a node at the edge  

April 29, 2002
TechnologySelf hosting of weblogs

If you're a Radio weblogger then you're aware of the problems that Userland is having with its static server (see this brief mention). You're probably pretty frustrated at this time because you can't post, and even if you could post, your weblog isn't accessible.

Those of us who have used Blogger can empathize with you because we faced daily frustrations with problems in Blogger and server problems with Blog*Spot.

Personally, I'm very glad I made my move to Movable Type, and I imagine that Jonathon is glad he's moved, also. And now I'm hearing rumors that other folks will be making the move to self-hosted weblogs sooner rather than later.

Centralized weblogging. The concept sounds good -- have others handle all the hosting details and all you have to worry about is writing something worthwhile or posting your recent "I'm a _____ quiz". However, as we're finding, what sounds good on paper isn't necessarily effective in implementation, especially with the increasing numbers of people who are joining the weblogging ranks.

If you want control over your weblog you have to decentralize not only the postings, but the tool, itself; and this means hosting your weblog publication process. However, the problem with this is that it invalidates the principle behind weblogging -- a personal publication system that enables the non-techie to publish content without having to fuss with the technical details.

What can a weblogger who just wants to have fun do?

Well, you can start by asking yourself if the centralized weblogging system downtime is a problem. In other words, how truly frustrating is the experience for you? If you find you can live with the system, the problem really isn't that bad or doesn't re-occur that often, then keep your weblog where it is, continue posting, and have fun. Here's a hint for you: there is no such thing as problem-free technology.

(There's a rule all technologists are required to follow stipulating that we can't create perfect technology. If we do, everyone will think techies are inhuman and either start worshipping us or stone us to death.)

If you're frustrated with the centralized systems, but it really doesn't matter anyway because you're finding you're not having as much fun with weblogging as you thought you would, then consider stopping. Unlike a book, dear boys and girls, weblogging doesn't have a final chapter other than the one that says "I'm sick of this shit. I quit". And if you do quit, we'll miss you but we understand.

(However, this doesn't doesn't apply to my Plutonians. If you quit, I'll hunt you down and run you over with Golden Girl)

If you fit the third category of weblogger -- you hate the frustrations associated with a centralized weblogging system such as Radio or Blogger, but you love to weblog -- then you should consider moving to a self-hosted system such as Movable Type or Graymatter or other similar systems.

My choice was to move to Movable Type because I've found it provides exactly what I want and is intuitively easy to use. The kicker, though, is that Movable Type isn't necessarily the easiest system to install. Especially if you're unfamiliar with web site hosting.

So back to the question: What can a weblogger who just wants to have fun do?

You can ask for help. You can pay a small amount of money and get loads of help from Ben and Mena at Movable Type, a contribution that also helps to fund their continued efforts on behalf of MT. In addition, talk to the people who've made the move. If webloggers truly are the happy band of brothers and sisters we say we are, then we should be willing to help each other.

If you have a question about hosting companies, server types, weblogging tools, installation, whatever -- ask. Ask at other weblogs, in comments, at your own weblog.

Send emails. Call a person on the phone. Chat in person. Ask about a person's karma, and then, when they draw breath to answer, slide in a MT technical question. Remember that human axiom: there's nothing we love more than to respond, successfully, to a question about how something works. It gives us a warm, cozy, smug glow.

Whatever you do, don't sit there fuming in silence, getting more and more frustrated. If you do, eventually the pressure will build to the point that steam will come out of your ears, your eyes will bulge, your face will turn beet red, and the top of your head will blow off.

And that will scare your cat.

Update Discussion of Radio's centralization -- or not -- is continued here

Posted by Bb at April 29, 2002 02:13 PM


Well said, Shelley! Well said.

Posted by: meryl on April 29, 2002 03:08 PM

LOl! I'm trying, I'm trying. I've been wrestling with MT and my web host for 2 weeks. Each time I over come one hurdle, I find another which takes a half a dozen e-mails to get them to understand what I want. Arggh! But someday soon I'll be movin on up to MT - save me a seat!

