If you’re anything like me, you’ve already wondered how easy it would be to make your own—perhaps you’d like to set up a microblog for you and your colleagues to share links and have discussions. Or, perhaps you have a cool idea for a new social network surrounding your favorite topic.
Whatever your plans, the good news is that it’s easy to host a microblog of your own, using any one of several free tools. Today we’ll look at three new solutions that are easy to set up, have reasonably modest hosting requirements, and even include some features that blow Twitter out of the water.
P2 for WordPress
Last month saw the announcement of P2, a special theme for use with WordPress.com and self-hosted WordPress installations that makes a regular blog look and act more like a microblog. It’s an upgrade of the Prologue theme that was released early last year, and if you’re comfortable with WordPress you’ll certainly find this is easy to understand.
For those of you who are running your own WordPress installation, adding P2 is as simple as activating a theme: just upload the P2 files to the appropriate spot on your web server, and activate it in the WordPress administration panel. Get it from the Theme Directory or grab it with SVN:
svn checkout http://svn.automattic.com/wpcom-themes/p2/
Otherwise, you can try P2 on a free WordPress.com blog right away.
P2 features a number of Ajax enhancements that make browsing and posting extremely fast. Keyboard shortcuts are available that make navigating your P2 microblog as fast as typing; posts and comments can be added and edited without a page refresh; and there’s even a heads-up notification area that lets you know immediately if fresh content has appeared since you first opened the page. If you’re looking for Twitter-like features such as marking an item as a favorite or the ability to befriend other users, these are unavailable by default, but WordPress’s wide variety of plugins can help you add those features. New users are able to become blog authors right away, so if your aim is to create a new free-for-all microblog, you’ll be able to achieve that with P2.
WordPress’ installation requirements are quite straightforward and should be available on most web hosts: you’ll just need PHP and MySQL. Both WordPress and P2 are free.
Motion for Movable Type
Installing Motion is fairly straightforward—simply install Movable Type, create a new blog, and when the wizard asks for the type of blog you wish to create, use the Motion setting.
Visitors can sign up to the service either directly through your Movable Type instance, or by using their account from a number of other authentication methods such as a Google Account, Facebook Connect, or an OpenID. Unlike WordPress, above, newly registered users can only comment on a blog—but it’s a snap for a blog administrator to promote that user to full posting rights if required; alternatively they have the option to create a new, self-contained Motion blog for every registered user.
One fun feature in Motion is the ability to aggregate social actions from other locations on the Web. Authors are able to pull in their posts on other social media services, such as their Twitter stream, an RSS feed, or their Delicious bookmarks—and there are dozens of other sites to choose from. Those actions become part of each author’s individual page, along with their contributions to your own blog, and can also be added to the homepage of your blog.
Movable Type’s installation requirements are fairly easy to accommodate—you’ll need an Apache or IIS web server, a PostgreSQL or MySQL database, and the ability to use Perl. The cost is based on your Movable Type Pro licence, which depends on your organization—non-profits, educational institutions, and individuals can use it for free, but for-profit organizations need to pony up the cash. You’ll find the details on the Movable Type download page.
If you’re looking for a solution that’s most like Twitter, Laconica might be the choice for you. Laconica is the platform that powers Identica and the TWiT Army and it’s packed with interesting features such as groups, instant messaging, posting via email, and the ability to send and receive messages from other Laconica installations. Desktop clients are already available, and there’s an API to use if you find yourself in need of one.
Laconica’s web-based installation wizard takes just a few moments to initialize your database and set up your service; once that’s done, you’re ready to start microblogging right away. But to start taking advantage of some of the more interesting features of Laconica, such as posting by instant messenger or SMS support, you’ll need to dirty your hands with a configuration file. Fortunately, the configuration directives are well documented in a README file, and there’s a sample configuration file to show you how it’s done.
It’s also a little fiddly to adjust the appearance: Laconica supports themes based on CSS only, and at the moment there are no plans to allow users to edit the HTML that Laconica produces without editing the application itself. Fortunately, the markup is full of IDs and classes with which to work your CSS magic.
Laconica’s installation requirements are fairly modest: you’ll need a web server running Apache, PHP 5.2 or better, MySQL 5.x, and some additional PEAR modules—the complete list of system requirements is available in the README file that accompanies the download. What’s more, it’s open source—hack away!
We’ve looked at just three microblogging applications, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The platform you choose really depends on your goals—are you creating a site for you and your friends or colleagues, or are you aiming to create a Twitter-killer? Whatever your aim, by now you hopefully have a good idea of where to start.
Raena Jackson Armitage is an Australian web developer with a background in content management, public speaking, and training. When she is not thinking about the Web, she loves knitting, gaming, all-day breakfasts, and cycling.
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