking for a new blogging system. That’s how I came to WP.

Typepad’s Lacks (themes, automatic pinging, photo gallery)

Other TP drawbacks for me were the paucity of themes. Essentially, if you have an advanced template you can’t use most Typepad themes unless you know how to adapt the css to your template. Also, if you use an advanced template it becomes extremely complicated to add new Typelist categories requiring inserting new code into your template each time. I disliked that Typepad would not allow you to automate pinging. You simply cannot add ping sites to your default settings unless they are standard TP pings (blo.gs and weblogs.com). This means that if you want to ping technorati or pingomatic, you have to manually enter each url each time you write a post.  You can, of course, use the tremendously useful blog publishing software, ecto, which like WP allows customized automatic pinging.  But that leaves you one step removed from your blog interface.

Typepad has no ‘Edit’ link in the comment display allowing you to access the edit function. To do so, you have to navigate to the Comment section of the admin interface. And once you click “Save” for your comment edit, it brings up the post edit box. So if you decide to edit the same comment again you have to reopen the coment edit box. WP has an “Edit” link within each comment displayed on the blog so you can immediately and very simply navigate to edit any comment. This type of feature should be a no-brainer for TP and the fact that they don’t have it means to me that they’re not thinking enough about maximizing the ease and convenience of the editing function for their bloggers.

I thought that Typepad’s photo gallery feature was fairly weak and relatively featureless (here is a critique I wrote some time ago before I stopped using it). It seems you cannot upload a file to your photo gallery and then display the same image in a post. You must upload the image twice (at least that’s what I found when I tried this myself). Photos displayed in default sizes and you couldn’t customize display size. There were few photo gallery themes to choose. While I do find that Typepad’s image upload feature is much more robust than the WP default, I’m sure there are WP plug-ins that will answer this need. I just haven’t had time to explore this yet. What I liked about TP’s image upload was that you could create default custom parameters for uploads. You could automatically create thumbnails which linked to larger image displays. I don’t like TP’s image display limitation (640px max.), though I don’t know if WP has one too.

When I first switched to TP from blogger.com nearly three years ago, the romance of being part of a blogger community was exciting along with the wonderful new features I had at my command. It was a heady combination and I loved it for quite some time. But gradually my feelings began to change.

TP does not have an offical forum as MT does. There is an Unofficial Typepad User Forum and I found it tremendously helpful–until I started posting about my use of images & mp3 files in my blog. One moderator who worked in the publishing industry took especial offense at my mp3 blog and my use of images from online media believing I was engaging in flagrant copyright infringement. Even after asking him to stop, he continually publicly warned other members of the errors of my ways. Because the forum was independent of Typepad there was essentially no recourse or appeal. Naturally, the other moderators were not going to discipline one of their own or suggest that he tone down his actions. So I was forced to leave the forum.

In fact, a Typepad staff member told me there had been similar complaints from other TP users about the tone of the forum.  I asked why they didn’t have an official forum.  The staffer replied that they’d thought about it but it was something they might get around to at some point in the future.  There went another good idea into that bottom drawer.

I don’t think I’ll ever have the same sense of romance with WP. But that’s just fine. I don’t expect WP to be perfect. But I do expect it to be a work in progress in which the developers and members are constantly improving its features and capability. And that, as Jews say in the Passover haggadah, will suffice ("Dayenu"). In fact, it will more than suffice.

While I believe that the WP support forum has some serious structural deficiencies and wish it would use a more standard forum environment, I haven’t found any moralizing or fingerpointing there yet and hope I will not in the future. What I HAVE found is lightning fast responses which are largely helpful in answering my questions and issues as I learn the WP environment. Who could ask for more?

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Tom Raftery June 7, 2005, 5:56 AM

    By the way Richard,

    I have posted several articles on combatting comment spam in WordPress – my current techniques involve no comment spam plugins and have kept me spam free for months now – for more info see here

  • Dgold June 8, 2005, 12:43 AM

    I linked here from the WP support forums, the very ones you mentioned, I too would like to see a more navigable long-term archived support forum there, so newcomers like myself can take advantage of older question-answers; and they could make a new forum section for each release so outdated info is cleared. As you found w/TP is there an Unofficial WP forum? Problems could include the absence of actual WP developers, and the issues you encountered on that other under-moderated TP forum. Everytime I type TP it’s funny b/c that also stands for toilet paper. Glad you made the switch. I’m new at the whole ballgame, and chose WP to start with. -DGold

  • Anil June 8, 2005, 7:02 PM

    “Another deficiency is that Typepad will essentially not ban globally any abusive commenters no matter how severe the abuse and no matter how many of its Terms of Service conditions have been violated (at least that’s been my experience).”