Posted by: Kath on April 29, 2002 05:20 PM

Semi-related, but as I mentioned in the comments a couple of posts ago, you are indeed #5 in the Daypop Top 40 as I write this (although Jonathon is still languishing down around #23)... Time to let fly with something juicy to entertain all those Daypoppers dropping by!

Posted by: stavrosthewonderchicken on April 29, 2002 06:19 PM

Yep. that's my take on it all too. I'm happy with Greymatter... but I would have switched to MT if it wasn't for my ISPs poor performance. I'm pretty sure that's the reason why I had issues with my switch.

Posted by: Karl aka paradox1x on April 29, 2002 06:51 PM

Languishing indeed. Now I'm at 24. Looks like I'm going to have to come up with something juicier than the Dishmatique. Still, 24 on the Top 40 is a lot better than 42.

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on April 29, 2002 06:51 PM

I've seen more than a few self-hosted Radio weblogs out there too.

Posted by: David Golding on April 29, 2002 07:01 PM

You're not tied to hosting at Userland with Radio.

Posted by: Simon Fell on April 29, 2002 07:04 PM

Simon, David -- You're not tied to the Radio cloud if you host on an OS that the Radio Cloud works on. And last I heard, Radio only works in Windows/Mac -- no Unix, Linux, BSD (Free or Net). I'm running FreeBSD.

Radio has some good features, but I have much more control with MT.

Still, if others like Radio, they should stick with it.

Posted by: Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman on April 29, 2002 08:18 PM

And Jonathon -- see, I told you that you needed to talk about sex more...

Posted by: Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman on April 29, 2002 08:24 PM

All the reasons why I started a hosting company that caters to blogs - and since almost all of us use MT, we are more then willing to help out with installing it! We *know* the paths. And the answers to all the other questions. And what the server can & can't do. And we have all of the required perl modules installed. Life is good. :D

Posted by: Christine on April 29, 2002 08:26 PM

I went around a circle a few times before I decided I belong to Shelley's 2nd category. I just don't have enough to say, nor do I have the time to focus on a particular subject. My best words are usually in reply to other's... so I never did start that blog!

If I had, I still don't know how the infrastructure would be. I develop interactive websites for a living using everything from Perl and PHP, to ASP and COM, to XML and XSLT/XSL-FO. But...

As soon as I decided on using Radio for it's RSS feeds and ease of initial setup, I found how undocumented and klunky extending it outside the box it was.

As soon as I decided to host my own server locally and have my domain registered using TZO my cable connection went down 3 straight weekends.

As soon as I decided to have Userland do the hosting I found the lack of written policies that all hosts usually have troubling.

As soon as I decided to have Blogger do the hosting they got hacked, or I was troubled over the s-l-o-w response other Blogger sites have.

I guess I'm saying that there is no perfect option. Each has plusses and minuses. My only strong opinions were that:

(1) If you _are not_ going to be admin of your own web server you might as well go with Blogger or Radio - and leave all the headaches to them.

(2) If you _are_ going to be admin of your own box then stay away from both Radio. IMHO it's useless for integrating with anything else you may want on your website. If you want to have your posts served up by Apache or IIS then you're stuck dealing with a backend that isn't a database. If you want to have your interactive pages served up by Radio then you have the headache of installing scripting into a proprietary server that wasn't meant to use anything except it's own proprietary scripting - and unfortunately that is woefully underdocumented and very limited in what it can do. And finally, if you decide to host separate servers for your blog (Radio) and the rest of your content.... well, that's just insane! Instead, do yourself a favor and use something else. If you don't already know it, learn Perl or PHP and how to interact with a SQL database. Trust me, you'll become MUCH more marketable with this knowledge than you ever would be learning Frontier, Userland RSS (and yes, it is proprietary) and Radio.

David and Simon, while I agree with the facts in your statements, I don't agree that it's worth the effort to use Radio outside of Userland.

