An Addendum

Scriptwriter John August wrote recently on the recent WordPress attacks:

Over the weekend, there was a lot of uproar about a worm attack on WordPress installations that wrecked some notable blogs. Amid the sometimes-smug observations by the unaffected, I found one point that needs to be elevated to basic principle:

Most people shouldn’t be running their own blogging software.

When I last blogged about the security issue, I asked two questions: 1) what are the odds? and 2) should we be thinking about switching platforms? These two questions resulted in a number of replies – in Novelr’s comments, via Twitter; via email. But my 2nd question wasn’t what some of you thought it to be. I was asking, rather, if we should be thinking about building yet another CMS, when WordPress itself –  a remarkably polished project, I must say – was compromised by a worm attack.

I’ll be posting a summary of the few features we’ve discussed soon, and hopefully also a couple of mockups of what a good fiction format should look like (my copy of Photoshop doesn’t seem to like Snow Leopard very much). But while the need and the feature set for a format is clear, the how-tos and the implementation is still far from obvious. Till they are, however, I’d like to know your thoughts on this security issue – how safe do you feel on WordPress? Would you consider switching? Or should you prefer a hosted service, like August suggests?

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Blog Platforms
  • http://thesnowcow.com Joe Bruno

    A hosted service, every time. But just one thing:

    If WordPress.com suddenly loses 10% of its data – and with it, my entire life – WordPress’s only contractual obligation to me is to say “Oops”.

    So – a hosted service with a daily, automated Time Machine-style backup directly onto my own systems, for which I can be responsible.

  • http://sorrowfulunfounded.com Chris

    I think we should. There are things we can do to make the administration side of web fiction much easier. Yes, we can do it in WordPress, as plug-ins, but I’d personally prefer not to do anything too drastic with plug-ins or template editing. I tried it with Muse’s Success, but it wasn’t fun (although it worked just fine). Yes, the application will have security issues. It’s unavoidable. We can protect against the obvious things, but there will always be some unforeseen way that the software can be compromised.

    You’ll notice I said administration side. I want each web fiction I read to have a unique visual identity on at least a per author basis. They can similar, but not FictionPress.com story 8888235 similar. I don’t think there is much WordPress can’t do with an appropriate theme on the side most readers are going to see. Afterall, WordPress uses templates.

  • http://www.midnightcross.com RavenProject

    “[H]ow safe do you feel on WordPress?”

    Pretty safe. Note that the problem that whacked WordPress had already been repaired on updated versions. Yes, not everyone can update right away, but all WordPress can do is release the solution quick as they know.

    “Would you consider switching?”

    Given sufficient incentive, sure, I’d switch to a superior product. However, I wouldn’t do it for security reasons. Once the new platform reached its own levels of adoption, then those who would perform malice will simply target that system, and we’re right back where we started.

    “Or should you prefer a hosted service, like August suggests?”

    Me personally? No way, I need to be able to tinker under the hood with whatever I adopt in order to get it “just right.” However, I have the skills and the inclination to do that sort of work… and I also acknowledge the risks and responsibility involved.

    For most writers? A hosted service which provides certain guarantees regarding uptime and service may be a far better solution. A writer should not be discouraged because they lack tech skills.

    -J

  • http://sorrowfulunfounded.com Chris

    Also, I think those whom are truely serious and committed should host their own (or pay someone) if they expect to get anywhere with it, or at the very least register their own domain and point it at their blog. I don’t think it would be nice to have a story hosted on alicesmagicaladventure.wordpress.com, and outgrow WordPress.com, and not be able to take alicesmagicaladventure.wordpress.com with you. Yes, you can keep both up and point your readers in the right direction, but you’re going to lose all your incoming links, and search engine position once you start publishing at alicesmagicaladventure.com whereas if your using alicesmagicaladventure.com from the beginning, once you switch to hosting your own, you can ensure that all your old URL’s continue to work, and the transition will be fairly seamless to your users.

