Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blogger Magic - Update The Post Template, To Enable Many Post Related Features

Blogger is continually adding new features to the Blogger platform. Some features, which are specific to individual posts, don't always work as well as they should - or in some cases, don't work at all.

Other Blogger supplied features may stop working, after the blog is changed to use a third party template, or after the template code is tweaked using "Edit HTML" - maybe when installing a third party commenting system.

In many cases, failure of a post related feature to work consistently, or at all, is caused by the lack of supporting code in the post template. Generally, when someone reports such a problem in BHF: Something Is Broken, the advice to refresh the gadgets, or the post template, will be given. Some forum helpers may grow to see the advice, now given as
From Template - "Edit HTML", select "Revert widget templates to default", and select "Blog1".
as a magic wand, to be waved over any blog with a problem.

There is no magic in the post or widget templates - and many problems with the posts can be resolved in several different ways.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Identifying An Expired Custom Domain

If you have a car, and drive it frequently - and sometimes under stress - you may have experienced the embarrassment of depleting the petrol level, unexpectedly, at an inconvenient time. This experience is called, in the vernacular, "running out of gas".

Like the experience of running out of gas, which is embarrassing and inconvenient, people who publish their blogs to non BlogSpot URLs may occasionally experience the horror of having their custom domains "run out of gas", or expire. Like having your car run out of gas, it is extremely necessary to confirm when your domain has expired.

Effective Spam Mitigation Is Forcing Spam Publishers To Be Innovative

As Blogger continues their efforts to classify and remove abusive use of Blogger resources, they are adapting and sharpening their fuzzy spam classification process. The sharpening enables them to righteously classify more spam blogs, and to spuriously classify less genuine blogs.

This improvement is good - to everybody but the would be publishers of hacking, porn, and spam content. The victims of Blogger's success - the spammers - are being forced to change their techniques, and to outsource their controversial content to other sites.

The spammers are going to both improve their technique, and to double or quadruple their efforts. Spammers use other peoples computers to do their work - so quadrupling their efforts simply means using more bots, and sending out more spam. That's a simple, low cost solution.

This month, we have activity in BHF: How Do I? and BHF: Something Is Broken, possibly intending to probe the nature of the fuzzy classification process. That's one strategy to improve their technique.

If you understand fuzzy spam classification, you'll know that trying to predefine the process isn't relevant. Fuzzy spam classification will adapt, as spam publishing adapts to continually mimic legitimate blog content.

Your blog needs to contain real material, intentionally designed to inform and interest your readers. If you're trying to adapt porn or spam to services outside Google, and circumvent Blogger TOS, you need to plan for spam classification of your blog. If you're building a personal blog and using typical porn / spam techniques to SEO your blog, then plan to deal with spam classification and the well known and hated 4 step spam review process.

If you simply have a genuine Blogger blog, and have been reading the FUD generated by a few confirmed spammers who have been expelled from Blogger, you might want to read about the numbers behind Blogger and the spam problem.

Recently, Blogger improved the accuracy of their spam classification process. Instead of a 50 / 50 righteous to spurious appeal ratio (to which I refer, in the FAQ), we are currently seeing a 20 / 80 ratio. That is 1 personal blog, falsely accused of hosting spam, to every 4 spam blogs, initially locked and subsequently deleted after appeal). If your blog is genuinely personal, and you are not a turkey, your time will be better spent publishing content in your blog - instead of listening to the fear, uncertainty, and doubt about fuzzy spam classification. And we should understand the paradoxes involved in spam interdiction.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

"Show Share Buttons" Not Working For All Blogs

Blogger wants bloggers to participate in social networking. They have encouraged this, for a long time, using the "Email Post Links" icon. Recently, they improved on the latter option, with a small set of buttons for sharing posts in the most popular social networking platforms. Now, our readers can have the option to easily share our posts using Email, Blog This!, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz.

The new "Share Blog" Buttons are a part of the post template. Just like every other post template component, they are selected using the "Blog Posts" gadget in "Page Elements". Blogs with older templates may not have the required post template code, to make this option work.

If you use "Blog Posts", enable the Share Buttons, and still don't see the new buttons on your blog, reset the post template. Remember to backup the template, before and after making this change.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Diagnosing Problems With Access To Your Blog, Using The SiteMeter Visits And Page Views Histogram

If you are observing a problem with accessing your blog, and you report your problem in BHF: Something Is Broken, there are several details which can be very useful when you report your problem.
  • Is the problem periodicity constant, cyclical (predictable), or intermittent (un predictable)?
  • Is the problem scope universal (affecting all of your readers), partial (affecting some of your readers), or local (affecting you only, or maybe you and a few neighbours)?
  • When did the problem start?

