Michael Hampton is My Hero of the Day [en]

[fr] En principe, les problèmes de serveur sont résolus. Retour à la normale aussi vite que j'arrive à transférer les données avec la connection wifi très approximative que nous avons ici.

[Michael Hampton, also known as io_error](http://www.homelandstupidity.us/) just saved my life today by solving the [encoding problem on my new hosting](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/12/11/wordpress-dreamhost-wifi-arghl/). It seems something went wrong when I imported my SQL dumps into the new database. Solving the encoding issue seems to have solved the “can log into admin but can’t do anything” WordPress issue (if someone can explain why, I’d be interested).

And [danah](http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/) is my heroine of the day, because after a morning of [politicians](http://www.onemanandhisblog.com/archives/2006/12/le_web_3_hijack.html) and [WiFi fighting](http://annedominique.wordpress.com/2006/12/12/leweb3-day-1-joies-et-frustration/), it was nice to hear an [interesting talk](http://steph.wordpress.com/2006/12/12/le-web-3-danah-boyd/).

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Slow SSH Login from MacBook [en]

[fr] La connection SSH vers mon serveur depuis mon MacBook est très lente (je dois attendre plusieurs minutes pour qu'il me demande mon mot de passe). Il me semble me souvenir que depuis ma machine Windows à la maison également, il n'y avait rien de cela. L'autre semaine, j'ai essayé de me connecter depuis un tout autre endroit et la réponse a été instantanée. Idées?

Well, it seems that writing about my technical problems here is more efficient than bugging people repeatedly on IRC about them, so let’s continue. Welcome to Bunny’s Troublshooting Centre.

I have trouble SSH’ing into my server from my MacBook. Trouble, here, means I have to wait a couple of minutes (no exaggeration) for the password prompt. If I’m quick enough and type my password in before it times out, I’m in.

I logged in from somewhere else the other week and it responded almost immediately. I don’t recall that logging in from home (same wifi/DSL connection) from my winbox was sluggish.

Any ideas? I’ve run SSH with the verbose option on, and it does throw up a few warnings an errors. I don’t really want to paste it all here, but if you tell me what bits are useful I can put them in a pastebin. Thanks for any ideas/help/assistance.

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Hosted Blog Platform Test Write-Up [en]

I’ve tested 13 free platforms, and this is a write-up on the experiment. The ones I preferred were Blogsome, running Wordpress, and Mon-Blog (in French), running DotClear.

Edit 26.12.2006: For those of you trying to choose a free blogging platform, I’ve now been recommending WordPress.com without hesitation for some time now.

As the people I hang out with on Freenode are painfully aware of by now, I’ve been on a blog platform testing binge. In total, 13 free* platforms tested. Here is a quick list of my test blogs — you’ll find detailed comments about each platform on the test blogs themselves, and a general overview below. The ones I preferred were Blogsome and Mon-Blog.

The platforms were tested with FireFox 1.0 on OSX, Javascript enabled, set to block pop-ups and force links opening a new window to open in the initial tab/window (we’ll see this setting seems to have caused problems with many visual editors).

My main interest was to have a peek at what existed (personal curiosity) and see if it was possible to claim the blogs on Technorati. What follows is an account of my personal user experience on these different platforms. It is not the result of a battery of systematic “benchmarking tests”, though here are some of the points I paid attention to:

  1. was it easy to create an account, or did I have to fight?
  2. how easy was it for me to sign back in, afterwards?
  3. overall, did I find the features I expect from a weblog? (note how subjective that is)
  4. how did writing a post go?
  5. could I add images?
  6. could I change the template?
  7. could I add links to my other test blogs? (linkroll management)
  8. could I claim the blog as mine at Technorati?
  9. did I bump into availability problems?

Lets get the last point over with first. I succeeded in claiming blogs on all platforms except three: NRJ blogs, Skyblog, and LiveJournal. The reason for that is that the last two platforms limit links in the blogroll to weblogs using the same platform. This prevented me from using the blogroll to add the Technorati code necessary to claiming the weblog.

