Choosing a host, part 2

In Part 1 I talked about testing blogging services, and how it brought me to WordPress.

I set up a self-hosted WP site and played with it until I had the feel for what was involved.  It works, but the themes aren’t really robust.  Every single one I sank time into required editing PHP and CSS before I could be happy.

I could have lived with self-hosted WP if I didn’t find both cosmetic and security bugs immediately.  WP is organized around plugins that enhance the base system with arbitrary code.  The base system needs lots of plugins before I could be happy, and each plugin is curated by an untrusted party.  The recommended practice for security is to just update all the plugins often, but anyone who has been a sysadmin knows this is wishful thinking.   Updates mean that known bugs are replaced with new unknown ones.

Some of the WP plugins are exciting, particularly for managing forums and user groups.  However, very soon as I played with each one I’d discover bugs.  Often these were of the sort that would need to be patched around by editing PHP, or I’d see statements on a forum like

Oh yeah, there’s an incompatability between version X of plugin Y and this new version.  You’ll need to make such-and-such SQL to fix it.

It’s not that I couldn’t do these things, I just don’t feel like spending my short lifetime chasing bugs.

My time is dearer than money.  So I started looking at paid hosts, because if they are a big enough outfit they have enough skin in the game.  Let someone else can do the legwork and troubleshooting.

I seriously looked at Squarespace, which looks quite nice if I was a retailer or purveyor of style, which I am not; also their latency to page refresh is not fast, which for me was a bad sign.

So, kicking and screaming, I finally started to take seriously wordpress.com, which is a hosting service for WordPress blogs.  I found it not that different than managing a self-hosted WP site, except:

  1. They white-list certain themes and plugins.  Themes can only be edited via CSS, and then only if  you pay them money.  That’s all you get, but that restriction means that they don’t have to solve Turing-complete security issues.
  2. They do all the updates, backups and cloudy stuff, such as mapping private domains.  The speed of serving seems adequate.
  3. They poop bits of advertising onto the bottom of your page, like a reference to wordpress.com, even if you are paying them money.
  4. You can’t access your files except through the WP dashboard.  You can import and export everything in a portable format except media files (photos, videos, etc.)
  5. You can buy a video hosting service called VideoPress, which is open sourced.  Upload your video files and they do all the transcription etc.  They have a similar audio playing service.

I decided I could live with #1 and #3 given CSS editing.  I mark the stuff I don’t want to see display:none, easy enough.  #4 is an annoyance; it means manually copying things around, or at worst it means paying wordpress.com $129 for their “migration service”.

#5 interested me.  I once ran the team at Google that provided search and related videos for YouTube, so I have a whole history and insider perspective, which I’ll write more about another time.  The difference between using VideoPress and YouTube to host videos is:

  1. VP costs money; $60/year is the cheapest you can get, but most people will pay $100/year for a bundle of other useful functionality (ability to edit CSS, map a domain, etc.)  At the top tier, you get unlimited storage for $300/year. YT is free.
  2. YT puts their brand on the player.  VP does too, but it’s less obtrusive.
  3. YT plays ads on top of your content.  VP doesn’t.
  4. YT inscrutably degrades video quality whenever they feel like it.
  5. YT requires managing a separate login/upload/metadata process; VP videos are just your media files, and require no special handling.

I’ll admit that a video service was not a priority when I started this, but I do want both video and audio for the kinds of content I anticipate. It has always really bugged me that videos require managing objects through an entirely separate service.  It’s just a mess.  It’s not about money; the amounts we’re talking about aren’t that big.

So, after testing the services, here we are: a tarted-up wordpress.com blog. It’s not a simple system, but seems adequate. So far it works and doesn’t suck badly. We’ll have to see!

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