Monday, June 30, 2008

Adding A Forum To Your Blog

Once we get our blog working, with lots of steady reader traffic, we want interactions with our readers.

Eventually, we get tired of native Blogger commenting, and its inability to use comments to conduct casual and meaningful conversations with our readers. Sometimes, our thoughts turn to having a forum, where we and our readers can chat with each other.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Line Spacing And Pre-Formatted Blocks

I use "<pre> ... </pre>" blocks in my posts a lot, as a way to highlight code examples and log outputs. Unlike blockquotes, preformatted blocks preserve indentation in the material highlighted, and with both code and log listings, indentation (horizontal spacing) is as an important part of the display as is line spacing (vertical spacing).

Earlier this month, I showed how the corrected (finally!) vertical line spacing issue had been corrected, and how easily you can tweak the line spacing for elements like pre-formatted blocks. At that time, vertical line spacing for pre-formatted blocks was predictable, and could be tweaked. Since that time and just before the (mostly Draft) New Blogger June 2008 release, vertical line spacing changed.

You can see the problem, in Blogger Spacing Issue Fixed - June 2008. When I wrote that post, the code displayed, as I describe farther down in the post as
tighter vertical spacing (1.2em)


Now, it's not tighter.

Coming just before the release of New Blogger June 2008, we have to wonder.

>> (Update 6/28 21:00): This issue appears to be fixed.

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Blogger and Firefox V3.0

It appears that, in their push to launch (in Draft, mostly) New Blogger June 2008, Blogger overlooked one significant challenge. This month, Mozilla released V3.0 of their popular browser, Firefox.

Various bloggers are reporting odd problems using Blogger, and seem to connect the installation of the new version of Firefox with the start of their problems.

Several bloggers have complained that the links that switch between "Compose", "Edit HTML" , and "Preview" modes are inoperative. Other Bloggers are missing toolbar buttons, or find that some toolbar buttons don't do anything. These are scripting problems, that have been observed from time to time.

Note that Firefox V3.0, like V2.0 before it, was a major update. The Firefox V3.0 install doesn't require any complicated procedures - it just goes right over V2.x. Anybody with any experience with computers - either programming, software support, or user support, knows that installing one version of a program right over another (aka "install in place") isn't always the best policy - even if the software vendor lets you do this.

With Firefox and its extensive add-on library (and most add-ons are produced by third parties, not Mozilla), an install in place is not a good idea for major version upgrades (i.e., from V2.x to V3.0). The extent of the changes made in the base product (Firefox itself) make compatibility problems between the base product and the add-ons a very real problem. Even when neither Mozilla nor the third parties intentionally ignore a problem.

If you do an install in place, and carry over your current Firefox profile, and all add-ons, when upgrading to V3.0, you're going to get some problems. Some add-ons, even though they think that they're compatible with V3.0, may not be so for all applications like Blogger.

If you are seeing any of the above mentioned problems with Blogger, and you just casually upgraded over V2.x (installed in place), that may be why you're here. Try a clean install of Firefox V3.0, while you wait for Blogger to read your problem report - maybe you won't need to file one after all.
  1. If you're running NoScript (which you should be), Export your whitelist.
  2. Save your Firefox Bookmarks file.
  3. From Control Panel - Add or Remove Programs, uninstall Firefox (V2.x, if you're reading this soon enough - or V3.0, if not).
  4. Delete your current Firefox profile.
  5. Install Firefox V3.0.
  6. Test Firefox V3.0 with Blogger.
  7. Install NoScript, and Import your whitelist saved previously.
  8. Add each additional add-on (that's available for V3.0), one at a time. Test Blogger and other high risk applications after each add-on is installed.


