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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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, 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.

  • 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.

  • 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”. 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

Similar Posts:

U-Blog, Six Apart, and Their Angry Bloggers [en]

This very long post is, for the first time in English, a pretty complete account of what has been going on with U-blog and Loïc Le Meur in the French blogosphere for some time now. With the acquisition of Ublog by Six Apart, these problems are bound to take another dimension for the English-speaking blogosphere.

[fr] Ce très long billet expose en anglais l'histoire de U-blog et des problèmes s'y rapportant. J'ai déjà écrit à ce sujet en français (lire également les commentaires) -- pour une fois que la "barrière linguistique" empêche les anglophones de savoir certaines choses, plutôt que le contraire!

So, why on earth are U-bloggers so angry?

I’m often concerned that the language divide makes non-English-speaking people miss out on a whole lot of interesting stuff. These past few days, I’ve been concerned that the language divide may be preventing English-speaking people from knowing about certain things. U-bloggers are angry, and they also have the sympathy of others in the franco-blogosphere, but all that is happening in French.

How aware is Six Apart that they have a bunch of angry french customers, who were encouraged to sign up for a paying version before the end of last year under promise of new features, which weren’t developed and seemingly never will? Edit 06.01.05: see note.

Let’s rewind a bit, shall we? I always think that history explains a lot. Many of the dates here are taken from Laurent’s short history of the franco-blogosphere, a work in progress. Other information comes from my regular trips around the blogosphere and my conversations with people — in particularly, here, with Stéphane, the creator of the U-blog weblogging platform. This is the story to the best of my knowledge. If there are any factual mistakes, I’ll be glad to correct them.

In November 2002, Stéphane Le Solliec starts working on a blogging platform he calls Meta-blog. A few months later, in December, U-blog (the new name for the platform) already has a few hundreds of users.

The interface is good, U-blog is pretty zippy, and it has a great community. Also, it’s French. Setting aside any primal xenophobia or anti-americanism, a great product designed in your language by a fellow countryman is not the same thing as another great product translated and adapted from English. (Ask somebody who lives in a country where most of the important stuff is “imported” from the German-speaking part…) And let’s face it, one does like to support a local product, whether one is French, Swiss, or American. I actually considered U-blog the best hosted solution for French-speakers, at some point, and recommended it to a few friends, who started weblogs. is a native French weblogging platform which has been around for far longer than U-blog, but for some reason it isn’t quite as popular.

About a year later, Stéphane is thinking about abandoning the platform. He’s doing it on his free time, he has a baby, and U-blog takes up a lot of time. He stalls development, and stops allowing the creation of new free blogs. (It will again be possible to create free blogs a few weeks later.) Existing free blogs remain in place, but lose visibility (pinging and home page) compared to paying blogs. (Paying U-blog customers pay 1€ per month.)

Around that time, Loïc, whose interest in weblogs has been sparked by meeting Joi at the World Economic Forum, and who has unsuccessfully approached the founder of, Stéphane Gigandet (yes! another Stéphane!), gets in touch with Stéphane Le Solliec in September (2003). As a result, he acquires the platform and user-base, and founds the company Loïc really wants Stéphane to stay on board, and he does, before leaving a couple of months later (company-life isn’t really his cup of tea).

Loïc does a great job getting the French press (and later, politicians) interested in weblogs. He calls up journalists, educates them, and before long Loïc, fondateur de Ublog regularly appears in articles about weblogging. Inevitably, he starts appearing as “the guy who introduced weblogs in France”, and the expression “founder of Ublog” entertains a confusion between the blogging platform and the company (“founder” being at times replaced by “creator”). Loïc founded the company, but he in no way created the blogging platform U-blog.

You can imagine that the U-bloggers, who already weren’t very excited about having been “bought” (particularly by a guy who had the bad taste to start blogging in English), didn’t really like seeing Loïc shine so bright and Stéphane slowly fade into oblivion. Some long-standing French-speaking webloggers external to U-blog will start keeping a suspicious eye on this newcomer that so many are talking about, and who seems to be (God forbid!) making weblogs into a business (complete with press pack).

