Drupal & Blogger user tries Wordpress after years of sneering, and likes it

wordpress-logo-stacked-rgb.pngThe other night talking with my girlfriend about developing a website for her, we decided that she needed a Wordpress blog. She's done quite a lot with Blogger blogs and is very familiar with them, but the goals she had were impossible given Blogger's limitations. While Drupal is a very powerful system and could have done what she wanted, it's not exactly user friendly. So I set off to build a site, holding my nose because I've long been anti-Wordpress because its inner design is is so bad. But after spending awhile with it I began to see it as a powerful system in its own right, and that they've focused on user experience much more than Drupal has. The process of writing on Wordpress is extremely superior to the process on Drupal.

As a result I'm not only building a site for her, but am converting The Long Tail Pipe from Blogger to Wordpress. And I'm beginning to get excited over the possibilities for what her and I will be able to do with Wordpress.

As an experienced Drupal and Blogger user - what do I think about Wordpress - how did I go about converting a Blogger blog to Wordpress - how am I setting up the Wordpress site - what do I think?

As I said, the user experience writing on Wordpress is excellent. It's far far far superior to the out-of-the-box experience with Drupal, and despite all the improvements with Blogger the Wordpress facilities beat Blogger's hands down. Out of the box,

Drupal's writing experience is downright primitive and to make it slightly less primitive I've installed BUEditor and IMCE but I'm still typing into a bare TEXTAREA. For Blogger, the team has been making tons of improvements on the administrative and writing side of the site even if the public side looks the same as always. For example, one can store an image library in Google+ Photo's and easily access them from Blogger's writing tools. The latest new feature in Blogger is a translate feature in the editor to help with translation as you're writing.

What won me over is the integrated media library delivered out-of-the-box with Wordpress. When adding an image to a Wordpress post you upload it to this library, and then you can access that same image from other posts as well. It's very nice.

However, as nice as the media library is, after uploading a few hundred images you'll be lost in a sea of images. To fix that I installed the Enhanced Media Library because it adds a category for images. By tagging images you can select subsets easily to quickly narrow down which image you want. Additionally the Wordpress media library allows other plugins. The Remote Medias Libraries plugin lets you connect with several other services - such as a YouTube Channel. If you've stored images in Flickr, this is the way to bring them into Wordpress.

Importing from Blogger: This process was far simpler than the method to import Blogger ports into Drupal. That was a nightmare, and while I did manage to import Blogger posts into this very Drupal site, I'm reluctant to do it again. By comparison with Wordpress the process was pretty straightforward, with at least two plugins offering this feature.

At first I tried Blogger Importer and while it brought the Blogger posts into my blog, I wasn't quite happy with the results. I don't remember what it was, but I ended up deleting all the imported posts and starting over. That wasn't a simple button click - but meant selecting every single post, deleting the posts, then emptying the trash. Because I had well over 500 posts this took awhile.

The second time around I tried Blogger Importer Extended. This plugin adds more features, such as importing Pages.

Both plugins imported (most of) the images from my blog straight into the media library. With the Blogger Importer Extended plugin, the images ended up being duplicated when a given image was used in multiple posts. Fixing that will mean editing almost every blog post and/or every image to weed out duplicates. With well over 500 posts I'm not looking forward to the task.

The biggest problem with these plugins is they don't map the Blogger URL to the Wordpress URL. That is - after importing the content from Blogger to Wordpress it's necessary to map the domain so that traffic which had been going to the Blogger blog now goes to the Wordpress blog. But doing so successfully means ensuring both search engines and visitors are redirected correctly such that they land on the correct article. Neither of these plugins offer any help with setting up redirects. I ended up installing the Redirection plugin, then manually setting up redirects for every one of the over 500 posts. While doing so I had to create a spreadsheet of the mappings so that I could inform Disqus as well, so that the Disqus conversations end up on the correct page. This tedious process took about 2 days.

With the site set up -- self hosted Wordpress, by the way, not Wordpress.com -- what's the rest of the setup?

If the first thing a Drupaler does when setting up a site is to install CCK and Views, what's he to do with Wordpress? Looking around I settled on Pods - Custom Content Types and Fields to provide the equivalent of CCK. It's not as comprehensive as CCK (or D7's Fields) but it's still pretty useful. It provides the ability to add Fields to any post type.

My initial goal is setting up an image and video gallery system. Individual gallery pages (Gallery post type) will use the built-in support for creating media galleries to create a Gallery post with images. I added the wp-jquery-lightbox plugin so these images would be automatically lightboxed for the visitors viewing pleasure. Additionally, one of the images will be selected as the Featured Image for the post.

