Goodbye PyBlosxom, Hello WordPress

Since 2004, I’ve used the blogging software PyBlosxom. Over that time, the software has served me well and I have even written a series of patches and plugins.

PyBloxsom is blog software designed for hackers. It assumes you already have a text editor you love and relies on features of a POSIX filesystem instead of a relational database. It’s designed so you can keep your blog under revision control (since 2004 I’ve used GNU Arch, baz, bzr and now git). It is also hackers’ software in the sense that you should expect to write code to use it (e.g., the configuration is pure Python). I love it.

What PyBlosxom does not have is a large community. This summer, the most recent long-time maintainer of the project, Will Kahn-Greene, stepped down. Although the project eventually found a new maintainer, the reality is the project entered maintenance mode years ago and many features available in more popular blogging platforms are unlikely to make it PyBlosxom. The situation with comment spam is particularly dire. I’ve written several antispam plugins but time has shown that I don’t have the either the expertise or the time to make them as awesome as they need to be to really work in today’s web.

So, after many months of weighing, waffling, and planning I’ve switched to WordPress — a great piece of free software with an enormous and established community As you’ll know if you’ve read my interview on The Setup, I think a lot about the technology I surround myself with. I considered WordPress when I started my blog back in 2004 and rejected it soundly. Eight years ago, I would have laughed at you if you told me I’d be using it today; If PyBlosxom is for hackers, WordPress is designed for everyone else. But the way I evaluate software has changed over that period.

In the nineties, I used to download every new version of the Linux kernel to compile it — it took hours! — to try out the latest features. Configurabilty, hackability, and the ability to write my own features was — after a point — more important than the features the software came with. Today, I’m much more aware of the fact that for all the freedom that my software gives me, I simply do not have the time, energy, or inclination to take advantage of that freedom to hack very often.

Today, I give much more value to software that is not just free, but that is maintained by a community of people who can do all the work that I would do if I had unlimited time. Although I don’t have the time or experience to make WordPress do everything I would like, the collective of all WordPress users does. And they’ve done a lot of it already!

The flip side matters as well: Today, I give more value to other people using my software. When WordPress doesn’t do something and I write a plugin or patch, there are tons of people ready to pick it up and use it and perhaps even to collaborate on it with me. Want to guess how many patches my PyBlosxom plugins have received? None, if my memory serves me.

In the past, I’ve written about how free software is a victory even when it doesn’t build a community. I still believe that. But the large communities at the heart of the most successful free software communities (the promise of “open source”) are deeply important in a way that I increasingly value.

In that spirit: If you want to make the jump from PyBlosxom to WordPress, I’ve shared a Git repository with the scripts I used and wrote for the transition.

14 thoughts on “Goodbye PyBlosxom, Hello WordPress”

    1. I thought about Pelican and I know a few PyBlosxom users have switched to it. For me, the showstopper was comments though. Pelican doesn’t do them and suggests that you use a third-party service like Disqus. Since I care a lot about free network services and autonomy, I think it’s important to not rely on some third party for handling my comments.

      And indeed, almost all of my problems with PyBlosxom came down to comments and comment spam. If I didn’t care about comments, I might not have switched at all.

  1. I made the same transition — but to pelican. I might regret that too in time as it is still more of a “vanity” type project of a small community than something like WordPress. My experiences with KDE (and the horror that become KDE-PIM) in particular have convinced me it’s better to make use of large, cross-platform applications than more narrow (but cool) projects.

  2. Its always sad to see someone who contributes so much time and effort in a project move on.

    I hope you keep up with our community and consider switching back if we can woo you with more action in the future. :-) Thanks for all the effort and love you have put in to Pyblosxom (and any more you might conceivably do :-)

    1. Hi Akai! Thanks so much for taking on maintaince of PyBlosxom. This really has more to do with my own changing priorities than any real rejection of PyBlosxom — or your work in particular. I think there’s still a large community of people interested in using the project and I look forward to the projects continued growth and evolutoin!

    1. As I said in the post and in a bunch of the comments, a big concern I have in comments. As perhaps I didn’t make clear, I’m not ok with “supporting” comments by just farming it out to Disqus or another proprietary third-party with a history of criticism for privacy and data ownership issues. Comments are too important to me for me to just hand this over. If I was OK with that, I would just let someone else host my blog straight away.

      1. I get not wanting to use a third-party service for comments–that’s reasonable on its own. I’m not aware of Disqus having a “history of criticism for privacy and data ownership issues”, though. If there’s critiques of Disqus along those lines that you could point me toward, I’d definitely enjoy reading them (and not just because I work for them :) ).

        1. I can try to go through links and booksmarks to find some things I’ve read. But really, the most obvious thing to do would be to point you to the detailed and well-cited “critism and privacy concerns” section on Wikipedia.

          The business model of Disqus is based around leveraging the fact that Disqus can track users across many different websites in a way that users do not opt in to or know about. Lots of companies do that — sure — but I find it objectionable enough that I’m certainly not going to sell out my own users for free comment hosting when there are free software and autonomy respecting alternatives easily available.

  3. By the way, Ben, when you have a chance, it would be very interesting to hear you elaborate on what has driven this change for you: “But the large communities at the heart of the most successful free software communities … are deeply important in a way that I increasingly value.”

    1. I only just meant that there was a class of my software that I basically had to be the maintainer of or at least had to rely on my own work for new feature development.

      Because WordPress has a large community, obvious bugs or pain points are likely to be fixed by others. More importantly, as the world changes, adjustements and new features developments are likely to be picked up by others.

      There are a bunch of benefits of large communities and they constitute all the evidence for the “open source” mission and model. Unfortunately though, only a small portion of free software projects ever attract a large enough community to see them! I’m just saying that I’m willing to compromise other things for those benefits.

  4. Hi Mako – belatedly, congrats on surviving the move. Interesting that you evaluated WP back in ’04 and ruled it out: I happened to look at it in 2004 as well, as a basis for providing an institutional blog platform at the Uni I work for, and ruled it out then… many years later both our expectations, demands, requirements and wordpress itself have all evolved and changed. I still have the summary I wrote in ’04 about WP http://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/jon.dowland/web/wordpress.html but the Uni is now running a pretty well polished service on modern WP.

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