Blogging, IT in Africa

Solving the bandwidth problem when updating WordPress sites

wordpress_logo We use WordPress for many of our client sites because it’s dead simple to use and has a fantastic plugin system. The only problem? WordPress is stinkin’ huge. And basic functionality depends on JavaScript. No big deal on fast American and European connections, but it’s a huge impediment here in Benin, where connections are unreliable at best, and more typically, just unusable.

wordpress_scrn Prior to WP 2.5, this was somewhat less of an issue. WordPress loaded fast, and functions were accessed via basic HTML. Scripts that never finished loading weren’t a problem. WordPress 2.6 got slower. Even on a decent connection, the administration took forever to load. The new JavaScript for image uploads was a nightmare, and our clients were angry. WordPress 2.7 got faster again, but the whole administration depends on JavaScript! Turn off JS and images, and it’s actually pretty hard to get around. Whoa, that’s a lot of clicks to get stuff done! 2.8 is no better in this regard.

Although our clients like the 2.7+ interface (man-oh-man is it an improvement in usability), if they can only access it on expensive connections, the increased usability isn’t, um, all that useful. What to do?

XML-RPC is my new best friend

WordPress allows updates by email. This is interesting for me, personally, but not so interesting for image heavy newspapers.There are also several third party applications that publish to WordPress blogs. I’ve been testing the three of them for the past couple of weeks: Windows Live Writer, BlogDesk, and Zoundry Raven. They all have the same basic features:

  • Create and edit posts (including basic formatting and images)
  • Add tags and categories to posts
  • Save drafts
  • Publish posts
  • Works off line (the point of the whole exercise)

writer_thumbWindows Live Writer

The first time you connect Windows Live Writer to a blog, it downloads the CSS and the last couple of posts. Very cool for seeing how your post will actually look on the front page of your site. It also comes with built in spell check, really great formatting (especially in regards to tables), and the interface is close enough to that of Word 2007 that most users shouldn’t have any difficulties.

It’s tight integration with Word also makes copy-paste easy. It’s the only one of the three publishers tested that allows you to remove formatting when pasting, but keep line breaks and images. Nice.

Too bad it takes up an awful lot of memory, and doesn’t run terribly well on slower machines. Also, WTF Live Writer doesn’t correctly add WP image align classes?

That said, if you’ve got the RAM, it’s probably the easiest to get running. Certainly, it’s the prettiest. Also, it’s available in French. In fact, I’m writing this post in Live Writer. It’s that awesome. Actually, I’m writing in Word, but I’ll use Live Writer to edit and post it to SVO.

blogdesk-thumb BlogDesk

Oh, BlogDesk. You are so small, so fast, and so basic. You would be perfect if I could install you on a USB key*. Loads fast. Available in French. And you have a really nice built in image editor. I love that! I also love that you do not copy ANY formatting from Word. This is awesome as it will prevent any client from ever having Times New Roman on their homepage. Thank you.

I do not love that my categories are not organized into hierarchies. Is my post-Peace Corps stuff “Daily grind” or is it “Day-to-Day”? I cannot remember, and you are not helping me. Lucky, our journal-tastic clients don’t use hierarchical categories, and this is not a problem for them. You also don’t add captions to images. That’s okay. I forgive you. What are faults for me actually make you an even better tool for my clients.

You are FAST and SIMPLE. I am in love.

* Apparently you can install BlogDesk on a USB key; I’m looking into that.

zoundry_raven_thumb Zoundry Raven

I found Raven (zRaven?) while looking for an offline publisher that runs off a USB key. They are surprisingly few.* It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. Installation took forever one key; on another, I was done in five minutes. I’m not sure what the difference was.

Raven downloads all of your old blog posts the first time you connect. This makes referencing old posts very easy, which is quite a nice feature for blog users. It also allows the creation of different profiles, which will be useful for clients whose employees and site updaters all share the same USB key. This feature is even more useful for our wonderful webmasters who update for more than one client. The interface isn’t bad, and I like the way it keeps track of unpublished posts.

To publish you have to open each individual post in a new window and click Publish. Not only is that annoying, but it’s rough on low memory machines. Also, no French translation. Bummer.

* Note to self: this will be a good project for an intern.

usb-key Recommendations

The ideal is a program that’s available in French, runs well off a USB key, and makes updating multiple sites easy.  Even though it doesn’t run off a USB key, Live Writer would be perfect if I could get image classes in here without editing the HTML. Because of the image problem, we’re currently experimenting with Raven and BlogDesk.

Luckily, both projects are open source, which means that in the worst case scenario, we can open the hood and contribute to add the features and translations we need.продвижение сайта

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