Well, that was a pain in the gluteus maximus! I’ve spent a total of over 20 hours (!) setting up a Blogger blog and moving all of my blog entries and comments over from my old blog home powered by ExpressionEngine. I think I have pretty much everything transferred successfully now, but I’m counting on you, fine readers, to set me straight (in the comments) if I’m mistaken :-).
Why did I do this?
I felt I was spending too much time on technical issues and not enough time on, well, actually writing posts and replying to your comments. The key factors in my decision to change blogging platforms were these two:
– Frustration with my blogging software (ExpressionEngine)
– Annoyance with my web host, and dealing with web hosting in general
- Probably stemming from some file/template/database corruption somewhere down the line, I ended up having to spend 5+ hours troubleshooting each time I did even minor software upgrades. EE staffers were always helpful and kind in working with me, but still… 🙁
- I never was able to find a way to add WYSIWIG post editing (yeah, yeah, I know… you’re gonna make me surrender my geek badge, but hey, it often makes drafting posts easier/faster!).
- I never became comfortable with the control panel / dashboard of EE, and sadly I did not feel their new 2.0 was an improvement. I found the dashboard to be unintuitive, often requiring an enormous number of clicks just to do basic (and oft-needed) things… stuff was never where I expected or thought it should be, and so on.
- It became increasingly clear that EE was way overkill for what I wanted to do. Enormously powerful but massively complex, I often had to spend a ton of time to figure out how to do even simple things with my blog.
- I had high hopes for NearlyFreeSpeech, but I’ve been disappointed. I’ve experienced downtime, had my sites move to a new server (with no silent and persistent redirection on the part of the host), and surprisingly found the service not nearly as cheap as I thought I’d be. I think the kicker was when I learned that they discourage users from serving gzip-compressed html pages to save load on their servers. Uncool 🙁
- And in general, having to host one’s own site is just a pain. Yeah, yeah, I’m gonna miss a lot of things, including the ability to tweak, tune, customize, etc. But I’m looking forward to never again wondering whether my site’s down because their mySQL server died, apache choked, I forgot to pay my bill, etc.
Why Blogger and not, say, WordPress?
Because I want to spend time writing rather than learning php, patching my software or plugins to protect against yet another vulnerability, dealing with a web host, and so on. WordPress is truly an awesome, amazing piece of software… even moreso, considering that it’s free. But after spending a zillion hours tinkering with and cursing at Radio Userland, Movable Type, and ExpressionEngine, I’m looking forward to now shacking up with the not-so-powerful-but-generally-reliable partner of Blogger.
How did I move everything over?
Very carefully, and with great, great pain. Here were the steps involved, as best as I can remember:
- Figured out how to export my entries and comments from ExpressionEngine.
- My web host choked when I tried to export everything at once, so I did this in three batches, thus creating three export files.
- Copied relevant images and other files from my web host’s server to my hard drive via FTP.
- Created an appengine account, created a Google Apps account, and then, using both of these products, somehow mapped a subdomain of mine to my app.
- Found a way to use appengine as a web host. Apologies; I’m too lazy to find the info now, but hopefully lazyweb will help me and then I can link to it :).
- Downloaded python to my Windows desktop, plus the Google App Engine launcher.
- Created a directory on my hard drive to store the images and other blog files referred to in my blog posts, and then uploaded them to my appengine account using the Google App Engine Launcher
- And if anyone can tell me how I can deploy these files without having to enter in my Google Account credentials every time, I’d appreciate it 🙂
- Back to the exported entry+comment files: edited a ton of domain references, including pointers to images that I had uploaded using the EE software.
- Tried various Windows Grep programs to make batch changes to URLs in the export files, remove a lot of extra line-feeds from those same files, change emoticon smilies to text smilies, and a lot more. I ended up paying $30 for Multiple File Search and Replace, which frankly isn’t all that great usability-wise, but it seemed to be the best of the lot.
- On a related note, I learned (of course, the hard way) that Blogger silently discards any comment that has an img tag. More specifically, it throws away comments that have any tags other than the following: A, B, BR, I, EM, and STRONG
- Armed with seemingly ready export files, I then had to convert these exports from MT (MovableType) format into a format suitable for Blogger importing, so I used the handy online MovableType to Blogger app.
- I then opened up a test blog to test the importing of the files.
- This is important, because once you import and publish the entries, those URLs cannot be reused on that blog, so if your first import isn’t perfect and you do a batch delete and re-import, you’ll end up with even yuckier-than-usual Blogger URLs :-(.
- After doing some more adjustments via the steps above (e.g., more grepping to fix stuff), I then created my actual blog (this one) and mapped it to a subdomain.
- Picked a template, customized it a bit, added some widgets, etc.
- Then… import time! Only to find — ack! About half of my entries were imported with crappy line spacing. So I spent literally hours going through and editing entries to fix egregiously bad (read: extra extra extra br’s) line spacing. In retrospect, I don’t think better pre-processing of the export files could have prevented this. Too many variables (amongst body formatting, comment formatting, etc.)