The second half of this is an Album post type. Both of these post types have one field so far - a Reference field that refers to posts of the other type - Gallery posts refer to an Album - Album posts refer to Galleries. To make the Album post type display the galleries it's associated with required using the Pods Frontier Auto Template plugin. This is similar to the Contemplate module for Drupal, and offers a way to Theme content fields managed by PODS.

Unfortunately the documentation for Pods Frontier Auto Template is abysmal. Fortunately I was able to figure out enough to make a simple list of Galleries on an Album page showing the Teaser and Featured Image from the Gallery. It looks pretty nice and I have high hopes for this feature.

Blogger simply wouldn't have been able to do this at all, and in Drupal it of course could be done but would be difficult. With Wordpress and PODS, once I figured out how to do it implementing this kind of gallery system is very simple and would take a half hour or something.

Some of the imported posts I want to convert into a News Article post type - hopefully that will make registering the site with Google News easier. To that end I've installed the Post Type Switcher plugin to convert the posts, and the XML Sitemap & Google News feeds for the Google News Sitemap. It's still a TODO Item to do something with these.

A pleasant surprise I found in Wordpress is the practice of plugins allowing one to embed media from other sites (e.g. YouTube) by simply pasting the URL into a blank line in the post editor. If you do this in Drupal or Blogger you'll just generate a link, but with the correct Wordpress plugin installed it automagically queries out to the 3rd party site to retrieve embed codes. I've installed Iframely after trying several of these plugins (like YouTube Embed). What I like about Iframely is it supports thousands and thousands of sites supporting the oEmbed protocol. That means I don't have to install thousands of plugins - I only have to install the one, and it automagically supports everything. Have a Facebook link or Twitter link or YouTube link? It doesn't matter, just paste in the URL and you'll be rewarded with the embedded media.

I mentioned Disqus earlier, and you might think I'd make a beeline for the plugin and install it. Unfortunately I'm on WP 4.1.1 and the official Disqus plugin doesn't declare its support for that version. It only goes to v4.0.1. That gave me the opportunity to gaze at my navel and ponder whether to keep using Disqus. For the Blogger instantiation of this blog I'd used Disqus because it was far better than Blogger's commenting system, and better than using Google+ comments. What I like about Disqus is it takes care of spammers very well, and supports my readers authenticating themselves with any of several social networks.

What to do about commenting on the Wordpress version of the site? For the moment I've settled on two plugins that together hopefully fill the same role as Disqus. WP-SpamShield appears to be a very good spammer prevention system. I'll have to watch carefully to see what happens over time. Then WordPress Social Login is an excellent choice for supporting user registration with social network credentials.

I've configured the site so anyone can register to leave comments. But I set it up so they CANNOT register using the Wordpress-native registration system. Instead, I've configured WordPress Social Login to support almost a dozen social networks. It's now trivially easy for someone to register that way and start commenting on the site.

Between those two it may mean Disqus never gets installed on the site. If so I'll need to import the comments held by Disqus, somehow.

To round it out, I installed NK Google Analytics for Google Analytics support and WordPress SEO (Yoast) for some SEO helpers. The latter is something you're SUPPOSED to install - I haven't fully exercised it yet, but it helps with making sure you're targeting desired keywords and whatnot. There's some similar plugins for Drupal, and of course Blogger's capabilities in this area are inadequate. The main thing I look for is the ability to promote some data into META tags and to help me focus on good keyphrase choices. It appears to do a good job with both.

For theming, I'm looking to have a mobile friendly responsive theme. My initial stab at this is to use the TwentyTwelve theme as a base, then create a child theme to do customization. So far I simplified the presentation of excerpts on index pages & the front page. It's real easy to get running this way, and they've done a good job making it mobile responsive out of the box.

Blogger was limiting me too much, and I'm excited about the new things I'll be able to add to The Long Tail Pipe, and the site I'll be able to make for my girlfriend.

I know that Drupal could in theory do all the stuff I mentioned above. Out-of-the-box Drupal does very little of the above stuff, and the user experience editing posts on D7 is pretty bad. A lightbulb went off over my head while using the post editor and playing with some of the dialogs. The Wordpress crew have focused on being a great platform for writing content, and what has the Drupal crew focused on? The Enterprise world, apparently.

I've written about this before - when I came to Drupal with version 4.6 or 4.7 I was looking for a platform to build community websites. The tagline at the time was "Community Plumbing" and I bought that ideal hook-line-and-sinker. But somewhere along the way the Drupal platform has lost sight of that tagline, and is perhaps less useful to an individual like me who just wants to write blog posts, and who has a forum/community website.