Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Blogger, not fit for purpose?

Not long after the start of the Macworld keynote last night I started having publishing problems with Blogger. I was expecting some problems, the interface usually bogs down when a really big event like a keynote is going on, but not to the extent that actually happened. I publish via FTP, and with the arrival of the new beta interface I've been made to feel very much like a second class citizen, one they don't care very much about. With the arrival of Blogger for custom domains I'm now a third class citizen.

So what was the problem? I simply couldn't publish my post about the keynote last night, under the new "improved" interface all you get when publishing via FTP is a spinner. When publishing via FTP the Blogger interface just sits there reloading the page continuously until the FTP publication of the pages needed changing are done, and you can get back to work. Last night this didn't work all that well, the interface hung during publication. This is actually less information than you used to get with the "old" interface, which at least gave you a figure indicating the percentage of the file transfer it had completed, not any more.

Weirdly, after many failed attempts at publication, my post started to appear and disappear periodically from my blog, with much older versions showing up to replace fresher versions throughout the night. This was still happening at around half past midnight when I went to bed, some ten hours after I'd started blogging the keynote. I'm guessing what happened that each upload attempt was threaded off onto its own process, and when the upload timed out it got rescheduled to a later date, basically we ended up in a race condition between the threads. Of course this begs the question why the uploads failed in the first place, I had both a secure shell and a command-line FTP connection open to the hosting box the entire time Blogger was having problems talking to it, and it was alive and well.

The really annoying thing is that I don't know what went wrong as there were no error messages, or at least none that got passed on to me by Blogger. The service has always been slow to publish via FTP, and the new improved interface is slower still, but its usually been reliable. Although since starting to use it I must admit to periodically noticing a few "odd" choices of uploaded files, that I had a hard time figuring out why it needed to update, when it provided a final list of changes.

Why can't the interface give us a list of files its proposing to update, and then simply tick them off when it has finished? What exactly is so hard about that? Or at the very least return to the point where we get a "percentage done" counter?

So what am I going to do now? The current situation is clearly unacceptable, last nights debacle made me loose my faith in the new system, at least for FTP publishing. I'm clearly going to have to do something, and I have two obvious choices; move the blog over to Blogger for custom domains, or export the blog from the Blogger infrastructure entirely.

Of course if FTP publishing gets fixed, all bets are off, although I'm still worried about the differences between the classic and the new layout formats. The new formats of course aren't useable if you publish via FTP, and what happens when the Blogger team get bored of supported two disparate formats. Do I suddenly get faced with a very short deadline to make up my mind? Either switch to hosting the blog with them, or getting out?

I thought the new beta was supposed to solve my problems with Blogger, not make them so bad that I'm thinking (for the first time since I started seriously using the service two and a half years ago) of leaving it? Neither of my choices at this stage seem good, so I'm throwing the question to the wisdom of crowds. Any ideas?