Posted by: Dave on April 29, 2002 08:58 PM

Ben and Mena do a full install, test and initial blog entry for $US20 -- that's a bargain that can't be beat.

A superb bulletin board provides support and backup, with Ben chipping in with solutions every 15 minutes it seems.

Dishmatique...isn't that French for 'what a magnificent dish!' Trust Jonathon to bring sex to the kitchen.

Posted by: Allan on April 29, 2002 10:51 PM

Yep, BB, I made the move as well. And I'm damned happy with it.

The truth is, I'm far from a techie. But MT has superb documentation, and I managed to get it (and several of the modules) installed, my posts imported, and the page actually up and running in about three hours. That may seem like a long time to you, but for someone who wasn't even sure they could do the installation, I'm pretty happy with it.

So yeah, even for non-geeks it's possible. Difficult, and a little confusing at times, but possible. And so worth the effort.

Posted by: Shannon on April 30, 2002 12:37 AM

If I didn't like Radio I also could pick criteria that it doesn't meet. It doesn't meet my needs, so I don't use it. But I think Simon and I were commenting that the post is based on an incorrect premise. We might have been saying that indirectly, but I think the post also might having been saying something indirectly. ;-)

Posted by: David Golding on April 30, 2002 01:14 AM

Hi all,

I use both. MT for my main blog, which I set up myself - it was a bit tricky, but nothing that difficult with a printout of the instructions by your side, and Radio for other things - its 'point-and-shoot' and categories ability is excellent (tho' I don't use the community server as it was obvious right from the start that Radio would be popular and the server would get hammered.)

I don't really think that they can be compared side-by-side, Radio can do many many things that MT can't - offline posting, newstrawling, completely seperate catagories, and much more. MT can do things that Radio can't - keep your stuff safe on the server without worrying about a DB failure/disk crash/Better documentation and so on.

They're not really directly comparable IMHO - and neither is 'better' than the other, just different. (Tho' Radio is *lots* of fun to play with, which MT isn't - that's pure functionality.)

I can't agree that MT is a superior piece of software to Radio. MT is a lovely piece of software and I'll never leave it, and I can say exactly the same thing about Radio. :-)

Why limit yourselves to only using one or the other? Have fun with both!

My 0.02.

BTW, Stavros, you were right about Jon and Bb hitting Daypop weren't you. Whew! :-D

Posted by: Rogi on April 30, 2002 03:39 AM

Oh, and BTW - Radio support is *vastly* improved these days. I posted a question to the support forum the other day, first time in months, and had a fiendly reply from Dave Winer withing 15 minutes (you're being friendly these days Dave?? You're losing your touch :-) and then was emailed personally by Lawrence a while later and he helped me sort out the problem - and all of this whilst they were having hell with thier server. MT support on thier forum is also excellent as we all know. Same thing - one is no better than the other IMO.

Having both of them on the scene is a Good Thing, as both are kept on thier toes by the other. Competition is good. :-)

Posted by: Rogi on April 30, 2002 03:47 AM

That's generally the way I look at it too Rogi. There is more then one way to do it. The Perl motto. I'm happy blogging is like that right now.

Competition is good :-)

Posted by: Karl aka paradox1x on April 30, 2002 05:14 AM

I use a tool called Blark that runs on Zope. I'm a big ol' geek so I like running all my own stuff on a hosting service. Anyone with technical questions related to hosting services, setup, etc . feel free to drop me a line.

Posted by: rev_matt on April 30, 2002 06:49 AM

You can use any web site host when using Radio; simply configure it to post to an FTP site instead of the Userland server.

Since all Radio does is render static HTML files and upload them using FTP (or XML-RPC or whatever, depending on your configuration), you really don't need anything but the most basic account on a web server.

Compare this to Movable Type, which requires you to be able to run CGIs.

(My CGIs don't seem to work anymore on the server I'm using - they've got PHP instead).

