The Case For and Against Blog Editors

Filed as Features on March 23, 2009 9:02 am

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One of the most divisive issues among bloggers is whether it is better to use a blog editor, such as Windows Live Writer or MarsEdit, or just your default Web-based writing panel in WordPress or MovableType.

There are strong believers in both camps and both sides have excellent points. As with most great debates, it comes down to a matter of personal choice but before you decide which camp you are in, it’s important to understand at least some of the arguments for and against using a stand alone blog editor application.

Whether it is a Firefox extension, such as Scribefire, a whole new application, such as Blogo, or something else altogether, there are drawbacks and benefits to doing your writing outside of your blog’s admin panel and it is best to be aware of them.

So here are five of the biggest arguments for and against using a new application to create your blog posts.

Why Use a Blog Editor

You don’t really have to look far for reasons to use a blog editor. Since the default admin panels remain the most popular editor on most systems, blog editors typically write their marketing material targeted at those users. As such, here are some of the most popular reasons programmers and users give for using a blog editor:

  1. Work Offline: If your Web connection goes down or your site goes offline for a bit, you can’t work on your site any if you use the regular backend. However, blog editors work as well offline as on, letting you create a post and upload it when you have a connection again.
  2. Better Media Handling: Though WordPress in particular offers a great set of media tools in its Web-based backend, blog editing apps often offer better handling of images, audio and video. Many connect directly with third party services, such as Flickr and YouTube, to speed up the process even more.
  3. The Interface: Though your write page may be functional, it offers a limited set of tools and is not particularly attractive. Blog editors not only provide you more features in the interface, but also a more attractive one to boot.
  4. Edit Multiple Blogs: If you work on several different sites, especially if they have different platforms, a blog editor can let you control all of them in one place and with one interface. This makes switching between them much faster.
  5. Application-Specific Features: Some applications make it easier to profit from your blog by inserting custom advertising, others, like Blogo, have a full-screen mode for distraction-free writing. Many applications have a specific “hook” that goes above and beyond what you usually find in WordPress or even other desktop blogging apps.

In short, a blog editor gives you more power than their default counterparts but that doesn’t mean they are for everyone. As great as they can be, there are reasons to hesitate before you download, let alone pay for, a shiny new blog editing application.

Why to Avoid a Blog Editor

If all blog editors did was give users more power and features, then bloggers would be flocking to them and programmers would be flooding the market with new applications. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Though blog editors have their fans, most bloggers seem to prefer the regular write panel. Here’s five reasons why.

  1. One Computer: A Web-based backend lets you blog from anywhere you have Web access. A blog editor lets you blog on the computer that you have it installed on. You need to either install it on every computer you plan to blog on, only use one computer for writing or learn to use the Web-based write panel as a backup.
  2. The Default is Adequate: Though the traditional editors may not set the world on fire with their features, they do get the job done. Most bloggers don’t need any additional power so there’s no point learning a new system or paying any money.
  3. Security Issues: In recent versions of WordPress, the XMLRPC function is turned off by default as a security precaution. This is the function needed to use an external blog editor. Though it can be trivially turned back on, it highlights the fact that you are opening up a potential hole into your blog by using such an application.
  4. Learning Curve: Most bloggers are already comfortable with their admin panel meaning that using a blog editor is going to involve relearning simple tasks such as adding images and publishing. Though the curve usually isn’t steep, it’s enough to discourage many.
  5. Other Backend Tasks: Even the best blog editor won’t let you manage your comments, plugins or other blogging elements, making it necessary to visit your admin panel anyway. Using an external editor is not a free pass to avoid ever logging into your site’s Web interface, just doing so for blogging.

The end result is that most bloggers don’t have much need or use for a Web interface and those that do often don’t get enough benefit to outweigh the concerns and limitations. Since most people have to use the admin panel at some point, there isn’t much to be gained.

Bottom Line

In the end, blog editing applications appeal most to bloggers with specific needs that are served by them. Most bloggers, who just want to write their posts and publish them, are adequately served by the Web based backend. Since most major browsers have spell check and are reasonably reliable (not to mention autosave in most blog applications), there isn’t much reason to fear using the default.

If you’re a blogger that is served well by a blogging app and gains something from it, then by all means continue to use it. However, if you don’t have some compelling reason to use a blog editor, it’s probably best not to do so. You need to be skilled at the default interface anyway, for emergencies when you are away from your machine, so there isn’t much to gain from learning two systems.

However, as I said before, it’s all a matter of opinion and I look forward to reading what others have to say in the comments.

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  1. By Andy Merrett posted on March 23, 2009 at 10:49 am
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    I generally use the standard platform editor (generally WordPress or Movable Type with the sites I currently work on), but I often draft things out and write full articles in a standard text editor first.

    I actually find it less of a distraction writing in a text editor, as I rarely add media until the end and, as I work with an HTML mindset I add the basic formatting as I go so it’s ready to cut and paste.

    I tried using an offline editor (Ecto) but there were too many little niggles that I couldn’t get to grips with, so decided it was easier to stick with this method.

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  2. By rp posted on March 23, 2009 at 11:51 am
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    I’ve been using WLW for a long time. It has got some nice features. But the problem is that it still uses up a lot of resources, and very often, especially while dealing with embedded media, it causes the system to freeze–which is pretty frustrating. I’ll try if I can do without it.

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  3. By Rarst posted on March 23, 2009 at 12:57 pm
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    I use WLW because browsers sucked, still suck and will suck (for few more years I think) as anything-editors.

    Jump from long years of rendering read-only content to serving as tool to edit that very same content is not one easily performed.

    Browser is most used software at any Internet-capable PC, but most used is mistaken for software that is supposed to do everything.

    PC I am used to WLW but it is still full of quirks… I wish someone made functional, polished and portable blogging client…

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  4. By Jonathan Bailey posted on March 23, 2009 at 1:25 pm
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    Andy: That’s an interesting way to blog. I often times for other sites that I write for have to write in Google Docs or something to the like and have them copy/paste it in since I don’t have admin access, but I don’t find it any easier/harder to write in that format.

    I also forgot to mention Ecto anywhere in this write up, a true shame on me moment…

    RP: I’m primarily a Mac user but I have played with WLW on my Windows machine and found it to be the best blog editor for Windows, at least for my use. I haven’t had the crashing issues but I do agree that it is painfully slow, especially on my older system.

    Rarst: I admit browsers aren’t great for editing and have a lot of problems in that field, but for most blog posts they are adequate. I’m a MarsEdit fan for the most part though I still end up doing most of my writing in the actual browser due to the way I write. It just makes things easier to not have to go back and forth.

    Still, if someone did like you asked and made a good polished and effective cross-platform client, I might be interested…

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  5. By Honza posted on March 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm
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    For most of my blog posts, I use an off-line editor, Q10 or DarkRoom, then I copy and paste. It is slow and tedious (you have to add links manually in the WordPress editor), but it helps me a great deal to concentrate on what I’m actually writing.

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  6. By Andy Merrett posted on March 24, 2009 at 2:59 am
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    @honza: do you have to copy and paste links even if you write in HTML and then paste that? (using the HTML editor in WordPress and not one of the WYSIWYG ones)

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  7. By Inetgate posted on March 26, 2009 at 6:05 am
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    I use ecto3 on Mac, and this tool can keep all entries at local as backup.
    This is the main reason why I use ecto3.

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