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    The only reason WordPress.com was safe while a lot of other installs weren’t was because the other installs didn’t upgrade to the latest version when it came out. It’s a very easy process for most people, but there’s something about “upgrade” that makes you fear massive breakage, so you put it off. And in this case, it hurt.

    I agree with Chris above… you don’t want to leave your links if you leave WordPress.com, so in a lot of cases, I think running your own is better. Then again, I like to hack my WordPress to within an inch of its life, so I may be a special case :)

    As for a new CMS… I think it’s still a good idea. The benefit for us is that we wouldn’t be making a system with as many ins and outs as a full CMS. If the feature set is small enough and the administration system (user logins etc) is strong, it should be impenetrable simply by virtue of how small the box is. And piggybacking on another CMS, despite all the benefits it would seem to have, is really a bad way to approach it. eBooks need to grow in a different direction than blog posts, and there’s nothing out there they can handle it properly.

    Or at least, that’s where I stand on the issue :)

  • http://poncy-mclean.net duane poncy

    Like most of the other posters, I like to hack my WordPress installation, so a hosted service is out of the question.

    WordPress has most of the functionality we need, IMO. I am dubious about creating a new CMS for writers without a community as large and dedicated as that which produces WordPress. A team of good theme designers could make it more useable for the less technically-inclined. I have been working on some themes and hope to have something to show in the not-too-distant future.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I find it curious that the majority of you won’t ever want to use a hosted service (me included). Could this be sample-bias? As in, all of us clustered here are writer/geek mutants who want full creative control over their work – code or otherwise. Or maybe there just isn’t a good fiction-centric hosted service as of press-time?

    @Chris: That’s assuming that you would want to move off the hosted service. There are a few high profile blogs that have stuck to WordPress.com, though they bought along their own domain name and designer …

    As for a new CMS… I think it’s still a good idea. The benefit for us is that we wouldn’t be making a system with as many ins and outs as a full CMS. If the feature set is small enough and the administration system (user logins etc) is strong, it should be impenetrable simply by virtue of how small the box is.

    Good point, MCM. I’d forgotten that the end-product would, naturally, be a very focused niche thing. It’ll also be easier to code, I suppose.

  • http://www.midnightcross.com RavenProject

    @Eli “Could this be sample-bias?”

    Without a doubt. Your active audience here tends to be more tech- and business-savvy than the norm for online authors.

    It would be worth extending this discussion to other venues like WFG, which seems to have a higher active population of “pure writers” as opposed to the hybrids you get here.

    -J

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Ahh, the echo chamber that is the Internet. Like-minded people cluster online … and this place appears to be no different. =(

    On WFG – good idea. I’ll post something there once the feature list is up.

  • http://fiction.courage-my-friend.org/ Chris Poirier

    I’ve been staying out of this conversation, but I figure it’s time to wade in with a grenade. ;-) I think the idea of writing a CMS from scratch, just to (in essence) change the sort order of the articles and simplify the theme, is pretty damned silly.

    WordPress provides a great deal of stuff that will take a lot of work to replicate: user management, categories, tags, RSS feeds, ping services, spam comment identification . . . and, yes, constant security updates. You can also get it installed on just about any cheap web host on the planet.

    I’ve done three WordPress-based writing websites to date (mine, srsuleski.com, and lleelowe.com), and there are certainly some things that can be done to improve the WordPress user experience for our purposes. URL structure is the primary thing that needs to be changed on the user end, while proper theme support is the primary thing needed for people setting up new sites — stuff that makes it easy to generate a table of contents, for instance. Fortunately, these are low impact items that do not in any way require writing a new CMS.

    As an example, I’ve been redesigning my own site over the last few days, in preparation for writing again, and finally got around to permanently fixing the URL structure — in a way that should easily survive WordPress upgrades. It is also very flexible — much moreso than my previous attempts. That work took about 3 hours, in all — and that included two false starts. I expect I’ll release that code, when I’m done with the redesign.