Note, by the way, that I am talking about the free version of LiveJournal, as the paid version does not have this limitation. NRJ blogs, by far the worst platform amongst those tested, does not permit linking at all (even in posts!) I’m not even sure if it deserves to be called a “blogging platform”.

As far as linkrolls or blogrolls are concerned, ViaBloga gets top marks for their “almost-automatic linkrolling”. You can simply type in the URL of the blog/site you want to add, and it retrieves title and rss feed, and also creates a screenshot and thumbnail of the site. It really makes you want to add links to your sidebar. One-click blogrolling, if you like. Otherwise, most link management systems are pretty standard.

Some, like MSN Spaces, make you click “Add Link” between each links, instead of systematically presenting you with a form allowing you to add a link each time you go in link management. This is one of the minor but irritating usability problem which plague MSN Spaces. There are major ones too, but I won’t list them too (no paragraph breaks for me, login problems, timeout problems, clunky interface, ugly permalinks, horrible markup) — they are detailed on my test MSN Space.

Visual editors are neat when they work, but they are a great pain when they do not work. Because of my browser settings, I failed adding links to my posts at ViaBloga, for example. I also failed to add photographs at CanalBlog, HautEtFort, and 20six because of this. BlogSpot is clear enough about the fact you need an external service like Flickr if you want photos on your blog, and both LiveJournal and U-blog seem to fail the photo test for various reasons.

Both Skyblog and NRJ blogs are very limited blogging services, the latter being a very pale imitation of the former. Skyblog focuses on making it easy for teens to put photos on the web with brief comments, and, despite many other shortcomings (no permalinks, interface issues, server overload at peak times), I’m forced to admit it does it pretty well — which partly explains its success (it’s the main French language blog platform in blog numbers). The other services passed the photo test with more or less ease (don’t forget I’m a geek, so uploading a photo first, copying the URL and inserting it into a post isn’t an issue for me — it could be for some).

At some point, I had trouble connecting to the following services (or timeouts): Skyblog, MSN Spaces, and 20six (I can’t remember any others, but my memory might be failing me. NRJ blogs distinguishes itself by refusing to publish certain posts, or waiting a day or two before being so.

Now, before I get lost in random comments, I’ll give you a quick low-down on each of the solutions tested, as well as links to other people who have recently reviewed some of them.

Blogsome
  • Pros: WordPress, very easy to sign up
  • Cons: might need to be a bit of a techie at times

Being an avid and enthusiastic WordPress user, the idea of a hosted WordPress-powered blogging platform was very exciting to me. No bad surprises as I already knew the interface (I’m biased, of course), and no major bugs that couldn’t be addressed after posting about them in the forum. I didn’t try the visual editor there, but I assume it will make it more newbie-friendly. Definitely the platform I recommend for the moment.

MSN Spaces
  • Pros: none
  • Cons: way too beta (buggy)

After Roland Tanglao, Robert Scoble, and a dirty word test at Boing Boing, let me add my two cents by saying I am unenthusiastic about MSN Spaces. It’s still way too rough around the edges. Not usable as far as I’m concerned.

LiveJournal
  • Pros: community, well-established
  • Cons: lots of settings, limitations of free accounts (no Technorati claim possible)

Well, LiveJournal is LiveJournal, and I know that to get a good idea of what it can do you need the paid version. My first impression was that it seemed to have lots of options in the admin part (a bit confusing), but other than that, it was pretty easy to get going and posting. Google will point out to you many more complete reviews of LiveJournal, so I’ll stop here. My main point was, however, to see if I could claim a free LiveJournal as my blog at Technorati, and that was not possible (short of adding the code via JavaScript in the head of the page, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to go that far for my test.)

BlogSpot
  • Pros: well-established, nice admin interface
  • Cons: lack of categories, trackbacks, and image hosting

No big surprise here. I used Blogger for years (though not BlogSpot), and I liked the interface I found during my test a lot. They should wake up and get categories and trackbacks though. We’ll be in 2005 in less than 3 weeks. A good, solid option for people who can live without categories, trackbacks, and hosted photographs.