End October, when Stéphane announces the changes at Ublog following the association with Loïc, the following structure is presented (as an aside, the fact that this page seems to have been taken down doesn’t make Ublog look good. If it’s a mistake, they should put it back up again):

Free U-blog
The basic offer, with an advertising banner.
U-blog Plus
The paying offer, with a few more bells and whistles than the free one (ping, home page listing) and lots of exciting new features (for 4€ per month instead of the actual 1€)
U-blog Pro
More advanced, with own domain name, multi-author, etc… to be defined

In a smart move, existing U-bloggers were given the chance to sign up for the second offer for 1€ instead of 4€ for the coming year, starting January 1st (date at which the new tariff would become active). It sounded attractive, and quite a few went for it. The future seemed bright, with promise of dynamic future development, despite the complaints about the increase in pricing (but which did not impact existing users that much).

During the next months, some new features are introduced. More are announced.

In March, Six Apart and Ublog SA sign an exclusive representation agreement in Europe. An announcement is made in the U-blog newsletter. April 29th, TypePad arrives on U-blog. The official Ublog weblog will publish another four or five brief posts related to TypePad before going quiet.

One can wonder: what sense does it make for a blogging platform like U-blog to sign an agreement with another, similar, hosted blogging platform like TypePad? Was the U-blog platform not good enough? Will development be stalled on the “old” platform, will it be abandoned? Overall, U-bloggers are worried and unhappy (I could add more, but those are two good starting-points and seem to sum it up pretty well). They are now offered three possibilities (as often, what is said in the comments is much more interesting than the post itself):

Free U-blog
The basic offer, same as before.
U-blog Plus
The paying offer for those who already have it, same as before, but no new features.
A more advanced platform, where the active development will take place. Approx. 15€, but discount prices for current U-bloggers.

In short, all new development efforts seem to be going towards TypePad, and U-blog Plus will stop evolving, unlike what had been promised end of October. Reactions are aggressive (we all know that end-users are not kind when they complain). When U-bloggers ask about the new features that had been promised to those of them with paying accounts, they are told that the features are on TypePad. Loïc, who has already ruffled a few feathers by demanding that a popular blogger remove a post about him, under threat of lawsuit, does not distinguish himself in the area of good customer relations. (In particular, his comment regarding the contents of Aurora’s weblog (bondage and S&M), in the middle of a thread about U-blog and TypePad, didn’t look very good.) U-bloggers (particularly the paying ones) feel a bit cheated.

There is no question for me that Loïc is being given a harder time than he deserves, but it is pretty clear that he is not doing a very good job communicating with his unhappy customers. does not seem to be a howling success. I have heard complaints of people who find it slow (slower than U-blog, in particular) and not intuitive. Jean-Luc Raymond, the blogger who runs MediaTIC, publishes a critical post about Now, JLR isn’t the blogger I respect the most. He doesn’t always verify his sources, and has been known to remove embarrassing comments and posts with little ceremony. However, if his article on TypePad is over the top (as I suspect it might), it would in my opinion deserve more precise refutation than this dismissive comment of Loïc’s.

So, what is going on today? Basically, a continuation of what was already going wrong. Now that Six Apart has bought Ublog, the U-blog platform and communitydefinitely seem doomed.

No official announcement of the transaction has been made on the U-blog site (as I mentioned, the official “corporate” weblog is dead). Loïc’s answer to my post raising the point is that U-bloggers who want information can contact him on his blog. Worse, in my opinion, Loïc withheld the announcement on his blog until it was published by the media. So in the franco-blogosphere, we learnt about it through the press rather than through Loïc’s weblog (the de facto official source of information for U-blog, as the company site has not been communicating anything these last months).

Aurora goes to war, and other U-bloggers are following suit. One can disapprove of their virulence, but calling them “Aurora’s fan-club” (in the comments to my post) does not get anybody anywhere, and mocking Aurora’s sexual preferences in response to her criticisms is distasteful, and unbecoming of the Director for Europe, Africa and the Middle-East and Executive VP of Six Apart.