The good news is that NoScript V1.7.4 does work with Firefox V3.0 and Blogger. That's a start, and that's the first add-on that you should be installing. Just install it on top of a properly installed Firefox V3.0.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Custom Domains - The Details In The DNS Settings

I've been helping people set up their custom domains for over a year now. We've dealt with simple setups, and complex setups - from a domain setup in 5 minutes using "Buy A Domain For Your Blog", to ones that take much longer because the domain itself is in use and requires Google Apps configuration. Occasionally, odd questions come up
Chuck, what is "3600"?
or
Does my blog have to be published to either "mydomain.com" or "www.mydomain.com"?
or
Do I have to point the blog to "ghs.google.com"?


The latter question wasn't easy to answer intelligently, basically I answered
You can point the DNS to any host name that you wish, but if you want a working custom domain, stick to "ghs.google.com", and lets get this done.


For an answer to the first two questions, and others, let's look at the setup process. Within the setup process, let's look at how this blog, "blogging.nitecruzr.net" is defined as a logical host in my domain, "nitecruzr.net".

If you're here looking for instructions on getting rid of the address entry for the recently decommissioned Google Apps server, see The GoDaddy Domain Manager: Removing An Address Entry.

You start with the GoDaddy Domain Manager, with the domain loaded. In this example, my domain is "nitecruzr.net". Once you're logged in, you do not re enter the domain name when you add an alias. Only enter the alias name, when prompted for "Alias".

Add One Virtual Host

blogging.nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.


Simply hit the "Add New CNAME Record" button, and you get the "CNAME (Alias)" applet.
  • The Alias Name you enter as "blogging".
  • The Host Name you enter as "ghs.google.com".
  • TTL for .net domains defaults to 1 hour (3600 seconds).




Having successfully created the new CNAME record, we see it listed with the others.
  • Host is "blogging".
  • Points To is "ghs.google.com".
  • TTL is 1 hour.




Add One Complete "SubDomain"

Some folks refer to this as a "subdomain", though it's actually 5 virtual hosts. This example shows an ASymmetrical DNS configuration.

nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN A 216.239.32.21
nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN A 216.239.34.21
nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN A 216.239.36.21
nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN A 216.239.38.21
www.nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.


Do you see the 3 "@" entries for IP addresses "64.233.179.121, 66.249.81.121, and 72.14.207.121", in the "A (Host)" section? That's the 3 Google Apps servers previously defined for the primary domain ("@"). If you were setting the domain up initially, you would hit the "Add New A Record" button 3 times 4 times, and enter the 3 servers (as of 2008/12, we have 4 Google Apps servers - the 3 are now offline), using "@" to designate the primary domain, each time. You would next add a "CNAME" for the "www" alias, pointing to "ghs.google.com", using "www" to designate the "www" alias.



Note: When you define the destination of "ghs.google.com", be aware of whether your DNS host is configured to accept "ghs.google.com" as an absolute or a relative address. This is an essential distinction, and may not be universal.

Now, let's examine a brief Dig log for the new alias, "blogging.nitecruzr.net".
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;blogging.nitecruzr.net. IN A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
blogging.nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.
ghs.google.com. 586847 IN CNAME ghs.l.google.com.
ghs.l.google.com. 203 IN A 72.14.207.121


blogging.nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com. This was provided by my DNS server, after I entered it above.
  • "blogging.nitecruzr.net." is the defined host name. The "." at the end makes it an absolute host name. You will always define an absolute host name.
  • "3600" is the TTL, in seconds. "3600" specifies a TTL of 1 hour.
  • "IN CNAME" is the syntax which defines a "CNAME" referral.
  • "ghs.google.com." is the referred host name, again specified as an absolute address.

ghs.google.com. 586847 IN CNAME ghs.l.google.com. This was provided by "ghs.google.com".
  • "ghs.google.com" is further referred to "ghs.l.google.com".

ghs.l.google.com. 203 IN A 72.14.207.121 This was provided by "ghs.l.google.com".
  • "ghs.l.google.com" currently refers to the server at "72.14.207.121". "ghs.l.google.com" is a load balancing proxy server. If the server at "72.14.207.121" had been offline or busy, you would have a different IP address here. This is why we always use a "CNAME" referral to "ghs.google.com" for a proper custom domain definition.


When you define your alias, you only add the first of the 3 records above. The latter 2 are provided by the Google servers.

