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Moving from Blogger to WordPress: why, how, and where

I had issues with New Blogger. It was better, Google told us, but there was no way to try it out. Anyone who switched to the new one, couldn’t go back to the old. That made me itchy.

Then there was the broader issue that I had all my deathless prose on someone else’s system. If Google, like Yahoo a few years ago, decided that they owned everything ever published using their tools, I’d be done for. Not that Google had actually done anything that sleazy, but there was nothing to stop them since we no longer have a legal system that understands fair use or, for that matter, unfair use.

(Just recently, for instance, Google has decided it retains non-exclusive rights to photos published on picasaweb. If they think that’s going to help them get one up on flickr, they need to find out what their lawyers are smoking.

Picasa Terms of Service [1]: “…by submitting, posting or displaying Content which is intended to be available to the general public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, distribute and publish such Content for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services. Google will discontinue this licensed use within a commercially reasonable period after such Content is removed from Picasa Web Albums. “)

So, what with one thing and another, I decided I’d move while I could do it in my own time rather than in a mad rush when I was forced to by some odious rule change.

There seemed to me to be two main choices out there: Movable Type and WordPress. Movable Type is still available as a free download [2] to install on your own site (no support provided), but Typepad (the easy, hosted solution) costs $5 per month. Installing Movable Type looks non-trivial, and I must admit my eyes glazed over. WordPress has a free hosted option on wordpress.com [3]. However, since part of what I wanted to achieve was independence, I went the way of installing the free wordpress blogging software from wordpress.org [4] on my own domain. (It’s essential to remember that wordpress.com is the hosted option, whereas wordpress.org is the site for downloads, information, and help for hosting-your-own. (Brief explanation of setting up your own site after “Read the rest….”)

Installing

Okay. So, WordPress is downloaded [5]. You’ll want the “zip” version if you run Windows. You’ll also need an ftp program to upload everything to your site. (There’s another box after “Read the rest…” for a brief intro to ftp.) Filezilla is a good and easy-to-use program for Windows. Alternatively, Firefox now has an ftp extension (fireftp [6] which is independent of operating systems. There may well be something already available on your computer that came with the operating system.

WordPress is said to be famous for its dead simple “5 minute install,” but I’m enough of a fink that I wanted my hand held for all five minutes. Luckily, Rachel Cunliffe has a video tutorial [7] that does exactly that. It’s downloadable (73 MB) if you want. Follow along, pausing it as necessary to carry out the tasks. She makes it a downright pleasant experience.

At the conclusion, I tried my first post: “testing, 1, 2, 3” [8]. What the post didn’t say was how amazed, bowled over, and just plain shocked I was that the whole thing had — apparently! — worked the very first time. Although it did take longer than five minutes. Half an hour, more like.

On a tangential note, if you want to host-your-own the first step is to pay for a hosting service. This is, in effect, somebody with computers that are always on and that have the necessary security settings to make your files continually available on the web. If you have a spare computer and the necessary know-how, you can be your own hosting service. The amount of know-how, especially on the security side, is non-trivial. One hosting service I’ve heard good reports of is Dreamhost [9], which charges $8-10 per month. Personally, I use Pair Net [10], whose “cheap” plan is $10/month. I’ve been sufficiently happy with them not to be looking around for someone better or cheaper. Be cautious of super-cheap hosting services. There can be catches buried in the small print.

The second step is to get your own domain name. If you don’t want your own, recognizable name, there’s really no reason to go to the bother of hosting your own. This is a separate expense (eg on Pair’s domain name registration, PairNic [11], one name costs $20 per year. There’s no way to buy a name forever. You have to pay for the rights to a name every year. The hosting service usually tries to make it cheap and easy for their customers to register domain names, but you don’t have to use the same company to register a name as you do to host the web site.

The simplest way to find which domain names are available is to enter them in your browser’s address bar. For instance, enter “www.myweirdsite.com” and the message comes back (at least right now) “not found.” That means nobody owns that name, and if you wanted to register it, you could.

Brief intro to ftp:

It stands for “file transfer protocol,” and that’s all it is: a way to move files from one computer to another.

When you look at a web page, you’re not permanently moving anything, which is why you can’t just take a file off your computer and drop the icon on a web page. There’s no file transfer protocol to tell the computer how to do that. (There will be someday, probably soon.)