If I am one of the helpers who responds to your question, and who tries to help you solve your problem, I will probably be asking you some or all of the above questions. These are standard questions, which should be used to diagnose any problem involving blog availability.

If you are going to answer the first two questions objectively, you will need some tool for measuring the periodicity and scope of the problem. Here, the best tool that I can recommend, for measuring anything other than a constant and universal outage, would be the SiteMeter histograms of "visits and page views".

Like any medical measurement, such as an EKG chart, a "Visits and Page Views" chart will show peaks and valleys over hourly, daily, and weekly periods - even with no problem active. If you periodically observe your visitor counts, when there is no active problem, you'll know what the normal page views / visits figures are - and you'll be better able to see the effects of an active problem.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New "Share Blog" Buttons For Blogger Blogs

Blogger wants bloggers to participate in social networking. They have encouraged this, for a long time, using the "Email Post Links" icon. Until now, though, anything more would be installed as custom code.

Now, Blogger offers us a set of Share Blog buttons. Our readers can have the option to easily share our posts using Email, Blog This!, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz.

Share Blog is another option, selected as "Show Share Buttons", from the "Blog Posts" wizard in "the dashboard Layout wizard".


(Update 7/23): The "Share Blog" buttons require an updated post template. Older templates may not offer this option, immediately.

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Blogger Magic - The Two Queens

If you enjoy the card game or magic trick of Three Card Monte, you probably depend upon an unbroken rule of single deck card games.
All cards, in a deck, are unique. There can be only one Queen Of Spades.

Some bloggers don't accept this rule, when setting up their custom domains.
How do I use two domains, with one blog?
This question is vaguely similar to swapping domains between one blog - and there is where some confusion starts.
I bought a second domain for the blog - and the first domain stopped working!

Some Blog Owners Unable To Publish New Posts To Their Blogs

For some time now, some bloggers have been able to publish new posts in their blogs. We have an active discussion in Blogger Help Forum, where a solution is promised.
We're digging back into this and hope to have a fix out ASAP.
More reports are posted, each day.
I hit "New Post", the post editor window loads, but the cursor keeps spinning.

Some people find relief from this by using the classic post editor, others by using a different browser, or by clearing cache, cookies, and active sessions. And a few folks use a workaround.
  1. Ensure that "Quick Edit" is enabled, for the blog.
  2. Hit "New Post", and go to post editor with the icon spinning.
  3. If you have "Show Title field" set to "Yes", enter a good post title, because this will affect the post URL.
  4. Hit "Publish Post".
  5. Hit "View Post".
  6. From the published post, which you are now viewing, click on the "Quick Edit" icon.
  7. You are now in post editor, with an empty post displayed. Enter the post content, and "Publish Post" again.
  8. As an alternate to steps #5 and #6, click on the "Edit post" link from the "Your blog post published successfully!" display.

If you are experiencing this problem, provide some details about your experiences.
  • Where are you located, and what ISP do you use?
  • What browser(s), running on what operating system, do you have?
  • Have you tried using a different browser? If so, what result did you experience?
  • Have you tried using a different computer? If so, what result did you experience?
  • Have you tried using a different post editor? If so, what result did you experience?
  • Have you tried clearing cache and cookies? If so, what result did you experience?
  • Do you have other blog(s)? If so, do you have this same problem, with every blog?
  • Is this problem constant, or does it come and go?
  • When did you first see this problem?
Be generous with the details - they might help you to help us to help you.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Expired Custom Domain Will Have To Be Setup Again, After You Renew

Registrars, the companies which lease your domains to you on a year by year basis, are not non profit organisations. If you let the registration on your domain expire, your registrar has to have an alternate plan for making money from your domain.

If you don't renew the registration for your domain promptly, most registrars will change your domain DNS setup, and point it to a "parked domain" server. Any of your would be readers will see a screen full of ads, instead of your blog. That's your registrar, making money from your unrenewed domain.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blogger Tower Of Babble - The Post Feed Redirect URL

The Blogger blog feed - what it is, how to identify its URL, and why it doesn't work - is a frequent subject of many discussions in BHF: How Do I?. Many times, when it doesn't work, the problem can be traced to improper use of the feed redirect setting.

