Website for David Bolton, software developer in London, England


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Review of Pivot Blogging Software(2007)

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My experience of blogging goes back about 8 months though I've been writing for over thirty years. You can see a review I wrote in 1976 on the Strategy & Tactics wargame Oil War.

Blogger

Like many I started using blogger and have no complaints except perhaps my choice of colours! That's nearly up to 50 entries but it's only a whimsical outlet. By contrast, I wanted Portent.org to be a standalone site that I could tinker with. I looked around and settled on Pivot, which you can find on Pivot. It's open source, written in php, is very well maintained by developers who know what they're doing, is a very flexible system, and supports multiple blogs. Also, you don't need a database as it uses flat files- well actually php scripts.

Installation and Setup

Installation was straightforward with a checklist of folder permissions to get right. I think it took about 15 minutes to upload and be ready. I did it the hard way (unzip and ftp) but there is a script that you upload to your server and run and it does the donkey work. Clever stuff. If you have the odd problems like open basedir, safe mode etc, there is advice on the Pivot Documentation Project (see below for link).

The picture shows the control panel. Picture of pivot Control panel

In use, Pivot is easy. There's a one off setting up of the blog and configuring the template files. This takes a bit of doing. You don't need to know html but it helps. About the only criticism I could make would be to ask for more examples of using tags. There are two types of pivot tags- formatting and template. The documentation on Pivot Documentation Project is a big help. Formatting tags affects date time, comments, archive names and trackbacks.

Template tags are very comprehensive. Eg if you want a tag cloud (a new feature in 1.40) just insert [[tagcloud]] in one of the template files. These affect the look of the site, and can be edited within pivot. There are template files for the frontpage (3 columns and 2 columns), for a list of links, for archive pages and formatting single entries. I recently upgraded to 1.40 which added tags (as in tagclouds) and edited the single entry template to show its tags beneath. A newly added tagcloud on the left menu helps visitors navigate as well. Of course I've had to go back through previous entries, (now over 430) to add tags to each. For some reason Flash and Video are both very popular tags!

I'm still learning and today I realised that perhaps the structure of portent needed revamping. I'm writing three entries a day and it was only showing 8 at a time so within three days, the entries were scrolling off into the archives. Those were monthly and quite large at 90 entries each. Pivot is flexible so I reconfigured the frontpage to holds a week worth of stories at any time and set the archives to be weekly as well. Within a few weeks that may need attending to, as the archive list grows week on week.

Pivot features

I've shamelessly purloined most of this from the Pivot site as it says it as well as I could!

  • Sophisticated Categories/Weblogs system, so you can maintain several weblogs and publish your entries how you like

  • Template based. Fully adaptable to your wishes

  • Built in simple search tool.

  • Keeps simple statistics of how your visitors came to your site

  • Easy to upload and include pictures with your log-entries

  • Allows for making thumbnails of uploaded images

  • Comment system that remembers your visitors (if they wish)

  • Automagically creates RSS- and Atom-feeds

  • IP-blocking,to prevent certain people from leaving comments

  • Automagic Archiving by week or month, and/or by category

  • Optionally supports full wysiwyg editing of your posts (IE5.5+ on windows and Mozilla 1.3+ / FB 0.6+ on all Platforms)

  • Supports Textile, both in entries and in comments

  • No external databases are required, just plain PHP. This is to ensure Pivot runs on as many servers as possible.

  • Makes valid xhtml, when possible.

  • Very easy to backup configuration and all Blog entries.

  • Change the look with other templates and interface themes (for the control Panel!)
Uploading of images works like a dream and I gather that the latest version can trim images, though I haven't tried it yet. The RSS works well. I use Feedblitz to send out new stories as daily email.

The new tags feature works very well. You can specify the number of tags to show in the cloud as well as smallest and largest tags. A very nice bit of work which has enhanced portent significantly. Thanks guys! (I think I made a donation towards Pivot but if not I shall!)

Conclusion

It's not just about the software, which is robust, fast and all round excellent (466 sites using it- there's a list on the pivotlog homepage !) but the support through the forums which is usually very swift. Add to this the wiki like Pivot Documentation Project, translations into 30 languages, and the built in anti-spam. All of these (and others) make this an excellent choice if you want to setup your own blog on a shared or private server or even your own home adsl accessible box. Pivot is highly recommended.

 

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