Ftp has been around since the year dot, and shows it. You have to give the ftp program three pieces of information: the name of the computer to which you’ll be transferring, generally referred to as the “remote host” or “host” (because it’s hosting your files). This is not the same as a www. address. The actual name of the server you’ll be using is something the hosting company (or university computing services , or the like) tells you when you get your account. If you don’t know it, ask them. The second and third pieces of information are your username and password, as you’ve set them up with the hosting service. Again, ask if you don’t know.

Once you can log onto the remote host with your ftp program, you’ll usually see two windows: one is your “localhost” (i.e. the computer you’re sitting there and typing on) and the other is remote host. Navigate to the directories you need in both cases, and then use the handy little transfer arrows to move files in either direction. That’s all there is to it. (Don’t forget to disconnect when you’re done.)

This is the time to go looking for themes, if the default doesn’t seem interesting enough. Later on, if you’ve customized things, changing themes may be a more iffy proposition. a list of sites [12] with WP themes toward the bottom of the page. Or search Google with both “wordpress” and “themes” in the search bar. Me, I was too impatient. I customized the default quite a bit, so I got into big trouble with Internet Explorer, which, being a Microsoft program, can’t do anything the same way as everyone else. I think I’ve dug my way out of that one, but not elegantly. I had to do the equivalent of beating up IE with a lead pipe, so who knows what else I broke in the interim.

Now, if you’re starting a new blog, you’re all done. But if you already have a blog elsewhere, you’re going to want to import all your previous creations into the new one. A redirect from the old pages to the new ones is also a good idea, to make life easier for readers.

Importing from another blogspot.com blog and redirecting

I followed Tom Sherman’s thorough instructions [13], which include a redirect script modified from Owen Barder [14] and which work for “Old Blogger” blogs. Escaping “New Blogger” looks a good bit more complicated.

Briefly, Sherman has the steps to backup your blogspot blog (so you don’t lose everything in case of a glitch), import to your new wordpress blog, and redirect traffic automatically from the old blog to the new one by inserting a javascript in the Blogger template and putting a php script in the top-level directory of your new blog.

WordPress’s import option is impressive. Besides Blogger / blogspot sites, it can also work with Movable Type / Typepad, Livejournal, RSS feeds, and a few I’ve never heard of: Greymatter, Dotclear, and Textpattern. The one problem is probably officially a feature and not a bug. WordPress is very standards-compliant. Lots of html code is not, and anything that isn’t, WordPress just strips out. So, if, for instance, like me, you had references to images in your blog, but the html code producing those images is at all flaky, away it goes and with it your picture. Depending on how much you care about your old posts, you may have to proofread every single one individually.

The other nasty problem is differences in the way WordPress and Blogger refer to individual posts. Rachel’s video talks about going to “Manage” and “Permalinks” to set the default filenames to the post title. Make sure that the year and month variables also match what it’ll be getting from Blogger. (You can’t change Blogger to match WordPress, so the only option is to change the WordPress defaults.) A word of caution about altering the default to end in “a-brilliant-post.html” (like Blogger) instead of the WordPress way: “a-brilliant-post/”. The RSS feeds for the posts seem to stop working when the name ends in .html. Ending in / does not cause a problem redirecting, so this is one case where it’s best to keep the WordPress rather than Blogger method.

That takes care of part of the problem. The other part is that WordPress uses the whole title with dashes between the words, but Blogger drops all articles (“a,” “an,” “the”) and truncates the name at the closest whole word near 35 characters. The only programmable device that can easily deal with that level of complexity is the one between our ears, so, unfortunately, the only option is to go through every single post worthy of redirection and to make sure that the WordPress permalink is edited to match Blogger’s. Yes, it’s tedious.

Sherman includes a line (“meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”5;url=…etc.) that dumps people to your new main page if the fancier redirect fails (as it would if they’re not running javascript). (The “5” by the way, refers to the number of seconds before the redirect starts. I like to give people a bit longer to read the message telling them about the redirect coming up, so I use “15.”) Unfortunately, “meta” redirects doesn’t help search engines find your new site.

Maybe it really is time to realize that the ability to find your way around the Internet is an essential utility, like water and power, and like all the other essential utilities, it needs to be regulated for the common good. Google does seem to try not to be (too) evil, but I’d be more comfortable if there was more backing that up than their current management’s good intentions. (Bill Thompson has a series of excellent articles going back to 2003 [15], about the issues around search engine dominance [16].)