    Don’t get me wrong — if you guys want to go write a CMS, hey, have fun! Don’t let me stop you! But, realistically, there are much simpler ways to get the job done.

    (The other) Chris.

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @Other Chris (ha!):

    I agree that WP is very robust and does a lot of cool things, but here’s a list of some things it DOESN’T do:
    1) easy addition of chapters in such a way that it automatically builds a URL structure that people can figure out. I want to add chapter 5 of my book, but to do that, I need to do a lot of manual labour. Most people won’t, so their URL structure becomes convoluted.
    2) Scheduling of chapters. Not just “put chapter X up on this date”, but being able to load the system with a bunch of chapters and have them released on a schedule without further effort. Doing that in WP is a major pain in the butt.
    3) Simple, braindead PayPal integration. The ability to accept donations easily, to be able to sell subscriptions and upgrade functions, all without really knowing what you’re doing.
    4) Export to other formats. The big one being EPUB, I think. With WP, you’re just making a bunch of posts. With a specialized CMS, you’re working with “books” that you can re-purpose pretty easily.

    I’m not sure tags or categories really fit in with a book CMS, but I guess we’ll see (well, that’s not true, I see the value of categories in certain respects, but not in the WP sense). User management is another question worth investigating, but again, I don’t see a book CMS as having many users beyond the writer(s). And as for comments… I’d just assume implement a plugin architecture like Disqus to handle all that. Doing it in-house seems like duplicating effort for an inferior product (which is how I feel about the WP built-in commenting anyway)

    Really, you CAN hack WordPress to do all these things, but by the time you’re done, you’ve probably got more code in more directions than if you built something specialized. Plug-ins break from release to release, and conflicts appear everywhere… and in the end, you’re going to have a site that is a website that has been wedged into a book format, rather than a proper book.

    Simpler, maybe (tho I doubt it). Better? Not likely.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    I think, in a nutshell, what MCM is trying to say is:

    Hack is okay. For us. For the writer? Not so good.

    (Hey, I think I can tweet that!)

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    That’s exactly it. I was padding my word count is all.

  • http://fiction.courage-my-friend.org/ Chris Poirier

    What I’m doing with WordPress is using the following URL structure: %category%/%postname%. Now, out of the box, WordPress isn’t very good at doing that — it confuses nested categories with posts and vice versa. However, that was easily solved. As I said — 3 hours, all in. The other problem is that WordPress tries to make all post slugs unique, ignoring category, and doesn’t include category while searching for post slugs as a result. Again, this is easily solved — it’s about 10 minutes’ work.

    I think with this arrangement (a chapter is just a scheduled post in a category), your second point also goes away.

    Braindead PayPal integration will be harder, of course — I haven’t given it much thought since I don’t accept donations. However, doesn’t this belay your own point about not needing user management? It shouldn’t be any harder to automate that with WordPress than with a custom CMS.

    Finally, on the point of formats, that’s custom (and complicated) software no matter what system you use. Every word processor developer and their mothers have their own format for a reason. ;-) However, I can see no reason a Markdown-based WordPress novel can’t easily be run through an XSL stylesheet to produce whatever output you want — probably right from the RSS feed, in fact. The problem doesn’t change with a custom CMS — you’ve still got to get the data from your source software (word processor or whatever) into something you can work with online.

    Again, I don’t see how spending time rewriting the shell is going to significantly reduce the development time needed for the unique stuff.

    As for your point about upgrades — yes, as always, stuff “not coded here” will always require a bit more maintenance work that code you own. But, on balance, with stuff “coded here”, you have to maintain everything else (like security and standards changes) yourself.

    Chris.

  • http://fiction.courage-my-friend.org/ Chris Poirier

    Oh, to be clear, in my URL structure, each category contains a single book or collection or whatever. Nested categories can be used to do novels within a trilogy. etc.

  • http://www.midnightcross.com RavenProject

    @MCM: You use the term “chapter” a lot in describing your concerns. What does “chapter” mean in your implementation? A page, a post, a category, something else?

