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Friday, February 26, 2010

Breaking Up With Blogger

or: "Presents / Self Defense, Part Two"

For my 22nd birthday, I've gotten two presents. One from God, one from Blogger.

From God I'm getting a few good storms. Outside the window right now, the sky is gray, the rain is constant and heavy, the trees are swaying... [sigh] It's lovely. But I don't have time to go out and enjoy the rain, not these days. These days I'm way too busy, and that brings me to the other generous gift I got.

Now, granted, it's not really because of Blogger that I'm too busy to wander around in the rain lately. I have rehearsals for The Matchmaker every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Thursdays I work. Tuesday night is Game Night. During the day I'm working on the blog post and the game, while replaying all the music for the CD every now and then. The rest of the time is more than filled with all my regular addictions: comics, TV shows, games, music, web browsing. (I'm trying to cut back on the web browsing, actually, because I've finally realized I was never really a part of the Adventure Gamers forum.) A musician I know named Sariel suggested that I compose soundtracks for film students, and I could use the money, but when would I have the time for a job? Heck, I haven't even celebrated my birthday (which was on Sunday), and looking through my calendar I can't see when I possibly could!

Oh, and the Megillah reading is tomorrow too.

So it's not Blogger's fault that I'm so busy. But they picked the absolute worst time to drop this present of theirs on me. They call it "Auto Pagination", whatever that means.
"We are always looking for ways to make our products faster, because we have consistently found that faster page loads mean more satisfied users. ... we’ll keep working to make your blog faster for you and your readers!"
I saw that notice when they posted it on February 18th, just one day after I posted my very first blog post which absolutely cannot function without being on the same page as all the others. And it's not a brilliant post, but it is a cute little thing which I had wanted to do for years and had just been waiting for the right moment for. So anyway, I saw this notice and I was a little bit concerned at what it meant, but quickly forgot about it and went on with my life (such as it is).

By the way, the reason my blog takes so long to load is because every single post is running several Javascript scripts, which were necessary because I want to do things my way and Blogger has always been too rigid to allow that. Making posts different colors? That's not a feature of Blogger. 74s? That's not a feature of Blogger. Recaps at the beginnings of posts? Double posts? Posts which contain twelve other posts? "Next post" buttons for navigation? Feedback pages? That's all my doing, and through all of it I had to put up with Blogger's kicking and screaming. "No, you can't do that! Everything is standardized, everything is simple!" I didn't want all my posts to look the same. I didn't want simple, I wanted control over my own blog. Because Blogger has no clue what the potential of this art form is, and I do. Any time I want to build something new, I need to break the old to get there. And since I have no access to Blogger's server, it needed to be done in the user's browser. Every time you go to my page, your browser is drawing things Blogger's way, then erasing them and redrawing them my way. You don't see all of this, but you can tell that it takes longer to load than it should. (Unless you use Safari. Safari's fast.)

And I'm okay with that. Richie, you can go ahead and hate me for saying this, but I'm okay with that. Because I believe in the value of this blog, and I'm not going to compromise it for the sake of a little speed.

It's never been easy. Blogger and I have had a dysfunctional relationship right from the very first post. The default way to write posts is "Compose mode", where you write the post in a simple (WYSIWYG) word processor-type editor, and Blogger writes all the HTML code for you. As I tried to write "Who am I?", it kept sticking in formatting I hadn't asked for and didn't want. It was hard to just get the font to look right, because Blogger was always certain it knew better. So I switched to writing the posts in HTML, and never looked back.

After that it was an ongoing struggle. Blogger would try doing things her way, I'd try doing things my way, and I'd eventually win. But there were times when I doubted if I could. When I started doing recaps and double posts and things like that which went against the usual formatting, Blogger would tell me each time:
Your HTML cannot be accepted: Closing tag has no matching opening tag: DIV
Which was wrong - there was an opening tag, but it was outside the post, in the template for the whole blog. Of course I always made sure to reopen whatever I was closing by the end of the post, so as to not break the code, but while I saw the big picture and knew that what I was doing was safe, Blogger could not. So it'd give me that warning message, and I'd politely say to shut up and publish the post anyway. At one point Blogger decided that they were going to stamp out all error messages, so suddenly the little checkbox that let me override Blogger's protestations was gone. And for a few days I didn't know what to do, because suddenly the posts I'd planned to write were simply not allowed. But they soon undid the change for some reason, and I went back to doing what I do.