The URL of this blog is "blogging.nitecruzr.net". If the DNS server that services your computer requests the IP address of the blog, it will be told, by the DNS server that services the blog, to "ask the host ghs.google.com". After "ghs.google.com" has provided an IP address, that address will be retained ("cached") by your local DNS server for 1 hour.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

New Blogger June 2008 - Settings

As I said in my previous post New Blogger June 2008 - The Post Editor, the changes offered to us, today, represent the first major overhaul since December 2006. Of course, I overlooked the rollout of Draft Blogger, without which this update would not be possible.

So, having looked at the Post Editor, let's look at Settings, where we see changes in the Basic and Comments tabs.

There are interesting changes in Basic. We have the promised "Import blog" - "Export blog" links. And next to that, a major change - "Delete blog", which now leads to a Delete your blog confirmation screen
This will permanently delete your blog including all posts. You can create another blog at this address using the Google Account you're currently logged in with, however, we can't restore your blog posts once you choose to delete your blog.

Before you delete your blog, do you want to export it ?


Comments gets a possibly popular improvement. "Comment Form Placement" now has a third option - "Embedded below post". Embedded comments is a long awaited improvement.

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New Blogger June 2008 - The Post Editor

So for the first major overhaul to Blogger since December 2006 (aka "New Blogger 2006"), the Blogger interface has been updated with lots of shiny features. Currently, the new features are visible only in Draft Blogger.

The first change you will notice when you edit your post. In "Compose" mode, you get a shiny new toolbar - similar to what you'll see in GooglePages. Almost the same buttons, almost in the same order. The two attachment buttons - for Photo and Video - have been combined into one labeled "Image", and moved to the left. Full Justification is gone. And spell check is gone (no major loss there IMHO). But most others are there, and in the same left to right order.

The major change that you will see is in "Edit HTML" mode. The toolbar there is gone.

And it's the same crappy small editing window. The one change that we've been waiting for - still somewhere in the distance.

In Blogger In Draft: New Feature: New Post Editor, we see
... there are a handful of other features from the current post editor that are on our to-do list for the new editor. If you rely on any of these, you may not want to use the new editor for everything just yet.


Yet, there are improvements.
  • The well known vertical spacing problem, caused by the "Convert line breaks" setting and use of "Edit HTML" mode, has been eliminated by a more robustly designed post editor, and a new setting which applies in "Edit HTML" mode. The new setting will be found in "Post Options", which makes it settable per post, rather than per blog. Line break sensitive objects in the blog, like lists, preformatted blocks, and scripts, won't be broken any more by extraneous line breaks.
  • The ability to display typed HTML, literally, as HTML, without having to labourously convert each "<" and ">" to "&lt;" and "&gt;", before publishing.
  • An improved picture insertion procedure, with each picture being inserted where the cursor is, rather than at the top of the post.


For a more comprehensive, and optimistic, evaluation, see Roberto's Testing Blogger-in-Draft: Post Editor - Compose Mode.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Mail-to-Blogger Can Provide Moderated Posting

Occasionally, someone asks
How can I require approval of any post before it's published?
and my typical answer will be
You can't, using the post editor. Any author can publish a post, and you can only moderate posts after the fact.


The key words there are "post editor".

If you enable Mail-to-Blogger in Settings - Email, you can have your authors email their posts. If you then set Mail-to-Blogger to save emails as draft posts, all posts emailed will be saved for you to moderate. In Settings - Mobile and email - Posting using email, select
Save emails as draft post

You, or any administrator, can examine draft posts from the Edit Posts menu, and publish only the ones that meet your approval.

And going better, if you use a GMail account to filter and forward to MTB, you can selectively route posts from specific individuals for moderating, and others can post directly. This allows you to use your time more effectively, only moderate possible problem authors, moderate more effectively, and respond more promptly. If you can respond more promptly, you can selectively moderate based upon need, not just current workload.