What Blogger labels as the "Post Feed Redirect URL" would be, more accurately, labeled as the "Post Feed Subscription Redirect URL". or possibly the "Redirected Post Feed URL". Use of this setting does not redirect the feed to another URL, it simply redirects references to the feed (for instance, subscriptions by your readers) to the URL of another feed, which is sourced from your blog feed.

The most famous (though not the only possibility) redirection choice is FeedBurner. By "burning" a FeedBurner feed based upon your blog post feed, you can give your readers many choices that are not provided in the native blog posts feed.

Blogger instructs us
If you have burned your post feed with FeedBurner, or used another service to process your feed, enter the full feed URL here. Blogger will redirect all post feed traffic to this address. Leave this blank for no redirection.
It's possible, however, that not all blog owners read this instruction, and simply interpret "Post Feed Redirect URL" as a setting which automatically changes the URL of the feed. And that's where some babble starts.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

When You Import Posts Into Your Blog, Publish Selectively

When you export the contents of your blog, so you can import them to another blog, you will export all posts, without any choice.

If you import repeatedly to any blog, and you publish posts automatically, you will end up with duplicate posts. In almost all cases, you will find it best to not select "Automatically publish all imported posts", when importing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blogger Magic - Three Card Monte

One of the reasons why The Shell Game / Three Card Monte is a legendary fixture, in some cities, is that it's a favourite feature in some magic shows. The magician uses sleight of hand to move the pea or Queen of Spades around, and confuse the audience. It's the same game, just in different settings.
  • The street corner version is more exciting. You're trying to win some money, and the scammer is trying to steal your camera, purse, or wallet.
  • The parlor show is more fun. You're seated, having a drink, and watching.
You pay for either show - just in different ways.

You Are Not Allowed To Have A GMail Address As The Primary Address For Your Blogger Account

Many bloggers have felt the despair, when trying to change their Blogger account to use a GMail address, and seeing
You are not allowed to have a GMail address as the primary address for your Blogger account.

This despair may be rather intense, when the need is urgent. Maybe, your current email account is expiring, and it's not convenient to immediately move your blog(s) to a new GMail based Blogger account.

But, think outside the box.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Know Your Visitors - And Ignore Your Own Visits

Most bloggers don't just write blog content, they need to look at who is reading what they write.

They do this, using visitor logs and meters, like Blogger Stats, Google Analytics, SiteMeter, and StatCounter. Visitor logs and meters are demographic and statistical tools, which show how many people are reading the pages and posts in the blog.

When a blog is new, with few visitors, you'll want to examine accurate statistics. Perversely, when the blog is new, and you spend some time visiting the blog to check out the content, and test the changes, you'll see your own visits reflected in the log entries and numbers.

The newer any blog is, the fewer visits it will get - and the more statistically significant owner activity will be. Since the purpose of using a visitor meter is to monitor visitor reaction to the blog, so you can improve visitor activity, you'll want to ignore your own visits to the blog.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Template Designer, And Browser Security Settings

One of the most exciting features of the Template Designer is the Live Preview.

As you change any blog template setting using the Designer wizard, in the upper pane, you immediately see the effect of the change in the lower pane. That is the intended effect, when the wizard works.

The Template Designer, as most Blogger blog maintenance wizards, runs in "Blogger.com". The live preview window, however, runs in the domain where the blog is published. This requires that both "blogger.com" and the blog domain have trusted status, and causes a vulnerability called cross-site scripting.

Blogger Blogs, And "Affiliate" Networks

If you're a fan of "spy" movies and novels, you may know about the concept of "intelligence" networks.

These networks are composed of people who devote their time to clandestinely gathering and sending information, from one country to another. Intelligence networks are large, and contain confusing and redundant casts of characters. These large numbers are necessary, to prevent the host country from detecting and stopping the activities of the networks.

Complementing the "spies" in intelligence, there is an equal but opposite activity - "counter intelligence". The goal of the counter intelligence spies is to detect the intelligence activities of an enemy country, and to destroy (or hijack / mislead) such activity when it's detected. When intelligence activity, conducted by an enemy country, is detected in a host country, the counter intelligence spies start from the detected activity - and try to identify and round up the entire intelligence network.

This is a basic vulnerability of any intelligence network - detection of one component of the network can lead to detection of the entire network.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Edit Pages Display

Similar to the "Edit Posts" menu, the "Edit Pages" display is the center of your blog maintenance activity. Since each blog can have a maximum of 10 pages, the pages are enumerated in a GUI array - as opposed to posts, which are not limited, and which are enumerated in the "Edit Posts" list.