Posted by: Dotan Dimet on April 30, 2002 07:50 AM

"We worked really hard for a couple of years to build a completely decentralized system. It takes a few minutes to post an incorrect analysis of the product, and then that floats around out there, and hurts our business. Play fair. Our product isn't perfect, for sure, but don't ding us for not doing things the product does do." - Dave, Scripting News

Posted by: Donny on April 30, 2002 08:52 AM

BB: "You're not tied to the Radio cloud if you host on an OS that the Radio Cloud works on. And last I heard, Radio only works in Windows/Mac -- no Unix, Linux, BSD (Free or Net). I'm running FreeBSD."

The Python Community Server is a Radio hosting server that runs on Linux (and presumably BSD and UNIX). I'm publishing my Radio Userland weblog to it now, and it supports almost all of the functionality of the official Radio Community Server.

Posted by: Rogers Cadenhead on April 30, 2002 10:11 AM

I'd say he's replying to this thread. You *can* avoid the site hosting centralization by doing exactly what Dotan describes above. As you can see at http://www.paradox1x.org/radio/. I did this early on with my Radio experimentations.

I got to make a distinction here... there is 'site hosting' and 'tool hosting'. The two are not - NOT - the same. It's hard to distinguish that. And I believe it's that issue that Shelly is talking about here.

(warning - this can easily turn into a mind spinning conversation having to do with word meanings....)

(second warning - I have believe all of these tools mentioned are equals - they each serve different customer bases with alot of overlap... you want an apples vs. apples comparison.... go GreyMatter vs. MT vs. Manila/Frontier... not Radio or Blogger - which turn things on their head.... although I could be wrong...).

Anyway - I'm with Rogi - competition good. So many cool tools to use for different circumstances.

Posted by: Karl on April 30, 2002 10:20 AM

Then Rogers, you're dependent on the Python Community server...

However, thanks for link to ported version of RCS. Found it at SourceForge.

Posted by: Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman on April 30, 2002 10:52 AM

With Radio you can host anywhere that handles FTP, that's how i manage my blog, you don't need RCS.

Posted by: Simon Fell on April 30, 2002 11:09 AM

Reading all the comments above, I see where people are sometimes dissatisfied with Userland or Blogger's stability, but they don't want to just use static files and ftp.
This raises the question:

Would you pay a premium for a RCS (Radio Community Server) Host that offered guaranteed uptime and great support?
How much would you be willing to pay?

Posted by: Damien Stevens on April 30, 2002 11:09 AM

Point to make -- and see next posting also. If Radio is dependent on a central server for any part of the publication process then the tool is centralized. Simon, you say you don't need RCS or the Userland cloud for any aspect of your publication process. Then you know for a fact that there's never any communication between your Radio installation and the Userland server's, other than weblogs.com and software updates if you ask for them?

With MT, if the Movable Type servers bit the dust, I can continue to use the version of the tool I have and publish my weblog without hinderance.

And the tool doesn't ping the MT organization, either. However, I can check through the code to verify this -- it's open.

Damien -- I don't want an RCS. I don't want a community server. I want my tool, my site, my control. And that, to me, is priceless.

Posted by: Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman on April 30, 2002 11:34 AM

and it will always be the 'up-down-up-down again' reliability issue that will plague centralized system services.
i use blogger pro for that extra degree of reliability. no complaints (occasional buggy shit, but no biggie), and the service/people have always been top notch.
but i'd like to switch to MT for the feature set...as well as the "my tool, my site, my control" concept expressed by Shelley. tried to do it even, got well into the process...then realized my host co. (XO Communications) doesn't allow me to do basic things like CHMOD to change permissions. Arrrrrgh. someone up above mentioned a "hosting company that caters to blogs"...i'd love to hear more about them. suggestions? no need to clutter up this comment box with those suggestions, either. just email 'em to me if you've got 'em...