    I want to respond, but we need to be sure we’re on the same page.

    -J

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    The scheduled post thing is more complicated than it seems. If I were uploading The Vector into WP, I’d have pasted 50 chapters in and had to set the release date for every chapter. At the start, I was releasing them twice a week, but after a week, I increased to MWF. If I were on WP, I’d have to go through and re-do all the release dates by hand. I don’t think there’s any way to hack around that (plugins or not), so you’re left with massive manual labour.

    Subscriptions are different than user management… or, well, I guess by “user” I mean “someone who may get permission to edit the site”, which subscriptions don’t do. The subscription engines for WP are very messy and break more than anything else (since they touch on so many things at once).

    My goal is not to give authors a big pile of tools and say “if you follow ten pages of instructions, you’ll be up and running!”. My goal is to give them the 10 tools they need, and make it so simple to use that they don’t need to worry.

    It’s not a question of “not coded here” so much as… if there are 500 writers out there using a series of plugins bundled as part of a “webfic for wordpress” solution, and WordPress updates a tiny bit and breaks 3 of them, the whole system collapses for 500 people who will have no idea how to fix it. If all these features are the core functionality of the CMS, you may need to make security updates once in a while (but if it’s as simple as I’m envisioning, probably not), but at least the authors can be confident they really, truly, don’t need to know how it works.

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @RavenProject: In WP terms, it’d be a post, I think. I’ve seen others do it with pages, but I think posts are the way to go (though I guess you could make an argument for sub-pages, but then you lose the categorization tricks Chris was talking about)…

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Just a note: I believe Chyrp does to blogging what you propose be done to web fiction, MCM. Posts are AJAXed and editable from within the front page itself, and there’re only five sections in the backend. Spiffy, considering that the programmer behind this is all of 15 years old (when he first started doing this … with the dissolution of the 9rules community, I can’t remember his age now).

  • http://www.midnightcross.com RavenProject

    @Chris “Braindead PayPal integration will be harder, of course — I haven’t given it much thought since I don’t accept donations.”

    I suspect this depends on your definition of “Donation.”

    If you just want to put a “Donate” button out there, that’s easy-peasy. There are a number of plugins to handle it for you — I haven’t studied them because I didn’t want a pure donation model.

    “Braindead” ends when you want an automatic way to tie payments to site members. Now you’ve got to convince two complex functions — your member database and your payment provider — to cooperate. You’re also tracking a lot of information you weren’t before — payment level, expirations, content restrictions, etc.

    I ended up buying a plugin — WP-MEMBER — to handle my upcoming subscription content. Internal testing was successful, and I look forward to a public rollout. The admin features throughout the dashboard have been excellent. I suspect their sidebar widget would have made life even easier, but I’ve kinda done a number on my sidebars. ;)

    -J

  • http://www.brainhandles.com Greg Bulmash

    There were two good points brought up.

    MCM said: “The only reason WordPress.com was safe while a lot of other installs weren’t was because the other installs didn’t upgrade to the latest version when it came out. It’s a very easy process for most people, but there’s something about “upgrade” that makes you fear massive breakage, so you put it off.”

    This is not just true of WordPress. phpBB is the most widely-used forum software out there. It’s also the most attacked. I’ve known a few people who had not just their sites compromised, but their server compromised via phpBB security holes because they didn’t patch.

    I’ve looked at my web logs and seen attempts by worms to attack Horde (webmail), phpBB, and other software I don’t even run.

    If your server is online, it’s likely getting probed very regularly by bots looking for available attack vectors. It’s a fact of life online. It’s also why you MUST pay attention to upgrades.

    I had a couple of sites I’d been letting languish with WordPress 2.5 on them. Luckily they didn’t get compromised, but I’d so forgotten about them, I hadn’t gone into their admin sections in months and never got the reminders to upgrade.

