More on Blogger Custom Domain Publishing

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on Newsome.Org’s move to WordPress, which is going remarkably well (more on that later).   But today I want to look a little deeper into the process and benefits of publishing your blog via a Blogger Custom Domain.

bcd-150x150First, a recap.  Recall that Blogger has announced that it will discontinue publishing via FTP on March 26, 2010.  This caused a general panic here at Newsome.Org, followed by a somewhat more thoughtful election to move Newsome.Org to WordPress and my music publishing company (Errbear Music) to a Blogger Custom Domain.  As I noted before, the process was generally very easy.  Here’s the step-by-step walk-through of the process.

Here are some updates.

Adding Post Pages

When I was publishing to Errbear Music via FTP, I was hosting the blog files in a directory on my Newsome.Org server, and using a page in that directory (errbear.html) as the blog’s front page.  I  then parked the  errbear.com domain on that page, meaning that when someone directed their browser to errbear.com, he or she was forwarded to the errbear.html page.  It looked reasonably seamless.  The problem became that all of the post pages and other ancillary pages were located at Newsome.Org, and had a Newsome.Org URL.  Once I set up my Custom Domain, I wanted to have all of the post pages and ancillary pages located within that domain.  This happened automatically for the post pages, but could not happen automatically for the various ancillary pages located in that directory.  The majority of those ancillary pages were the very important lyrics and streaming mp3 pages for my songs.  This required me to create a new post page, containing the lyrics and a streaming mp3,  for each of my songs.  It wasn’t a soul-crushing task, using Live Writer and the time saving Text Template plugin, but it did take some time.

I want to be clear about something, to avoid confusion.  The pages I am talking about were not previous blog posts.  They were html files on my server that I linked to from the sidebar and in blog posts.  For those who wonder how things got that way- my Errbear Music pages pre-dated by years the advent of blogging and blogging software.  Those pages existed when I moved to a blogging platform.

A couple of pointers for anyone who has to do this:

1. Blogger allows you to mass edit labels.  This is a huge time-saver.  I decided about 2/3 of the way into the process to create genre-based labels.  It would have been soul-crushing to go back and add labels to each post page manually.

2. There is a limit to the number of posts you can make each day to a Blogger blog.  I don’t know the number, but it’s large.  I ran into the “too many posts”  error a couple of times when adding the post pages.  Wait a day and you can get back to uploading pages.

I would note that I decided to leave the mp3 song files on the Newsome.Org server.  The size of that song library and all the links out there (via a lot of the music search engines) led me to conclude that those files should be left where they are.

Templates are Themes

I wasn’t all that crazy about the default selection of templates.  Initially, I hacked up one of the default selections and made it work.  There are, however, a lot of good templates out there, you just have to look for them.  I started with the Natural Health theme, and went from there.  I think that template is as pretty as any WordPress themes I have seen.

It’s easy to upload a template via your Blogger Dashboard.  Simply find a template you like and then:

1.  Download the template to your computer.  If the template is contained in a zip file, extracted the XML template file.

2. Log in to your Blogger Dashboard and go to Template> Edit HTML.

3. Back up your old template in case you decide to use it again. Simply click on the “download full template” link and save the file to your hard drive, or just copy and paste the html to Notepad.

4. Look for the section near the top where you can browse for your XML template.

5. Enter the location of your template and click “upload”.

6. The html of your new template will now appear in the box below. You can preview your new template or save it and start using it right away.

Hacking the Template

Much of what you want to change can be done via the Layout editor within your blog settings.  Blogger has a “Gadget” approach, very similar to WordPress’s “Widgets.”  While there isn’t the developer community behind Blogger Gadgets like there is for WordPress plugins and Widgets, I am confident that you can do just about anything layout or content wise on a Blogger template that you can do in a WordPress theme.

At the end of the day, I found the manipulation of  Blogger templates to be a little less powerful and a little easier than WordPress themes.  It’s not the kiddie pool, by any means, but there is a rope to help you keep from drowning.

One tip:

While you can do a lot via the Layout editor, you’ll need to (and can) edit the html for some tweaks.  For example, until I went in and hacked the template code, my email subscription form was subscribing people to the email feed of the template developer.  For what it’s worth, I have been using Feedblitz for my email feed for years, but moved back to Feedburner for both my blogs today.  (If you don’t know what a Feedreader is and want to subscribe to Newsome.Org via email, see the link in the left column on this page.)

At the end of the day, moving to a Blogger Custom Domain is very easy, and Blogger provides the tools to create just about anything you could want.  I’ll do a feature by feature comparison of Blogger and WordPress soon, but in the meantime, I can say that publishing to a Blogger Custom Domain is a fine, feature-rich option for your blog.

As always, I’ll try to answer any questions posed in the comments.

How to Move From FTP Published Blogger to a Blogger Custom Domain

The backstory is here.

I decided to move Errbear.Com, my music publishing company’s web site, from FTP published Blogger to a Blogger Custom Domain.  Here’s how I did it, and my initial thoughts.  I’ll update this post as the process continues.

After getting encouragement from my friends Rick and Louis, I started out at the Blogger Custom Domain instruction page.

Step 1: Converting to a Blogspot.com address

From the Blogger Dashboard, select Publishing and click on “Switch to blogspot.com.”  You will be sent to a form to pick  blog name.

I picked errbear.blogspot.com, which thankfully was available.  This step was very easy and took about 5 seconds.

Step 2: Configuring Your Custom Domain Settings

Again, from the Blogger Dashboard, select Publishing and click on “Switch to Custom Domain.”  Then, since you already own your domain, click on Advanced Settings.

I want to direct the entire errbear.com address to my Custom Domain-managed blog, so I selected www before errbear.com.  This step was also fast and easy.

Step 3: Make the CName and A Record Changes

This part is done via your domain registrar’s web site.  And things get a little more complicated, but fear not, we’ll walk through it.

First, the CName change.  I use Network Solutions, but the process is very similar everywhere.

From your domain management page, select the domain you want to use for your Custom Domain and then click the button or link to edit the domain’s DNS.  Depending on your registrar, you may need to then click on Advanced Settings (or some similar phrase).

Create a CName Record for your Custom Domain that points to ghs.google.com.  Again, because I want to direct the entire errbear.com address to my Custom Domain-managed blog, so I used www before errbear.com.

Next, the A Records.

I was confused by this passage in the Blogger instructions:

I didn’t know you could point a domain to “each” of four separate IP addresses.  So I did what any good nerd should do and consulted Twitter:

And got a quick answer, that made me (a) like Twitter a little more, and (b) feel a little like a dumbass.

image

So I added the A Record three more times.  Duh.  At the end of the process, I have four A Records each for @ and * (nothing and everything other than www, respectively), one pointing to each of the IP addresses listed above and on the Blogger Custom Domain instruction page.

And immediately, the previous error message took a happier tone.

But all was not well, yet.  When I republished my test post, that I did after moving to errbear.blogspot.com, the post was not there:

image

Don’t panic.  This is normal.  It takes a little while for the DNS changes to make their way across the internet.  A little while later, all was well.

Almost.

Step 4: Getting Rid of the NavBar

There was this horrifying Blogger NavBar at the top of my blog:

image

This is not going to work.  To fix this you have to add

#navbar-iframe { display: none; }

to your style sheet, if you use one, or above the </style> line in your blog template, if you don’t use a style sheet.

More good information about ridding yourself of the NavBar can be found here.

Step 5: Changing Your Template (Optional)

I have been using a custom template for years.  But a lot of the new and promised features at Blogger don’t work well with custom templates, so I thought I’d experiment a little with some new templates.

Important: If you decide to do this, back-up your current template by copying it from your Template>Edit HTML page and pasting it into a text document.  This is as important as not forgetting your parachute when sky-diving.

I put on my parachute and jumped.  From my old template

OldEBM

to the current one.

Immediately, I got the opportunity to make some customizations that were not possible with a custom template.

image

Looks promising.  Having said that, I hate reading a little narrow box of content on a big computer screen.  It’s such a waste of screen space.  Maybe I’ll work on some CSS to fix that.

But first there are a couple of pressing modifications that must be done.  First, I need to add the Yahoo Music Player code, for the embedded music player.  To do so, all you have to do is add this before the </head> tag:

<!– Begin Yahoo Player Header–>
// <!–[CDATA[
javascript” src=”http://mediaplayer.yahoo.com/js”&gt;
// ]]>
<!– End Yahoo Player Header–>

And I need to, once again, get rid of the NavBar, this time by adding this before the line that begins with ]]>:

 #navbar-iframe { display: none !important; }

After this, you can add features and customize your template as you see fit.

Update 1:  I’ve now experimented with Blogger Custom Domains and the newer features enough to confidently report that publishing via Custom Domains is a reasonably powerful platform.  The inclusion of static pages (via the Blogger in Draft beta page) adds the much needed ability to include ancillary pages.  See the index pages I added to Errbear.Com for an example of how to implement static pages.  I also found it reasonably easy to modify the new template, as you will see.  It’s early, but so far I’m pretty impressed.

Conclusion

Overall, this was a pretty easy process.  I don’t know if I the additional Blogger features that weren’t available with a custom template will outweigh the limitations of a canned template, but I can tell you that the process of moving to a Blogger Custom Domain was pretty easy.

I’ll try to address any questions or problems you face in the comments.

RFP: WordPress Template, Installation and Importation

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come and listen to a story about a man named Kent
A poor tech writer, so to Blogger his blog went,
Then one day he was readin’ at some feeds,
And up through Rick’s blog came a troubling need.

No more FTP that is, SOL, up the creek.

Well the first thing you know Kent’s blog needs a new home,
Louis says “custom domain,” but Kent wants to go alone
Thinks WordPress is the place he ought to be
So he wants you to move Newsome.Org to WP.

WordPress that is, on his server, custom template.

I’ve been using Blogger, via FTP publishing, in combination with my beloved Live Writer, to manage my blog since 2004.  There have been challenges along the way, but over the years the experience has been very positive.  Rick Klau is great, and has been extremely helpful when issues aroseMatt Cutts was also helpful, when I reached out to him once in the midst of a particularly frustrating problem.  In other words, I have nothing but great things to say about the Blogger/Google folks.

But I was a little bummed, even if not surprised, when Blogger announced yesterday that FTP publishing was going to be discontinued.  Rick has a post about it here, including a discussion we’re having in the comments about Blogger custom domains as an option.  My friend Louis Gray moved from FTP publishing to a Blogger custom domain last year and says the experience has been positive.  He discusses the situation in a blog post today.

I use the custom domain approach for GoodSongs.Com,  my music recommendation site, via Tumblr, and it works pretty well (though I am very aware of the risk that Tumblr eventually goes the way of Geocities).  Since I have a server and all of my blog content is already on it, I think I want to keep my content on my server and use WordPress to manage it.  I’m not completely bound to that decision, but that’s what I’m thinking at the moment.  I will probably experiment with Blogger’s custom domains with Err Bear Music, my publishing company.  We’ll see how it goes.

But for now, I need to move Newsome.Org, in-tact, to WordPress.  And I’m willing to pay to have it done right.

Which means I need to hire an experienced, qualified WordPress expert to install WordPress (and any necessary plug-ins) on my server, create a custom template, and import all of my blog posts, with the page links in-tact.  I don’t want to break any inbound links, etc.

I am soliciting proposals from WordPress experts who meet the above criteria and are interested in performing the above services.

First, some info.

1) I use Blogger to manage my content, but the content is hosted on my dedicated server.
2) My index and post pages are .shtml pages.  I’m not concerned about that going forward, but preserving existing page links (e.g., permalinks) is critical.

Now, the job at hand.

1) Setting up WordPress (and any necessary plug-ins) on my server.
2) Moving all of my content over to WordPress (approximately 1600 posts) while preserving the permalinks.  I don’t want duplicate post pages.
3) Creating a WordPress template reasonably close to the one I use here.  I have the CSS, etc. that I can provide.  See 4 below.
4) While I want to maintain enough of the look and feel to preserve branding, I am willing to consider alternative designs.  The thing I like the most about the current design is the way it sizes itself based on the reader’s screen.  I hate reading a narrow box of content on a big computer screen.

Please ask any project-related questions in the comments, so I only have to answer once.  Proposals, schedules and prices should be delivered via email.  I will keep the terms of all proposals confidential.  Please include references and/or summaries of other similar jobs you have done.

If you haven’t done this before, don’t learn on me.  I need this done right.

I’ll write new posts as I navigate through this process.  In the meantime, Blogger has set up a dedicated blog to assist refugees.  I hear Bono is planning a benefit concert.

More as it develops.

Shooting the Bird: More on the Blog Publishing Problem

I’m working with some good folks at Microsoft to resolve the photo publishing problem I wrote about the other day.

This is a test post from another computer, but over the same internet connection.

birdftp

There is (or is not) my little test photo.

Initially the photo would post to the Blogger photo server (which I don’t generally use), but not to my server.  I got this error:

(Publishing Error) A publishing error occurred: 200 Type okay.
227 Entering Passive Mode (xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)
150 Data connection accepted from xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx; transfer starting.

So I tried to post on my laptop, using an ATT wireless card.

It worked (there is the long awaited photo).

Which means the problem is caused by my network.  Hmmm.  Let’s see if it’s my computer or my internet connection. . .

Here’s another photo- this time I’m posting on my desktop, but using the ATT wireless card.

ftperror321

This also worked, which means that the problem resides in my internet connection, not on my computer, not in Live Writer and not on my web server.

I’ve narrowed it down, but I’m not sure where to go from here.  I guess I need to look at the router settings.

When I disable my router’s firewall, the photos publish correctly.  But I obviously don’t want to permanently disable my firewall, so I need to configure my router to allow Live Writer to publish these pictures.  It’s odd that Live Writer can publish the text of the post (via Blogger) but not photos.  It’s also odd that I can publish photos via an FTP client, but not via Live Writer.

Frustrating Live Writer – Blogger FTP Problem

All of the sudden, when I publish a blog post with pictures in it, Live Writer is unable to transfer the pictures to my server via FTP.  When I try to do so, I get the following error.  I have a screen cap below, but Live Writer replaced the picture with the word “ftperror,” which is the name of the picture I am trying unsuccessfully to post.


      I had to upload this picture to Photobucket
and then link to it. What a pain in the ass.

I can tell by looking on my server that Live Writer is creating a directory on my server the way it is supposed to, and there is an appropriately named file in the directory, but the size of the file is 0 bytes.  I used a jpeg for the screen cap below to confirm that it’s not a png problem.  It’s not, as Live Writer replaced that screen cap with its name too.


Here lies the symptom, but what is the problem?

Sometimes the 0 Filesize is a permissions problem, so I tried changing the permissions in the target folder on my server.  No dice.  So I restored the permissions to their previous levels.

For some reason, I’m starting to think this may have something to do with the way Live Writer names the image files.

I was able to upload the files via FileZilla, my FTP application, without a problem.  This indicates that the problem resides within Live Writer.  I tried to test that theory by uploading some pictures to my Photobucket account via Live Writer.  No dice.  Same error message, but I couldn’t get any FTP client to display the proper directory on Photobucket- the connection times out when trying to retrieve the directory listing.  So I don’t know for sure.

Here’s my test picture, so I can keep trying until I figure out how to fix this nightmare.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I think Live Writer is the most useful and feature perfect application out there.  I have become very reliant on it, so I need to fix this problem.

birds42
If you can see this image,
I have fixed the problem.

The mysterious thing is that I didn’t change any settings prior to the problem arising.  On the one hand, it’s strange that Live Writer can post blog posts, but not pictures.  But my blog posts are published to my server via Blogger, whereas the pictures are set up to post directly to my server via FTP.  I deleted all the FTP information in the Live Writer blog account settings a couple of times and reentered it.  Live Writer was able to access the directories on my server at that point.  Somehow, when it tries to transfer the picture file, something goes wrong.

This makes the formerly simple process of publishing a blog post very difficult.  It requires me to separately upload the pictures and then link to them.  It was much easier to upload the pictures at the same time I publish the blog post.  Little pain in the ass problems like this that suddenly spring up for no apparent reason drive me crazy.

But my devotion to Live Writer requires that I continue looking for a solution.  Time for a Twitter SOS.

FeedBurner & Blogger Conspire to Assassinate My Joy

Nobody is going to see this since my RSS feed is dead, but what the heck. . .

twitfb1 As those who have been ignoring my desperate Tweets know, my RSS feed, which is pushed through FeedBurner, has been incredibly slow for the past few weeks.  Posts that used to show up in a matter of minutes have been taking 3 hours or longer to show up.  All of this makes me a little like the morning paper- by the time my content gets in front of people, it’s old news.  RSS needs to get closer to real time, not closer to newspaper time.

I think the delays are caused by some problem with FeedBurner.  Since Google began to move publishers over to the Google hosting architecture, FeedBurner has been very unreliable.  People have complained.  And complained some more.  At first, my results were mixed.  Sometimes, my feed would update right away.  Other times it took forever.  After reading this promising post, I updated my Live Writer configuration to ping FeedBurner and some other services whenever I publish a new post.  That worked for a while, but over time the delay got longer and longer and longer.  Looking for tech support was futile.  There is no discoverable path to any sort of meaningful FeedBurner support.  All roads eventually dead-end at the ironically named FeedBurner Help Group, where frustrated users howl into the void.

The Montessori thing may work for little kids, but it is a cop-out when it comes to customer support.

I thought all of that was plenty horrible until last night, when my feed completely died.  That’s right, it went from unbearably slow to completely dead.

After neither of last night’s wonderful posts ever showed up in my feed, I realized a frustrating problem had become a pull your hair out and bang your head against the wall sort of problem.  Upon exploration, I found that the Atom.xml file automatically generated by Blogger is empty, resulting in this delightful little message:

fberror0313

I can’t begin to explain how much that makes my day.
Like its little brother, FeedBurner, all roads to Blogger tech support dead end at the equally ironically named Blogger Help Group.  While stumbling around there, I learned that I am not the only one mourning a dead RSS feed.  You would think that the Blogger folks would be all over this issue, and maybe they are, but you sure can’t tell it from the help group.  Again, other than this guy, there is no evidence that anyone at Blogger is minding the store.  It would take someone about 10 seconds to post that Blogger is aware of the problem and is working on it.

All of this just makes me tired and frustrated.  Maybe I need to bite the bullet and pay someone to write a WordPress template to replicate what I have now (and really like) and to move my content over to that platform.  I am going to email Aaron Brazzell and see what he thinks.

I know this, I have $100 of Paypal money for anyone who can get my feed working and updating in near real time without losing my existing subscribers.

There are problems we have to have and ones we don’t.  Trying to revive my RSS feed and wondering if anyone at FeedBurner/Google is going to call a Code Blue is a problem I shouldn’t have.

UPDATE (3/14/09):  Thanks to the awesome efforts of Chuck (one of Google’s Blog*Star experts – similar to Microsoft MVPs), I think I have a work around for this problem, at least for those of us who use FeedBurner.  Here’s what I did.
First you need to figure out your Blogger blog ID.  You can find it by going to the Blogger Dashboard and clicking the “New Post” button.  Then look at the address bar (at the top) of your browser, and you’ll see a number:

bloggerid1

See, my blog ID is 5523094.  Find yours, copy it or write it down and then go to the FeedBurner page.  Click on your feed, select “Edit Feed Details” at the top left, copy or write down the existing “Original Feed” link (just in case) and then replace the “Original Feed” link with this one, changing XXXXXX to your blog ID.

http://www.blogger.com/feeds/XXXXXX/posts/default

Don’t change the Feed Title or the Feed Address information.

You will probably have to republish any blog posts that were published after the problem arose.  Once I did that and refreshed my feed in Google Reader (via the button right beside the “Mark all as read” button), my lost posts showed up and, at least as far as I can tell, everything started working again.  I may still have the delay problem noted above, but at least my feed is breathing again.
Hurray for Dr. Chuck!

UPDATE (3/14/09):  Rick Klau of Google tells me that the issue has been fixed and is getting implemented now.  This is really good news, particularly since it shows that there are smart and responsive people minding the Blogger store.

Solving the 401 Error: Windows Live Writer & Remotely Hosted Blogger Blogs

I finally figured out why I couldn’t get Windows Live Writer to recognize my blog.

If your blog is remotely hosted (meaning on your server), you have to add this in the head area of your template:

<meta content=”blogger” name=”generator”/>

After that it works like a charm.

Too bad it took me about two hours to figure that out…

 

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