You can change individual author moderation policy on a moments notice. Setup 2 Blogger accounts for your blog, each with a different MTB policy (Account A to post after moderation, Account B to post without moderation). Have your authors email their posts to a GMail account.

Setup the GMail account with a series of email filters, with each author email forwarding to the appropriate Blogger account MTB email address. Any individual author can be selectively changed between moderation and no moderation, by simply changing the email filter to redirect to Account A or Account B, respectively. You spend your time moderating only authors posting through Account A.

If you want to publish the posts under the individual author names and profiles, setup individual Blogger accounts, as blog authors - one for each author - and only give the authors the Mail-to-Blogger email addresses. Then, as above, setup each Blogger account to save emails as draft posts. Since you will be the actual owner of each Blogger account, setup the accounts with secure names and passwords - and keep track of the account names and passwords.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Custom Domain Publishing, And Google Apps

I've been writing about setting up a Google Custom Domain for a while, and I've described the process of setting them up, and various configurations that are produced from the setup. Most of the setup processes have focused on new domains, where the blog owner simply wants to publish the blog to a non-Blog*Spot URL, and no complications exist.

But what if you want to use different services in your domain, which you may or may not be already using? Maybe you have email, an FTP server, and / or a third party (non-Google) web site, hosted on a third party server.

Or, maybe your DNS host won't let you redirect the primary domain using a "CNAME" referral.

That's what you use Google Apps for - integrating existing and new domain components.

Let's look at this domain, "nitecruzr.net", which I setup using the "Buy A Domain" wizard. You can do the same, or use Google Apps, which will give the same results for you without a lot of work. Or, if you already have your domain, and it has existing services, you can setup the domain in Google Apps manually.

First, you setup the DNS for the domain, using the domain manager wizard provided by your DNS host. You may find Custom Domains - The Details In The DNS Settings, to help you understand the information provided in the Dig logs, presented below. You may also wish to read about proper DNS configurations, and alternately about improper DNS configurations.

Let's examine a brief Dig log for the primary domain "nitecruzr.net".
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;nitecruzr.net. IN A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN A 64.233.179.121 <<== Do not include this server - See Below.
nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN A 66.249.81.121 <<== Do not include this server - See Below.
nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN A 72.14.207.121


There are the 3 Google Apps servers - and currently, only 1 of them is active. If we directed the primary domain to "ghs.google.com", you'd lose any email, FTP, and other special services, because "ghs.google.com" doesn't provide special services. Instead, we use Google Apps.

Next, a brief Dig log for the "www" alias "www.nitecruzr.net".
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;www.nitecruzr.net. IN A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
www.nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.
ghs.google.com. 586847 IN CNAME ghs.l.google.com.
ghs.l.google.com. 203 IN A 72.14.207.121


There we have "ghs.google.com". You will probably publish the blog to the "www" alias, and redirect the primary domain to the "www" alias, using Google Apps. See Google Custom Domains - The Two Step Domain Referral for detailed explanation.

Effectively, and showing what I call an excerpted Dig log, you should have
nitecruzr.net.  3600 IN A 64.233.179.121
nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN A 72.14.207.121
www.nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.


And, remember to setup an updated sitemap, when it is all working.

If you get the well known "Another blog is already hosted at this address." error, and your DNS is absolutely setup per the above advice, recycle the domain settings in Google Apps. If you get another well known error, "404 Server Not Found", publish the blog back to its BlogSpot URL, then re publish to the "www" alias.

Having done the above, you'll have one blog published to your domain. If you have a multiple blog domain, this will be your "home blog", similar in function to my blog "www.nitecruzr.net". If you want more blogs published to your domain, you setup a virtual hosts cluster, ala my blogs "blogging.nitecruzr.net" and "recipes.nitecruzr.net".

(Update 10/13/2008): The complement of servers, as described above, has been changed.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

What Is The Solution To The Mysterious bX- Codes?

One of the reasons why Blogger code is so "unstable" (judging from the threads in the help forums) is that, as I wrote long ago, it involves code and data that starts on Blogger computers ("servers"), but is processed from other computers ("owned" by bloggers) which are connected to the Blogger computers over networks that nobody owns or controls.