    MCM said in a later post: “Plug-ins break from release to release…”

    That’s the thing people fear most. It’s not just simple plug-ins that break. It can often be plug-ins that are crucial to your site’s operation. And depending on the platform, it might not just be plug-ins. When I had phpBB briefly, I’d hacked some of the main files to add extra functionality. But it seemed every other security update overwrote my hacked files and I had to re-hack it.

    Some can say it’s the duty of the plug-in authors to keep up. But most WP plug-ins are not commercial efforts with financial backing or large open-source projects with a team of developers. Many are created by an amateur programmer to solve a problem he/she needed solved, and shared out of generosity.

    Following pre-release betas and making sure that the plug-in is ready for each new release is beyond the ability (either due to technical limits or limits on their available time) of many plug-in authors.

    If you write a new CMS from scratch, you’ll get “security through obscurity”… until it gets popular enough for bad people to start trying to find its holes. If you make it pluggable or people need to do custom hacks to make it behave the way they want it to, updates may well break plug-ins or overwrite hacks, making people reluctant to upgrade, leaving systems vulnerable.

    So what’s the answer?

    Most of the WordPress updates that break plugins are not the security updates. They’re the re-designs. The WordPress folks love to “fix what ain’t broke” because they think they can make it better, and end up breaking stuff in the process. Then they only offer security updates on the latest branch, so you can’t just get a security update for the version that worked with all your plug-ins. You are forced to upgrade to the version with the new features that break your plug-ins.

    If they offered security updates to the 2.5 or 2.6 branch, so people could patch, but otherwise leave things alone, they’d probably have a lot faster adoption of security patches.

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    Yes yes yes! That’s what I mean! Really cutting down and making it simple.

    Back before WP and all the other big CMSes were around, I used to make a living coding my own system for each client, building it to do exactly what they wanted. I’m SO happy those days are over, but there’s one major flaw of most modern CMSes… they can do ANYTHING, but they confuse the bejeezus out of clients unless you slowly walk them through it. Do that to authors, and you get really fugly results, because they’re scared to mess things up or explore. If you’re going to take the time to hack WP to make it easy to use, you might as well start from scratch, because at least then you don’t have to update all your code every time the author installs a patch.

    We need Chyrp for books. That’s what I’m saying!

  • http://www.midnightcross.com RavenProject

    @MCM “At the start, I was releasing them twice a week, but after a week, I increased to MWF.”

    Ah, now I see what your actual problem was. It’s not scheduling posts that’s the problem. It’s *re*scheduling posts that’s giving you fits.

    Sounds like you want a “Series” feature, where you would somehow identify a set of posts as part of a series with a defined start date and frequency, and the ability to update the frequency on the fly.

    Now that would be really interesting.

    -J

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @Greg: I think the objective should be “security through simplicity”, more than anything. The only user logins you accept are authors, and hardening that isn’t a big deal. WordPress has most of its security flaws because it accepts too many inputs. Lock all edit functions behind permission checks and you should be more than safe, even if you’re the most popular system around.

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @RavenProject: Thank god it made sense :)

    I worked for a long time to try and make WP see posts the way I want, but it required a lot of MySQL hackery to get it done. Basically, you make a custom admin panel where you choose a category and then check off the release days (and start day and backlog etc) and hit “go” and it runs through the database and rewrites all the publish dates one by one. The problem is, that’s bypassing the WP engine entirely, so it usually doesn’t work without major errors, and it’s horribly DESTRUCTIVE. I’d much rather just load the chapters in dumbly and let a release engine handle the logic of when to publish. Less damage done, and easier on my heartburn :)

  • http://www.midnightcross.com RavenProject

    @MCM “The only user logins you accept are authors, and hardening that isn’t a big deal.”

    Okay, here’s where you kinda lose me…

    If the only people who are allowed to log in are authors, then you have no way to identify an individual visitor to your site.

    The most immediate problem with this: Forget subscriptions or paid content on the site. There are broader implications, of course, but I think that alone will be a dealbreaker for a lot of writers (myself included).