ViaBloga*
  • Pros: great link management, wiki-like features, active development
  • Cons: some usability issues and minor bugs; not free

ViaBloga has many good features. The “configurable blocs” system (invented by Stéphane for Joueb.com), which allows you to easily move about elements of your page, is just great (once you’ve figured it out). The platform has real wiki-like capability via keywords, and “cross-links”, which work like a kind of automatic trackbacking system. On the shortcomings side, I would say that although the features are great, the usability and user-friendliness of the administration aspect, which is a little confusing, could still be improved. I’m not a beginner, and it took me quite some time to figure out a certain number of things (and I know Stéphane and Delphine, so it’s easy for me to get direct help). And no, it’s not just because I’m “used” to other systems — I should still be able to figure things out easily.

Joueb
  • Pros: well-established, community
  • Cons: community (!), some usability problems (cf. ViaBloga)

Joueb is ViaBloga’s community-oriented little sister. The first French language hosted blogging platform seemed to me a little more kludgy than ViaBloga, but there is a happy community there, and Stéphane is an active developper, always ready for feedback and making improvements to his babies. If you’re looking for a French weblogging platform with a strong community, I’d say this is a good choice.

Skyblog
  • Pros: great if all you want is upload your phone photos, spit out a comment, and allow people to comment (though Flickr does it better)
  • Cons: no permalinks or trackbacks, limited server availability, teen-sms-talk and link-whoring comments

I remember when Skyblog was launched, the francoblogosphere was boiling over in horror at this kind of bastardized blogging solution where teens posted pics of their friends and commented in sms-speak. (Sorry, can’t find any posts right now, will add links later if I do.) As I said, Skyblog does not do much, but it makes publishing photos and short texts easy, and it’s pretty successfully targeted at a certain audience. My pupils have Skyblogs and they are obviously all the rage. Lots of photos, hardly any text, and comments abound which either say “ur 2 kool”, “u suck”, or “com visit my sky http://somecoolnick.sykblog.com/”. Not very interesting as a blogging platform, as far as I’m concerned, but obviously successful.

NRJ blogs
Edit 18.12.04: it seems confirmed that NRJ blogs hasn’t launched yet, and Google caught them by surprise.

  • Pros: none
  • Cons: sucks (I mean, some posts don’t even get posted, and finding your blog URL demands a thorough investigation)

I’ll say it loud and clear, NRJ blogs suck, and as a pretty obvious consequence they aren’t taking off really well: less than 50 blogs created since they launched (and NRJ is a major popular radio!) However, I can’t find a link on their home page, so there is a possibility this was a preliminary soft launch. In any case, I’m getting my few days of fame as an NRJ blog star. Neuro, Mr_Peer, and Kwyxz also tried NRJ blogs and were all but impressed. See their posts or my test blog for detailed complaints.

CanalBlog
  • Pros: has the usual set of features you expect from a blog
  • Cons: admin interface can feel a little rude at times

CanalBlog was a pleasant surprise. The admin interface takes over your browser, but it works pretty well and it’s user friendly enough in a “MS-Office-lookalike” way. The layouts you can choose from are clean, and they have comments and trackbacks. They have ads, though. I’d say they are a viable platform (er… a viable choice of platform).

HautEtFort
  • Pros: nice admin interface
  • Cons: no trackbacks

Too bad they don’t have trackbacks! I like what I’ve seen of the admin interface, nice and clean and uncluttered. As many other platforms do, they force me to go through the home page to log in (which I dislike), but honestly, like CanalBlog (and maybe more, if it wasn’t for the lack of trackbacks), I’d say they are an honest French language blogging platform.