Ideally, search engines should be alerted to the fact that your blog has moved, so that they don’t take months or years until they catch up, and so they don’t keep serving up out-of-date results the whole time. There’s a little piece of code called a “301 redirect” that does exactly that, but it has to be the very first thing processed on the site. Interestingly enough, search giant Google (who owns Blogger) doesn’t seem to want to make it easy for people to let the world know that they’ve escaped Google.

301 redirects are trivially simple if you have access to the server hosting the old blog. Create an “.htaccess” file (in Notepad or any plain text editor), or add the following line to an existing one by downloading your current .htaccess file, editing it in a plain text editor, and re-uploading it. (From highrankings.com [17])

Redirect 301 / http://www.yourdomain.com/

The above would take any request made to the domain it’s installed on and send it off to “http://www.yourdomain.com/”, appending any file name or directory structure to the URL string..

Alternatively, if you can’t access the server, and if you’re not on blogspot and there’s no obscure pre-processing of your page going on, n01getsout [18] has a php script that should give you 301 redirection, with subpages correctly redirected if you list them in the switch statements of the script. (I haven’t personally tried this method.) This sounds like, and is, a lot of work, but it’s actually not that different from having to go through and edit umpteen permalinks by hand in WordPress to make them match Blogger.

Problems?

The issues I’ve mentioned above are small, if time-consuming, technical glitches. Once there’s a workaround, they’re gone. There is one problem I’ve had with WordPress which isn’t going away any time soon, I suspect. That’s their support forums [19]. I’m not saying they’re bad. Not at all. But visually, they’re poorly laid out and they’re strangely organized, so that it feels hard to find what you need. The knowledgeable folks in the community there are, shall we say, strict. The answer to one of my questions was that I’d posted it in the wrong place. (No doubt that was true. I had trouble finding the right place. See earlier sentence :-() But what irked me was that they didn’t tell me what the right place was, and they didn’t bother to give even a brief answer to the question.

It was especially annoying because some bug I’ve never come across before prevented my questions from appearing for hours. Given the way forums work, where old material gets pushed down, that by itself meant that most people wouldn’t be seeing my question. I tried three or four separate times to post a question in an acceptable and answerable fashion, but had no luck. Your mileage will hopefully be better than mine.

My suggestion for improvement would be to hop over to the Ubuntu forums [20] and just follow their model. How hard could it be? (Famous last words…?)

All in all, I’m pleased to have my own blog on my own site with software I had no trouble installing, and have very little trouble using. This is free open source stuff, carried out and carried along entirely by altruistic folks, and it’s at least the equal of anything else that’s out there. Except for the small glitch with the support forums, I’m hugely impressed.

Technorati tags: blogging, wordpress, blogger, redirect, import

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Moving from Blogger to WordPress: why, how, and where"

#1 Comment By Idetrorce On 15 Dec, 2007 @ 16:38

very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
Idetrorce

#2 Comment By Maximus On 20 Dec, 2007 @ 01:07

I would like to see a continuation of the topic

#3 Comment By Secunda On 26 Feb, 2008 @ 10:40

Any issues after switching? It seems that wordpress seems to be the leader now when it comes to blogging.

#4 Comment By quixote On 27 Feb, 2008 @ 19:38

The only thing that’s bothered me is how unhelpful the wordpress help forums are. As an ubuntu user, I’m used to their stellar system. I’ve had questions closed without any explanation. Moderators will respond by saying there’s another thread on the topic, but not link to the thread. Obviously, if I’d been able to find that thread to begin with, I wouldn’t be asking! And so on. I’ve given up on using them.

My other issue is that I haven’t had the courage to upgrade since my original install. I’m convinced stuff will break, and then I’ll never be able to find any help to fix it!

But other than that, in terms of using it, it’s been great. Lots of excellent add-ons, too. Akismet against spam, contact forms, graphics plugins (I use JAlbum). There are hundreds.

#5 Comment By quixote On 27 Feb, 2008 @ 19:45

I should add to my point about using search to see which domain names are available:

Don’t do it!

Turns out that one of the new species of web parasites will instantly claim any available name that someone searches for. (It’s called domain tasting.) So when you try to register it, it’s magically taken. But just for you, they’ll sell it at a special price….

They can do this because you can claim a name for a five days before payment has to clear. So they have it for free, and hope you’ll pay them to get it before the five days are up.

There are supposed to be safe ways to check availability, but I don’t know what they are. Check Wikipedia under “domain tasting.”

#6 Comment By inpuptets On 20 Oct, 2008 @ 12:56

Hey,
I am, Michael
overall pretty good
my site:

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