    I’m hoping I just misunderstood, though… could you elaborate?

    -J

  • http://www.midnightcross.com RavenProject

    @MCM (yes, again)

    Have you considered releasing your “hack” on the chance that someone in the WordPress community could make it official? Sounds like you’ve got things almost there as it is!

    -J

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @RavenProject: I’m not sure what you mean by “tracking individual visitors”… if you content is public, you’re not tracking them… if it’s subscription-based, they’re being authenticated, yes?

    Anyway, this is the big difference between my ideal system and WP… I don’t mix the user types. Admins can edit stuff and play around with the settings, but regular users never can. It’s a different system entirely, so there’s no chance of someone hacking their way in through a glitch in the user admin.

    The way I run it now, when you pay for a book, you get a unique ID that you use to access the content as much as you like. The big benefit of this method is that people can buy their friends and family “gifts” more easily than if it were tied to a user account. That appears to be one of the biggest uses of my system already.

    I’ve considered extending the ID into a full-fledged user system, but I don’t see much benefit at the moment. There are probably lots of good reasons, but I live in an insular bubble these days :)

  • http://fiction.courage-my-friend.org/ Chris Poirier

    Much MySQL hackery shouldn’t be needed for changing scheduling in this way. A wp-cron action would do the trick.

    The other thing I’m doing for my own site is modifying the WP admin screens a bit — by moving categories to the top of the heap and renaming the sections, then allowing it to be used as a configuration point (I had been using a plugin called Category Fields for that, before). Adding a scheduling property shouldn’t be difficult. I’ll add it to the list.

    Of course, everything with WordPress looks fairly simple to me — I’ve been all through it’s guts while writing (and re-writing) WFG. However, my experience with the product *has* been mostly positive. Yes, there’s a paucity of documentation for some of the more useful hooks, but the source code is available. And WFG massively changes how WordPress works, and yet I’ve only had very minor problems (and mostly on the admin screens) with system upgrades. For the most part, everything just works from release to release.

    Chris.

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @RavenProject (yes again! woo!)

    I’ll look for the code, but to be honest, it’s been a while since I played with it, and I may have deleted the install that I applied the hack to. It was mostly that issue that drove me to write my own CMS in the first place… the itch that made me crazy, as they say…

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @Chris: I’ve never tried this before, but CAN you make an installer to drop a customized WP onto a server without having to customize it bit-by-bit? Which is to say: if you’ve hacked your system to the perfect webfic engine, can you share that state easily? That would go a long way for many people. Getting everyone to install (or even know HOW to install) a bunch of plugins is possibly asking too much of many writers (and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all)

    I still think a streamlined experience is superior, but if you could make a wp-cron action handle the release changes easily, it might be an alternative.

  • http://fiction.courage-my-friend.org/ Chris Poirier

    I’m doing all my changes for my writing site in a theme — which I’ll probably release, though I really don’t have time to offer any support for it. In any event, I’ve arranged the code so I could just add one file and turn it into a plugin; but, for now, I’m putting it all in a theme for ease of install.

    In theory, if you used subversion, you could drop a tarball into a directory and still be able to upgrade WordPress “around” your theme. You would still have to configure the database and activate the themes and plugins, though. If you were really keen, you could probably ship it with a barebones database extract and install that — a couple of queries would fix up the necessary database fields. That said, the normal WordPress install procedure is pretty painless — I’m not sure this would improve anything.

    Chris.

  • http://fiction.courage-my-friend.org/ Chris Poirier

    @MCM – you may have swayed me with your arguments. Seems I’m considering writing a CMS. Still not convinced it’s a good idea, but I figure it’s worth a few hours work to find out. Will let you know. :-)

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @Chris: Ha! Sorry! The idea’s infectious. As an apology, I will buy you a beer when I’m in Toronto in October :)

  • http://www.brainhandles.com Greg Bulmash

    @MCM: Locking down who has access to admin functions is not going to provide security. It’s only one of many attack vectors.

