Saturday, April 09, 2005

Curse you, Blogger! Part III

A while back, when Blogger was really acting up and annoying me, I posted a couple of rants that I called "Curse You, Blogger!" parts one and two. At the time, I had lost a big chunk of a fairly sizeable post I had been working on and needed to vent. Trying to get Blogger to let me have access to my list of posts and pending posts was an exercise in futility, as Blogger would chug away for minutes. . . then many minutes. . .and then even an hour or more before finally coming up with a "Page has no data" message. It was frustrating as hell. Since then, Blogger has improved its service to the level of tolerable. Although it's never been spritely, it's at least letting me on the system in a (somewhat) reasonable amount of time. Also, I haven't lost a post since then, and only a couple of times in the last three or four weeks have I had to give up trying to post with Blogger due to prolonged waiting times for loggin in, looking up my list of pending posts, saving drafts, or to publishing. One caveat is that I have a day job and, with the exception of vacations, usually don't blog during work days; so I had no idea what Blogger was like at what are presumably peak times.

While I've been toying with the idea of switching, either by picking another free service or paying for a blogging service (TypePad being the main service I'm considering in order to be rid of Blogger), it appears that more and more people are recognizing the deficiencies of Blogger. One of my favorite medical bloggers, whose wonderful essays helped to inspire me after I first dipped my toes in the blogging pool (and upon some of whose posts I tried to pattern a couple of my early efforts), The Cheerful Oncologist, has announced that he will soon be moving his blog to Live Journal. And now, I've come across an article on Wired! that discusses the recent problems with Blogger. Most of what's in that article is right on, and it made me think again about whether I've outgrown Blogger. Others gave me some suggestions the last time I wrote about this, and I'm still considering them, too.

In a way, I'm a bit torn about his. After all, Blogger is a free service. Consequently, if it has problems, I have a hard time complaining too much about the service because I'm not paying a penny to use it that I wouldn't be paying anyway for broadband Internet access. (What do I expect for free, anyway?) I also don't have to worry about bandwidth at all (not that I get enough traffic yet for it to be much of an issue, even if I were to pay for my blog), whereas with paid services I might. And some pretty high-traffic blogs still use Blogger, like Hullabaloo, Chrenkoff, Orcinus, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, The Decembrist, and others. Also, this is just a hobby. Why pay for it if I don't have to? Still, I wonder if, after nearly four months and over 30,000 hits, it's time to remove the training wheels. The number of posts I've made has now grown large enough that it would be very helpful to be able to break them down by category in the archives at the very least, rather than the present scattershot "Essential Orac" list that I have to update manually on my sidebar every time I post what I consider to be a particularly fine pearl of blogging goodness. Another huge frustration for Mac users using blogger is the clunky way of posting pictures that is forced on us. My main concern about switching now, however, is that my hit count has been steadily rising over the last four months and it worries me that having to change URLs might cause a temporary hit in the growth of my blog. I wonder if the benefits are worth the temporary hit in the growth of my blog that would be likely from a switch. On the other hand, the longer I delay, the more difficult the change may be. My other concern is that I'd like a service that would allow me to transfer all my posts to the new address. I could use this address as an archive site, as some have done when they switched, but it would be nicer and cleaner just to move everything over to the new site.

I started this weblog on a whim one cold, dreary Saturday afternoon in December when I was rather depressed, and it turned into quite a fun hobby. It's also an outlet for my latent creativity, which is necessarily suppressed in the copious highly technical writing I do for grant applications and journal articles. At the time I began, I had very modest expectations, but Respectful Insolence has turned out to be more widely read than I thought it would be at this point, and the readership seems to be still growing. I attribute my initial rapid increase in readership to my regular participation in blog carnivals, such as Grand Rounds, Tangled Bank, as well as the Skeptics' Circle, my hosting those carnivals, plus my filling of a niche in the blogosphere that (as far as I can tell) no one else had filled before or has filled yet. I've learned a lot along the way, and (I daresay) have developed into a more than competent blogger. However, even after passing the 30,000 hit mark, I'm not under any illusion at all that I'm anything other than strictly small fry in the blogosphere, or even in the specialty niches of the medical or scientific blogosphere. This remains for me a fun diversion. If the readership continues to grow, great. If not, it would be disappointing, but I'd still forge on. Sooner or later, readership will have to level off, and I'm curious to see at what level it finally does.