20six
  • Pros: has the set of features you expect from a blog
  • Cons: ugly, cluttered admin interface, server downtime

I really didn’t like 20six. I find their layouts ugly, the admin interface is hell, and their server was unavailable for hours at one point when I was about to do my photo upload test. Even though they know what trackbacks are, I wouldn’t recommend them (go CanalBlog instead).

U-blog
  • Pros: community, features more or less ok
  • Cons: probably doomed

Well, I’ve spoken a lot about U-blog already, but more in a blogo-political context. When there weren’t so many French language blogging platforms around, U-blog used to be my recommendation. On trying it now, I can’t help saying that it feels a little broken, or abandoned. I was faced with an error when trying to upload a picture, and some of the links in the admin section tell you that this or that feature is only available with the paid version. Given the platform doesn’t seem in active development anymore, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Mon-Blog
  • Pros: DotClear (clean, beautiful, all functionalities)
  • Cons: launched three days ago

Now this, ladies and gentlemen, was a last-minute and very pleasant surprise. Mon-Blog is based on the weblog engine DotClear, which I have long held in high regard. For the first time, I’ve had a chance to see the DotClear admin interface, and let me tell you, it’s as beautiful as the themes they provide to dress your weblog in. Nothing really missing feature-wise, though it seems templates won’t really be customisable at Mon-Blog for the moment. The service has just launched and some creases need ironing out, but the forums and the developer are reactive. Just go for it. This is clearly my first choice for a French blogging platform.

I hope this will have been of interest to some. Thanks for your attention, and I’m glad to be over with the testing!

Edit 16:20: I’ve just add quick pros/cons bullet points (thanks to acrobat for the suggestion and the proof-reading).

Edit 13.12.04: ViaBloga was included in this survey although it is not a free platform. It is free for non-profit organisations, however. The mistake is mine — being an early tester, I was offered six months free, and in my mind had not switched ViaBloga to the “paying platforms” category. See my comment and Stéphane’s on the subject.

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Blogsome: a WordPress Weblog Farm [en]

A hosted WordPress weblog provider just opened. I’m testing.

[fr] Blogsome est une solution hébergée fournissant à  qui le désire un weblog WordPress en deux clics (moins d'une minute).

Check out Blogsome. It looks exciting. I’ve set up a test blog: enter a username, an e-mail address, your blog title, and there you are. 1 minute.

I’m very curious to see how this will scale, especially given my experiences with my school blogs. I’m also curious to see if they will release the code used.

If you’re trying it, please let me know what you think!

[via Ollie]

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Scripts for a WordPress Weblog Farm [en]

A first step to WordPress-farming: a shell script and a PHP script which allow you to easily install a whole lot of WordPress weblogs in only a few minutes (I installed over 30 in less than 5 minutes). Scripts require adapting to your environment, of course.

Update 03.11.06: Batiste made me realise I should point the many people landing here in the search of multi-user WordPress to WordPress MU. All that I describe in this post is very pretty, but nowadays completely obsolete.

Here is the best solution I’ve managed to come up with in half a day to finally install over 30 WordPress weblogs in under 5 minutes (once the preparation work was done).

A shell script copies the image of a WordPress install to multiple directories and installs them. A PHP script then changes a certain number of options and settings in each weblog. It can be used later to run as a “patch” on all installed weblog if a setting needs modifying globally.

Here are the details of what I did.

I first downloaded and unzipped WordPress into a directory.

wget http://wordpress.org/latest.tar.gz
tar -xzvf latest.tar.gz
mv wordpress wp-farm-image

I cleaned up the install (removing wp-comments-popup.php and the import*.php files, for example), added a language directory (as I’m wp-farming in French) and modified index.php to my liking; in particular, I edited the import statement for the stylesheet so that it looked like this:

@import url( http://edublogs.net/styles/toni/style.css );

The styles directory is a directory in which I place a bunch of WordPress styles. I don’t need the style switcher capability, but I do need to styles. Later, users will be able to change styles simply by editing that line in their index.php (or I can do it for them).