Loïc may have a squeaky-clean image in the anglo-blogosphere, but it is far from being the case in the franco-blogosphere, particularly when you start digging around in comment threads. I find it especially disturbing that there seems to be a discrepancy in attitude between Loïc’s discourse on his weblog and his comments on other people’s weblogs.

I personally do not think Loïc is a bad person, or has bad intentions. He’s interested in “the business side of weblogs” (and in that we differ), and that of course will make him unsympathetic to some, but I do believe he is genuinely interested in what he’s doing. However, I think he does not understand his customers very well, and does not communicate with them well either. His ambition as a businessman, excited by the challenge of managing an American company, leader in its domain, does at times seem to overshadow his concern about his end-users well-being.

This has been a long post. If you’ve read it, thank you. If you’ve just skimmed it, let me briefly come back on my main points:

  • U-bloggers have been promised features for their pay-version, which will not come.
  • The acquisition of Ublog by Six Apart seems to point to a near death of the old blogging platform, and more dramatically for its users, of the very strong community built around it. (Typepad doesn’t really have this “community” thing to it.)
  • Ublog (and now, Six Apart Europe) is demonstrating pretty poor communication with its unhappy users

Update, 24.07.04: a brief update after some comments I’ve received about this article.

  • I have now learnt that Six Apart did know about the problems at Ublog (since before the acquisition).
  • Although I considered it a possibility that they might not know, my main motivation for writing this article was that there was more to the Ublog story than what the English blogosphere in general was getting.
  • Of course, not all U-bloggers are unhappy. We’re talking about a bunch of very vocal and very angry people, not about the whole community. But in my opinion, the fact they are a minority does not mean they should not be taken seriously.

Similar Posts:

Six Apart rachète U-blog [fr]

Six Apart achète la société Ublog. Dommage que Ublog n’ait pas fait part de l’annonce directement à  ses utilisateurs.

[en] Six Apart bought Ublog, as you know. I think it's really a pity that no official announcement was made to the users of the U-blog platform. Loïc Le Meur even refrained from blogging the announcement before the press had published it, which I find pretty poor practice for a weblog evangelist, even if he is a businessman. If I were a U-blogger, other than wonder what the future of the weblogging platform U-blog will be, now that the company belongs to the owners of TypePad, I would have the impression the company doesn't really give a damn about its end-users.

Je voulais faire un long billet, classe, fouillé, pertinent, journalistique et complet. Après des heures de remuage de boue, de lecture de billets et de commentaires présents ou passés qui n’ont fait qu’accroitre mon agacement, je renonce à  mon projet initial pour tenter de faire quelque chose d’un peu plus sobre. J’ai une longue liste de liens que je pourrais un jour utiliser pour un billet d’historienne-commentatrice de la blogosphère, mais ce n’est pas pour aujourd’hui.

Bon, Ublog SA devient Six Apart Europe. Loïc est un bon businessman, je n’ai aucun doute là -dessus. Il sait utiliser les médias, il a des connexions, et il semble enthousiaste au sujet du weblogging. Il est maintenant Executive Vice-President de Six Apart.

Chez U-blog, soit on proteste, avec un peu trop de virulence à  mon goût, soit on se tait — peut-être parce que (comme Stéphane, créateur de la plateforme U-blog, à  qui j’ai parlé cet après-midi) ils ignorent tout de la transaction?

Ailleurs, de façon très générale, le message est “félicitations à  Loïc et Six Apart.” (Quant à  Laurent, je n’arrive pas trop à  savoir ce qu’il en pense, mais c’est peut-être voulu…)

Moi, je voudrais plutôt déplorer le fait que Loïc, apôtre du weblogging, semble faire preuve de plus de respect pour les médias que pour ses propres utilisateurs: à  ce jour, aucune annonce officielle sur le portail U-blog, ni sur le blog officiel, délaissé d’ailleurs depuis le 7 mai. Chez Six Apart, la nouvelle est bien annoncée et se trouve reprise sur le blog officiel de la société.

Personnellement, je trouve que ça fait un peu chenit. Si j’étais une utilisatrice U-blog, j’aurais l’impression de ne pas compter pour grand-chose.

Si vous désirez explorer, l’article sur iFeedYou vous donne quelques bons points de départ.

Similar Posts: