I’ve not been blogging that long, but one of my friends has been and it was Martin that turned me on to blogging with his cool site, and also on to MovableType (MT) itself. Since then I’ve only looked back to appreciate the fact that I got MT installed and setup before I got too far into the blogging experience.

I did try two online blogging systems, neither of which I can now remember, just for a short time to understand what blogging was and if I’d actually have that much to talk about. They were both quite configurable on the look and feel side, but were really short of options and offerings when you started to understand what blogging was and what it could offer.

To start with I was just ranting about various things in life, but I soon realised what I actually wanted to do was to review products, companies, restaurants, wines, etc. Much like Martin has his sideblog, I wanted to incorporate them together and retain the ability to rant on occassion. This just wasn’t possible with the online service, I’d have had to have treated both the reviews and normal blog entries in one big blog, and there would be no real way of separating them out.

So I tackled MT and at first I was baffled. I didn’t even know HTML never mind understanding Web Servers and PHP modules. It wasn’t easy initially, but with all the online help and support areas, as well as Martin in the background, I began to get over the daunting implementation and found it much easier than it first looked. I got MT installed and configured on the Web Server and began the process of customising it.

…make sure that your intended host provides all the PHP modules required…

A quick word of warning for all those looking at hosting before installing MT, make sure that your intended host provides all the PHP modules required, and if you think your site might take off and you’ll be looking at MT-Blacklist (a plugin to enable automatic reporting and removal of spam comments en-masse) then you should really ensure the host provides the other PHP modules requred for that application.

I have to say I could have simply taken the easy way out and downloaded some of the standard templates available on the web which automatically configure your site one of many ways, but not me, oh no, I want everything right and set-up from the start.

It actually didn’t take that long to learn the HTML I needed, and learning the MT language itself was easy using the online help and their support forums. Now I’m configuring other peoples sites for them.

MT provides a simple template approach to setting up your site. It’s more than a blogging tool, it’s really a content management system. Using HTML to design the index and individual entry pages, and the MT tags to reference the actual content, you can build a site pretty quickly. All it needs then are the entries!

Templates can be created as smaller modules, included within other templates, or as actual web pages and the MT tags are used to retrieve the information you’ve entered into MT and display it as per the HTML. It’s surprisingly easy to do, and again there’s help everywhere for the system.

What I discovered through my short time to date in blogging are the additional offerings that I now can’t do without. Archiving, backups, importing\exporting, multiple syndication feeds, stylesheets and full HTML, full template configuration, commenting, etc, etc. All these things I hadn’t even thought of when I signed up to an online service and after a few months of entries I’ve realised they are indespensible. If I’d carried on with an online version I think I’d have been stuck without these features and a heap of content tied into one site.

Apart from being totally free for most private individual use, the greatest feature is the ability to use plugins. These are pieces of software written by users and staff at MT which are designed to increase or bring additional functionality to the system. These take the form of the hugely successful and powerful MT-Blacklist, as mentioned earlier, to the plugin to allow your IMDB voting history to be displayed in a page, to the plugin allowing a photo gallery to be built in MT. There are many, many more plugins. On my site I use four and there are six on the MovieBlog site.

MT provides the user with enough content mangement that they could possibly want, and enough to slowly expand into as well, there is also real power in the multi-user and multi-site features available. If anyone is serious about blogging I would recommend making the direct leap to this software and avoid an online system, and if you’re looking for a content management system, this is your tool.

I can’t recommend this enough. If you use MT form the outset not only will it make the updating and general management of your site so much easier, but it will provide you with so many more features. Within a few months you’ll realise you needed many of these features, and really couldn’t do without them.

Update: 28/06/2005 I’ve just moved this from a five star to a four star review due to a hosting issue yesterday.

I always knew there was an issue with processing time on larger sites, and that people were concerned about the time it took to post comments, an entry or performa a rebuild. However I never really knew how bad it was until I’d worked with The Movie Blog.

The site has been suspended by the host once already due to server processing time, and just last night it was suspended again due excessive server time usage on the comments.cgi script. This time it kicked the Editor into action and he’s moved from MovableType to WordPress.

Posting a comment was taking over a minute a shot, and it was getting ridiculous. This was really down to the rebuilding of templates required in the background when each comment was posted. These are the same templates marked to rebuild when an entry is posted. To me that’s a bit over zealous and adding a comment should only rebuild the entry the comment is made against.

So a word of warning on large sites with comments open. When you begin to see your comments taking ages to post, check that server time and ensure you don’t get locked out too.

Update: 30/06/2005 We decided to move the site back to MovableType as the work involved in getting the WordPress site looking close to how the site operates just now was quite a bit. So we thought the best thing all round was to go back to the MT setup we had and build WP in the background. Well. The reinstall has taken about three days, a complete nightmare.

The install of MT has been an arduous task. Importing the database has meant splitting the import file into multiple chunks. We’ve had errors of premature end of script on mt.cgi. There have been the horrendous 500 Internal Server errors, and all sorts. Publishing one page was resulting in an error!

We’re finally operational, but that has meant sacrificing all but three of our plugins, automatically rebuilding all but the most crucial of templates, removing some code from templates and restricting the entries to rebuild to ten at a time! I just can’t believe that we’re that big and complex a site that we would have so many problems.

During the long slog of trying to get things back online we’ve been trawling the support forums for the hosting company and MovableType, and I have to say I’m surprised at the amount of unanswered and unsolved questions on the forums at MT. Why the staff aren’t answering them or tying them together to ensure that answers are easily found I don’t know. Couple that with my growing disharmony of the installation process of MT, I’m not such a fan as I was. I would consider dropping the review another notch if it wasn’t for the fact that my site – touch plastic keyboard – is running so well on it.

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