Blogging with PivotX

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Check out this full-featured solution for your personal or business blog.

WordPress might hold the title of the most popular blogging engine on the Web, but it's not the only fish in the sea. Plenty of competent blogging applications exist, including PivotX [1]. Besides its incredibly easy three-step installation procedure, PivotX offers a few neat features that make it a great alternative to the existing blogging engines.

For starters, PivotX can manage multiple blogs, so you can, for example, maintain your work and private blogs in a single PivotX installation. The blogging engine supports commenting and moderation features, built-in spam protection, themes, and multiple authors.

However, perhaps PivotX's most interesting feature is its ability to store data in either plain text files or in a MySQL database, which offers maximum flexibility. Finally, a slick and well-thought-out administration graphical user interface lets you manage your blog with consummate ease.

Installing and Configuring PivotX

Installing PivotX is ridiculously easy. Just grab the latest release of the application from the project's website, unpack the downloaded archive, and copy the files into your server's document root (this is usually the directory in which the index.html file is stored). In your browser, enter the address of your server, and you should see the PivotX setup page where you need to specify a user account and a storage back end.

When it comes to choosing how PivotX should store the data, you have two options: plain text files or a MySQL database. The latter option is available only if PivotX detects a MySQL database running on the server. Basically, if you want to keep your blog installation simple and tight, you can choose flat file data storage. If you want your blog to be scalable and fast, then you can plug it into a MySQL database.

Once PivotX is installed, log in to the administration interface to configure your blog's settings and add and manage blog entries and pages (Figure 1). To specify basic settings like blog title, default language, and comments moderation, choose Administration | Configuration. In the Common settings section, specify the name of your blog, the landing page, the default language, and default commenting and moderation settings. Here you can also enable the XML-PRC interface (also known as the Metaweblog API), which lets you access and manipulate your blog using third-party tools. This can come in handy if you want to use an external application to post articles to your blog.

At this point, you also might want to configure tag settings in the Tags section. Using the available options, you can specify which additional data to display when you view a specific tag on your blog. Tick the Show Flickr Images checkbox, and PivotX will pull Flickr images containing the currently viewed tag. If you enable the Show Feeds option, you can view search results matching the currently displayed tag from popular services like Delicious, Technorati, and Google Blogger. Finally, if you want to be able to post articles via email, you can enable this feature and specify the required settings in the Moblogging section.

Next, you have to specify blog categories. Categories are topics under which you group your blog posts according to subject. For example, you can create a Recipes category and assign it to all your blog posts with food recipes. To add a category, choose Administration | Categories and press the Create New Category button. Then, go to the Administration | Weblogs section and switch to the Subweblogs tab. Now select the categories you want to use with your blog (press the Ctrl key to select multiple items, or press the Select All link to select all categories).

If you don't fancy PivotX's default template, you can select another one from the list of templates bundled with PivotX. Also, you can find additional templates at PivotX's template repository [2]. To install a new theme, copy the folder containing template files into the templates directory inside your PivotX installation. Unlike other blogging applications, PivotX lets you apply specific templates to individual pages of your blog. To apply templates to pages, switch to the Templates tab in the Administration section and select the desired .html template files from the appropriate drop-down lists (Figure 2). For example, if you want the front page to use the bare_bones template, select the bare_bones/frontpage_template.html entry from the Front Page Template drop-down list.

The next step is to scrub the default content off your blog and tweak it to your liking. To do so, go to Manage Media | Templates and navigate to the template directory containing the template pages you selected for your blog. Each template in PivotX comprises a number of .html pages that control content and formatting; for example, the _sub_footer.html template page displays the footer of your blog.

If you want to edit the default footer text, open the template page for editing using the Edit button and add the text you want. In a similar manner, you can tweak the content of your blog's sidebar by editing the _sub_sidebar.html template page (Figure 3) and the About section by modifying _sub_about.html.

If you've enabled commenting features, you should also configure PivotX's anti-spam filter to weed out spam comments. To do this, go to Administration | Maintenance | Spam Protection and enable the HashCash spam filter. Alternatively, you can use the SpamQuiz feature and specify a question that the visitor must answer correctly before posting a comment.

Using PivotX

To create a new blog post, choose Entries & Pages | New Entry. This creates a new blog entry and opens it for editing (Figure 4). The Introduction and Body text areas sport a WYSIWYG toolbar, which lets you edit and format your post visually. When working on the blog post, you should also assign tags and at least one category to the blog. Both steps are optional, but tagging and categorizing the blog post makes it easier for you and your readers to find related posts.

Once the blog post is ready, you can publish it immediately by pressing the Post Entry button. If you don't want to publish the blog post right away, you can set its Post Status to Timed Publish and specify the desired publishing date in the Publish on field.

In addition to blog posts, PivotX lets you create pages that are usually used to publish static content. For example, if you publish a blog about writing, you can create pages that cover useful writing tools, Web resources for writers, and so on.

All pages in PivotX can be organized into chapters, which makes it easier to keep tabs on them. For example, you can group all Linux-related pages into the Linux chapter. To create a chapter, in Entries & Pages | Pages, press the Add a Chapter button, and provide the required information about the chapter. To add a new page to the chapter, choose Entries & Pages | New Page, then edit and publish the page with the available tools.

Extending PivotX

As with any blogging application worth its salt, PivotX's default functionality can be expanded with the use of extensions. PivotX comes with a few nifty extensions, including LifeStream and Google Maps, which you can enable in the Extensions | Extensions section. The LifeStream extension lets you create a widget that aggregates data from different services, such as Twitter and Flickr.

To enable the LifeStream extension, tick a checkbox next to it, press the Save button, then choose the Lifestream Configuration item from the Configure Extensions submenu to edit the extension's settings. Next, click on the Widgets submenu and add Lifestream Widget to the list of active widgets (Figure 5).

Other widgets are available, too (e.g., Last.fm, Delicious, Google Calendar). Finally, to place the created widget on your blog, you must add the [[ widgets ]] macro to a template page. For example, if you are using the bare_bones template and you want to add the widget to the sidebar, open the _sub_sidebar.html template page for editing and insert the [[ widgets ]] macro where you want the widget to appear.

As the name suggests, the Google Maps extension lets you embed maps into blog posts. To activate it, you need to enable the Google Maps admin page and Google Maps snippet components. Also, you must obtain a Google Maps API key for your domain [3]. Once you've done that, choose Google Maps in Configure Extensions and enter the obtained key into the Google Maps API key field (Figure 6). Here you can also adjust default map settings such as map size, zoom level, and default latitude and longitude.

To embed a map into a blog post, add the [[googlemaps]] macro where you want the map to appear:

[[googlemaps height=480 width=640
 lat=41.875696 long=-87.624207
 zoom=11]].

Also, you can specify parameters that override the default settings, as shown.

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