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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

  2:35 PM - Blogger Limitations
Blogger has come a long way since I first started using it, but it is not free of warts. Now that I'm blogging more, I am running into some limitations that may force me to change engines after all, unless I fiind some good workarounds.

Several times last week, I tried to submit a post using the Blogger web interface, but it kept crashing, giving me a "page could not be displayed" error. Then I would have to clear my cookies and try again, usually to no avail. It doesn't matter which browser I use: I've tried both IE and Firefox. Every time I try to post, it croaks. This has been broken for at least a week. It was also broken several months ago. The problem seemed to have cleared up, but now it's back. So, from where I stand, the browser based interface is just not reliable.

I tried enabling the email-to-blogger interface so I could post that way. It worked (nifty), but the markup didn't come out right the first time. So I re-emailed it with the correction. For better or for worse, it didn't overwrite my previous post even though the title was the same. I ended up with two posts with the same name, one of which had a cryptic number appended to its filename to avoid a name collision.

The email interface is handy, and the name conflict detection is pretty robust, but wouldn't it be cool if there there was a way to update an existing page via email? Maybe if Blogger emailed me a response with "Blog entry posted: ID# _____" as the subject, and the content returned as the body, then I could reply to that message in order to do further updates? Just a thought.

Another thing: I would like to be able to do simple code listings in my blog. I want this to be easy. Unfortunately, on the one posting where I tried to do that recently (for Boo), I realized that indentation wasn't going to work. This is a blog and not a Wiki, so the only formatting that it does is to convert newlines to HTML <br> tags. I would have to use non-breaking spaces to get text to indent, or else use <pre> blocks for my code listings. But Blogger's newline conversion doesn't interact nicely with pre blocks, so I had to use &nbsp to indent. (I kept the indentation in that sample to a minimum, so it wasn't too bad.)

You can turn off the newline conversion, and use explict <br> or <p> tags in your posts. Then the <pre> tag works as expected. That would be fine for me, except that it's a global setting. If I turn off the newline conversion for my posts, it is also turned off for user comments. If users want to post paragraphs of comments, I want that be easy for them and I don't want all of their text to mosh together. (Never mind that the only comment so far is one I added myself.)

I could implement some reformatting in the template, using client-side JavaScript to manipulate the text. But that wouldn't necessarily work with RSS, preview mode, the comment entry form, or other places where Blogger doesn't use my template.

So, I'm going to make do with Blogger for awhile, but at the same time I'm going to take a look around and see what else is out there. Hopefully I won't have to change the site layout. I should be able to preserve the old content if I change engines, at least.

In the mean time, what else can I do to relieve Blogger's broken interface for posting? Well, this evening I am experimenting with w.bloggar, a nice GUI tool that integrates with Blogger and many other blogging hosts. It has minor glitches, and far more features than I could imagine using, but I do like it. The main glitch is that its newline handling doesn't quite match Blogger's. Also, it loses its connection sometimes. Also, it can't upload drafts to Blogger. Also, although it's free, it's not open source so I can't fix it. But it's the best I've found so far.
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