What To Know About WriteFreely: The FAQ
I quite like it as a blogging platform. I've learned a few things along the way and since.
Is it the most fully featured blog platform? Nope, not by a long shot. But depending on your needs it might be sufficient for you. On the Fediverse of late I've noticed an uptick of people asking questions about WriteFreely vs. say, Plume or WordPress+their ActivityPub plugin for federation-capable blogs.
Since there are few free WriteFreely instances with open registrations (as opposed to invite only or restricted) where you can experiment with it, you're going to want to know more about what you get with WriteFreely... or more importantly, what you don't get, before you $pony up$ for a paid WriteFreely service, or expend the effort to set yourself up your own instance. So let's answer a few questions, with a particular comparison with WordPress.
What are the other Federated blog platforms?
Plume – this has some additional features that WriteFreely doesn't have, but isn't as actively developed.
Write.As – this is actually a hosted WriteFreely instance by the developers of WriteFreely; they have both paid and fee tier accounts.
WordPress+ActivityPub plugin: WordPress's parent company just bought the developers of the ActivityPub plugin; but to use plugins you need a paid $WordPress$ ($54/month!!) tier.
Drupal + ActivityPub – Drupal has a module that implements ActivityPub on a Drupal site – no shade on Drupal but while its an excellent and capable content management system for managing all of the resources of a complex website, is serious overkill for a personal blog.
Also, rumour has it that
- Medium (who just launched a Mastodon instance for their users) and
- Substack are working on ActivityPub integrations
Does WriteFreely have....
- Themes? no. WP lets you choose a theme. But without $plugins$ you can't customize them.
- Blocks? no. WP edits chunks of text in blocks <– to which you can apply various block styles. No such thing here.
- Reeusable text snips/blocks? aka chunks of reusable content? no
- Text formatting? yes. Text in WriteFreely is formatted using a subset of Markdown. See my writefreely Writer's Guide – Cheat Sheet
- HTML? yes, a limited subset. see writefreely Writer's Guide – Cheat Sheet
- Tables? yes; native tables will allow you to use inline Markdown that WF supports, but customization of those tables will be limited to what you can do with stylesheets; if you want to get fancy (e.g. column or row spanning) you can use HTML tables, but any Markdown within those HTML tables will not render.
- custom CSS? yes, at a blog level. You can define custom styles however and apply them to specific text/Markdown elements by wrapping those in
- Advanced page layout? no (except what you can accomplish through CSS, divs and tables)
- link to/display media from another site like Imgur or Pixelfed? yes
- embed media from another site? yes, with stuff like iframes:
Can WriteFreely Store Media/Images/Files?
- if you have access to the WriteFreely instance (server) itself? Yes (see below)
- if you do NOT have admin access to the WF instance: no.
WriteFreely currently does not have any built-in file storage, management or upload capability. It will, however, happily host any file that is stored – or linked to – within its statics folder: this is where images like the site favourite/browser tab icon, user “letter” avatars, default site stylesheets are served from.
All of the images used in this blog are hosted by WriteFreely: I have a link from within the statics folder to a different folder that is a Samba network share accessible to the computers on my home network. It would be trivial to setup any means of remote file upload: FTP, cgi-based HTTP upload; if you have administrative access to the server that hosts WriteFreely.
How does WriteFreely Organize/Index My Content?
- create and save multiple drafts? yes
- unpublish a post back to draft? yes
- categories? no
- labels? no
- hashtags? yes – these are ignored by Federated services, but anything you hashtag in a WriteFreely post becomes a link to a listing of ALL posts that also have that hashtag. So this is similar to labels in WordPress.
- multiple blogs per user? Yes (if configured by the instance admin)
What stats does WriteFreely offer?
For each blog, you can view
- how many followers
- for each blog post, how many views
Thats it. Unlike WordPress, the stats are “lifetime” and there's no advanced breakdown like where viewers are from or how many views per day/month. Unless you're the instance admin, in which case you can get this info from the WriteFreely log file.
How does WriteFreely Federate?
When you post in WriteFreely, the first line of your post becomes the “slug” – the text snip that accompanies your post. The post is just a link back to WriteFreely and a preview generated by whatever is viewing it. Here's how one of my posts appears in Mastadon:
- can your blogs be “followed” by other users on the Fediverse? yes
- can Fediverse peeps reply/comment on your blog posts? no
- can you mention a hashtag in your post and have it show up under that hashtag in Federated services? no
- can you @mention users and have your post show up in their inbox? yes, but the text around their @mention appears like a direct message and a link to the blog post may not be included.
- can your blog “manage” follows? i.e. block etc. no
In WordPress+ActivityPub plugin Federated users can respond to blog posts, which appear as comments on the post; subsequent comments and replies thread accordingly.
Can data be Imported/Exported?
Yes – all of your posts (including Drafts) can be exported as markdown files, bundled in a convenient zip. These can be imported into any other WriteFreely instance.
Can I monetize my WriteFreely blog?
Supposedly – that's a feature I haven't played around with yet as it doesn't interest me.
How does WriteFreely support multiple users?
WF instances can be configured as single user (in which case registrations aren't even applicable) or multi-user. If multi-user, the instance can be configured with open registrations (anyone can sign up), invite-only (where invites can be sent from users or only admins).
What about blog privacy?
Each blog can be configured to be: Unlisted -This blog is visible to anyone with its link. Private – Only you may read this blog (while you're logged in). Password-protected: A password is required to read this blog. Public – This blog is displayed on the public reader, and is visible to anyone with its link. (the Reader is a meta “aggregate” blog where all blogs on the instance show up in a single feed on the instance home page)
There doesn't seem to be a lot of WriteFreely instances out there where I can sign up for a free account
WF Instances with open registrations get invaded by bot spam accounts relatively quickly. These drown out the active user accounts on each instance (like in the Reader) and/or cause problems for the instance hosting (hardware usage, bandwidth, denial of service).
WriteFreely is Open-Source – How Actively Is It Maintained?
WriteFreely is actively-ish maintained. As
I write this of 2023-09-27, the latest release (https://github.com/writefreely/writefreely/releases) is 3 months old 0.14. The maintainer of the project, @firstname.lastname@example.org is one of the founders of Write.As, which is a subscription/paid WriteFreely-based blog hosting service, so #writeas is getting all the attention but new updates are promised soon. I can't comment on how frequently features/fixes get backported from Write.As to WF, I just got here.
~~Having said that, poking around the GitHub for WF, there are a lot of comments like “is this actively maintained?” ... so .. ¯\(ツ)/¯ ~~
It's fairly good “as is,” and I haven't encountered any bugs so far, but you should know this going in. In any case, the fear of having your blog “locked in” to an unmaintained platform isn't a concern with WriteFreely as you can export your posts with a click, and Markdown conversion engines are all over the place. Markdown is a fairly ubiquitous text syntax.
Can I have a trial account on YOUR instance?
I would like to set up my own WriteFreely Instance
2023-02-xx – initial 2023-09-27 – update to “freshness” as 0.14 just dropped.