Another very important thing I did was rename wp-config-sample.php to config-sample and fill in the database and language information. I replaced wp_ by xxx_ so that I had $table_prefix = 'xxx_';.

To make it easier to install plugins for everyone, correct the language files, and edit whatever may be in wp-images, I moved these three directories out of the image install and replaced them with symbolic links, taking inspiration from Shelley’s method for installing multiple WordPress weblogs.

mv image/wp-content common
mv image/wp-images common
mv image/wp-includes/languages common
ln -s common/wp-content image/wp-content
ln -s common/wp-images image/wp-images
ln -s common/languages image/wp-includes/languages

I also added an .htaccess file (after some painful tweaking on a test install).

Once my image was ready, I compiled a list of all the users I had to open weblogs for (one username per line) in a file named names.txt, which I placed in the root directory all the weblog subfolders were going to go in.

I then ran this shell script (many thanks to all those of you who helped me with it — you saved my life):

for x in `cat names.txt`
do
cp -rv /home/edublogs/wp-farm/image/ $x
cat $x/wp-config.php | sed "s/xxx/${x}/" > config.tmp
mv config.tmp $x/wp-config.php
wget http://st-prex.edublogs.net/$x/wp-admin/install.php?step=1
wget http://st-prex.edublogs.net/$x/wp-admin/install.php?step=2
wget http://st-prex.edublogs.net/$x/wp-admin/install.php?step=3
done

This assumes that my WordPress install image was located in /home/edublogs/wp-farm/image/ and that the weblog addresses were of the form http://st-prex.edublogs.net/username/.

This script copies the image to a directory named after the user, edits wp-config to set the table prefix to the username, and then successively wgets the install URLs to save me from loading them all in my browser.

After this step, I had a bunch of installed but badly configured weblogs (amongst other things, as I short-circuited the form before the third install step, they all think their siteurl is example.com).

Entered the PHP patch which tweaks settings directly in the database. I spent some time with a test install and PHPMyAdmin to figure out which fields I wanted to change and which values I wanted to give them, but overall it wasn’t too complicated to do. You’ll certainly need to heavily edit this file before using it if you try and duplicate what I did, but the basic structure and queries should remain the same.

I edited the user list at the top of the file, loaded it in my browser, and within less than a few seconds all my weblogs were correctly configured. I’ll use modified versions of this script later on when I need to change settings for all the weblogs in one go (for example, if I want to quickly install a plugin for everyone).

In summary:

  1. compile list of users
  2. prepare image install
  3. run shell script
  4. run PHP script

If you try to do this, I suggest you start by putting only two users in your user list, and checking thoroughly that everything installs and works correctly before doing it for 30 users. I had to tweak the PHP script quite a bit until I had all my settings correctly configured.

Hope this can be useful to some!

Update 29.09.2005: WARNING! Hacking WordPress installs to build a farm like this one is neat, but it gets much less neat when your weblog farm is spammed with animal porn comments. You then realise (oh, horror!) that none of the anti-spam plugins work on your beautiful construction, so you weed them out by hand as you can, armed with many a MySQL query. And then the journalist steps in — because, frankly, “sex with dogs” on a school website is just too good to be true. And then you can spend half a day writing an angry reaction to the shitty badly-researched article.

My apologies for the bad language. Think of how you’re going to deal with spam beforehand when you’re setting up a school blog project.

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Musings on a Multiblog WordPress [en]

Thinking about a solution to make WordPress MultiBlog. Comments, criticism and other ideas welcome — please join the fun. In particular, I bump into a hairy PHP include problem.

[fr] Je réfléchis à comment on pourrait donner à WordPress la capacité de gérer plusieurs blogs avec une installation. Je me heurte à un problème concernant les includes PHP. Feedback et autres idées bienvenues!

**Update June 2007: Try [WordPress Multi-User](http://mu.wordpress.org/) now.**

I’ve used Shelley’s instructions using soft links. I tried Rubén’s proof-of-concept, but got stuck somewhere in the middle.