For each page, you can
  • Edit (using Page / Post Editor).
  • View (using the browser).
  • Delete a page. If you delete, do so very carefully. And do not delete a page, to quickly clear its content, with the intention of publishing a new page with that same title. You may use the same title, but the page URL will never be the same.
  • View comments for the page.

Since pages don't have dates, they can't be saved as "Scheduled", and there is no choice to display pages selectively. All pages are displayed, in all cases.

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Export / Import Of Comments And Posts, Within The Same Blog, Will Give You New URLs For Everything Imported

Occasionally, some blog owners will get the urge to clean up the comments and posts in a blog, maybe to make the blog easier to read, or to make it easier to find important posts.

As in "spring cleaning" where we move everything out of a room in our house, so to clean the room completely, a blog owner may try exporting all comments and posts, deleting everything, then importing what was just exported.
I exported to an XML file, deleted all my blog posts and then imported - but this process has added additional digits to all of my URLs and this will break all links to me. I've switched back to my blogspot.com address but all the URLs have additional numbers like this:
http://myblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/one_blog_post_579.html

As I've noted earlier in advice about deleting posts, you cannot delete then re publish a post using the same URL. Similarly, you cannot export comments and posts, delete everything, then re import and re publish - without seeing the URL of every comment, and every post, published under a new URL.

If you are really determined to make this change, your "spring cleaning" plan will have to be expanded slightly.
  • Create a new blog.
  • Copy the template, and all accessories, gadgets and tweaks from the current blog to the new blog.
  • Import the comments and posts to the new blog.
  • Finally, swap blog URLs between the two blogs.

You can do this - but note, if you do, the complications of renaming your blog. Carefully assess each issue, decide if any issue is relevant to your blog, and decide how to handle each one that is relevant.

Look, before you leap.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Diagnosing Problems With Your Blogger / BlogSpot Connectivity

One of the most frustrating problems reported occasionally in in BHF: Something Is Broken comes in very terse langauge.
I can't access my blog.
or slightly longer
I can't access any blogs
.or possibly
I can't access Blogger.
In situations where the blog owner, and / or any number of blog readers, are cooperative, and able to take a few minutes to perform some simple tests, we can conduct a Affinity based analysis - or possibly an Affinity / Differential Analysis.

Organise Your Reading List, Using Google Reader

One of the two main benefits from Following a blog is an automatically placed subscription, to the feed from that blog. The feed can be immediately read, using the Reading List, at the bottom of the Blogger dashboard. After you add more than a few blogs to your Followed community, your Reading List will become a bit cluttered. Some Bloggers become concerned, and want to organise their Reading List.
How do I change the order of my Reading List?
or
How do I make folders, for the blogs that I Follow?
or
How do I let other people see the feeds, from the blogs that I Follow?

They are overlooking Google Reader, which is just one click away from the dashboard. Google Reader provides the solutions, for each of the above questions.


Just click on "View in Google Reader".




And there, we have plenty of possibilities, for organising and sharing your Followed blogs, and your subscriptions.



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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Redirecting Traffic From A Blogger Blog To Non Google Hosting

Occasionally in Blogger Help Forum: How Do I?, we see the innocent question
How do I redirect traffic, automatically, from my Blogger blog to my WordPress blog?
or
I just moved my blog to a real website - how do I get my readers from my Blogger blog to my website?
This need, like redirecting traffic between BlogSpot URLs, is one feature that Blogger will probably not ever provide.

If Blogger were to allow the automatic forwarding of traffic, from a Blogger blog to a non Google website, spammers could use BlogSpot blogs as gateways, and move their spam content around, at will. You can redirect traffic from a BlogSpot URL to a non BlogSpot URL - but you must use a properly setup custom domain, to do this.

You can combine your Blogger blog(s) with a non Google website, if you think about it.
  • Setup a virtual host pair, in the website domain.
  • Publish your blog to the virtual host.
  • Add a custom link bar to the blog, and the website.
  • Use the same template on the blog and the website.
  • Use your imagination.

The latter solution simply requires some Blogger content in your blog, which is then merged into a non Blogger website. It just doesn't allow you to simply redirect your Blogger blog straight into a non Blogger website. And if you see some Blogger blogs that do seem to redirect to a non Blogger / Google URL, those are just blogs that haven't been given an offsite redirect warning interstitial - or classified as a spam host - yet.

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Monday, July 05, 2010

Anchor Links, And Post Editor Compose Mode

I like to include a link to the top of the displayed page, at the end of my posts.

