Why I Left

I have recently resumed hosting my own blog. My first absence from blogging was the result of giving up on seemingly endless security patches required to keep my Drupal blog alive. When I started using the free as in beer service, I thought I had found the solution to my dearth of blogging. Blogspot was used by several technical people I had seen give presentations, and it was run by Google who I was an embarrassingly huge fan of. Without much hassle, I found it was sufficient to publish any technical notes I accumulated and wanted to share. However, recently I began exploring alternatives for reasons I outline below.

  • Customization: I said free as in beer because on blogspot you are limited in what you can use. They have several designs, and I’ll admit the one I’m using is probably one of the worst. However, changing the design might break parts of my blog. That is unless I modify arcane CSS and Javascript inside of the blogspot web forms. To explain what I mean, my first customization was to install a library for highlighting code snippets. I decided on the SyntaxHighlighter library by Alex Gorbatchev. Installing it consisted of combing through the blogspot template HTML to find the right places to include the required CSS and JS. I succeeded, but after the hassle, if I wanted to update or try a different library, the work involved would deter me from even bothering.

  • Usability: I am not completely averse to using HTML for my content, but over the last few months I have learned to love Markdown, created by John Gruber, to author my content. It allows me to keep the data in an application agnostic format, with the flexibility to generate HTML to publish or share it with others. As someone who writes code pretty regularly, having things in text is always more convenient than relying on an application-specific format. While HTML is not application-specific, it is not very readable in source form in my opinion, and it lends itself to be noisy with all of the tags.

  • Content Corruption: Another thing related to usability is the transmogrification my input goes through while using blogspot. It is very frustrating that the HTML content I used for my source and what I see when I go to edit it are not identical. Take for example this snippet from one of my posts there:

<div style="font-family: inherit;">
I had been reading off and on the book <a href="
java-developers" target="_rfj">Rails for Java Developers</a> by Stuart Halloway and Justin
Gehtland.&nbsp; I recommend it for all developers, not for either a Java or Rails reference,
but for interesting comparative analysis on web development technologies.&nbsp; One of the things
mentioned in that book is using <a href="">ActiveRecord</a> for schema
versioning even in applications not using Rails.&nbsp; After playing around with ActiveRecord in
their sample code for awhile, I thought it would clearly provide two big wins:</div>

Like all the clutter? Only the link markup was present when I submitted the content. When I converted that post to Markdown, it was incredibly annoying to have to prune out the HTML noise blogspot had contributed. The format of the HTML input was not completely preserved, which made locating sections of a blog post additionally frustrating.

  • Content Ownership: This is late on this list but possibly the most important. With recent changes to both Google Reader and GMail’s interfaces, relying on Google’s services is becoming increasingly risky. It has also become apparent that Google is not focused on any of its services unless they serve as a mechanism for funneling people into Google+. Blogspot is owned by Google and if their trend continues, I have very little confidence that I will be able to continue using it the way I do today. I need to have my content in one place, and have control over my publishing workflow. Neither of these should change unless to adapt for my needs, not based on the whims of a third-party.

  • Octopress: I came across Octopress a few days ago. I had been looking for a blogging solution that relied on static files and I’d heard of jekyll but wasn’t thrilled by it. I even started working on my own static blogging engine based on Rails and Dropbox integration. I had that working but by the time I starting working on deployment, I found Octopress. So far I love it, and I plan on tweaking it as time goes on.

One last note, I will not adopt a scorched earth policy when it comes to my old blog. The links to my old articles may still be in someone’s bookmarks or hyperlinks in other pages. I will simply replace the content with a link to the updated URL. Shame on anyone for creating dead links purposefully.