Sunday, November 29, 2009

How To Not Get The BlogSpot URL Of Your Choice

The controversy continues, in that many bloggers cannot think of a URL for their blog, other than ones that are already taken. Some are so desperate that they think of imaginative but Pyrrhic solutions.
Solution here would be a way to report this as a kind of abuse (Yes I know it's not really abuse in any form) or otherwise get in contact with the owner. And I don't mean hunting down the contact information from the web as it practically newer works. I mean there should be an option "I would like to contact the owner of this blog" or something similar.
Here we see two alternatives, neither with any future.

The suggestion to file an abuse complaint is, in itself, abusive. The people who handle hacking, porn, and spam complaints have enough to do with genuine hacking, porn, and spam problems. Reporting a dormant blog to the abuse desk will get you
  1. Ignored.
  2. Told not to do that again.
  3. Possibly, and if you repeat such abusive action, your Blogger account should be cancelled.


The idea to have Blogger contact the current owner, on your behalf has merit - if you don't consider the details. For any URL that somebody owns, if one other person wants that URL, there are probably a few other people who would want that same URL. If you were the current owner of a popular URL, would you want repeated emails (on behalf of the same person, repeating a request, or on behalf of more than one person, intermittently) to read, simply asking you to voluntarily give up your URL?

What would happen, should you (the current owner of a demanded URL) accede to such request? Who would be the winner, in the crowd submitting the "Give it to me!" demand through Blogger? The first person, or the most persistent person? Would you want to be the Blogger employee who would get to decide the winner, in such a contest?

Neither voluntary URL resignation, nor involuntary URL reassignment, have any part of the monolithic Blogger statement
Blogger accounts and Blog*Spot addresses do not expire. Therefore, we can't take away somebody's blog address to give to you.


Use some imagination, and pick an available URL. Start your blog now, and work on the content. That's how you get readers. Not by picking the "perfect" URL.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Deactivation Of The Google Sites Or Start Page Service

Unsolicited redirect to a Google AdServices, Sites, or Start page is a very common cause, right now, for the well known custom domain symptom "Another blog is already hosted at this address". And, it's a reasonably easy symptom to correct.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Following And Private Blogs

A frequently seen sign of confusion, in Blogger Help Forum, is the connection between Following and Private blogs (blogs designated "Only people I choose").
If I make my blog private, will people still be able to follow my blog?
Like many Blogger Help Forum questions, this one suffers from a significant amount of ambiguity.

There are several details, relevant to the above question.
  • Classically, people were said to "follow" a blog when they would periodically view it online, and / or view its contents using a newsfeed reader. People designated as Readers will be able to view a blog in the browser, though new posts won't be visible in a newsfeed reader.
  • Blogger recently developed the Following program, to involve
    • Use of the newsfeed, automatically added to a Dashboard Followers Reading List, and Google Reader.
    • For blogs displaying the Followers accessory gadget, the ability to, temporarily, have ones icon displayed in the Followers gadget.
    • For blogs displaying the Followers accessory gadget, the ability to surf to others profiles, and from there to blogs published and read by the various Followers.
  • The term "will be able" also deserves mention, as many blogs, recently made private, can still be viewed in the browser, and cached feeds can still be viewed in a newsfeed client.


Since right now, "private" blogs won't publish newsfeeds, the current literally correct answer to the above question is
No, people cannot Follow a private blog.
But (and there is always a but)
  • Blogs made private can still display a Followers gadget, and people can have their icon displayed in the gadget. If having your picture displayed on somebodys blog satisfies you, then you may be happy Following a private blog, for a while.
  • People can continue to read what's cached by their browser, and they will continue to generate hits in your visitor log.
  • Some people will be able to view new posts in their browser, even if not designated as Readers.


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Gobble, Gobble

Today, in the USA, we celebrate the national holiday of "Thanksgiving". Many people call it "Turkey Day" because the traditional cooking for the holiday meal is centered around roast turkey. The words "gobble, gobble" have two meanings.
  1. Turkeys are attributed as making that sound, such as the cat makes "meow", and the dog "bow wow".
  2. Celebrants of the holiday eat a lot of food, also popularly expressed as "gobbling".


It is perhaps fitting that I explain my use of the term "gobble gobble", on this day.

Blogger provides an objective description of spam, and why it is not accepted in BlogSpot.
Spam blogs cause various problems, beyond simply wasting a few seconds of your time when you happen to come across one. They can clog up search engines, making it difficult to find real content on the subjects that interest you. They may contain material that's been scraped from other sites on the web, and may use other people's writing to make it look as though they have useful information of their own. And if an automated system is creating spam posts at an extremely high rate, it can impact the speed and quality of the service for other, legitimate users.


As an alternative, I wrote my analogy Waiting For The Tap, and referred to turkeys, who wait in vain, for said tap.

The expression "Gobble, Gobble", when included in my answer to a forum question, will refer to this analogy. The spammer (aka the "Original Poster" in the question) may, at his convenience, read this post - and accept the fact that he is a turkey.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Make A Static Page For Your Blog

A static page is one of the simplest accessories that you can add to your blog. It's simply a post that has been archived, and will never display in main page view.

It's astonishingly simple to make a static page.
  • Publish enough non static posts, to populate your main page. If you're simply making a web site, set main page size to 1 post, and publish one post.
  • Publish additional posts, and back date additional posts before the oldest non static post.
  • The additional posts, back dated, become static pages.
  • Wasn't that simple?



(Update 2010/01): As a belated Christmas present, Blogger now provides us, as a new post editor option, with the ability to create true static pages for our blogs.


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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The New "Next Blog" Link - What Next?

Up until last week, I would advise folks looking for traffic to their blogs that they should publish, publish, publish.
Besides friends and family, your initial readers will come through the "Next Blog" link, randomly. You get more "Next Blog" traffic from posting more, less from posting less. And, you'll need this initial traffic.
Last week, with the new "Next Blog" link, all of that changed. Now, people hitting "Next Blog" get another blog, but with 2 major differences from the possibility last week.
  • The "next blog" linked to will be chosen for similar content / subject, and same language, as the blog being displayed currently.
  • The "next blog" linked to will not be chosen relevant to updating activity. You're just as likely to get a blog published to 5 years ago, as 5 minutes ago.


This gives us two concerns, which we did not have earlier.
  • Finding other blogs of random subject and recent updates won't be as simple as hitting the "Next Blog" link.
  • Getting initial traffic to your blog won't be as simple as merely "publish, publish, publish".


Instead of the "Next Blog" link bringing you random visitors, you may get more focused visitors.
  • Blogger Profile surfing. You create your Blogger profile, and indicate your various interests. You can find other people like you, when you click on your various interests. People like you will find your profile, and others like yours, when they surf from their profile.
  • Google Blog Search. Once your blog has value to the search engines, people searching for subject related content will find your blog.
  • Next Blog surfing. People will still find your blog using "Next Blog", they will simply start from a blog similar to yours, not one of random content.


Having found other blogs through any of the above techniques, you can attract traffic to your blog by becoming a Follower of blogs that interest you. You can find other blogs by surfing from those blogs, and other people who surf those blogs may, similarly, find your blog.

None of the above techniques will attract traffic based upon posting activity, though. Whether you post daily, or yearly, you'll be just as likely to attract traffic. And you'll be more likely to surf to other blogs with subject similar to your blog. And this brings us to the final (and possibly primary) result of the new "Next Blog" link.

Spam blogs, published by the thousands, will receive significantly less traffic, and our blogs will receive, relatively, more traffic.
  • Unless you start from a blog dedicated to hacking, porn, or spam, "Next Blog" will be less likely to bring you to a blog with hacking, porn, or spam.
  • Publishing a blog 100 times / day will bring a spammer as much random traffic as publishing once / week, or once / year.


This will reduce the benefit of spammers who post splog farms, since 1,000 splogs today will probably attract as much traffic as 1 splog last week, and updating a splog once / year will likely attract as much traffic as once / day. This should contribute to decreased visibility and presence of the hundreds of thousand member splog farms, so common these days.

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Be Kind To Your Readers - Choose Your Text Colour And Background Appropriately

If I publish a blog in which I concentrate on content and information, I want to make the content and information easy to read. This blog, The Real Blogger Status, is marginally easy to read - and looked boring - before I upgraded to a Designer template, which has a more complex background.

If I wanted something stylish, I might have chosen a template with a black background, such as in my Tech World blog. White on black is very elegant looking, yet reasonably easy to read.

Some people like elegant, but mysterious, such as dark blue or red text on a black background. Going a step further, some folks will choose black text, on a black background. All three colour schemes are fine for search engine visibility, since search engines don't look at colours - just at text content.

Your readers, on the other hand, won't be so lucky. How easily can you read dark blue or red text, on a black background? Worse yet, black on black? You can't. If you're like me, and have seen this nonsense occasionally, and you watch what looks like an otherwise normal blog load, displaying large patches of blank space, you'll get curious.

Look at my click and drag demonstration.

How many readers will try click and drag where no text is visible?

Be kind to your readers, if you want readers. Choose text and background colours that complement each other. Elegant isn't always kind.


If you see a blog or web site with an interesting colour combination, use "Red Alt: I Like Your Colors" to check out the colour palette used.


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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Make A Team Blog And Keep The Members Separate

Occasionally, we see a confused query
How do I allow access to my blog, and keep my GMail account private to me?
or
How do I have my friends using my blog, and each person use their own name in publishing posts?
These are people who do not understand the concept of team blogs.

Team blogs use a separate Blogger / Google account for each member, they do not require everybody to share one Blogger / Google account. You add each team member as an Author, in Settings - Permissions. When you do this, note two cogent details.
  1. Each blog is limited to 100 Members (Authors + Administrators + Owners), in total.
  2. You can invite members, using the email address that you know. People can accept membership using what email adddress (Google account) they wish. People may be able to accept multiple member entries, which may affect the 99 author limit.
If either of those two details are a problem to you, perhaps you should look at Content Management Systems. A CMS may give you more control over access to your blog.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Coyotes, Hyenas, And Turkeys

The 1978 cinema classic "Animal House", which starred the late, great John Belushi as John Blutarsky, was a comedy about American 1960s college life. It was described by one reviewer as
the best college comedy ever made. Nothing has ever come close to comedic perfection, and never will again.
It focused on one fictional fraternity, Delta House, the rejects of the campus fraternity system at the college.

The members of Delta house included screaming nuisances (coyotes), troglodytes and trolls (hyenas), and hapless morons (turkeys). Many inhabitants of Delta House, many years later, can be found as bloggers, posting in Blogger Help Forum.

Coyotes are individuals who, unhappy with the way they are treated by Blogger, convince the general public (their reader population) to conduct a Distributed Denial Of Service attack against the forum. The owners of their namesake blog, The Daily Coyote, conducted a DDOS in April 2008, when it was locked as a suspected spam blog.

Hyenas are individuals who lack self esteem or social life and who post endless amounts of crap, drivel, or lame spam in the forum. Coyotes conduct a brief and very energetic attack, yet they cease the attack when dealt with, firmly. Hyenas, on the other hand, conduct a slow, chronic attack over many months. One hyena has posted under many names, and has been attacking the forum for several years.

Turkeys are spammers who refuse to believe that their splogs, detected and locked by Blogger, will never be restored to them. They hang around Blogger Help Forum, periodically posting
When will I get my blog back?
as if Blogger will ignore the fact that their blogs were righteously detected and locked.

Welcome to Animal House, 2009.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Waiting For The Tap On The Shoulder, Part 2

In my musings last month about spam blogs, and people victimised by spam blogs, I analogised the legendary college secret societies, and the impersonal and rude treatment of the unfortunates who did not get initiated.
eventually, those who don't get elected will open their eyes, remove the blindfold, and find herself / himself in a pitiful group of rejects, all waiting (hopelessly) for that tap. The tap that never comes.


Again, I'll note that I never got into either group. I am not socially adept enough to even try out for such a group. Or maybe I simply had other priorities.

This month, we are seeing the unfortunates, gathered in Blogger Help Forum.

In college, there will always be those do-gooders who try to change peoples minds, and convince the secret society members to be more polite to the unfortunates. Maybe, they could have a party to thank them for trying.

These "unfortunates", this month, are spammers. They aren't worthy of our pity, or sympathy.

They are the reason why you had your blog locked, last week.
  • If you had to wait, while your blog was offline and lost reader contact, and search engine reputation;
  • If you had to endure another mention of the hated 4 step protocol (that you repeated 3 times);
  • If your blog lost page rank because of duplicate content penalties;
these are the people that you should blame. Here, we will call these folks "turkeys".

Gobble, Gobble.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

The New "Next Blog" Link - What Now?

Long ago, I observed that getting readers for your blog started with publishing posts. Thanks to the "Next Blog" link in the navbar, as you published posts, you'd get readers who randomly surfed to your blog. As you got more readers from random access, some readers would become return readers, which would encourage you to publish more. Which would bring you more readers. And so on.

That was a great strategy on Bloggers part, for a Blogosphere with
  • Relatively few blogs.
  • No spammers.


Unfortunately, the spammers of the Internet figured that was the perfect way to get readers to their splogs, too. And BlogSpot splog farms were born.

This week, we have The New "Next Blog" link. For any blog with any given subject matter, a reader hitting "Next Blog" gets another blog in the same language, and with the same subject matter.

As noted by several readers of this blog, there's one thing missing now.

"Next Blog" now makes no attempt to look for blogs with recent posts. Any blog, whether published 5 minutes ago or 5 years ago, is eligible by language and by subject matter.

Along with removing incentive for spammers to publish thousands of splogs / day, this removes incentive for us to publish. A blog published 5 years ago will continue to receive random visitors, as long as there are other blogs like it.

This makes "Next Blog" uniformly random. The more blogs that there are like yours, the lesser the chance that any one of you (your blog, or a competitor's blog) will be chosen by the link, when anybody surfs a competitor's blog. Balancing that out, though, the more blogs that there are like yours, the greater the chance that there are people surfing blogs like yours, which increases your chance that your blog will be chosen by somebody hitting "Next Blog".

I'm not a mathemetician, but instinctively I suspect that this gives each blog in the Blogosphere an equal chance, with each other blog in the Blogosphere, of receiving a "Next Blog" inclick, at any time.

That being the case, how do we get readers for our blogs? We'll explore that question, in my Next Post, The New "Next Blog" Link - What Next?.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's Here - The New "Next Blog" Link

Just a couple days ago, I observed that the "Next Blog" link in the navbar was being redesigned. So, it's here. Click on "Next Blog" from above. Now, you'll get other blogs in English, and for this blog, other techie blogs.

No more hacking, porn, or spam blogs, from clicking "Next Blog" - unless the blog that you're currently viewing contains hacking, porn, or spam. Which means no more hacking, porn, or spam from this blog, from clicking "Next Blog" - period.

The end of hacking, porn, and spam in the NextBlogosphere. Bravo, Blogger.

Maybe you'll see a third difference. Now, any randomly accessed other blog may, or may not be, recently updated. This won't please everybody, unfortunately.
Before it would often bring me to sites I had no interest in or were not in english, but at least it brought me to recently updated sites. Now when I do it I often get stuck finding a ton of sites all on a single topic, and many of them haven't been updated in months/years.
You can't please everybody. You can have exciting, or you can have safe. I don't think that you can have both.

So next, we'll have to look for alternative strategies for publicising your blog. We used to start with publish, publish, publish. That's still a good goal - you want to write content that's interesting, and relevant, if that's what your readers like. But that won't get you readers, even random ones, now. No more random traffic to our blogs, from increased posting activity.

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Diagnosing Problems With Blog Feeds

Recently, we're seeing an assortment of complaints about blog feeds, either not working at all, or updating slowly. Whether presented in a browser display, in a Following Reading List / Google Reader, or in a bloglist gadget, the accuracy of the feed as displayed can be affected by a few issues.
  • Custom feed redirection.
  • Custom Domain redirection.
  • Classic vs New feed URL, and Blogger vs BlogSpot / domain served feed.
  • Feeds served by third party servers (FTP publishing).
  • Feeds from private blogs (which don't exist).
  • Cached feed content.


Custom Feed Redirection

A custom, redirected feed, redirected through FeedBurner or a similar service, will be affected by problems with the service. When you check out a problem with a redirected feed, it may be helpful to compare the redirected feed content with the non redirected feed content.

Custom Domain Redirection

A feed coming from a blog that's published to a custom domain will be affected by the custom domain DNS issues. Feeds redirected through DNS addresses that use spurious solutions, like frames or URL forwarding, will be slow to, or never, update.

When you check out a problem with a feed from a blog published to a custom domain, start by examining the DNS setup for the domain. For each person reporting a problem, see if they are using the BlogSpot URL, or the domain URL. If the former, check the BlogSpot to domain redirection.

Feed Format and Source

For any feed with a problem reported, find out if the problem is with a classic, or a new, feed URL. The exact feed URL may be relevant. Look at the 3 feeds served from this blog page, as provided in the blog header.

<link rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="The Real Blogger Status - Atom" href="http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/feeds/posts/default" />
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="The Real Blogger Status - RSS" href="http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss" />
<link rel="service.post" type="application/atom+xml" title="The Real Blogger Status - Atom" href="http://www.blogger.com/feeds/24069595/posts/default" />
Here, we have 2 new URL feeds served from the custom domain, plus one feed served from Blogger.com.

Third Party (FTP Published) Feeds

When you're looking at feed URLs, watch out for a feed that comes from an external third party server. Feeds published from non Google servers may have many issues. Use of the Blogger based feed, vs the third party server served feed, may be especially significant. We've even recommended use of the Blogger served feed, as a workaround for feed problems in some FTP published blogs.

Feeds From Private Blogs

A feed coming from a private blog will never be updated. If the blog was just made private, you'll be seeing the blog feed as it was before the blog was made private, for a long time.

Effects Of Caching Upon Your Clients

Also, consider the effects of cache. Your readers that are affected by a local cache, or an upstream cache, will see irregular performance when they view a feed. Depending upon the nature of a blog, a given blog may have more readers who use a bloglist or feed reader, and who have Internet service that includes an upstream cache. A regional, or reader service, affinity may point to a cache issue.

Summary - When Reporting A Problem

Anybody reporting a problem with a feed viewed in somebody else's blog should state their geographical location, ISP name, and type of Internet service. Anybody subscribed to a feed with a problem should state the complete and precise URL of the feed. All of these details may be relevant to the problem.

All of these are details which will affect peoples access to any blog feed, and the displayed content in the bloglists and feed readers which they view.

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Blogging Anonymously Has A Price

Blogger supports anonymity - both in our ability to maintain and to own a blog anonymously, and our ability to comment on blogs anonymously. But this anonymity comes with a price.
I need to contact the owner of "xxxxxxx.blogspot.com", but there is no contact information and the blog is private.
or
How do I find out who left an anonymous comment on my blog?
or
I can't access my blog - I forgot the password and the email address doesn't exist any more.
or
I deleted my account, and they won't give it back to me!
All of these are queries by bloggers who do not understand the price of anonymity.

If Blogger is going to preserve our anonymity as blog owners, and as commenters (on blogs where anonymous comments are allowed), they cannot give out any information, to anybody, that might disclose our identity. If they start disclosing identity information, to people who ask casually, nobody will be able to trust their intentions.

If you let people comment anonymously on your blog, people will comment with the expectation that you won't be requiring any personal information, other than demographic information that's obtained through a visitor log. If you don't like anonymous comments, you either disable anonymous comments - or you moderate comments, and discard what you don't like.

If someone publishes a blog without a Profile gadget, or publishes a blog privately, without including contact information somewhere, don't expect to casually write to Blogger and demand contact information. And don't try claiming to own the blog in question, and that you forgot the password - or that you cannot remember the many different email addresses that you may have used. Blogger cannot disclose the identity - including the email address - of the owner, if anonymity is to be preserved.

It's possible that you can identify a contact, on your own. If you require contact information provided by Google, you'll need legal assistance, and a court order.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Multi-Lingual Blogging Requires Language Selections

Occasionally, we see requests from folks who want to blog in non English languages, and don't trust the Google Translator, or translated blogs using a Translator Gadget.

Every different world language has its own peculiarities - character set, font, grammatical constructions, even direction of type will differ from language to language. To support these peculiarities, Blogger has a language selection, for each language which they support. This roughly parallels the ongoing development of the Google Translator.

From Settings - Formatting for your blog, look at the Language pull-down list. When you publish a non English blog, find and select the language of your interest, before you publish posts.

This may be a challenge for those who want to produce a blog in more than one language, simultaneously. Any blog can have one and only one language selection. If you want to publish in, say, English and French, you'll need two blogs - an English blog and a French blog, each in the right language selection. To publish in English, French and German, you'll need three blogs - an English blog, a French blog, and a German blog, each in the right language selection.

Having setup an array or cluster of blogs, combine and merge them into a cohesive set, so it all looks like one blog, to your readers.

If I want to publish The Real Blogger Status in English, French, and German, I could have "bloggerstatusforreal.blogspot.com", "bloggerstatusforreal-fr.blogspot.com", and "bloggerstatusforreal-de.blogspot.com", each blog with its proper language selection. Since I publish in my own domain, "Nitecruzr.Net", I would have "blogging.nitecruzr.net", "blogging-fr.nitecruzr.net", and "blogging-de.nitecruzr.net".

I use the ISO 2 character Language Codes for all my multi-lingual blog names.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Coming Soon - The New "Next Blog" Link

I've been writing about the navbar, and the "Next Blog" link, for some time - about its random nature, about its dangers, and recently about its design changes. Soon, we are promised a major functionality change in "Next Blog". Blogger Buzz: Coming up Next... suggests that soon, the link will let us surf to blogs with both language and subject affinity to our blogs.

This is a great idea, and one that's been long overdue. This has been coming, since well before January 2008.

But like all great ideas, one should consider the details.

It will be interesting to see what a blog with a totally unique language / subject pair will link to. Also, how granular will the subject association be? For that matter, how will blog subject be determined? What of blogs with multiple subjects - or of course some blogs with no subject, simply ramblings?

And will this allow folks to intentionally (or un intentionally) surf to porn or spam, if they are currently viewing porn or spam? Will it be possible that the bad guys could build blogs that would have the right content, to intercept a blog viewer surfing non porn / spam, so they end up surfing through a ghetto of porn / spam blogs?

For that matter, maybe porn / spam wouldn't be the only types of hijackings. How about someone surfing blogs about automotive design being hijacked into a blog about the ozone layer (hopefully, you understand the connection there). Worse yet, into automotive insurance issues.

Take 10 minutes, see how many subject hijackings you could imagine. Soft spam / propaganda hijacks, nothing blatant. Still, opportunities a plenty, for abuse.

Ten minutes after this change hits the Blogosphere, the bad guys will have a hijack in design. Bet on it. As people start to trust the new "Next Blog" link, it'll be like wolves in the sheep pen, with no shepherds in sight.

Like many Blogger ideas, this one may deserve skeptical optimism.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Custom Domains And The Chair To Keyboard Interface

A Google Custom Domain is an elegant solution for alternately addressing a blog with a BlogSpot or a non BlogSpot URL, and having the current search engine value of the BlogSpot URL transferred to the non BlogSpot URL. There is no other DNS based solution for doing all of that, and doing that so elegantly.

It's so simple to setup, too.
  1. You start with a righteous DNS configuration.
  2. You publish the blog to the primary address.
  3. You redirect the secondary address to the primary address.
  4. You are done with the setup.


For all of it's simplicity, it has a major flaw in the way it's implemented. This flaw, in Computer Security, I describe as a Chair To Keyboard Interface Fault. A CKI Fault is a frequent factor in computer security problems, and similarly, in custom domain problems.

Yet the bloggers, who generate the faults, are not the sole cause of the faults.

Custom Domains depend upon DNS, and DNS is not a user friendly infrastructure. DNS, or Domain Name System, is buried so deeply in the guts of the computer operating system, that very few bloggers know - or care - how it operates, or that it even exists. Yet, what are they greeted with, when they decide to try publishing a blog to a non BlogSpot URL?



Symmetrical DNS Configuration

The most obvious configuration uses a symmetrical DNS structure - dual "CNAME" referrals.
mydomain.com. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.
www.mydomain.com. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.

This is the simplest to explain. Both the domain root, and the "www" alias separately use a "CNAME" referral to "ghs.google.com", which provides a second referral to the current Google server that is available for use.

With a symmetrical configuration, you may publish to either "mydomain.com" or "www.mydomain.com", at your convenience.

Asymmetrical DNS Configuration, aka "Google Apps"

If you have a domain with email, FTP, and other possible auxiliary services, you use an asymmetrical structure, which use Google Apps to let you add auxiliary services, with quadruple DNS server redundancy.
mydomain.com.  3600 IN A 216.239.32.21
mydomain.com.  3600 IN A 216.239.34.21
mydomain.com.  3600 IN A 216.239.36.21
mydomain.com.  3600 IN A 216.239.38.21
www.mydomain.com. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.

Look carefully at the IP addresses in the 4 "A" records, before concluding that the 4 records are identical.

With an asymmetrical configuration, you may not publish to the domain root. Your only valid choice is to publish to "www.mydomain.com", and select "Redirect mydomain.com to www.mydomain.com". If you publish to "mydomain.com", you will eventually see
Blogs may not be hosted at naked domains.


Additional Virtual Host

If you wish to add an additional blog to the domain, maybe to add your Blogger blog to your web site, you setup an additional virtual host pair. There are several variations on this setup - some righteous, others spurious - that you need to consider, carefully.
blog.mydomain.com. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.
www.blog.mydomain.com. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.



Some DNS experts state that there are DNS oddities that not even DNS experts can understand. And configuring DNS addresses just is not user friendly, nor is it predictable.

If I was to instruct someone
Diagnose your domain setup. Enter
dig @localhost nitecruzr.net A
dig @localhost www.nitecruzr.net A
into a command window.
For even those whose computers would run the "Dig" command, how many would be prepared for the output?
; <<>> DiG 9.3.2 <<>> @localhost nitecruzr.net A
; (2 servers found)
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 25181
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 4, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;nitecruzr.net.   IN A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
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

;; Query time: 123 msec
;; SERVER: 127.0.0.1#53(127.0.0.1)
;; WHEN: Mon Nov  9 21:48:45 2009
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 95

; <<>> DiG 9.3.2 <<>> @localhost www.nitecruzr.net A
; (2 servers found)
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 23566
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 3, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;www.nitecruzr.net.  IN A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
www.nitecruzr.net. 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com.
ghs.google.com.  380000 IN CNAME ghs.l.google.com.
ghs.l.google.com. 300 IN A 74.125.43.121

;; Query time: 105 msec
;; SERVER: 127.0.0.1#53(127.0.0.1)
;; WHEN: Mon Nov  9 21:48:52 2009
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 99
Which I abbreviate as
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.
Besides the confusion that comes from setting up the domain, there is complication by the unpredictable nature of the DNS infrastructure, and by an intriguing role reversal of the Google custom domain servers. With all of these details in mind, is it surprising that we have users complaining of "Another blog is already hosted at this address" and "Error 404 Server Not Found", with diagnosed causes of such intriguing variations? >> Top

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I Can't See My Blog - What Should I Do?

This is a very difficult question to answer, because of its almost infinite complexity.
  • There are several different causes.
  • There are more symptoms than the number of causes.
  • There are still more ways that bloggers might report the symptoms that they see.
  • The reports, and the symptoms, will vary in both accuracy, detail, and relevance.
  • Different problems can be fixed only by people with different roles, relevant to the blog.
    • Some problems can be fixed only by the blogger (blog owner).
    • Others can be fixed by the owners of the client computers or their network service providers.
    • Still others can only be fixed by Blogger Support or third party server owners.
  • The epidemiology of the problems will produce different observations.
    • A few problems are occasionally observed by Blogger / Google staff.
    • Some problems will be observed by the blogger.
    • Others may be observed by the bloggers friends / blog readers.
    • A very few problems will be observed by everybody.

The term "blogger" can itself cause confusion - some bloggers might be the owners of the blogs, and others might be the viewers - and this, too, needs to be clarified.

And let's also note the difference between "Blogger" and "BlogSpot".
  • The former is where you maintain your Blogger blog.
  • The latter is the native domain where you, by default, publish your Blogger blog.
  • If you're not publishing externally - either to a custom domain (on a Google server) or by FTP (to a third party server of your choice) - you'll be publishing to BlogSpot.
  • Many times, your specific problem might affect your access to one domain, but not the other.
I'm going to describe the complexity of this problem, enumerating by problem cause, to start.
  1. Blocked By ISP
  2. Blocked By Network, or Local, Problem
  3. Custom Domain Problem
  4. Corrupted Content
  5. Deleted Blog
  6. Hijacked Blog
  7. Login Problem
  8. Lost Position In Search Engine Result Pages
  9. Temporary / Transient Problems
  10. Last Resorts
Blocked By ISP

Some ISPs, possibly motivated by political pressure, are blocking blog traffic, from time to time. You may see a variant of the well known

404 Server Not Found

or just as likely, a completely white screen, with no error.

You can frequently get around this problem, by using a proxy server. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that other readers of the blog will know to do that. If your blog has significant reader population in the geographic regions affected, you're going to lose readership.

http://groups.google.com/group/blogger-help/web/use-a-proxy-server

This problem can only be fixed (worked around) by the blog readers, or the owners of the networks used by the blog readers.


Blocked By Network, or Local, Setting or Security Problem

There are settings and programs on your computer, and on your network, that will affect your ability (or your readers abilities) to access your blog, and other blogs. Any of these individual items, or combinations of these items, can be relevant.

* The DNS setting
http://groups.google.com/group/blogger-help/web/how-to-identify-a-dns-problem-on-your-computer
* The MTU setting
http://groups.google.com/group/blogger-help/web/how-to-check-the-mtu-setting-on-your-computer
* Local network or security problems
http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2006/12/securing-your-browser-and-painting.html

Any of the above can cause the white screen as well. Both DNS and MTU are settings on your computer, or on your network. If there is a problem, the problem starts at the blogger computer, or with the Internet Service Provider. As in the above scenario, you may be able to use a proxy server.

http://groups.google.com/group/blogger-help/web/use-a-proxy-server


Sometimes, Blogger Support will take responsibility for resolving the problem, but individual bloggers have to let them know that there is a problem. If you are having a problem, and you don't report it, then it's partially your fault if the problem isn't fixed.


This problem can likely be fixed by the blog readers, or the owners of the networks used by the blog readers, although occasionally Blogger Support will become involved to advise the network owners.


Custom Domain Problem

Setting up a blog, published to a Google Custom Domain, demands precise attention to detail and procedure. Sometimes, corruption in the Google server database will result in a well known error (which comes in several interesting flavours).

404 Not Found

This problem you won't get around by using a proxy server, or by making any local or ISP changes. You (the blog owner), or Blogger Support, will have to fix the problem. Frequently, this will involve multiple procedures.

* Post a question here.
http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/blogger/ask?hl=en
* Republishing the blog back to BlogSpot, then repeating back to the custom domain.
http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2007/11/custom-domain-publishing-and-404-error.html
* Recycling the domain settings using Google Apps.
http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2007/06/another-blog-is-already-hosted-at-this.html


Corrupted Content

Part of the blog is gone. Maybe the header is there, but no post. Or the posts are there, but the sidebar is blank. Oh no! What do I do now? Well, in this scenario, you may be looking at another case of the old dropped post / sidebar. If it's not a simple case of the posts or the sidebar having dropped down the page, you may have a corrupt template, and reloading the template may resolve the problem.

Here, too, you may see the well known error

404 Not Found

This problem must be fixed by the blog owner. Nobody else - neither Blogger Support, nor the blog readers - can fix corrupted content.


Deleted Blog

You made a mistake, and deleted your own blog, or maybe you or another administrator removed you from the permissions list. DOHH. Mistakes happen. Or the blog may have been removed by Blogger - for just cause - whether falsely or genuinely. Or, did you delete the blog intentionally, without considering the possible consequences?


Hijacked Blog

The bad guys may have hijacked another blog. What you're looking at may or may not contain your content. You may or may not be able to access the dashboard, or the post editor, to correct the problem.


Login Problem

You're logged in with the wrong account, or not properly logged in. Or maybe you tried to change the account name, and simply setup a new account without realising it. Check and make sure that you don't have another account, that the blog is registered to. Find out what Blogger accounts are associated with your email address.

* Blogger Help: My blog disappeared from my account! What do I do?.
http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=41973
* Blogger Help: I can't log in. What should I do?.
http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=41971
* Blogger Help Group: Welcome to Login Issues!.
http://groups.google.com/group/blogger-help-loginissues/tree/browse_frm/thread/b188e22f091f0c62/18df9b57c7ccab41?rnum=1&_done=%2Fgroup%2Fblogger-help-loginissues%2Fbrowse_frm%2Fthread%2Fb188e22f091f0c62%2F%3F#doc_18df9b57c7ccab41
* Google Accounts: Google Accounts Help
https://www.google.com/support/accounts/
* The Real Blogger Status: Schizophrenia When Logging In To Blogger
http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2007/02/schizophrenia-when-logging-in-to.html

If you're certain that you made the right choice, but you got the wrong results, clear cache and cookies, and try again.

http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2006/08/bypass-or-clear-your-local-cache.html


Remember that part of the Blogger security strategy involves keeping the identity of the owner, of any blog, confidential. You don't want Blogger telling anybody who you are, so don't expect to email Blogger

I forgot the account (I changed my email address). What's my account?

and get a useful reply. You will have to do some work, and authenticate yourself, somehow.

http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2006/12/your-blog-is-forever.html


Lost Position In Search Engine Result Pages

There are many reasons why you won't be able to find your blog listed, in Google Search. Some start with your needing to publicise the blog properly.

http://groups.google.com/group/blogger-help/web/how-to-get-traffic-and-repeated-readers-for-your-blog

But even when you do spend days publicising your blog, maybe somebody else spent more days, and his blog replaced yours in your desired search list position. Now, you're just going to have to work harder.

http://groups.google.com/group/blogger-help/web/blogging-is-all-about-patience


Temporary / Transient Problems

Right now, bloggers are reporting problems with their blogs, with the well known

Operation Aborted

Blogger Support has to fix the problems causing this symptom. While we await action by Blogger Support, we may have to help ourselves, using various workarounds.

http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2009/05/internet-explorer-and-operation-aborted.html

Other problems, too many (and too transient) to explicitly enumerate here, will come up from time to time.

http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/search/label/Current%20Problems?max-results=100


Last Resorts

If none of the above problem descriptions helps you decide how to attack your problem, and the blog really isn't accessible, act immediately.

* Put a stub blog in place, if you can do so.
http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2006/06/stub-post.html
* Report the problem.
http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/blogger/ask?hl=en
* And join the crowd, at Google Blogger Help.
http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/blogger?hl=en

Who Are Your Anonymous Followers?

Occasionally, we see queries from bloggers who are unsure what anonymous Followers are.
How do I know when someone Follows my blog anonymously?
and
How do I block anonymous Followers?


When someone Follows a blog publicly, he / she gets two things:
  • A subscription to the blog newsfeed, in the Following Reading List, and / or in Google Reader.
  • An entry in the Following community for the blog.


When someone Follows a blog anonymously, she / he gets one thing:
  • A subscription to the blog newsfeed, in the Following Reading List, and / or in Google Reader.


If you Block someone from Following your blog, you remove their entry from your Following community. Newsfeed subscriptions, though, are universally open - if a feed is available to anybody, it's available to everybody. Your anonymous Followers, as well as your Blocked Followers, can read your newsfeed - just as any reader who wishes to subscribe, without using Following.

If the blog feed is routed through FeedBurner, anybody subscribing to the feed can be counted. If you have a visitor meter installed on the blog, anybody viewing the blog using a link from the blog feed (called "reach" in FeedBurner statistics) will be logged through the visitor meter. Short of FeedBurner or a visitor meter, you won't know anything about anonymous Followers, or about Blocked Followers.

A Blocked Follower appears in your Following community (in the "Blocked" list in your dashboard). An anonymous Follower is simply anonymous, and appears nowhere.

And, just as you can't track an anonymous Follower, you can't Block an anonymous Follower.

>> Top

Friday, November 06, 2009

Is Blogger Free?

Occasionally, in Blogger Help Forum, we get the querulous inquiry
Is Blogger free, or must I pay for the service?
or
What upcharges will I have to deal with, after publishing my blog?


To answer the question, I'll say
Yes, and no.


Within limits, and excepting for minor details, you can publish a Blogger blog, and maintain it for a very long time, without needing a major credit card.

There are two possible charge items, that I can think of.
  • If you want to publish your blog to BlogSpot, the service is free. Publishing the blog to a non BlogSpot URL will require paying for either Custom Domain publishing, or service from a remote server published using FTP. Both will likely cost you some money, though you will not pay the money to Google.
  • If you publish a blog with photos, and you host the photos using the native post editor upload, you'll be using the Picasa service. Picasa is free, to a limit, then there is an upcharge for additional Picasa storage capacity.


For a free service, there are very few absolute limits to what resources you may use. The limits that do exist may be substantial to some, and you have to decide whether they warrant you finding another blogging platform.

And, as I pointed out long ago, Blogger does not charge us directly for the service, but they are not a non profit organisation. They are compensated, to a nice profit level.

>> Top

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Add The Followers Gadget To The Blog

It's been a bit over 2 months since Following was added as a Blogger feature, and daily we see anxious bloggers asking
How do I get Followers to my blog?
as if that is a holy grail of blogging. My first answer is always
Write interesting and relevant content for the blog, so people will read the blog, and will want to Follow the blog.
But there is yet another detail, that not all bloggers seem to get.

Add a Followers gadget to the blog. Having a Followers gadget, with pictures of other Followers, will attract more Followers than just the "Follow" link in the navbar. The "Follow" link, besides not having pretty pictures, works differently than the Followers gadget.

You're going to get a different class of blog readers using the Followers gadget, than the Follow link. The Followers gadget lets people Follow the blog
  • without signing in to Blogger
  • using a different Blogger account
  • using a non Google account
The navbar Follow link requires the reader to be logged in, with the primary Blogger account, to the navbar. People who Follow the blog using the navbar link won't be as casual as those who Follow using the gadget.

Also, the Followers gadget encourages readers and visitors, by making your blog into an active part of the Following community that contains your blog.

You add Followers, like every other gadget, using "Page Elements".

The navbar link, frankly, is a poor substitute for the gadget. If you have a blog that uses a classic template, with which people who insist on publishing by FTP are stuck, the navbar link will be your only choice. But if the blog has a layouts template, and you want Followers, the gadget is your best accessory to add.

>> Top

Blogging Anonymously

We know that Blogger allows us to blog anonymously, by promising to never reveal our identity as a blog owner.

This policy leads to mysterious scenarios, like when someone forgets the account that they used to create a blog, that they do own. And, it leads sometimes to tragic scenarios, like bloggers who don't have access to the back door email account, and can't prove blog ownership.

Even though Blogger allows us to pursue our anonymity, though, that doesn't guarantee absolute anonymity without effort. There are things that we still need to do, to ensure that our name / identity isn't connected with a given blog.

Maybe It's Time To Start Over

I've been advising folks about spam problems, and splog detection (both righteous and spurious), for several years.

Sometimes, the advice is about cleaning up the blog, and submitting it for review. Other times, it's about blogs unjustly accused of being spam. Occasionally, it's about a spam blog, that just can't be reviewed again, or maybe a old blog, that you just can't regain control.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Less Traffic To Our Blogs

One of the more active (and frequently controversial) subjects discussed in this blog is getting more traffic to our blogs, also known as getting the blog indexed by the search engines. Not everybody wants their blogs indexed, though.
How do I make sure my blog is NOT found by search engines?
That question is asked, regularly. And, in truth, there is only one truly effective answer.
Don't publish your blog on the Internet.
This is similar to the question (and answer)
How do I keep my blog private?


Short of absolute effectiveness, the most obvious solution is the two Settings - Basic options. And there are other tweaks which you may find, in Google Webmaster Tools.

