ExpressionEngine to Blogger — My blog reborn

blogging, communication tools, technology

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

ExpressionEngine

  • 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.

Web hosting

  • 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 🙂

Philosophical considerations
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.

*  *  *

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 :-).

24 comments… add one
  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 13, 2010

    Oh, Blogger, your bullet-padding and spacing is going to drive me nuts! 🙁 (doesn’t help that it looks different in IE vs. Chrome, either)

  • Steve Schafer Jun 13, 2010

    Shoulda gone with wordpress. I would have helped. 🙂 At least you’ll have less spam comments, now that your comment URLs are nofollow. Blogger is definitely easier to deal with, but WP is pretty much as well. I like the flexibility of WP, personally, but then again, I blog for a living.

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 13, 2010

    I think the “I blog for a living” helps explain why you’re more excited about wordpress than I am. If my livelihood depended upon my blogging, I would not be on Blogger. Wordpress is definitely more flexible, capable of being more professional looking (IMHO), and for geeks, probably a lot more fun to play with.

    But, as I suggested above, I’ve done my playing-with when it comes to blogging stuff, and now I just wanna write and comment. And hopefully with Disqus + Akismet, spam won’t be too much of an issue 🙂

  • John Mueller Jun 13, 2010

    It looks like things made it over, woot :-). I’m looking forward to hearing more of your experiences before I do the same with my blog.

  • Jaemi K Jun 13, 2010

    Wow….that is a horrible story! I’m impressed that you stuck it out and went through all that to get over here. I did the opposite, but of course I went from semi-geek to all-out geek. My only huge problem was waiting for a New Blogger to WP exporter, as I had 10,000+ posts in Blogger that I didn’t want to be moving by hand.

    Most browser default html varies, which I’m sure is why you’re bulleted lists are killing you. Especially if you WYSIWYG them. One thing I’ll say for WP; between the templating and the editor, it writes good code. But I agree, you would have wanted to tweak, and the odds of finding the perfectly easily tweakable theme are maybe not as good as they should be.

  • Jaemi K Jun 13, 2010

    P.S. Your blog is totally not Firebug friendly, but if you want, if you tell me what you want your lists to look like I can write you the code for you to paste in somewhere.

  • AJ Kohn Jun 13, 2010

    Great to see you potentially rededicating yourself to blogging and for walking us through your blog platform decision and crosswalk.

    Your post reminds me that while I love WordPress it can sometimes require technical (e.g. – PHP, CSS) tinkering. That’s a good and a bad thing for me. I actually enjoy the tinkering – up to a point. When I can tinker and make it work after a short (1-5 hours) time then it’s quite satisfying. After 5 hours of tinkering it strays into a struggle of wills!

    In the end, I still like that challenge. But I suppose that’s what’s different about the situation. If you’re looking for none of that, then perhaps Blogger is the way to go – or WordPress.com which doesn’t require any real tinkering.

    As an aside, the new WordPress auto-upgrade feature has made the high risk stuff much easier. My SEO blog (http://blindfiveyearold.com) is essentially up-to-date because of the auto-update feature. Yet, my Book blog (http://www.usedbooksblog.com) is still in ancient times because I’m not looking forward to the time and risk of upgrading.

    Long story, short – blogging takes a lot of time, whether it is the technical, design or writing portion of the process. It take dedication and sometimes you’re not sure it’s really worth it. It’s a bit easier for me since I view them as SEO experiments as well as topical areas to talk about my passions.

    Hope to read more from you.

  • rakeshlobster Jun 13, 2010

    adam,

    do you see a lot of referrer spam? i see tons, especially with (fake) digg urls. it’s frustrating to see that >1/2 the traffic that shows up in my analytics is referrer spam.

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 13, 2010

    Hmm, I hadn’t noticed recently. But then I haven’t really paid a decent amount of attention to my analytics. That is a bit depressing, though; maybe instead of 250 or so people visiting my blog daily, it’s 208 bots and 42 people 🙁

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 13, 2010

    Hey righini,

    Actually, the ExpressionEngine community is pretty robust, and in their defense, I’ve seen a lot of “moving FROM Blogger to EE.” I think this is largely because EE is by far a more powerful tool than Blogger and — particularly in the past — many of us have admittedly viewed Blogger as “blogging on training wheels” :-(. I think that’s changing, which is also partly why I took the leap to Blogger, but still…

    And wow, righini, now that you’ve compared me to a brave mountain climber, it’s more clear that all my efforts in porting my blog were noble and not for naught 😉

    Oh, and as usual, thank you for the good tips (ah ha… didn’t think of editing the head in the template for the favicon!), the encouragement (re: learning regex… I really need to do that!) and so on.