    IIRC, it was a malformed URL exploit for the forgotten password retrieval function that gave attackers the ability to gain access to the admin account. From the report I read, the exploit exposed information about the first account in the users table which was usually Admin, so even if you had no one else with access… especially if you had no one else… this exploit could get you.

    The number of authorized users is one weakness. The more people who can get in and do damage, the more likely someone can guess, snoop, bruteforce, or social engineer an ID and password.

    But the bot/worm exploits usually go after a bug in the underlying code: an improperly validated/sanitized input that allows the hacker to expose data, run code, or inject SQL commands.

    It’s the one validation regex you, the coder, got 99.9% right that gets you because it passes every one of your tests.

    If you can stop 99.9% of terrorists who try to blow up planes, that means you’ll lose a plane for every 1,000th terrorist who tries. And, going with the law of averages, you could have the first 2,997 fail, then have three planes in a row become falling debris.

    If you think you can write an unhackable CMS, do it, then offer $500 to the first person who can hack it. You’ll be paying that $500 a lot faster than you think.

  • http://qazyfiction.com anna

    Just to even up the sample here, I have no option BUT to use a hosted site as I don’t have the skillz. And out of the variety of platforms I’ve used, WordPress has been the best.

    Yes, it’s kind of annoying that I can’t tweak things to make them exactly as I would want, but then again, I’m not sure I’d know how to tweak things much.

    And yes, as MCM said, there’s a lot of manual labour involved. In that respect I think Digital Novelist is more streamlined a platform (but I don’t want to pay for it!).

    Just my non-tech-savvy 2 cents worth. :)

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @Greg: Absolutely, no system is 100% safe, and I don’t predict being able to make something 100% safe either. But the odds are probably better than with WordPress, which has many, varying input methods that an attacker could use to exploit a weakness. If you deny all input except from authenticated admins, and then battle-harden your login functions, you can stop 99.9% of exploits relatively easily.

    (the benefit of a really simple system is that sanitizing the non-admin input is less complicated, since there are only very limited things users can do within the system: request a book title (limit a-z, _, – etc) or chapter (0-9). The fewer server-level functions you do, the fewer opportunities there are.)

    All I’m saying is that there’s no reason to believe you can’t make an extremely secure small-run CMS just because WP had a big exploit last week. If you juggle one ball, but do it well, you should be fine. Not PERFECT, but easier to track than WP is.

  • http://www.midnightcross.com RavenProject

    @MCM “I’m not sure what you mean by “tracking individual visitors”… if you content is public, you’re not tracking them… if it’s subscription-based, they’re being authenticated, yes?”

    How are you authenticating subscribers when only admins are allowed to log in?

    -J

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    @RavenProject: Via their unique ID. One method (used now) is that it’s appended to a “login URL” that they visit, and it starts a sessions that follows them while they read. Another method is to have a login box where they enter their email address and unique ID, and all it does is check the two. But these aren’t users in the conventional sense… it’s just verifying that the UID exists in the system, and lets them go on if it does. It’s a wholly separate process than user logins (which are reserved for admins)

  • http://www.fluffy-seme.net Isa

    As one of the few serial writers who DOES NOT use WordPress to publish I have some thoughts on this.

    The problem with any CMS system …. really any system at all is that it is only as strong as the community of developers around it. As a web designer I’ve used lots of different systems (WordPress, Joomla, Dolphin, Dokuwiki the original blogging products like Greymatter, etc, etc, etc) the popular ones usually have to deal with a trade-off between having flexibility and having stability. It’s one of the perils of open source: you can find apps for just about everything and updates to the core software every month but you don’t know what bugs and vulnerabilities these hacks are going to open up.

