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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A blog to beat blog block - techie question

One of my new job's roles is to develop lines of communications with our library users - many other NHS library services use blogs (as well as printed newletters, user groups, the web site and so on), and this seems a sensible idea except... our local health trust's IT policy bans blogs, filtering all "social and networking sites" as undesirable. Although Facebook is ok, strangely. However it is erratic - if I go to the home pages of Blogger, Wordpress or Typepad they are all blocked. But some, and only a few, individual blogs are visible. For example http://www.philbradley.typepad.com/ is ok for some reason. Other typepad blogs are blocked however.

Can any of you techy types suggest how I can publish what looks and feels like a blog, easy to update and comment, without necessarily being produced by one of the blog services - all my audience will be within the same network so it's clearly pointless if they can't see the exciting developments that we have in mind for the library service!

Plan B is an old-style CGI form-based thingy, but that's not very Web 2.0

Plan C is to get them to whitelist my particular blog, but as I can't discover who to ask - and the IT service desk doesn't seem to know - that may take a loooong while.

Any ideas?

7 comments:

Matt B said...

From around £5 or so a month you could purchase some cheap linux hosting. This almost always comes with php and MySQL.

You can then obtain entirely free of charge such platforms as nucleusCMS from nucleuscms.org - which is what powers lordmatt.co.uk and thanetstar.com or there is wordpress which also gives you similar levels of control.

It's not half as fiddly as it sounds and I know that the guys at the nucleus forums would talk you through anything that you got stuck on. Nucleus supports multi-blogs and multi-users (wordpress does not) and is very light but has lots of plugins for most web 2.0 style things like twitter, trackback, feeds, API, markup and so on. Some of them are written by me...

In fact nucleus supports all three of the main blog API (including the now discontinued blogger API).

There is a library of skins for both platforms that would make bloggers collection look small.

This gives you full control but you will need your own domain name. These cost about £12 a year and there are lots of companies about. So choose a UK based company for your own protection and pay by credit card for that extra legal protection should anything go wrong.

Some companies give you a free domain if you sign up for a year.

If NucleusCMS or wordpress are not to your liking then check out http://www.opensourcecms.com/ which let's you try all sorts of things that might be good (wikis, portals, blogs etc) just remember that not all systems are equal and even less technical people will have to use it. (Which is why I'd be inclined towards NucleusCMS).

When you get hosting (for godsake don't use godaddy) look for hosts that offer cPanel and Fantastico because this is a system that will install the likes of NucleusCMS or wordpress for you making it as easy as signing up for blogger but more "pro" looking.

Also keep an eye out for WebMin with VertualMin-Pro which has a similar system but is built on more open source technology.

Once you experience running your own platform you will wonder why you used blogger for so long.

Things like OpenID can be added to most packages and I can offer some advice although I would have to charge for my time for hands on involvement.

I hope that's a help. I'm more than happy to give further advise on the subject as this is my central industry. So ask away.

ZumiWeb said...

Thanks Matt, that'll keep me fiddling around for a little while. I'm hoping the downloaded Wordpress will do it, but I don't know about the PHP and MySQL settings just yet - still, that's what weekends are for... Cheers.

John C said...

I was thinking the same thing, but I'm wondering if the system's filters are picking up on specific tagging of HTML as well.

Granted they might be blocking URL's, but if the one typepad blog got through to be displayed it's possible it was due to a specific theme he's using which isn't putting out certain meta tags that COULD be part of what the system uses as a litmus test.

If so then it's possible that if you use a standard WP theme you might be filtered out as well, even on a root directoried install on a newly made URL that's as clean rated in name as can be.

did that make sense?

Philip Stolle said...

If it's simply a matter of URL blocking, I'd look into WordPressMU. It's a very easy way to offer a large audience to have their own blogs. It it is the same basic install the WordPress.com uses to manage their free accounts. One installation allows for quick and easy management of multiple blogs for multiple users.

ZumiWeb said...

John C - it makes perfect sense but only experimenting will tell if that's an issue I suppose. I'm happy to mess with the template though as I need it to look as much like the Trust's web site as possible for corporate branding so that'll hopefully knowck out any proprietary bloggy references behind the scenes - at least I'll be looking hard at the code to spot them...

Phillip - that looks ideal, as hopefully all and any of the library staff may be posting so multi-user is definitely the plan.

Thanks for all your comments & suggestions, now for the fiddly bit this weekend. I'll let you know if I make any progress...

Matt B said...

Good luck with the playing about. If you want to play about and keep it local to your computer you could try the WAMP package which (is free) and makes your home PC into a private php + MySQL server.

I have this and it helps no end when I want to test stuff out.

http://www.wampserver.com/en/

Drop me an email if you get stuck - sometimes I work weekends and would see it - the address is on every page of my site among the adverts at the moment.

Best of Luck.

ZumiWeb said...

Thanks for all the advice and tips. This is going to be a slow process, as I can do the work at home, but have to wait until I get to work to see if it's blocked or not!

My first attempt is the simplest - a new blog on blogger, delivered via FTP through my domain, calling it News and not Blog (trying to avoid all the filtering possibilities!), and enabling posting via email (as the Blogger dashboard IS blocked at work). If it works and it's that simple I'll be highly relieved (and surprised).

If not, I'll start working through the techier solutions above (I'm not sure I have a clue how to set up PHP and MySQL on my host, which is an asphosting service running on the Helm interface) - and I'm going for a zero cost option mostly because I resent subsidising the National Health Service and there's no way I'll be able to claim £5 here and there for trivial outlay.

Fingers crossed and thanks again for the advice. It'll be on http://www.zumi.co.uk/librarynews/news.asp until I tidy up the URL.