black flat screen computer monitor

I’m sorry, Drupal. We should spend some time apart.

I’m sor­ry to leave Dru­pal. I real­ly am. Dru­pal has pow­ered Mono­chro­mat­ic Out­look for about 15 years, and I’ve done a lot with it. I still have a few oth­er sites run­ning Dru­pal and I don’t expect to imme­di­ate­ly migrate them.

At the same time it’s quite a relief to have the migra­tion to Word­Press over and done with. This deci­sion has weighed on me for years, since before I wrote my post Dru­pal Maybe we should just be friends back in 2017. I ought not rehash that post, but I will say some­thing more about my search for a path for­ward from Dru­pal. I had to leave Dru­pal 7, which is very near end-of-life (it would have already been end-of-life except for Covid-19) where it will no longer receive even secu­ri­ty updates. 

What­ev­er else I may think this site should be, at its core it is and has always been a blog, even before the term blog was used. My choice of Dru­pal for Mono­chro­mat­ic Outlook’s plat­form was borne of an ambi­tion to do more with it. It has been a log of my run­ning, a list of words I learned, and a place to reflect on the books I’ve read. I used con­tent types in Dru­pal to make the site serve those pur­pos­es. In addi­tion to my thoughts on these sub­jects, I kept sta­tis­tics about the dis­tances I’d run and the num­ber of words I’d read. 

These ambi­tions came at a price. The more com­pli­cat­ed it got, the more could (and did) break. I end­ed up spend­ing more time main­tain­ing the site’s soft­ware than I did writ­ing con­tent. The site became a chore I dread­ed to look at instead of the cre­ative out­let it was meant to be. 

Dru­pal’s inter­face to make con­tent was nev­er sat­is­fac­to­ry. I tried sim­pli­fy­ing the process by using Mark­down so that I could write in any text edi­tor, but even that proved to add com­plex­i­ty rather than remove it. Mark­down is sim­ple. The libraries that sup­port it and ren­der it are not. 

I promised I wouldn’t rehash 2017 post and I’m already break­ing that promise. What is new since then is that I have tried repeat­ed­ly to trans­fer the con­tents of the site to a new­er Dru­pal instance. I’ve looked at and test­ed oth­er plat­forms and cre­at­ed Devel­op­ment ver­sions in Dru­pal 8 (many times; it’s the nat­ur­al choice, or at least it should be) Dru­pal 9 (a few times) Ghost, and Word­Press.

Ghost in the machine?

I love Ghost. It is a ter­rif­ic blog plat­form. It how­ev­er has a few fail­ings, at least from the per­spec­tive of its suit­abil­i­ty to this site. When I first looked at Ghost it ran on the Post­greSQL data­base and stored its text in Mark­down. It’s writ­ten in Node.js and per­forms quite well. I have to con­fess I don’t know how well it would scale to high traf­fic, but high traf­fic has nev­er been a huge prob­lem for this site. 

Ghost dis­ap­point­ed me twice. Its devel­op­ers first dropped sup­port for Post­greSQL, and then replaced their Mark­down edi­tor for one that’s admit­ted­ly more user-friend­ly and pow­er­ful but which lacks the ele­gance or fea­tures of Mark­down. It han­dles Mark­down inside its con­tent sys­tem, but fea­tures like foot­notes (I do love my foot­notes) became complicated. 

Ghost’s biggest short­com­ing for my pur­pos­es is that it doesn’t sup­port com­ments. To me, a blog with­out com­ments is lack­ing. I under­stand why many sites would choose not to have com­ments; there are some sites where I wish I could make the com­ments dis­ap­pear. But the real val­ue of my blog is in the con­ver­sa­tion with the read­ers. Even when read­ers are few — per­haps espe­cial­ly when read­ers are few — com­menters push back and chal­lenge my point of view. Of course it’s nice to see peo­ple offer sup­port as well, but what­ev­er it is, when some­one responds I know that I’m not alone talk­ing to myself.

