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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Mysterious Disappearing Reading List

One long known mystery, reported from time to time in Blogger Help Forum: Get Help with an Issue, involves the dashboard Reading List, and panic from disappearing entries.
Where are the blogs, in my Reading List?
Some Blogger blog owners and readers can spend days setting up their Reading List complement - and see their work vanish, in seconds.

One of the reasons why this problem has not been solved is that it is not reported in consistently high volume, and has no obvious pattern. Another is that many people who use the Reading List - as opposed to a third party NewsFeed Reader - are not of the highest in technological skill level, and do not have the patience to provide coherent and relevant details about the problem.

From my observation of forum problem reports, I suspect that there are at least 3 different problems, which cause this intermittent Reading List scenario.

It's likely that each problem is caused in part by the people, who depend upon the Reading List to follow blogs published by them, and by other people. Some people also publish their own blogs, while others only read blogs, using their own Reading List - and this can complicate both the diagnosis, and resolution, of the problems.

At least some of the reports of "My Reading List has disappeared!" involve three long known problems - each problem caused, in part, by the Blogger account owners who use the Reading List.
  • Cookie / Script Filters, which prevent the Reading List code from identifying the reader, and displaying the personal Reading List.
  • Multiple Blogger accounts, where an account owner sets up their personal Reading List while logged in to one account, and later uses a different Blogger account, with no personal Reading List setup for that account.
  • Load Timeout is a problem with the Reading List assembly process, similar to timeout by the Dynamic Template assembly process.

The cookie / script filtering issue is similar to another long standing problem - Blogger Comments, particularly using the Embedded comment form. Third party cookies, which carry the identity of the person logged in to Blogger, being filtered and unavailable to the Reading List generation code, lead to the empty Reading List display. The Blogger Comments problem, like the Reading List problem, seems more common to people with lower tech skills set.

The cookie / script filters issue may also involve people who access the Internet through countries subject to country code alias redirection. People who live in the UK may not consistently update their security filters to permit cookies or scripts from "blogspot.co.uk", as they do for "blogspot.com". People who live close to international boundaries may not be aware of the vagaries of geolocation, and how their country code alias redirection may be affected, from day to day.

Another filter issue may involve recently updated filters. Thanks to ever changing security needs, and frequent unannounced updates by many security product vendors, a filter which worked yesterday may not work today. People unaware of the intrusive nature of security updates won't think to check the update log for any security product.

The empty Reading List problem can be caused by aggressive cookie / script filters, as is a similar problem - inability to remove specific blogs from the Reading List.

The multiple accounts issue is common to almost every Blogger feature. Ever since Blogger added the "Create an account" link to the Blogger / Google login screen, people have been setting up multiple Blogger accounts. Some people setup multiple accounts accidentally, and others do so on purpose.

If you combine the "Create an account" link with the ease of setting up a non GMail based Blogger account, you see that many people who don't use GMail can easily setup a new Blogger account without realising what they are doing. The owner of a new account, newly able to login, finds an empty dashboard. People who use the Reading List, purely to Follow other peoples blogs, will not be interested in the empty "My blogs" list, and will simply observe the lack of entries in the Reading List.

Other people setup additional Blogger accounts intentionally, to host different blogs under different accounts. People who intentionally segregate their blogs may not understand the similar personal nature of the Reading List.

Cookie / script filters can also block the contents of the Google "One Account" display from being properly generated - and may similarly contribute to creation of multiple accounts. The "reflexive action" design of the "One Account" display also contributes to use of the wrong account, in multiple account situations.

Both aggressive cookie / script filtering, and use of multiple Blogger accounts, can lead to lack of proper identification of the Blogger account owner - and to an empty Reading List.

The load timeout issue is similar to Dynamic Template load timeout. If you have any interesting assortment of feeds, in your Reading List, clear cache, cookies, and sessions, restart the browser, and login to Blogger. Immediately, scroll to the bottom of the screen, and watch the Reading List on your dashboard.

The list will, initially, be completely empty - then suddenly, it will fill with some number of posts, instantaneously. This is the same way a blog displays, in a dynamic view.

The various feeds in the Reading List have to be merged, so the individual posts can be displayed in proper sequence - in the same way that the components of a dynamic template display are assembled. This will make the Reading List display vulnerable to intermittent local and network problems, as the dynamic templates are vulnerable.

Different client computers will be differently vulnerable to load timeout, because of details like differing reading list content, individual network problems, and individual local computer problems. Reading List load timeout will have the same effect as Dynamic View load timeout - no display. This will be a truly intermittent problem.

Besides the inconsistent and intermittent load timeout, we'll see consistent errors, like the empty Reading List - and the mysterious lack of ability to remove Reading List entries.

All of the above issues are caused, in part, by the Blogger account owners. Blogger Engineering has worked for many years to solve the problem of cookie filtering and commenting, in vain. I suspect that they have also worked on the Reading List display problem, with similar result.

As long as people use their own computers, with security components of their own choosing - and neglect to consistently use the same Blogger account - Blogger is never going to solve the problem of the empty Reading List. The panic will never go away.

Thanks to the Google "One account" login, as Blogger is made a way of life to more of a reader population who have no interest in maintaining security on their computer, these issues will become more problematic.

Dude, hit me with a comment!

Adam said...

Chuck, while I am sure that everything you describe is spot on, I can also report that the reading list is genuinely flakey.

It disappears and reappears intermittently on the same computer using the same browser for the same account.

I've learned to just shrug and wait for it to reappear.

Chuck Croll said...

Thank you, Adam, you are correct. The truly intermittent factor, I believe, is similar to the flakiness of dynamic templates.

Merging the multiple feeds, so all posts display in the right sequence, makes the Reading List assembly process vulnerable, as the dynamic template assembly process is vulnerable, to individual and intermittent timeout, and no display.

http://blogging.nitecruzr.net/2013/08/dynamic-template-instabilities-have.html

Rhapsody said...

Blessings......
While all of this sounds reasonable it all goes over my head and still does not offer a solution that would enable me to MANAGE THE BLOGS I FOLLOW. Frankly I have just given up.

Stay blessed.
Happy New Year.

donna baker said...

Hello Nitecruzr, I have 'talked' with you before about issues and you are a computer god. I am one of those who can barely blog and talk at the same time. I've had my reading list for years (added a few) and now it won't show. I've tried everything I know to do with no results. Turned off computer, deleted cookies and signed in and out. I need more help than others. Is there a place I can go for someone to walk me through the process?

Marilou said...

Before Google took over eblogger there wasn't a problem I blame it on GoĆ²gle and don't think one must be that tech savvy to have this issue resolved, if you know so much why don't you see that it gets fixed' thanks.
Perhaps you should work for Google