So I started thinking: how can we go about making WordPress MultiBlog-capable? Here is a rough transcript of my thoughts (I’ve removed some of the dead ends and hesitations) in the hope that they might contribute to the general resolution of the problem. I have to point out my position here: somebody with a dedicated server who’s thinking of setting up a “WordPress weblog-farm” (for my pupils, mainly). So I’m aware that I’m not the “standard user” and that my solution is going to be impractical to many. But hey, let’s see where it leads, all the same. Actually, I think I probably reconstructed most of Rubén’s strategy here — but I’m not sure to what extent what I suggest differs from what he has done.

From a system point of view, we want to have a unique installation of WordPress, and duplication of only the files which are different from one blog to another (index.php, wp-config.php, wp-comments.php, wp-layout.css, to name a few obvious ones). The whole point being that when the isntall needs to be upgraded, it only has to be upgraded in one place. When a plugin is downloaded and installed, it only has to be done once for all weblogs — though it can of course be activated individually for each weblog.

From the point of view of the weblogs themselves, they need to appear to be in different domains/subdomains/folders/whatever. What I’m most interested in is different subdomains, so I’ll stick to that in my thinking. (Then somebody can come and tell me that my “solution” doesn’t work for subfolders, and here’s one that works for subfolders and subdomains, and we’ll all be happy, thankyouverymuch.) So, when I’m working with blog1.example.com all the addresses need to refer to that subdomain (blog1.example.com/wp-admin/, etc); ditto for blog2.example.com, blog3.example.com, blogn.example.com (I used to like maths in High School a lot).

As Rubén puts it, the problem with symbolic links (“soft links”) is called “soft link hell”: think of a great number of rubber bands stretched all over your server. Ugh. So let’s try to go in his direction, for a while. First, map all the subdomains to the same folder on the server. Let’s say blog1.example.com, blog2.example.com (etc.) all point to /home/bunny/www/wordpress/. Neat, huh? Not so. They will all use the same wp-config.php file, and hence all be the same weblog.

This is where Rubén’s idea comes in: include a file at the top of wp-config.php which:

  1. identifies which blog we are working with (in my case, by parsing $HTTP_HOST, for example — there might be a more elegant solution)
  2. “replaces” the files in the master installation directory by the files in a special “blog” directory, if they exist

The second point is the tricky one, of course. We’d probably have a subfolder per blog in wordpress/blogs: wordpress/blogs/blog1, wordpress/blogs/blog2, etc. The included file would match the subdomain string with the equivalent folder, check if the page it’s trying to retrieve exists in the folder, and if it does, include that one and stop processing the initial script after that. Another (maybe more elegant) option would be to do some Apache magic (I’m dreaming, no idea if it’s possible) to systematically check if a file is available in the subdirectory matching the subdomain before using the one in the master directory. Anybody know if this is feasible?

The problem I see is with includes. We have (at least) three types of include calls:

  • include (ABSPATH . 'wp-comments.php');
  • require ('./wp-blog-header.php');
  • require_once(dirname(__FILE__).'/' . '/wp-config.php');

As far as I see it, they’ll all break if the calling include is in /home/bunny/www/wordpress/blogs/blog1 and the file to be called is in /home/bunny/www/wordpress. What is wrong with relative includes? Oh, they would break too. Dammit.

We would need some intelligence to determine if the file to be included or called exists in the subdirectory or not, and magically adapt the include call to point to the “right” file. I suspect this could be done, but would require modifying all (at least, a lot of) the include/requires in WordPress.

Maybe another path to explore would be to create a table in the database to keep track of existing blogs, and of the files that need to be “overridden” for each blog. But again, I suspect that would mean recoding all the includes in WordPress.

Another problem would be .htaccess. Apache would be retrieving the same .htaccess for all subdomains, and that happens before PHP comes into play, if I’m not mistaken.

Any bright ideas to get us out of this fix? Alternate solutions? Comments? Things I missed or got wrong? The comments and trackbacks are yours. Thanks for your attention.

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