Multi blogg solution or platform?
January 24, 2008 7:11 AM   Subscribe

We're a small daily paper out in the west. The boss wants us to host blogs, i.e. something where any user can come to our website and sign up for a blog, hosted by us. However, as the only mildly technical person in the office, it would fall to me to run and administer and frankly I'm not sure if that's possible, given the other duties, like laying out the paper and building ads. But I'd be remiss if I didn't investigate the possibilities, so can anyone recommend a multiblog platform (where anyone can sign up to get a blog) that's fairly easy to administer? I've looked at WordpressMU, but it looks like a headache to maintain.
posted by jmitchell to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
if you want to do something like this, Wordpress MU is probably your best and easiest solution. My suggestion would be to hire somebody technical enough to put this together if it's really that important.

[digressionfilter:] From my experience in print-media (I work for a weekly mag) a lot of the insanely smart and successful people in the business are really trying to move to the web because of all of this 'print is dying/dead' talk but don't really understand it and are looking at the web as if it were a print-like medium. If you understand how web technology works to some degree, you owe it to your boss to explain to him/her the complexities of the medium and that it isn't as easy as throwing the idea together in InDesign.

As an alternative suggestion: If you're looking for user interaction and content generation, why not try out a forum where users are encouraged to write whatever they want as threads?
posted by JRGould at 7:22 AM on January 24, 2008

Oh, we've had a forum before, but never really worked out, as it was filled with drama and infighting, forcing us to kick the drama queens off and their fans followed.

I know, I know, having dealt with that, why would we want to possibly bring that element back. Our current website does have the ability to for people to comment and that's worked out well, with very little drama, so we're hoping that would continue.

In order to host MU, would we need a dedicated server? Currently, our website is hosted through a thirdparty, so we'd need a separate server to host the subdomain.
posted by jmitchell at 7:45 AM on January 24, 2008

Wordpress MU is by far the _easiest_ of the blog-farm software to maintain and manage. The other good option is Lyceum, an MU offshoot that alters the mechanism by which the MySQL tables are managed.

If MU looks like it would be difficult to maintain for you, then yes...perhaps a blog farm isn't quite what you need.

Second suggestion: send people to, let them sign up on their own, and maintain a directory of them on your site. You could gather the RSS feeds and repurpose them. There's a lot that could be done, even without hosting.
posted by griffey at 7:55 AM on January 24, 2008

Another alternative is scoop.
posted by Pants! at 7:59 AM on January 24, 2008

My local newspaper does this, through's system..
posted by vanoakenfold at 8:03 AM on January 24, 2008

Whatever you use, it's going to be complicated to do it well, and I think you certainly need more than "mildly technical" skills unless you treat it as a standalone feature and throw money at a third party 'enterprise' service.

You also need to carefully consider how blogs will tie into the users' overall identities and integrate with existing systems - do they already log in to post comments? Do they have profile pages? Will blog data (posts, comments, users, levels of activity) be available elsewhere in the site? Bolt-on features are always a bad way to approach architecture.

Sorry, I realise that's not answering the question, but if you were a client of mine I'd want to steer you towards looking at the site as a whole and carefully devising the best ways of encouraging communication with visitors. Your boss is being unreasonable if they're expecting you to investigate, implement and run this project without lots of time, help and money, and no package/service is really going to solve your problems.
posted by malevolent at 8:11 AM on January 24, 2008

I haven't actually played with it, but Drupal will let users have their own blogs. Pay someone to set it up for you; after that, maintaining it shouldn't be too hard.
posted by bricoleur at 8:14 AM on January 24, 2008

You probably want to see if you can get this as a managed service, or otherwise pay someone outside your organization for setup and maintainance. I'm sure someone will be along to plug typepad, but there are other options. I'd definitely check out, and you might try asking on the wordpressMU mailing lists to find a consultant. Also, ask your existing webhost.
posted by Good Brain at 8:51 AM on January 24, 2008

Whatever you use, it's going to be complicated to do it well
That's an important point. On a more practical note, I know that uses Drupal for running a fairly big chunk of their site, including commenting and such. [my notes from a recent presentation they gave] Drupal does handle multiple blogs with relative ease right out of the "box" -- OlyBlog in Olympia does this, with every user having their own blog and the "best" posts listed on the front page.