    It’s probably worth mentioning that, as you’ve acknowledged, that’s not possible. Has your current ISP offered to do anything similar, or are you no longer concerned with this issue?

  • Richard Silverstein June 8, 2005, 10:30 PM

    As you have throughout our debate about this issue, Anil, you’ve conveniently ignored my other criticism which boils down to: if you can’t figure out how to identify and ban an abusive commenter if they DO violate your TOS then how much is your system and its “security” features worth? Not very much, as far as I’m concerned and that’s a big reason that I left TP.

    Why don’t you and your programmers figure out a way to do this? Or failing that, introduce some of the extraordinarily robust and effective features and plug ins available here at WordPress. Typekey is a start, but why did I and I’m sure many other TP users have to complain about spam for a year or more before you guys got around to introducing Typekey (and btw it hasn’t even been rolled out yet, just announced as a plan coming soon).

    I don’t know what you mean about my current ISP. In our last blog conversation you suggested that I contact the abuser’s ISP which I did. And I said to you then, Qwest (the abuser’s ISP) is IMO one of the worst ISPs out there and I expected little from them and guess what I got–zip. I sent them a detailed e mail about the abuse with his IP and other identifying information 2 separate times. They never responded. When I can get to it, I plan to contact the corporate headquarters and the FCC with a complaint about Qwest’s shoddy response to ISP abuse.

    So are you arguing that because Qwest performed so miserably that I should find TP’s response to the abuse acceptable?

  • Fiona June 16, 2005, 1:34 AM

    Welcome to wordpress!

  • Albeir June 16, 2005, 2:28 AM

    Basically, what he’s saying is that there is no ‘magic’ plugin for WP either that will delete racist trolls in your comments for you . You will still have to do that yourself…

  • Richard Silverstein June 16, 2005, 2:35 AM

    Albeir: But there is a fundamental difference between the way Typepad handles comments (at least until they implement Typekey) and WordPress handles them. In WP, I will see the troll comment BEFORE it hits my blog. I can then make the decision about what to do with it–whether to publish or delete. With Typepad, you have no choice. It’s published as soon as the troll hits the Post button (except in the unlikely case where I’ve banned his/her IP in which case the comment is rejected). Then I have to decide what to do about it AFTER it’s hit my site.

    WP’s method gives one far more control.

  • Roger Benningfield June 17, 2005, 3:22 PM

    Richard: First, I’m glad you’re happier in your new home. Although a quick suggestion… can you do something to increase the font size in this textarea? I’m almost typing blind here… the font is so tiny in Firefox that I can scarcely see it.

    Second, a purely academic question. Do you get more troll comments than useful ones? I’ve never activated comment moderation in my (non-WP) blogs because it would just make things harder for everyone… if I get 100+ legit posts and one piece of spam, I’d rather do a single delete than 99 approvals.

  • Richard Silverstein June 17, 2005, 10:17 PM

    Roger: Nice to hear from you again. Yes, I’m much happier with WP than I was w. TP (though getting my old TP formatted permalinks to convert to WP’s permalink format was hairy there for a while). And yes, the font size is too small & I will enlarge it. Thanks for that suggestion.

    If by “troll comments” you mean the abusive commenter I had at TP, no, I get about 50 good comments for every nasty one. But at TP I was getting 10 pieces of spam for every legitimate comment (for some reason I averaged less than 1 comment per post) which is why spam maintenance was killing me at TP. W. the default WP comment installation, you only approve someone’s very first comment but any further comments are not moderated. I don’t know if that’s the default behavior for Typekey or not. If so, that’d be manageable for me. Of course, currently TP users don’t have any means to moderate comments. I don’t find approving first comments a hassle though I only get 500 visitors a day. If I got 10,000 a day & had 50 comments/day I might not feel the same way. But there are many comment moderation plugins that might help manage this process better for you.

  • Kyle Mulka July 3, 2005, 3:02 PM

    WordPress rocks! That is all.

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