Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Looking for a New Blogging Solution

[Before reading, I warn you that this post is technical in nature. This doesn’t mean that if you aren’t tech-savvy, you shouldn’t read this. You may learn something from it. However, if you are tech-savvy, you may be able to help me, and thank you in advance for that.]

For those who don’t know, the software I’m currently using to run my blog is Blogger. In particular, I’m using its SFTP publishing feature, meaning that Blogger actually stores the content of my blog in their database, and whenever my blog is updated, Blogger will identify the affected pages, re-render them, and post them to the server that actually serves the pages, i.e. my blog server. This works well enough for me.

However, this won’t work in about a couple of months, as Google, the owner of Blogger, decides to stop supporting SFTP publishing. It’s clear that my blog is affected. They favoured their custom domain solution. I had tried it before they announced they would scrap SFTP publishing, but I immediately switched back to SFTP publishing. I’ll tell you why it didn’t work for me, and why it won’t work for me if their custom domain solution will still be like what they describe.

The main appealing advantage of custom domain publishing is that there is less network traffic (and hence faster publishing). All in all, I like all the advantages of custom domain publishing. However, they come with trade-offs. Firstly, the NavBar. I’m not totally against it, but how it is at the moment just doesn’t meet my requirement. The “Next Blog” link is a distraction. What is the content of the next blog? Is it something you will like? Is it something you won’t like? I’m sorry, but not all surprises are pleasant. Also, I don’t like the search functionality. I want the search results to appear like, e.g. Google search results or Yahoo! search results. It would also be better if the NavBar position can be customised. I’m aware that the NavBar can be hidden altogether, but what is the point of loading it the first time then? It’s an extra cost for the users.

Now, what kind of blogging solution am I after? In short, something that works like Blogger SFTP publishing. In details, keep on reading.

What I need: Here are what I can think on top of my head at the moment. This list may grow:

  1. Free: Sorry, not being an annoying cheapskate here, but I have paid for a hosting service, and it can be used for blogging already.
  2. Customisable template: Down to the HTML+CSS level. I want the level of flexibility offered by Blogger SFTP publishing. (That means, free WordPress.com is a no go.)
  3. Static HTML page rendering: Yup. Efficiency. I want to minimise the use of database processing.
  4. Keep the current post permalinks. Obviously. What I’m willing to break: individual comment permalinks.
  5. Manual HTML input. I just need it to make sure my post markup is (mostly) clean.
  6. Web-based user interface. Sure, I can ssh, but it’s not something I want to do every time, and it’s not available in some places.
  7. Secure data transmission. Clearly.

What I avoid: Please, no flame wars on any of these items. This list may also grow:

  1. MySQL. I had an awful experience with it. To be fair, it only happened once, but it hit me so badly. Honestly, I still use MySQL to power my family blog, but I would like something better. This blog is currently hosted on Dreamhost. It only runs MySQL. I have voted to have them run PostgreSQL, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m happy with flat files, as long as static HTML page rendering is supported.
  2. XHTML: It’s OK if the provided templates are all XHTML, as long as I am not forced to use XHTML.

Do you have a solution, either full or partial, to my problem? Please help.

  • Rick Klau

    Hi Ade -

    I'll address Blogger's abilities relative to your "What I Need" section:

    1. Free: Yes.
    2. Customizable Template: Yes, and with Layouts (the upgraded version of templates) you get even more control/functionality than you now have with custom templates.
    3. Static HTML page rendering: Technically, we aren't rendering every blog page, but the effect to the end user is as if we are. (We operate a robust server configuration that uses edge caching, and monitor latency around the world. We are working on improving latency generally, but the user-visible pageloads are faster on custom domains than they'd be on most webhosts.)
    4. Keep current permalinks: Yes.
    5. Manual HTML input: Yes.
    6. Web-based UI: Yes.
    7. Secure data transmission: Yes.

    Re: Custom Domains: You can use CSS to hide the navbar. (It has no user-visible impact in terms of pageload, due to the caching that's done. So use CSS to hide the navbar and you're fine.)

    I've actually mocked up a change to search results that would be much more Google-like; probably won't happen this quarter but it's on our list.

  • ade ishs

    @Rick: Thanks for your comment.

    Yeah, I tried Blogger Custom Domains some time ago, and it was exactly like what you explained.

    Re navbar, to me it just doesn't feel right having the code load it only to have it hidden latter. Why load it in the first place (even assuming it is cached)? And as I said, I don't mind leaving the navbar there as long as it's as customisable at least as I specified in my post.

    Good to know that you'll change the presentation of search results. That's great!

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