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November 25, 2002

Blogger Isn't

It's amazing how fast the World Wide Web can change things. If you asked me two years ago what a blog is, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. Now just about anybody can tell you that "blog" is a foreshortened term for "web log", a fancy term for an online journal. Back when I was first goaded into writing this column, hadn't progressed to using blogs yet to allow the various columnists to self-publish. Sending in HTML or plain text files was the norm, and sometimes it took a while for an article to finally get posted.

It wasn't much longer until somebody happened onto the bright idea to reduce the workload for the site administrator, and give the contributing writers a bit more power and freedom at the same time. It was discovered that could provide, absolutely free of charge, exactly what was needed to allow us writers to publish when we wanted or needed to, without having to hound anybody with e-mail attachments. What's more, Blogger software allows you to create a template for your blog, gives you an automatic archive feature, and will generate and FTP all the required files for you. It was truly one-stop shopping for the blogging enthusiast.

You may be quite surprised, then, when I tell you that what you are reading right now has been produced the old fashioned way - I e-mailed an HTML file to our new web administrator, and he posted it himself. Why have I taken a step backwards? To put it simply, while Blogger used to be a great tool for online publishing, it has degraded to the point of being nearly unusable.

Let's go back about four months or so. Blogger and I were on great terms with each other, and the online world was my e-oyster. After churning out my 1200 words of wit and wisdom each Sunday evening, I could go online, cut-and-paste my article into Blogger's editing tool, hit a couple of buttons, and my article would be quickly and efficiently uploaded for me and ready for my loyal readers' enjoyment. Using Blogger's interface took a bit of getting used to, but even using it only once a week learning the ins and outs of Blogging was not a strain.

Since then Blogger has undergone some code revisions. I haven't followed the nitty-gritty details about the update, but what I do know about it I've learned from the Help pages. The Help pages? Yes - ever since this "update", Blogger has been unstable, unfriendly, unpredictable, and a great big giant pain in the ass.

At first, there was only one error that would persist - apparently Blogger was having trouble keeping track of the HTML template file that had been set up for my article. I would hit the "publish" button, and would be politely informed that this error had occurred and that the Blogger team was "working on it". Somehow, this did not prevent my article from being published - eventually. Sometimes I would have to try a few times, and other times I would simply have to wait a few hours and Blogger would work its magic and publish despite its protests. I have no idea why it would bother informing me of a non-fatal error, but it did, and I soldiered on week after week.

One week I then discovered another hiccup in the Blogger system. My previously complete archive files had been decimated, and only one week's worth of archive (the current week at that) was available. This ticked me off greatly, as every once in a while I would like to be able to go back and peruse my past work, and perhaps even provide a link from a new article. After bitching long and loud about this, I decided to be proactive about it and took a peek through the now-familiar Blogger Help pages. Sure enough, there was information about how to fix the faulty archive. I tried their prescribed fix, but instead of restoring my article archive to its former glory, the entire process was killed at its last step by the same template error I was experiencing before. Unlike my weekly publishing attempts, this one did not work itself out. I am still archiveless.

Last week, whatever bug has been ailing poor Blogger decided to take hold and proliferate. In trying to diligently publish I was greeted with four separate errors, all within 20 minutes of trying to publish. Four different errors. Where the hell did these other errors come from all of a sudden? Is the Blogger code degrading? One thought I had is that they are actively introducing, or at the very least totally ignoring these errors in an attempt to wean people off of the free Blogger and onto the revenue-generating Blogger Pro. Whatever the case, I was pissed, and still am. What good is free blogging software if you can't blog with it? In my case, I use it once a week. Can you imagine people who actually contribute to their blog a few times a day trying to get through this? I have to wonder if bloggers are leaving Blogger in droves for greener, fully functioning pastures.

That brings up another issue. I've been looking for alternatives, and have found just about zilch thus far. One friend of mine uses, but I haven't been able to determine exactly how it's used yet, so I'm not sure if the transition is worth the effort.

The long and the short of it is that I am an unhappy blogger. If Blogger wants me to actually pay for its service and discontinue its free service, they only need to tell me so and I'll make a decision about whether to pay or leave. Otherwise, either fix the errors that have been plaguing the system for months on end or undo the "update" that crippled the system.

To Blogger's defence I will admit that its shortcomings is not the reason for my article being late these past couple of weeks. Usually my Sunday night is very quiet and allows me plenty of time to sit down and crank out an article for your reading pleasure. These past weeks have seen not only social events that spill into Sunday evening but events (ongoing and otherwise) in my personal life that have monopolized my thinking, which has put a serious cramp in my writing muscles. This too shall pass, but meanwhile I am at the mercies of what my mind is focusing on.

No matter what happens, you the reader will get to read what's on my mind. In reality it matters nary a whit how these words appear on I guess the one good outcome of Blogger's shortcomings is the fact that you've now been able to read one more article from me. Oh, the irony.


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