Monday, March 31, 2014

Blogger, forgive us!

Here's a great unsung feature of Blogger: Undo.

If only it applied all the time.

If you need to change a published post, you can edit and update it. If you back up your template before you tinker, you can revert to the backup if need be. Or to any of the default templates at any time.

You can revert posts to draft. You can preview. If you delete your blog, you have 90 days to undelete it. As much as Google wants to push you to Google+, it will let you revert back if you do not like things there.

The fact that everything is tentative and reversible is a signature feature of Google products generally. It frees you to try stuff, to experiment, to change your mind. It's great.

Except when it isn't.

Delete a post and you are out of luck. If you sneeze and delete all the text in your draft post, you can lose the whole thing. Change the permissions on your photos and you might break all the photos in your blog—with no way back.

What follows is a catalog of Blogger horrors: innocent actions that can screw up your blog and can't be undone.

Blink and your whole post is gone for good. Blogger repeatedly saves unpublished posts as you write them. Great! But if you hit the wrong key you can delete your entire blog post that way.

Blog enough and this will happen to you.

Is there undo? Version control? A "recycle bin" for your work? Nope, it's gone. Blogger, forgive me!

Deleting posts is forever. Again no trash bin to rummage through and undo, though there are some amazing tricks that sometimes work to get deleted posts back.

Kiss your blogspot address goodby. It's easy to change your blogspot url, but not to change it back. You must wait until it becomes generally available again and then get it before anyone else does.

Dear Blogger: If the danged thing is not generally available, why not give prior owners the ability to revert back? Can't you cut us a little slack?

Don't change those photo permissions. Bloggers hosts your photos in albums on Picasaweb or Google+ Photos. The default privacy setting is a limited share, where no one can see the photos except through a link (like the one in your blog that displays the photo there).

If you switch the setting to private, the photos will become unviewable and replaced by the European "Do Not Enter" symbol. But that's not the problem, because this is the expected behavior of that setting.
This symbol means the image exists but is not viewable.

No, the problem is that you can't set it back. If you try you will get a second copy of the photo with the desired permissions (limited share) but a new web url. The photos in your blog, meanwhile, remain linked to the old, blocked url.

If you have hundreds of photos in your blog, boy is your blog broken now. Fortunately, if you then set permissions to public—anyone can see—both copies of your photo will become visible to anyone.

So maybe not so bad after all, once you know the secret. But why can't we get the old privacy setting back? Why is it so hard? So unforgiving? So weird?

Can't undelete a Blogger comment. Sure, if you erroneously mark a comment as spam, you can un-spam it. But accidentally delete one? Gone forever. Blogger does not forgive.

Lose all your photos at the click of a mouse. In much the same way that we can transfer a blog to a different account, Google lets us transfer photo albums. If you are changing accounts you can transfer the photos for your blog and access them without having to sign into the old account.

But here's the secret kick in the pants: If you then delete that old account, the web address of every photo will change, breaking all the links to them in your blog. There is no warning, no remedy, and no recourse, even if you immediately restore your deleted account


Most of the time, Blogger greets us with the sort of friendly behavior we have come to expect from Google. It doesn't penalize us for innocent errors and it encourages experimentation.

Somehow that makes these glimpses of a harsh dark underbelly all the more horrible.

Blogger, we are only human! Please cut us a little slack. Okay, we make mistakes. Please, please forgive us!

Blogger, forgive us!

Here's a great unsung feature of Blogger: Undo.

If only it applied all the time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A sidebar-widget beastiary: 6 gadgets and what do do with them

Smart bloggers populate their blogs with widgets to connect readers with older blog posts (and with related content on the web).

Three sidebar areas take widgets: Top, side, footer.

Here's a quick appraisal of a half dozen powerful widgets you should know.

Profile You know this one, but do you know everything it does? The Profile widget shows the photo and other short information from your profile page, to which it links. There's room for more about you on your profile page.

Add authors and the title switches from "About Me" to "Contributors" and the gadget shows only links to the profile pages of each.

You can edit the title to whatever you want, and if you don't like what the Profile widget shows you can make your own.

Archive Along with Profile, this gadget is included in new blogs by default. It lets readers find older content by date, displaying the post titles as clickable links (unless you turn that part off).