On a final note, regardless of what I decide as far as keeping or dumping Blogger, over the last week or so I've been doing some serious thinking about implementing a few changes in Respectful Insolence. First, I am always looking for ways to improve. Second, unfortunately, I have to react to a recent incident involving harassment by a (now formerly) anonymous nutcase. (Please note that I'm remaining intentionally vague for the simple reason that I doubt whether the enormous satisfaction that administering to this idiot the righteous verbal smackdown that he so richly deserves would bring to me is worth the additional annoyance he might cause, no matter how tempting it is to reveal everything right now in detail, particularly his identity.) Suffice it to say that my employers now know my weblog exists. That in and of itself is not too big a deal, as I expected all along that my colleagues would probably find out about my hobby sooner or later anyway. (I was also pleasantly surprised at how they reacted as well, particularly my Department Chair and Division Chief, who were supportive. My initial trepidation appears to have been for naught.) I had just hoped that its existence could have been revealed in a less jarring manner. In any case, the changes that I'm contemplating probably won't be radical, but they might end up being significant. Right off the bat, I have to tell my readers that one of these changes might be to ban anonymous comments. I really hate to take this step, given my long pre-blog history on Usenet and the fact that I myself have chosen to blog semi-anonymously under a pseudonym. Indeed, some of the best comments to this weblog are posted by readers who comment anonymously, and I fully understand why one might not want to leave his or her e-mail address, identity, or even pseudonym. Still, I might ultimately end up having to take this step. On the other hand, a better blogging service might allow me more nuanced methods to deal with this problem than having to resort to a "nuclear" option.

Don't worry, though, about the future of this weblog. I still haven't worked through my backlog of topics, and right now I seem to be adding to the topics to the list at almost the same rate that I'm knocking them off. For the immediately foreseeable future at least, blogging about the odd combination of medicine, science, skepticism, and history (all tinged with Orac's twisted sense of humor), will continue. The core will remain more or less the same as it has been since the beginning. However, as it must, this weblog will continue to evolve and (hopefully) improve.

And, of course, any advice is appreciated regarding ways to improve this weblog.

12 example(s) of insolence returned:

At 4/09/2005 5:40 PM, Blogger Socialist Swine said...

I've considered going over to Typepad as well but I realized that I'm too computer illiterate to actually run a 'blog that involves me doing much more than posting stuff. I have no idea how to do web design. I mean look at ugly my 'blog looks.... Though, I do like the dots. As for loss in traffic all you need to do is not delete this site and post an entry saying that you've moved and link to your new url. As for the extra cost, I'm not sure how much it is to use Typepad, but I gather that it isn't that much.

That said, I'm still hoping that Blogger gets its act together a little more. I do find that blogger is really quite user friendly compared to most things.


At 4/09/2005 6:35 PM, Blogger Alli said...

Hi Orac! Mostly a lurker here, trying to keep my brain sharp while the rest of me is absorbed in babyworld.

I moved my blog away from Blogger roughly a week ago for exactly the problems you've been having, and I don't regret my decision one iota. What I chose is still free software -- it just requires that I have webserver space available to me somewhere. I was renting space for a business site anyway...

The software: WordPress

Wordpress itself is free, I purchased my new domain name for a registration fee of $10/yr (for instance, you could buy, and I have 50MB of space available to me for use at $50/year.

Since the move, zero crashes, and I can get onto my site (and my dashboard-type interface) at any time. I'm totally an amateur, but if you choose a route like this, I'd be happy to assist via email or IM.


At 4/09/2005 6:42 PM, Blogger skippy said...