Some of these factors Blogger can accept responsibility for. Others we (the blog owners, or blog readers) have to accept responsibility for. And still others are the fault of the network owners, and many of those are problems which nobody will accept responsibility for.

And that's the problem with diagnosing the ever common bX- codes. Of late, some bloggers are pumping themselves up, and declaring to the world
Finally the solution to the BX error codes of blogger.com

Don't know who and why it works and why google/ blogger have failed to recognize such simple tricks. But still that doesnt reduce its efficacy..
as if they themselves developed the simple process of clearing cache and cookies.

The frustrating part of this is that, in a very limited number of cases, clearing cache and cookies may produce positive results. But using that procedure as a general solution is so wrong, because it's limited to very specific scenarios. We need to understand the scenarios which generate the codes, before we can truly understand this.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

FTP Publishing - Moving Ahead

Some time ago, in my comprehensive comparison of Custom Domain vs FTP Publishing, I suggested that
FTP publishing has a limited life span. From an economic and support viewpoint, it makes more sense for Blogger to concentrate its attention on Custom Domain publishing.


This week, we have a new, annoying problem with FTP publishing, which, regardless of what may or may not be stated by Blogger, does not seem to be solved. And we have a possible reliability improvement in custom domain publishing, with the dreaded "404 Not Found" problem, recently, becoming less frequently reported.

It's possible that my prior suspicion may become reality sometime in the near future. Some of you, currently publishing your blogs using FTP Publishing, may do well to consider changing to Custom Domain Publishing. And in doing so, you should consider several key issues.
  • If you initially published your blog to the FTP server prior to November 2007, it's possible that the original BlogSpot URL isn't associated with the external URL. If the BlogSpot URL is associated with the blog, it's probably through some workarounds that you may have put into place, on your own. With Custom Domain publishing, the BlogSpot URL used to setup the blog is automatically redirected to the Custom Domain URL. You'll need to publish the blog to BlogSpot, to ensure a BlogSpot URL is in place first.
  • If you're hosting a domain on an external server, you're probably hosting photos there too. You may want to plan to migrate the photos, and host them on Google servers, unless you want to keep maintaining the FTP server with the existing photos. Unfortunately, migrating the photos will involve manual effort.
  • If you're hosting a domain on an external server, you will need to ensure that the registrar for the domain provides DNS servers that support CNAME referral. If not, you'll want to find another registrar, or buy another domain.
  • If you're hosting a web site on an external server, when you move to hosting the web site (blog) on a custom domain, the structure of the blog, and some URLs, may change. If the blog is part of a web site, you'll want to update the web site, to reflect the change.
  • With an FTP published blog, you have folder and file control. You may have files, installed in the root of the blog, that enable automated processes, such as search engine spiders, to index the blog. You'll have to use meta tag records for similar functions, when your blog is published back to Blogger.
  • When the blog is published back to Blogger, the URLs of some files will likely change, to include publishing month, and title hash, uniformly. If you have any external or internal references to individual posts (and most blogs do), be aware of this change. Plan to use a missing files host, to reduce the impact of this issue.


With all of that said, let's plan the actual move.
  1. Carefully consider the relative advantages and disadvantages of FTP and Custom Domain publishing.
  2. Go through the issues list above, and consider each as it applies to your blog.
  3. If the move from FTP to custom domain involves a change in URL, let your readers know in advance.
  4. Publish the blog back to a BlogSpot URL.
  5. Update the DNS records to reflect the custom domain setup.
  6. Publish the blog to the custom domain.


We can actually describe steps 5 and 6 in combination, as setup a custom domain. You'll have 2 alternatives, here.
  • If you can use the existing domain, just update or add a "CNAME" referral for the blog, redirecting it to "ghs.google.com". Here, you'll use the "Advanced Settings" wizard.
  • If you need a new domain for the blog, use "Buy A Domain", and you're done.
Either way, this task has been tried and tested by hundreds of bloggers before you, if you start from a BlogSpot published blog.