At one point Blogger switched to a new language. I'd gotten comfortable with the old way of doing things, dysfunctional though it was. But more importantly, I'd already been writing for years, and I'd spent many hours getting the template to allow me all the freedom I demanded. I didn't know whether or not it was possible to do what I was doing in the new system; for all I know, it might have been easier. But that would have meant learning a whole new way of doing things, and rewriting my template line by line -not to mention many posts- all for the sake of doing what I had already been doing for a few years. And I wasn't willing to do that. So I stuck to my old ways of doing things, and got progressively less support from Blogger as all the new features went to the new system. So while everyone else finally got a button on each post page getting you to the next post, I didn't have that. And.. actually, that's really the only thing I missed. I eventually made my own "Next Post" buttons, and was perfectly content living in the past.

You know, back when I started this blog I already knew I wanted all the posts to be on one page, so I set the number of posts to appear to the maximum allowed, which was 999. Now that I have more than three hundred posts that doesn't seem like so much anymore, but I made long-term plans involving "spin-off blogs" to ensure that I don't go over that number but can keep posting for a decade or two. Unfortunately, Blogger lowered the maximum number of posts to 500. That would last me, what, through 2012 maybe? So I never touched the settings page which had that setting on it. I knew how the game is played, because Blogger had pulled the same crap with my "About Me" text a few years earlier. I've got that poem there -------
Wanting recognition,
I walk alone.
Never will I follow!
They walk in that direction;
I think I'll stay right here.
This is a nice place, isn't it?

Needing freedom,
I look ahead.
Will they ever follow?
They run toward the money;
There is no place for art.
I promise you tomorrow will be different.
with line breaks in the middle, and at one point Blogger just decided they wouldn't allow any line breaks in there anymore. If I tried making any changes on the page where I wrote that poem, it would give me an error message and refuse to cooperate until I changed the poem. But as long as I ignored that page, I could keep it set the way I wanted. A while later they changed their minds and now there's no problem with line breaks. But in the meantime I needed to be stubborn.

You might ask why I stuck around this long. First off, I don't like change. If something's basically working, even if it's taking way too much effort to get it there, I find it preferable to keep it that way than to risk losing it. Also, I looked at some of the other blogging services and they seemed even worse. Blogger was at least letting me into the HTML for the page, letting me mess around as I saw fit. If Blogger hadn't given me as much freedom as it had to begin with, I'd never have aimed this high and we'd never be having these problems. Besides, even if I did find some other blogging service I'd need to either spend an RPG's-length rewriting every post one-by-one to fit into the new system (since so many are specifically designed for a visual look that comes from Blogger's template), or abandon all the old posts and start fresh. I don't like those options.

So I stay, and I keep hoping they won't screw me over too badly. It's not like I have any way to object to their changes- they must have millions of users, and I'm possibly the only one with these particular problems.

I woke up on February 22nd, one day after my birthday, and went to my blog to write the next post ("Meanwhile, in the future…"). I scrolled down, as I often do, and suddenly I reached the bottom of the page, which was Semantics, Part 3. Wait, what? That couldn't be right. I reloaded the page. No change. All that was appearing on the page was the past month-and-a-half of posts. I thought maybe it was an error made the last time it published. So I created a new post and then deleted it, to force a re-publish. No change. I desperately went through the settings pages, looking for something that may suddenly be wrong. The only thing I noticed was that same error message, about how I'm not allowed more than 500 posts. Could that be the problem? I paced around the room for a few minutes before proceeding. If I gave in on this, I'd never get the 999-post maximum back. But what if this was the problem, and only giving in would fix it? I'd still have a year or so of blogging left before having to start fresh. The important thing was that the old posts should be readable. So I changed the number from 999 to 500, and saved.