Posted by: edmur on April 30, 2002 11:42 AM

BB says "... Then you know for a fact that there's never any communication between your Radio installation and the Userland server's, other than weblogs.com and software updates if you ask for them? "

Yes, last time i checked this was the case [checked with my own pcapTrace tool]

Posted by: Simon Fell on April 30, 2002 08:57 PM

BB says "... Then you know for a fact that there's never any communication between your Radio installation and the Userland server's, other than weblogs.com and software updates if you ask for them? "

Yes, last time i checked this was the case [checked with my own pcapTrace tool]

Posted by: Simon Fell on April 30, 2002 09:02 PM

Simon, per conversation in next post, does seem as if there's a handshake between Userland/RCS and the desktop product when Radio is started and shutdown.

Posted by: Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman on May 1, 2002 12:07 PM


Just because radio pings userland doesn't mean it is dependent. Even if you couldn't turn the ping off (but you can), if it fails, you can still publish anything to your own server.

It seems to me you would save yourself a lot of embarasment by just downloading radio and using it for a couple of days rather than ignorantly spouting off about what it is and isn't and letting a bunch of other people point out your mistakes.

Posted by: paul victor novarese on May 2, 2002 08:19 AM

Paul, I have used Radio for several weeks. I've posted a technical weblog using Radio. I was going to write an article on this for O'Reilly until other matters intervened. That's one reason why I'm familiar with the pinging handshake.

Dependence is more than whether the tool will post the pages. Dependence is freedom from connectivity to a centralized tool service. Period.

I, personally, dislike the thought that my net address is pinged to an RCS -- Userland's since I wouldn't be trying to stage another -- just to sign on to the tool in order to use it. This, to me, is a dependency, and a violation of my privacy.

This is equivalent to having to start your ICQ connection everytime you want to post to your weblog.

Dependence is being able to start, run, and use the weblogging tool without any connection -- any connection -- to a centralized tool service outside of your control. Period.

Now, with Radio you can run your own RCS in order to not use Userland's RCS but that's overkill for most webloggers. And this is still a dependence on a central service other than that necessary for the tool to operate -- to public weblog pages.

If the handshake with the RCS can be turned off, and every other aspect of Radio controlled so that it doesn't need an RCS, then that would make the tool, to me, independent and decentralized. And that would be information I think that should be published, and that would be a very good thing. Until then, Radio, is centralized.

There is no such thing as shades of gray in technology -- either the tool connects to a central tool service, or it doesn't. Doesn't matter if you "don't mind" or "don't care" or if you like the aspects that the RCS brings you. If the tool connects to a central tool service, for whatever reason and regardless of the end result if the service request fails, it is dependent.

Posted by: Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman on May 2, 2002 08:44 AM

Paul, you mentioned turning off the ping. I've asked and asked how the handshake can be turned off. Since you know, enlighten us -- how can we make Radio totally independent of an RCS? Since you know.

Posted by: Bb aka Shelley aka Weblog Bosswoman on May 2, 2002 08:49 AM

To turn off the ping (and participation in the weblogs.com RCS):

To use an alternative RCS:

I already posted both of these in the comments attached to http://weblog.burningbird.net/archives/000127.php

If you're super paranoid, put a entry for userland.com in your hosts file. Now you never have to worry about Big Brother Dave.

Dependence is freedom from connectivity to a centralized tool service. Period.

Besides the obvious typo, I still don't see how the ping is a dependency. Yes, either the tool "connects to a central tool service or it doesn't." And yes, Radio connects to the RCS. But it isn't dependent on it. The software functions fine if it fails. You're redefining dependence in the middle of the argument. You began by saying if the software doesn't function when the userland.com goes down, it is dependent on it. This is completely reasonable and I don't think anyone would disagree. Now you're explicitly saying that just a connection, even if it has no bearing on functionality, is a dependence. If that's what you want to call it, I can't stop you. But the software functions. Period.

You connect to userland.com to get updates (whether you do it manually or automaticly), is that an invasion of your privacy? Is this a "dependency"?

Posted by: paul victor novarese on May 2, 2002 01:42 PM

"To turn off the ping (and participation in the weblogs.com RCS):"

That turns off the ping? Errr...no, I don't think so somehow.

Posted by: Rogi on May 2, 2002 04:36 PM

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