30,000 hits in your first three months? you bastard! it took me over half a year to get that far!

i wish my blog was high-traffic. as it is, a very select few, those with incredibly good taste, wander in to read our stuff.

i stay with blogger for the same reasons you cite: i don't feel like paying one penny for something that is little more than a hobby. in fact, mrs. skippy already bemoans the time i spend blogging, i can't see justifying $$$ on it.

you have a pretty damn fine blog here yourself. keep up the good work, be it on blogger or elsewhere.


At 4/09/2005 9:59 PM, Blogger Peter Bowditch said...

I can understand your frustration with Blogger's slow, slow, slow performance. Sometimes I Just give up waiting to do anything and find something more useful to do.

I use my blog for a different reason that do most bloggers. Mine is a second form of publication of the articles I write for my Millenium Project site. I do it to draw more traffic to the main site, where I have full control over appearance, what gets stored and how it all links together. The Millenium Project gets about 25,000 unique visitors each week.

I simply could do what I want to do if I had to rely on Blogger alone. The inability to categorise posts, the backwards chronology of the archives and the pain endured when trying to modify templates make running a conventional-style web site there impossible. Blogger is good for what it is, which is a way to post a journal quickly and easily, but sometimes more is needed.

By the way, don't feel too hard done by because of the trouble with posting pictures using a Mac. I use a PC and I am pretty competent with computers (I do it for a living) and I gave up trying to figure out how to automate pictures and now I just modify the HTML by hand.

I have looked at some of the alternatives (I even have a Live Journal account somewhere), but I will stay with Blogger for what I want because it's free (I already pay for hosting my "real" site) and because Google owns it and (I suspect) weights it higher when calculating page rank of linked sites.

Because my blog is essentially just an archive, I didn't allow comments at all for some time. I do now, but I won't let people post anonymously. They still can do so, but they have to do a bit of work first to get a Hotmail account or something like that. I get enough abuse and filth thrown at me through my main site and I see no reason why I should increase my hobby workload to accommodate fools, liars and cretins.

Peter B


At 4/09/2005 10:07 PM, Blogger Peter Bowditch said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


At 4/09/2005 10:10 PM, Blogger Peter Bowditch said...

Another small comment about Blogger and what it offers. I clicked on my name when the previous comment appeared on my screen to see what my profile looked like when I linked from someone else's blog.

It says that I have made 28 posts to my blog (I have made very many more than that), that I have only one blog (I have two - mine and one I run for Australian Skeptics) and that my last post was on September 4, 2004 (it was actually last week).

Good to se that Blogger is not wasting computer time keeping profiles up to date.

Peter B


At 4/10/2005 12:36 AM, Blogger Tim said...

There's a statement someplace amongst the help pages that post lists on the profiles are disabled. I can't remember whether it says temporarily or not, which at this point has been since November.

I'm lucky in that I've had relatively few problems with it. Or maybe a better way of putting it is that I haven't found the problems I have had annoying enough to consider a switch. Then again I'm rather lazy about such things.


At 4/10/2005 9:21 AM, Blogger Orac said...

Ah, that explains why I have no listing of the number of posts or recent posts, as I didnt' start my blog until mid-December.

Thanks everyone for the kind words.


At 4/10/2005 9:22 AM, Blogger Orac said...

One more thing. I'll probably stick with Blogger for a little while longer, as I simply don't have the time at the moment to play around with switching...


At 4/10/2005 12:13 PM, Blogger Mike the Mad Biologist said...


this weekend Blogger seems to be working fine. Friday, they shut the system down and fixed things. I'm sticking with Blogger for now.


At 4/11/2005 11:40 AM, Anonymous Mark Schmitt said...

I don't use blogger, actually -- I use typepad. I tried Blogger when I started my blog and hated it. I think it's improved, but still, all blogger sites look alike (or like one of three different things), and all typepad sites look different. I don't know anything about design, and I threw together a typepad site in one (late) night, which, whether it's good or not, at least doesn't look like every other site.

/Mark Schmitt (The Decembrist)


At 4/11/2005 12:50 PM, Blogger Orac said...

Oops. That's what happens when I'm in a blogging frenzy. Of course you don't use Blogger. All I had to do was to look at the URL. Oh, well...

Still, I like your blog. That should count for something, I hope...


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