And, in the spirit of locking the barn after the horses have been stolen, there is the subject of Removing Your Blog From The Search Engines Caches. Search engine caches, like browser caches, won't clear overnight, if ever.

You'll need to note that the entries in "robots.txt", that result from the two Blogger options "Add your blog to our listings?" and "Let search engines find your blog?", are advisory only - not all search engines observe either setting. And the various search engines accept feeds from each other, in various relationships.

>> Top

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Attack Of The Clones

The latest spam problem, which became visible a couple weeks ago, thanks to yet another Blogger error, left a lot of bloggers (some legitimate and others actually spammers) reporting both confusion and indignation
My blog seems to be locked, but when I fill out the CAPTCHA, I get
Your blog is not locked, and does not need review.
What do I do, now?
and
My blog is not spam! Honestly, how could Blogger legitimately call my blog spam?
Both of these reports, echoed by dozens of bloggers and spammers, show two sides of the same story.

The first report was typically about blogs that were righteously locked, yet a mistake caused the message
Your blog is not locked, and does not need review.
The second report exemplifies the despair and frustration felt by thousands of honest people who simply want to publish to their blogs. And there are dozens of similar, and dissimilar reports.


Note: This isn't fiction - I'm not stealing content from the Tom Clancy "Net Force" novels. This is real.


Spammers, in order to publish one or two active splogs (blogs containing actual hacking, porn, and / or spam content), use the power of the Internet. Each splog publisher, who may have at his control thousands of hijacked computers, publishes thousands of blogs each day.

A splogger starts by simply publishing empty blogs, in a constant, all day activity. You may see the empty blogs some time, if you go "Next Blog" surfing. They have a title, an archives gadget in the sidebar, and maybe one or two posts with random garbage. And a Profile gadget, with a link to the "owner", each "owner" with 10 blogs.

The splogger next takes one legitimate blog - in this case, your blog. He scrapes the content from your blog, takes a dozen or so of his empty blogs, adds your content to each, and republishes each blog. Now, there are a dozen clones of your blog, plus your original, in BlogSpot.

Next, the splogger takes a couple of his recently created clones, adds the payload - hacking, porn, and / or spam content, and republishes his now active splogs. Each time, he just uses a couple blogs (cloned from your blog), and keeps the others as reserve. He has dozens of other splogs with active content out there too, using scraped content from other legitimate blogs. The clones of your blog, joining the clones of other blogs, are now active members of his splog farm.

As the splogs with active content are detected and removed by Blogger, the splogger simply activates other reserves, placing payload into each, in turn. By the time all of the reserves, that are clones of your blog, are used up, the spam farm will have clones of still more legitimate blogs, ready to be activated.

Considering this process, we see the life cycle of each blog in the splog farm.
  • Empty (just published).
  • Reserve (previously empty, republished with scraped content added).
  • Active (previously reserve, republished with payload added).
  • Detected (previously active, locked by the Blogger Spam Classification bot).
  • Deleted.

The plan here is that each splog will pass through each stage in the life cycle, in proper sequence. Since the splogger publishes thousands of splogs daily, if Blogger were to simply lock then delete the active splogs, the splogger simply activates the reserve splogs, as needed. This is good project management, by the sploggers.

Blogger aims to shorten the life cycle. When the anti-spam bot detects an active splog, they search their database of suspected splogs, find similar blogs with no active content (the reserves), and lock the reserves too.

Unfortunately, when Blogger locks the reserve splogs, they are also going to lock your blog. Fuzzy spam detection techniques can't tell the difference between your blog, and the clones, because there is no difference.

A successful clone is a non distinguisable replica of the original blog. Your blog looks like one of the reserve splogs. This leaves you, and bloggers like you, reporting
My blog is not spam! Honestly, how could Blogger legitimately call my blog spam?

When you look at this differently, though, you see that Blogger is actually helping you. Were your blog, and the clones, to remain in BlogSpot undisturbed, the search engines would see the clones, and levy a huge duplicated content penalty on all aliases of the content - including your original blog. If you are able to declare your blog as legitimate to Blogger, Blogger can later delete the sploggy clones, and the search engines will, hopefully, continue to index your blog, as legitimate and unique content.


(Update 2009/11/12): Yesterday, Blogger took the Next Step, and made "Next Blog" a less productive launching ground for splog farms.


>> Top

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The New Navbar And The "Follow" Link

The new navbar, with its Follow and Share links, has been out for just over a week. People are starting to use the Follow button, instead of the Followers gadget - which is not necessarily present on every blog. But there are differences between the "Follow" button on the navbar, and the "Followers" gadget that's (sometimes) added to the blogs. These differences are causing some confusion.

The Followers gadget lets you login to Following, under any account, Blogger or not - and separate from the account used to login to the navbar. If you so desire, you can Follow any blog without logging in - You'll add a temporary "shadow" icon to the blog (if you choose to Follow publicly), and you'll add the blog feed to your Reading List and / or Google Reader subscription list.

With the Follow link on the navbar, if you're not logged in (using the "Sign In" link), you'll not see a "Follow" link. Once you do login (which you can only do using a Blogger account), you can click on the Follow button. There, you'll get a choice of Following publicly, using your Blogger / Google account - or Following anonymously. If you Follow publicly, you'll use your Blogger profile, as connected with the account used to Sign In to the navbar.

>> Top

The New Post Editor And Read More

One problem which we seem to see, pretty consistently, in Blogger Help Forum, is where the posts and a sidebar end up in one long column, with one above the other.

Reports like
My posts have vanished!
and
My sidebar (my archives, my Followers, my profile gadget, ...) have dropped to the bottom of the page!
are seen a lot in the forum. Generally, it's caused by trying to put too much in one place.

Recently, though, a few bloggers report the dropped sidebar symptom, after they try the new post editor, and the Blogger "Read More" option (called by Blogger, "Jump Break").