Request for comments

There are third par­ty com­ment engines and ser­vices, and Ghost’s devel­op­ers point to them as the rea­son built-in com­ments aren’t nec­es­sary. The devel­op­ers want to make the blog­ging plat­form the best it can be and let some­one else han­dle the com­ment sys­tems. I can respect that per­spec­tive. For oth­er sites I have set up Com­men­to, an open source com­ment sys­tem that can be added to any site. It works much like Dis­qus but it can be self-host­ed. It’s a good solu­tion for many.

This site has thou­sands of thread­ed com­ments from the past two decades, start­ing when Mono­chro­mat­ic Out­look was called Opin­ion­at­ed Junk. It’s impor­tant that these com­ment threads be pre­served. Com­men­to can import from Word­Press. It might even work, now that the site is on Word­Press, to trans­fer them to Com­men­to. The real prob­lem with mov­ing from Dru­pal to Ghost, using Word­Press as a go-between, is that with two iter­a­tions of export­ing con­tent, there’s twice (or more) as much that can go wrong. Not only must the com­ments be thread­ed, they must be asso­ci­at­ed with the cor­rect page. 

The con­tent moved from Dru­pal to Word­Press pret­ty well (I paid for a Word­Press plu­g­in that would do it for me) but with­out look­ing at all the posts one at a time, I can’t tell what might have got­ten missed. In the tests I ran trans­fer­ring the con­tent from Dru­pal to Word­Press to Ghost, none of the oth­er con­tent types (my runs, my books, and my vocab­u­lary words) made the transition.

With more time and effort, I could over­come these obsta­cles and make Ghost work. The ques­tion is: how much more time do I want to spend on site admin­is­tra­tion instead of writ­ing posts? If all I want to do with my web­site is solve tech­ni­cal prob­lems I could stay on Drupal.

Welcome back to WordPress

This site ran on Word­Press for a short time back in 2007 after I left Live­Jour­nal and before I migrat­ed to Dru­pal 5 in ear­ly 2008. I nev­er dis­liked Word­Press but I was tak­en in with Dru­pal hav­ing eval­u­at­ed it to use as a wrap­per for my own con­tent man­age­ment and ecom­merce plat­form, and for the short-lived San Fran­cis­co blog Saint Frank City (many of those posts were migrat­ed back here when I shut down the site). Word­Press is the obvi­ous choice for run­ning a blog. Its rep­u­ta­tion is well earned. I do have some issues with Word­Press. The site per­for­mance is not quite what I’ve come to expect from my Dru­pal instal­la­tion. But I spent a long time on Dru­pal opti­miz­ing var­i­ous caches. A lit­tle effort in that direc­tion might go a long way.

So Word­Press is the win­ner here, and I’m already very pleased with it. I’ve been writ­ing this post with Automattic’s Word­Press app on my phone and tablet, as well as the web-based inter­face, and it’s seam­less. It stores revi­sions and autosaves in the back­ground, like it should. The soft­ware updates itself auto­mat­i­cal­ly so I don’t have to keep check­ing for updates.

Does this mean I can final­ly stop wor­ry­ing about my web­site and start writ­ing again? Maybe. I’d like that. I’ve missed my read­ers. There have nev­er been a lot of you, but enough so I know I’m not just shout­ing into the void. I’ve made friends through this web­site who have become dear friends in real life. That’s not some­thing I can say about Face­book. That might be a top­ic for a future post, per­haps? As good as Face­book is at con­nect­ing us to the peo­ple we already know, it’s use­less for meet­ing new peo­ple. Per­haps that’s why it feels so iso­lat­ing even when we’re con­nect­ed to every­one we know. Being on Face­book means no new pos­si­bil­i­ties for friend­ship. Some­thing that pur­ports to be a social net­work real­ly ends up not mak­ing any new con­nec­tions, but cap­i­tal­iz­ing on all our old ones.

There are more fac­tors that have held me back from writ­ing in the past few years, of course. I can’t blame it all on Dru­pal. But maybe by remov­ing one road­block it will be eas­i­er to push past the oth­ers. I can fig­ure those out lat­er and per­haps those top­ics can have their own posts. For the moment I feel opti­mistic. For the moment, writ­ing for my blog feels good again. That’s enough.

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