Why I’m using WordPress

WordPress logoSomeone will ask sooner or later, so I’ll just post my reasons for using WordPress here. Quite simply, it’s the best blogging platform for public blogs, period. It’s small, elegant, easy to use and has thousands of quick-to-install, stable plugins to automate everything from metadata, web analytics and Flickr integration to collecting and posting my commented bookmarks from del.icio.us every day. I also think that fundamentally, in an inter-operable world, it shouldn’t matter that a “Microsoft guy” uses a PHP/MySQL blogging platform on a Linux server at an independent hosting company.

Of course I’m aware that WSS 3.0 has a blogging module. I also think that in essence, it’s not meant to be used as an “Internet” blog. I understand that there are people who have made SharePoint blogs work for their public blogs (this guy, for example). Out of the box, SharePoint blogs don’t have a lot of the elements that someone even a little serious about blogging would require, like

  • Pingbacks and trackbacks
  • Plugins to integrate with
    • Flickr
    • del.icio.us
    • Digg
    • Analytics (okay, Google Analytics :)
    • Comment spam filtering
  • Blogging by mail
  • Standards-compliance for easy reading on mobile devices and screen readers

Those who are actually using WSS 3.0 for public blogging today have had to

  • Incur high hosting costs, or build and host a server themselves;
  • Build from scratch additional functionality to make it do small things that public blogging platforms do automatically; and/or
  • Install Community Kit for SharePoint, a CodePlex initiative – more about that in a minute.

I still think that WSS 3.0 blogs are pretty exciting as an intranet community enabler. The idea of creating online communities inside larger corporations remains evocative and powerful and is clearly working in places such as IBM and Microsoft. I just think that WSS 3.0 blogs aren’t really ready for prime time outside the firewall, and I wouldn’t want to deal with all the potential issues arising around that sort of use (licensing, security, lack of features, lack of integration to other common social networking/web 2.0 applications, etc.).

The Community Kit for SharePoint claims to address many of these challenges. It’s a beta 2 (apparently, it’s a rather slow-moving project, taking the scenic route :) that ‘upgrades’ SharePoint’s blogs to feature:

  • Pingbacks and trackbacks
  • Themes
  • Akismet spam filter
  • Comment moderation
  • Friendly URLs
  • Tag clouds

I think the jury is still out on whether the Community Kit makes public blogging with SharePoint more feasible. For me personally, it doesn’t make “my own” SharePoint blog any easier to host and deploy, since I don’t want to own and operate a server.

Although I don’t have this information first hand, the blogosphere agrees (as do colleagues in the know) that Microsoft itself uses Telligent‘s Community Server as the platform powering its TechNet blogs, Channel 9, etc. By all accounts, this is a strong, .NET-based forum and blogging platform with many of the bells and whistles. When you poke around the Internet a bit more, though, it seems clear that – by “uptake votes” alone – WordPress is more highly regarded, fuller featured and easier to deploy and use.

Much comes down to critical mass and the emergence of a strong community of a certain type around SharePoint, and specifically SharePoint as a blogging platform. What makes WordPress so strong is its highly fired-up, enthusiastic and skilled ecosystem of theme and plugin authors, creating, packaging and supporting – often as a labour of love – software for me and you to download, install and use, free of charge.

For me, this highlights once again a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while. The adoption trajectory of Microsoft software is somehow fundamentally different than what we commonly see in the open source world. I know that sounds like a truism, and it is in a way, but Microsoft has heavily invested in both social networking concepts and free software around SharePoint (e.g. free learning management platform for WSS 3.0, free SharePoint training modules, and WSS 3.0 itself is ‘free’ if you’ve bought Windows Server and SQL Server). And yet, no community of any note with any kind of critical mass has emerged for any of these products.

I think there are many reasons for this, but the most important one is that there aren’t any easy-to-use, modular ‘metaphors’ in SharePoint encouraging the creation and deployment of small pieces of managed code – plugins, basically. Plugins not just for blogs but for every aspect of SharePoint. Neither lists nor web parts can be bundled into small, managed applications easily enough to be useful for this. So the CodePlex community spends its time building necessary and important fundamentals, like MOSS faceted search, an AJAX toolkit, or platform developer tools.

I have a strong sense that Microsoft is working on a variety of ways to tackle this issue for the Office 14/2009 release of SharePoint, including managed code and better deployment features for small applications. Stay tuned and let’s see what the Office 14 beta will actually contain.

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