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So, What Are The Mysterious bX- Codes About?

In the past - not so long ago, and not infrequently - you might be accessing or updating your blog, and you'd see a monolithic error message that made many bloggers want to tear their hair out by the roots.
We apologize for the inconvenience, but we are unable to process your request at this time. Our engineers have been notified of this problem and will work to resolve it.

If you've been blogging for any past amount of time, I'm sure that you remember seeing that. I know that I do.

On January 17, 2007, all of that ended. Blogger replaced that incredibly annoying message with a large series of error codes. Such a simple task, in concept. Each possible failure point in the Blogger codebase was assigned a different bX- code, replacing the old "We apologize for the inconvenience ..." message with a unique failure point code for each different problem encountered.

For all of their simplicity though, many bloggers don't seem to see the forest for the trees.

it's disheartening to see that the bx error code problems are still existing.

Many bloggers seem to associate some major significance to these codes. Some have compiled a list of codes, as if listing enough codes will help them understand the secrets of the universe. Letting somebody "look at my code list" is of special social significance, like showing my family picture album.

There is no special meaning to any code.

Long ago, people who worked with the major computer operating system in the universe ("IBM" mainframe) would maintain a library of reference manuals (yes, paper - and a lot of paper). A large portion of many libraries would be incredibly large glossaries of system termination codes. Each code would have a special significance, such as attempting to enter a date containing an alphabetic character. Seeing a given code for a specific database entry, a database engineer would look up the code in the reference manual, then patch the record in error accordingly, and the problem would be solved.

The bX- codes have no similar significance. They are simply unique codes, which identify each individual point of abnormal termination. There's no secret glossary assigning the cause for any single code, just a pointer to the individual termination point in the Blogger codebase. When enough bloggers report a given code, a Blogger employee simply examines the termination point, and using the diagnostic information hopefully provided by the bloggers problem reports, makes a diagnosis of the problem cause. Rarely, the code will be added to a small database which lists specifically significant codes.

In some cases, this will lead to solution of a given problem, and the end of that bX- code from further observation. However, just as repairing an aged engine with a few new parts, this may fix one immediate symptom but put additional stress on other parts, causing them to fail. You will see one bX- code become popular for a while, then be replaced by others later. This isn't a random scenario - it's natural.

There isn't a lot to do, when you get a bX- code. In very limited cases, clearing both cache and cookies, and restarting the browser, may help. If not, then the problem is probably in the blog that you're trying to access or update. Diagnose any changes that you recently made - then report the code, using the bX- Code Reporting Form, and let Blogger analyse the problem.



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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Granular Security For Your Blog

I've been writing about Private blogs, and the ability to limit even the readership of the blog, for some time.

What if you want to have some posts accessible by a few people, and others by everybody? Or maybe you would like some of your administrators to have the ability to edit only a portion of your blog.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Relevance Yields Readership And Search Reputation

This blog is "The Real Blogger Status". If somebody went and Googled for "The Real Blogger Status", they would likely get a search list that included this blog, with this blog (hopefully) at the top of the list. Being at the top would increase the chance of a casual visitor clicking on a search list link that leads to this blog, and I would get another reader.

How many people are going to Google for "The Real Blogger Status"?

I want search list entries for "blogspot connectivity problem", "custom domain 404 error", or maybe "layouts templates spacing issue", to lead to this blog, and to the articles that I have written.

Those are real live search lists - things that people might actually search on, and things that would get me readers who want to read my wisdom now, and return later for more. Those folks won't be searching for "the real blogger status", they will be searching for real solutions to real problems, and real solutions are what I try to provide.

You get search reputation from having people click on the search list entries that lead to your blog, and more people click on the search list entries that are at the top of the lists. If your content is relevant to the searches, not juiced using SEO techniques, you get readers who will read what you provide, appreciate what you write, and return later to read more. That produces search reputation, which in turn leads to search list entries at the top of the lists.