I compose my posts in "Edit HTML" mode, and at the end of each post, I add

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<a href="#Top">&gt;&gt; Top</a>

That gives me a link to the top of the page, since I included an anchor link "Top" inside an HTML gadget, at the top of the page.

<a name="Top"></a>

That's simple enough, once you get used to adding the code.

There's a caveat here, though.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Moving Your Blog To A Designer Template? Watch Your Template Accessories

The Designer templates have been part of production Blogger for just under a month, now. Occasionally, we see odd queries about loss of gadgets, and visitor counts.
Where did my (custom accessory) go?
and
My SiteMeter counts dropped to zero.

In many cases, the problem here comes from not planning and watching the template move closely enough.

If your blog started out with a classic (HTML) template years ago, you may not have thought about converting your tweaks, like Google Analytics, SiteMeter, or StatCounter counters, from being embedded in the template, to an HTML / JavaScript gadget. When your blog is moved to a Designer template, you start over with a clean template. Any custom tweaks in the template HTML code, like embedded counters, will be gone.

Any HTML / JavaScript and other gadgets, that you can see on "Page Elements", will be copied to the new template. Depending upon which layout you select, in the Template Designer wizard, your gadgets may be located in odd places. If you select a split sidebar (1 column at the top, and 2 columns at the bottom), look at the bottom of one of the split columns after the new template is in place. Gadgets that were sized for a single column sidebar may be too wide to fit into a split column sidebar, and this may cause problems like the well known dropped posts / sidebar column.

Before you move your blog to the Designer template, do yourself a favour and save the Layout code where it's convenient. Go to "Edit HTML", select "Expand Widget Templates", and copy the content of the window to a Notepad file. When you find that your visitor meter or other third party code is missing, having the Notepad file will be a lot more convenient than having to "Select Layout Template", retrieve the missing code, then recover the blog back to a Designer template.

In general, the Template Designer wizard does a pretty good job installing a new template onto blogs that started out with Classic or Layout templates. Just watch your blog, be aware of the few odd possibilities, and you should do fine.

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Monitor The Life Of Your Blog

Your blog depends upon traffic for its success.

You need to monitor the traffic, to watch for problems. You use a visitor meter, to monitor the traffic numbers, and objectively watch for problems.

Most visitor meters give you a bare minimum of diagnostic information - what pages / posts were read, what URLs were they read from, and similar demographic information about your visitors.

If you want to proactively watch for problems, that can cause your visitor meters to show changes, you use the diagnostic tools in Google Webmaster Tools.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Inability To Stop Following Caused By Pop Up Window Size

Occasionally, we get a confused blogger who wants to stop Following a blog, but can't find the link.
When I clicked on Settings, there was no option to "unfollow."
The option should be there - it's there for all of my blogs, at least.

The Following Settings wizard uses a popup window, and the link "Stop following this site" is over to the right of the caption "Settings for (Name of Followed blog)". Many Bloggers keep their popup windows minimised somewhat. Depending upon default text size, the Following Settings window will be too narrow to show the "Stop following this site" link. Don't waste time looking for a horizontal scrollbar, even with the window minimised.


If you're trying to remove a blog from your Following neighbourhood, and you can't find the link, stretch the right side of the popup window. It's there, to the right.




It's there - just look for yourself.



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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Owners Of Blogs, Spuriously Classified As Spam, See Comments Posted Disappear From Various Blogs

Truth is stranger than fiction, and Blogger provides no exception to that saying. In Something Is Broken: Comments from restored blog owner ... are being erased by blogger!, we see the report
My blog was removed on June 12th but my blog returned on June 14th.

I believe that was when I first noticed the disappearing comments problem. Everyone else's comments on that post remained intact but my own comment had disappeared.

So this is a definitely a problem that started after the removal and restoration of my blog.

If this tale is real, we see what appears to be another effort in the war against spam, with a twist.
  1. The blog owner posts comments, in her / his blog, and in other blogs where he / she is known and unknown.
  2. Her / his blog is spuriously classified as spam, and both the blog, and the owning account are removed from Blogger.
  3. Comments previously posted are removed, possibly by the Blogger spam removal bot.
  4. The blog owner has the blog reviewed, and the Blogger account and blog are restored.
  5. Comments previously removed are not restored, and additional comments posted later are also removed.

So, in spite of my previous analysis of Blogger and spam comments, Blogger may be doing something about spam comments.

If your blog was recently deleted for spamming, then later restored (possibly after you completed the 4 step spam review), and you think (though probably do not believe) that your comments, posted in various Blogger blogs, are disappearing, maybe you are not imagining what you are seeing.

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