OTOH, Drupal can be a lot of work to wrangle into place. (There's a lot about that in those notes.) Your boss needs to be aware of the work involved before going ahead with it.
posted by epersonae at 9:09 AM on January 24, 2008

from the WordPress MU README:

WordPress MU is a multi user version of WordPress.
6 If you're not comfortable editing PHP code, taking care of a complex
7 webserver and database system and being pro-active about following
8 developments of this project then run, don't walk, to
9 and sign yourself and your friends up to free blogs.
10 It's easier in the long run and you'll save yourself a lot of pain
11 and angst.

i don't think you can get around the fact that this involves an investment mainly in people technically qualified to build and maintain an online service. it's like trying to publish a print newspaper without a printing press or printers to operate it...
posted by geos at 9:11 AM on January 24, 2008

This may be more expensive than what you're willing to pay, but you might contact Wordpress, Blogger, and/or TypePad and see if any of them would be willing to work something out with you where they handle the hosting and it just looks like it's a function of your newspaper's website.

I would caution you against a roll-your-own system unless you're confident that you will be able to get the software you use patched when security issues arise (they will) and can do so without borking the whole operation. Also: people will have technical questions, things will break, and you will most likely be reduced to tech support quite regularly -- which will take you longer the less you know about this sort of thing.

It would probably be easier to have a portal that links to blogs that your readers already have. I realize this wouldn't really get you the same kind of ad revenue that you're probably hoping to get off of these blogs, but it would be much easier, and there are already enough blogging platforms out there.

On the other hand, if you're looking to hire a full time blog administrator... my email is in my profile. That'd be easier than passing the Bar.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:14 AM on January 24, 2008

I don't anything about the technical stuff, but I'm wondering whether it's a good idea for a newspaper to host blogs. People tend to blog their own crazy ideas, and if someone finds "Kittens are carriers of deadly alien virus!" on a site with a domain matching your paper, well... people might get confused.
You need to be really clear towards the readers that the blogs are not written by newspaper editors, but you also need to have some really clear guidelines about what is and isn't acceptable. My kitten example is nothing compared to what some people like to put online.
posted by easternblot at 9:42 AM on January 24, 2008

Ok, thanks you guys. Can anyone point me to links, sites or articls that detail or layout the kind of technical expertise needed to do this. It would help if I could show the boss that we need to X,Y and Z or we need a person to regularly do X, Y or Z.
posted by jmitchell at 11:04 AM on January 24, 2008

The initial expertise you need is someone with broad knowledge and experience; a 'web consultant' who can consider your requirements, your users' needs, the technology you already have, the technology available, etc., and give you sensible guidance on how to proceed (please don't launch straight into development).

Most good web development firms will have at least one person fitting that profile, and they should immediately start asking probing questions and suggest interesting ideas you haven't considered. Treating the consultancy/investigation/specification phase as a separate project is often a really good idea (breaks the task down, avoids committing to a budget/approach beforehand, helps to keep the consultant unbiased, etc.).
posted by malevolent at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2008

I look after the blogs on a large news website and agree most of the advice above - especially that it will be MUCH harder and more time-consuming than your boss seems to think.

But it sounds like you're worried that he may not believe this. If you're having trouble convincing him, try getting a quote from Pluck, who offer a complete service like this specifically for news websites. They are also rather expensive - of course there are cheaper ways to do it (many of which are described above), but the fact that they can charge this much might at least demonstrate that the setting up and managing of reader blogs is not something you'll be able to do in a few hours a week!
posted by 8k at 3:58 AM on January 25, 2008

I work with the Movable Type team, and we've done this for dozens (maybe hundreds) of newspapers and media websites around the world, probably more than anybody else. As a lot of the advice points out here, this is a time-consuming and serious effort, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. My email address is in my profile if you'd like to get in touch, but there are a few key things to share with your boss:

* Having every user able to start a blog is not the only way to make it possible for anyone to contribute -- they may only want to comment, rate things, or mark their favorite stories.
* There are lots of technical solutions to the question of hosting a blog community like you've described, but it's just as important that there are consultants or technical support people to back you up if you decide to do this.
* Are you willing/able and have the budget to get training for such an effort?
* From the description you've offered, it seems like there is almost certainly an underestimation of the cultural change that this sort of initiative can cause -- how will your current writers and editors feel about it?

All of those caveats aside, there are a lot of benefits to starting a blog-based community on a media website, which we'd written up as part of the explanation of how companies can use Movable Type for this kind of project. Another link that might be of interest is this description of how you can use blogging platforms to get the benefits of forums without the hassle of managing them. Feel free to drop me a line if you need more info to take to your boss, either to do what he's asking, or to refine his request into something you're more comfortable with.
posted by anildash at 1:56 AM on January 27, 2008

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