    Fluffy-seme runs on an extremely obscure platform, which drives me crazy half of the time because its table structure is absurdly complicated, counterintuitive, and its actual php is like a spaghetti dinner sometimes >.> But on the other hand it has a small community of very knowledgeable developers who charge $50, $60 bucks for their apps and mods. Coming from a WordPress world where most every mod/plugin is available for free it’s sometimes difficult to see the real advantages of this: it’s enforces a standard of quality. You know who the good developers are by the stats on how their products are selling in addition to feedback ratings or whatever. And those developers are also more responsive to doing freelance custom work and trouble-shooting issues with their products in a timely manner.

    So it would be interesting to see a platform designed specifically for digital writing, but it’s success or failure would depend on the community of developers around it. It’s not just about adding more and more features, it’s about making sure the program can continue to provide a quality product as time goes by.

    On a completely self serving note (cause this is the way we’re moving right now): perhaps the answer is not that webfiction should be host-vs-installed system, perhaps it’s that every single piece of fiction doesn’t need its own site? There is something to be said for getting writers together and maximizing resources.

  • http://sorrowfulunfounded.com Chris

    On a completely self serving note (cause this is the way we’re moving right now): perhaps the answer is not that webfiction should be host-vs-installed system, perhaps it’s that every single piece of fiction doesn’t need its own site? There is something to be said for getting writers together and maximizing resources.

    Writing.com and FictionPress.com have that covered I think. Writing.com in particular, I posted a short story and received worthwhile feedback without any promotion on my part.

  • http://www.fluffy-seme.net Isa

    Except neither one of those sites (Writing.com, FictionPress.com) could be classified as a publishing venture. They do not select stories based on editorial guidelines. That anyone can put up anything makes it impossible to gain the trust of a general site wide readership. They also don’t allow the author to incorporate elements of good design and presentation, forcing stories to stand naked in a text only eyesore. My experience with those types of sites is that they do not attract readers, they attract other WRITERS who if they read your content do so for completely self-serving purposes.

    By contrast a writing collective, that is several writers publishing different stories on the same site, allows the writers to cultivate a fanbase individually as they would with a WordPress blog but also cross pollinate and pool resources. Readers in love with story XYZ might jump into story ABC by a different author. Promotion becomes easier, site maintenance becomes easier, helps standardize formatting… One of the reasons (I believe) so many authors pick WordPress over a CMS system is that CMS systems are typically designed to be workhorses for lots and lots of content and interaction, more than one writer can produce.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Personal branding becomes an issue when you have all the writers on the same site, Isa. And I don’t think many authors would want to willingly do this, unless they’re given particularly well defined brands on the site (ie: their pages look different, so on so forth). But you’re on the right track. I’m working on a version of that, which is quite a risky proposition, but we’ll see how it turns out.

    One of the reasons (I believe) so many authors pick WordPress over a CMS system is that CMS systems are typically designed to be workhorses for lots and lots of content and interaction, more than one writer can produce.

    Nah, so many people use WordPress because so many people use WordPress.

    But on your point about the developer community: yes, that’s a possibility that we’ll have to think about. I don’t have the foggiest on how to organize a crowd-sourced software project … =S

  • http://www.ditchwalk.com Mark Barrett

    If WordPress leaves a gaping hole that someone can exploit, it will be exploited. So in that sense I have to hope that they’re on the ball.

    On the other hand, I was surprised when I saw all the hubbub about the most recent exploit, because the fix for that problem had been released earlier. In fact, I had upgraded a week before to the version that everyone was suddenly squawking about. So vigilance on the part of the site owner is also required.

    Market share attracts trouble. The inequity between Microsoft and Apple in number of attacks is indicative first and foremost of market share, not any inherent advantage or disadvantage in their OS code. As WordPress grows, it will be targeted more often. If the WordPress team is good, they’ll stay one small step ahead of disaster. If not, their incompetence will take a lot of people with them.

    As for myself, I’m not overly concerned. Make frequent db backups, as well as a full backup of your site content (style.css, images, etc.), and you should be able to recover from just about anything as soon as WordPress itself is patched. Which means, in the end, that the blog/Wordpress platform is little different than a desktop, laptop, or handheld.