The default "hierarchy" display, with little flippy triangles, is pretty slick, but you can also configure it to be a drop-down menu or a flat list.

You can change the title of this widget, the order it displays links, the way it displays dates, and the time interval used (month, week, or day). If you disable the display of post titles it will just display the interval, which links to an archive page of posts from the selected period.

Link List This underrated gadget lets you post a list of clickable text links. You input both the text and the web url and determine the order in which the links appear. In most templates, if you drag the Link List to the top area between title and post, the widget will format as tabs.

Link List's stability, simplicity, and control contrast favorably with the more-specialized Pages widget. If you'd like to use it for a tabbed menu bar, this little refinement might interest you.

Pages There always seems to be something wrong with the Pages widget, originally designed as a navigational toolbar to help readers find static pages. It has since been expanded to allow you to add other links as well.

Consequently, Pages now duplicates the functionality of the Link List gadget, with the added promise that it can include static pages automatically. In practice Link List has proven itself to be more stable, configurable, and easy to set up.

HTML/JavaScript This, the Swiss army knife of sidebar widgets, will render HTML and Javascript output on your blog without any edits to your template. It's not really for the novice, though if all you are after is formatted text and hyperlinks the editing tools for this widget should be perfectly intelligible.

What it really does, if you know what you are doing, is to make custom widgets. I like to use it to list every post in a label topic.

Use this awesome widget only for good, however, by posting code only from trusted sources.

Labels This widget lists labels in two modes, simple list and a "cloud" of labels differentiated by size and color. In both each label name is a link to its related label-search page.

Label your posts intelligently and this gadget will make a handy topical index to your blog.

The list order can be either alphabetical or by frequency for all the labels or any subset. You can also show the number of posts per label. Tinkerers can tweak the appearance of the cloud list further by adding formatting for css classes .label-size-1 through .label-size-5.

Be a widget skinflint. Everything you add slows your blog down and adds clutter. Avoid sidebar bling. Only use widgets that clearly add more than they distract.

The striking images in this post are from the Aberdeen Bestiary. They are in the public domain.

A sidebar-widget beastiary: 6 gadgets and what do do with them

Smart bloggers populate their blogs with widgets to connect readers with older blog posts (and with related content on the web).

Three sidebar areas take widgets: Top, side, footer.

Here's a quick appraisal of a half dozen powerful widgets you should know.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Blogger, Google+ pages, and the frontiers of science

The R&D Division here at Too Clever, ever pushing the envelope, has used a Google+ page of a regular Blogger blog to create a second blog.

To be precise:
  • a Google+ page identity (not a personal profile)
  • that was created for a regular Blogger blog
  • in turn created, and now administers, a second blog.
Here is the proof that, when it comes to Blogger, a Google+ page can do everything your blogging account can. Including being anonymous.

The blog, called "Proof of Concept," has no purpose other than to illustrate how a G+ page can do any and every blog-related thing that a plain-vanilla blogging account can do.

Specifically, a properly constituted Google+ page can
  • be anonymous or in the name of your blog or business or brand
  • be a blog author and write posts
  • be a blog administrator and moderate comments and change blog design and settings
  • share blog posts on Google+
  • leave Google+ comments on a blog that enables them
  • leave regular (i.e., not G+) comments on a blog that enables them
and now
  • create and administer blogs
all using the page identity, not a personal profile.

Proof of Concept could have its own G+ page, which could create another blog, which—but let's not get carried away.

It's science I tell you! And they call me mad. (Nevit Dilmen image)
Is there anything this Google+ Page can't do? There are some differences in how it behaves in Google+ compared to a Google+ profile.

For instance, a page can have multiple administrators and is not subject to Google's real-names policy.

And you do need at least one Google+ profile to administer the page.

But in terms of Blogger, it does everything a regular account can.

Everything.

Microscope image courtesy Scalefree Network via a Creative Commons license; the image has been flopped and is available under the same license.

Blogger, Google+ pages, and the frontiers of science

The R&D Division here at Too Clever, ever pushing the envelope, has used a Google+ page of a regular Blogger blog to create a second blog.

To be precise:
  • a Google+ page identity (not a personal profile)
  • that was created for a regular Blogger blog
  • in turn created, and now administers, a second blog.
Here is the proof that, when it comes to Blogger, a Google+ page can do everything your blogging account can. Including being anonymous.