- Once I was reasonably sure that I was ready to move things over, it was time to have fun making 301 redirects from my old blog pages to my new blog pages!
- I couldn’t find any way to query Blogger for a time-ordered list of entry URLs, so I used Xenu’s Link Sleuth. Unfortunately, that didn’t get me an actual time-ordered list, either, and I ended up having to spend a couple of hours correlating bladam.com URLs with grouped-by-month blogger URLs using an excel spreadsheet. (I was pretty easily able to get a list of URLs from ExpressionEngine to begin with by playing with existing templates).
- I made sure to create sets of redirects for entries, months, and categories, including fixing old redirects from my last domain change, and then created separate .htaccesses per directory on my old server with these redirects in them.
- Dissatisfied with Blogger comments, I decided to implement commenting on this blog with Disqus. But for more than a day, Disqus barfed up an error message whenenver I tried to import my Blogger comments into my Disqus account; luckily, Disqus apparently took some pepto-bismol this morning and the comments imported just fine this morning.
- Note that replacing Blogger comments with Disqus commenting may or may not have SEO ramifications, depending upon whom you believe. With no insider knowledge whatsoever — just my own playing around and testing — I have a sense that Disqus is not a happy thing for SEO, but in this case I just didn’t care enough; I’d rather have fewer, happier readers and fewer comment-moderation headaches.
Whew! I think that accounts for much of the process, though I’ve probably forgotten some of the zillions of steps involved in the transfer. I also omitted the swearing parts.
What am I sorely missing from ExpressionEngine?
A lot! Including…
- The ability to choose my own URL format for entries (rather than the ugly date format Blogger insists upon).
- The option to choose my own per-post URLs, for more memorable and scannable URLs to show up in search results and so on.
- Super-powerful templating in which it’s possible to have almost any view for anything (tag lists, archives, etc.).
- A lot of power-user stuff in general… the ability to set meta-descriptions, to futz with html title formats, to have a fav icon, and — most importantly — the ability to have a custom 404 page!
What is frustrating me about Blogger?
- A lof the defaults just seem ill-thought-out and often not even changeable unless you muck about in the template HTML, which is what I was aiming to avoid by coming to Blogger in the first place. For instance, you can’t change the size, the positioning, or pretty much anything about the template attribution :-(.
- And, at least in this template, there are scary-awful padding and other css defaults that are a pain to override. For example, every image is css’ingly placed into this hellish drop-image thing that looks out of place within the already-sorta-drop-shadowed content panels. Okay for photos, but for every other image (e.g., icons)… ouch!
- Some things that I’d think should be really basic are just seemingly crazy-hard to accomplish. For instance, I wanted to include a little blip of text in my sidebar which mentions how many posts and comments my blog has currently. Simple, right? Nope. Despite Googling for this and trying a few suggestions, I’ve not found anything that works.
- No templates featuring 2 or 3-column fluid layout? Aw 🙁
- Inline css, and lots of it, on every page? Why on earth doesn’t Blogger call a (user-editable) external stylesheet? 😮 In general, reading through the source of Blogger-created makes me want to run and hide.
What do I like about Blogger?
- I like having a WYSIWIG editor (though I realize this might be partly to blame for the HTML output). It’s nice to be able indent and exdent in bulleted lists without having to worry about nested ul and li tags and such. In fact, the editor is pretty handy in general, letting you quickly add labels, move images around, backdate or postdate posts, and so on.
- The template editor has some neat functionality. I like how I can change colors and fonts and such with just a few clicks and instantly see these changes reflected in my blog.
- I don’t have to worry about my data. While uptime isn’t perfect, I’m rather darn sure that Google isn’t going to lose my posts 🙂
- It’s free 🙂
So I’ve spent way too much of a couple of weekends doing this blog transfer thing. And for what? I’m still not sure. Looking through my bladam analytics, it’s pretty clear that:
- I don’t have a ton of visitors, typically around 250 a day.
- And most of those are reading just a handful of entries (often the, ahem, ones with titilating keywords; boy, must those folks be disappointed!)
- Looking back over a lot of my older entries, they’re either stale, boring, embarrassing, or a combination of those attributes. Do I even want that stuff still on the net?!
- Shouldn’t I be spending time outside? With friends? Or making new stuff (music compositions, for instance)?
But what’s done is done, and thank jeebus, it looks like the bulk of bladam (excepting subsequent tweaking) is now done and ready for new blog posts. That, of course, raises many of the same questions: is it true that those who can’t do, write? Or is the act of writing (and the hopeful pleasure and utility others derive from such writing) a substantive enough asset in itself? That, my friends, is perhaps fodder for another post. For now, I think I’m going to finally peel myself away from this computer and heave a few very big sighs of relief.
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Anyway, thanks for reading my first post on bladam-on-Blogger, and I hope you like my new blog’s home and (eventual) design and new content :-).