And that's what real live search lists are, and why you want them. And none of this comes immediately - it takes hard work, and it takes patience. Not SEO - hard work. Part of the hard work includes knowing when and why you get readers, and understanding why your reader count will cyclically rise and fall.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Exchanging One Custom Domain For Another

Custom domains, which give us the ability to publish a blog, hosted on a Google server (and using a Layouts template), to a non-BlogSpot URL, are great.

If we don't plan what we're doing, though, sometimes we wind up with a URL that we later decide, just won't suit our long term needs.

Indian Spam Overwhelms Blogger Help Group

Last night (PDT), the "Indian" spammer successfully conducted a Denial Of Service attack against the Google Blogger Help Group.

It appears that Blogger personnel, if they're doing anything, are doing it very slowly.

My sympathies to you who need technical assistance. Keep trying to get through the spam, and we will try to help.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

A New Page Element - The Blog List

Along with several key fixes to Blogger this week, the release contained one useful new page element - the Blog List. A Blog List is a combination of a Linklist (aka BlogRoll) and a Feed Reader, where you specify a series of feeds, and it generates a linklist with each feed as a separate item in the linklist.
The Blog List improves on our Link List page element by using blogs’ RSS and Atom feeds to show update times, post titles, and snippets.


You have several options that let you decide what you want to show in each Blog List.
  • Icon. When available, you can present a favicon from each site in the list.
  • Title. You can present the title of the most recent item, in each feed.
  • Snippet. You can present a snippet of the most recent item, in each feed.
  • Update Date. You can present the date of last update, of each feed.


With all of that said, there is a key difference between a Blog List and a Link List.
  • A Blog List is a list of blog posts feeds. Each item in a blog list will be the URL of the posts feed for one blog, though you can enter a URL of any blog component, with the feed URL apparently derived from what you enter. You can have only 1 entry for any blog, in a blog list.
  • A Link List is a list of URLs. Each item in a link list may depict a single, unique blog. Each item can be any URL that you wish.


If you leave off the Snippet and Update Date selections from a Blog List, you'll end up with what looks like a Linklist. And it appears that the rollout of the Blog List gadget, from Draft to Operational status, involved converting some Blog List items into what look like Linklist items. If your blog has what looks like a new linklist, which contains items with feed URLs, that is what happened. If you edit this page element, you'll see a series of feeds listed, with some apparently corrupt, possibly depicted with red Xs. These are URLs that do not lead to a valid feed. You'll have to delete and re add each URL so listed, if any one represents an item that you intended to lead to a feed.

And that illustrates another key difference between a Blog List and a Linklist. The linklist wizard lets you edit the label, or the link URL, for any item in the list. The blog list wizard lets you only edit the label of an item ("rename") - if you wish to change the link URL, you have to delete and re add the entry.

Just don't confuse the Blog List page element with the Linklist page element. Each has its own place in your blog.

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Different Template Objects For Different Posts

Some bloggers like something different, and want to expand the concept of the template. Occasionally, we see the query
I want to have different pictures in the header, for different posts.
or
How can I have a linklist in my sidebar for some posts, but not for others?
and the immediate answer is
You can't. With a template, everything is the same. One blog = many posts = one template.


But nobody said that you have to have just one blog. You can have as many different blogs as you have different needs. Setup a second blog, give it a different header picture, as you like. Or put a different linklist in one blog. Likewise a third blog, and so on.

If you have any controversial pictures, likewise display them in a second blog. You can have all of the links that you want from your main blog. The second blog may get an "Objectionable Content" interstitial, but the first blog, which contains all of the content to attract the search engines and your readers, can be indexed and viewed freely.

Some people are multi-lingual, and plan to publish identical content, translated into two, three, or more languages. One way to do this is to add a Language Translator gadget to your blog. Another way is to, again, have multiple blogs, each blog set to the proper language. Sometimes, the proper language setting makes a difference in the way the blog contents are displayed, and can make a blog easier to read for your various readers.

Then, simply combine the different blogs using blog feeds, custom domains, IFrames, links / linklists, and / or template cloning. The limit here is merely your imagination.