    So, a welcome back to both of us! 🙂

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 13, 2010

    Oh, didn’t know you were considering the move! I’ll keep you posted about my perceptions of the move in another month or two, after I’ve had more time to grow into these new “shoes.” And also more time to see what this does to my readership / comments / etc.

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 13, 2010

    Hi Amit,

    Having played with both the old and the new blogger editors, I can pretty confidently say that the new one is a big improvement. And indeed, from further exploration, it’s seeming that 98.6% of the HTML cruft is coming from the bloated templates, not the editor. So I’d suggest giving it another try.

    re: the URL trick… alas, when I tried this a month ago or so, I discovered that the post URL is determined upon Publish, not Save. And doing a re-publish (e.g., picking a nice URL’y title, then changing the title) could be hazardous, given PHSH and the (at least in theory) instant-push to Buzz and social networks. Could end up with a lot of annoyed/confused readers ;).

    Lastly, re: the post/comment count… I think Disqus does have such a gadget, but since my Disqus/Blogger comments are synched, it’d work from a Blogger perspective, too, if they had such a widget. And this still doesn’t let me easily expose my post count.

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 13, 2010

    Well, Jaemi, once I was determined to do the move and got started, there was no turning back ;-). And I kinda knew it’d be a time-consuming nightmare from the get-go, so at least I wasn’t taken by surprise.

    BTW, I’ve discovered (and as you can see from the source, I’m guessing) that it’s not bad post-body markdown that’s causing the icky bullet-formatting. It’s 100% a CSS issue (which you can also see inline each page).

    So it looks like my next big blog project will involve redoing the whole CSS of this blog, and moving it to an external stylesheet for easier future-tweaking.

    re: firebug friendly, can you please clarify?

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 13, 2010

    You know, AJ, I’ve often enjoyed tinkering in this context, too, but with my day job taking up a TON of time (I often have 8:30am and 8:30pm calls on the same day, due to a big chunk of my team being in India) and my interest in one day actually building the music site / music blog I’ve dreamed of (covering online music services), I need to allocate a lot more time to writing vs. tweaking

    Interesting news about the WP auto-upgrade feature. I’ve seen massive security pains, both just from reading stuff in the wild, and from my earlier work in Search Quality. So sad (you can’t even begin to imagine the violent fantasies I harboured against these and other spammers!).

    And yeah, you’re right, no matter how you slice it, blogging — at least conscientious, thoughtful blogging — takes a long time. Maybe that’s why seemingly 0.00001% of the population does it nowadays.

  • AJ Kohn Jun 13, 2010

    Yes, real blogging is a rare breed these days and it sounds like you’re busy enough as it is!

    BTW – is this still going to be a non-work-related blog or will we get to learn what you’re up to now that you’ve moved on from Search Quality?

    Finally, did we get you hooked on SYTYCD or are you still not a fan?

  • righini Jun 14, 2010

    whops! i did not know that there were many cases of switch from ExpressionEngine to Blogger, I gave it a fast search but found nothing, so i thought you were the first 🙂

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 14, 2010

    Heh, no, to clarify, many switches from *Blogger to EE*. 🙂

  • righini Jun 14, 2010

    if there is one nice comment, maybe it’s a nice post. While even with 1000 “true” visitors i’m not sure if it’s enough to understand if it’s a good post.

  • ThatAdamGuy Jun 14, 2010

    Quantity vs. quality 🙂

  • Jaemi K Jun 18, 2010

    Sorry, took me awhile to remember to come back here! Yes, so, I was going to try quickly tweaking your bullets with Firebug (Lite actually, I was in Chrome, of course) but the files are not editable. I presume it’s some kind of Blogger function….but basically it makes Firebug useless. Because I could just view source if I just wanted to -see- the code.

    I’ll still volunteer my help. Remember, I actually -like- to write HTML and CSS all day 🙂

  • speciallens Jul 8, 2010

    Last time I was very stick to blogger as it is very easy to use. However after some time I found that it is not much customization so I switch to Wordpress. Easy content management and better control of what I want.

  • Term Papers Jul 13, 2010

    I can see that you are putting a lot of time and effort into your blog and detailed articles! I am deeply in love with every single piece of information you post here

    Term papers

  • Reinhart Reinprech Jan 18, 2012

    I’ve been “getting around” to using Disqus on my blog. You’ve beat me too it!
    What I love about this comment system is that I can claim the comments I posted 6 months ago from other Disqus-powered blogs.

What do you think?