No change.

I hurried to the Blogger help group. It had always been supremely unhelpful in the past, but where else could I turn? I posted that I was no longer being allowed to control my blog's appearance, and I got a swift reply from a pompous jerk who (I later learned) had been posting an automated reply to similar threads all day. He said this was an example of Blogger's fantastic new Auto Pagination "feature", which decides for you how much will get put on your pages. To make matters worse, this even infects the archive pages. So on Blogger there's now no non-awkward way to get to the last few posts of January, because even that page stops at the gargantuan Semantics, Part 3! So this pompous jerk I mentioned, he tells me that this is for the good of everyone and refers me to some posts on his blog talking about how inconsiderate it is to make people wait for pages to load. Gee, thanks, that's so helpful! Who declared you the grand arbiter of what is and isn't acceptable behavior on blogs?!

(Whenever anyone asked how to get the archives to work right, he'd link to a post he wrote about how people still using the old system of Blogger are stuck in the past.)

I'm not the only one fed up with this. So it may be that this will be undone, like all the other changes over the years. But here's the thing: I changed the number of posts allowed from 999 to 500. That can't be undone. So let's say Blogger did change it back. Then what?

I decided, after much anguished deliberation, to go back to the way things were done in the 90s. No "blogging service". No "posts". No "comments". Just a big HTML page, that I edit with a text editor. That page is (Please note: the "M" needs to be capitalized. The server is on right now is case-sensitive.) When I want to write a new post, I'll copy a template into the file and edit it directly, in the same HTML file as everything else. And then I'll take the ten minutes it takes to upload the page to the FTP server.

I'm not going to spin this into something great. This is me running away. Blogger has done more good for me than harm over the years, and I'm throwing it all away because it's not enough for me. I demand control, and that control is being taken away from me. So I'm throwing away the comments, and I'm throwing away the individual post pages, and I'm throwing away the RSS feed, and I'm throwing away the handy post editor, and I'm throwing away the quick publishing, and I'm throwing away the post previews as I'm writing, and I'm probably throwing away a lot of other things that I'll only realize and miss when they're gone.

For now I'm still working within the framework of Blogger, because I don't have time right now to set everything up the way I want. So for now is literally copied-and-pasted from here. The last backup of the main page I made was back in September, so I added all the more recent posts to that file to recreate (as best I could on short notice) the main page as it existed a week ago. There are just seven more posts to part 2 (including this one, and two more 74s), and each one is going to be copied-and-pasted like all the others. After posting this to Blogger, It'll probably take me around twenty minutes to get it up on And if anyone comments, that'll need to be copied by hand too.

But that's temporary. In Part 3 that all changes.

I'll stop posting here entirely, and set everything up for myself so that I can post there reasonably quickly each time.

There will be a new RSS feed, one which I'll be writing by hand. It doesn't look so complicated to do that.

There will be no built-in commenting system. Yes, I know, that's the hardest part about leaving the Blogger format. I'll encourage readers to respond by e-mail, and if anyone does I'll make a post to respond to each letter. But realistically, I doubt anyone will ever write. No one ever comments on this blog anyway, no matter how convenient it is.

No new readers will ever come to the blog. New readers show up because there's something specific they're searching for on Google (usually "The Path interpretation", actually) that a specific blog post I wrote deals with. These people will not come to a page that takes a minute to load, where the post they're looking for is somewhere in the middle. Realistically, I don't think this matters too much. Almost no one who finds my blog that way ever sticks around past that first post.

This blog is for me. There it is right at the top of the page: "A blog for Mory." I've had six intros so far, and that's been in all of them. This blog isn't for random people looking for information, it's not for commenters, it's not for Blogger. It's for me, and if other people like it that's great but if any other people like it I suspect it'd be because I take everything on it so personally. So I'm going to continue to do what's right for... I mean, I'll do what's necessary for the blog to be... I'm just going to do what I do, I can't say it really makes sense.

This blog approves the change in location.

Thank you. But you know you're not...

Well. Thank you. I've got big plans for you still.



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