To the readers, you'll have 1 blog. To you, you can have many blogs. And your blogs can all have different templates, as pleases you.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Blogger Spacing Issue Fixed - June 2008

There were many new features introduced in New Blogger 2006 - some appreciated, others not so. One of the latter category, and not understood by everybody, was the change in vertical line spacing, introduced into a blog by the presence of an indenting element such as "<blockquote>" or "<ul>". This issue was first noted the month New Blogger 2006, and the Layouts templates, was rolled out.

In March, 2008, the problem was acknowledged. This week, it was fixed.
This has been fixed in the master copies of the blog widget and the template CSS.
As noted below by Pete, if your blog has a completely non-edited template, it was upgraded already. If not, and if your template is not too customised, you can get the fix yourself, using Layout - Pick New Template, and getting a new copy of the template that you're using.

I note that the stated way of integrating the fix into an existing template
find the .post p { line in your CSS and move the line-height line into a new .post {} CSS block
was done some months ago, as the tested workaround for the problem, which I implemented in this blog, as I wrote that article.

In my test blog, you can see a demonstration of a post that looks like it should. My test blog uses a clean template, re acquired when this post was originally written, and after the Blogger changes were made.

To make this blog look like that, I had to do a bit of template editing. Besides the changes enumerated in my earlier post, I had to tweak the CSS for the "<blockquote>", "<li>", and "<pre>" text elements. You may be able to think of additional text elements which need similar treatment. Or, maybe you like a more open spacing (maybe "1.4em", or maybe the same "1.6em"). It's your blog, so it's your choice. This is my choice.

.post blockquote {
line-height:1.2em; <== Add this line
margin:1em 20px;
}
.post blockquote p {
margin:.75em 0;
}
.post li { <==
line-height:1.2em; <== Add these lines
} <==
.post pre { <==
line-height:1.2em; <== Add these lines
margin:1em; <==
} <==

Now, note the relatively open vertical spacing (1.6em) in the main paragraphs, and the tighter vertical spacing (1.2em) in the above indentation ("<pre> ... </pre>"). This relative spacing should now be consistent in this blog.

If you make these changes, and your blog doesn't look like my demonstration (here) or my test (my other blog), maybe you should consider simply getting a new copy of your template. If you haven't made too many changes in the template HTML, that would certainly have more possibility of yielding the right results.

It's your dime. At least, you should now see that it's possible to get your blog looking right.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Custom Domain Publishing, And A New 404 Error

Some time ago, I wrote about blogs, newly setup for custom domain publishing, undergoing a transition period, where both the Blog*Spot and Custom Domain URLs are active, but seemingly 2 separate web sites. This appears to be a (almost exactly) 72 hours while Google allows time for DNS propogation of the new URL to take effect, worldwide.

Now, it appears that some blogs, having gone through the transition period, are still not active.

Here's one case, "keith-in-training.com".
keith-in-training.com. 3600 IN A 64.233.179.121
keith-in-training.com. 3600 IN A 66.249.81.121
keith-in-training.com. 3600 IN A 72.14.207.121
www.keith-in-training.com. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.


Appears to be a normal, asymmetrical DNS setup made using either "Buy A Domain" or maybe Google Apps.

5/31/2008 19:52:36 Trying http://keith-in-training.blogspot.com
Redirect!
Header:
HTTP/1.0 301 Moved Permanently
Location: http://www.keith-in-training.com/
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8


The Blog*Spot URL redirected, by "301 Moved Permanently", to the custom domain "www" alias.

So far, so good.

But wait - there's more!!


No!! The whole URL is down, now.


One step forward, another back. But remember, this is a known symptom. If you are seeing the above display (but only the above display):
  1. Publish the blog back to it's previous Blog*Spot URL, then republish to the custom domain URL.
  2. If you get the old "Another blog ..." error, recycle your Google Apps settings.
  3. Please, leave a comment here with your Blog*Spot and custom domain URLs, and whether or not the above procedure was successful.


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