diamond geezer

 Monday, March 01, 2010

Half of my blog has vanished.

No, really, completely vanished.
Unreadable. Un-findable. Invisble. Gone.

You probably haven't noticed, because the only bit of the blog you read is fine. There's been no effect on my front page, on my most recent posts, the ones you actually read. But try to delve into my archives and you'll discover that they're not all there. I have 90 monthly archive pages, each of which used to show a complete list of posts published in that month. Now each stops short, cutting off everything after the middle of the month, with no way to access the remainder. Half of everything I've written over the last 7½ years has disappeared. As you might imagine, I'm not best pleased.

Here's an example for you. All of the posts I wrote last month should appear on my February archive page. But they don't. My February archive page cuts out below Valentine's Day, which means that every post between the 1st and the 13th has disappeared. It's no good hunting, you won't find them anywhere. Even if you try jumping to the precise permalink where something used to be (like, for instance, my Winter Olympics quiz), that link goes nowhere. Rest assured that no posts have actually been deleted from my dashboard, but half of February 2010 is no longer accessible by my readers. At all.

This annihilation of my blog's archive is thanks to a new 'feature' which Blogger rolled out quietly last week. It's called Auto-Pagination, and it's been introduced to help to make everyone's blog load more quickly.
A few months ago, we took a look at ways to improve the performance of Blogger blogs, and noticed that many pages — particularly search results pages, label pages and archive pages — were taking longer to load than they should.

Starting today, we’re rolling out a change that affects how we paginate webpages on Blogger. We will dynamically adjust how much content to send to the browser depending on (a) the amount of HTML on the page being requested (in kilobytes) and (b) the number of images on the page. Users can continue to use “older posts” and “newer posts” navigation elements to see additional posts.
There are a lot of bloated blogs out there, and Blogger aren't happy. They want to stop readers hanging around waiting for pages to load, especially pages that are full of big bandwidth-hungry images, because "faster page loads mean more satisfied users". So they've introduced Auto-Pagination, which automatically truncates longer pages once Blogger deems they've got "too big". We bloggers have no control over this cut-off, it's Blogger that decides. Write too much (or, more precisely, include too many pictures), and Blogger chops you off.

And that's why my monthly archive pages have semi-disappeared. Not because I've written too much, but because I've included too many images. Most of these are small, many of them only a few kilobytes, so they download in a flash. But Blogger doesn't care how minimal these pictures are, it merely counts them, and once it's counted about 30 it stops. For example, my March 2005 archive cuts out below March 10th, March 2006 cuts out below March 16th and March 2009 cuts out below March 18th. The most hidden month I've found so far is August 2009, where every single post beneath the 25th has been removed. But you can still read all of November 2002, because I hadn't really discovered pictures back then, so Blogger doesn't automatically curtail anything.

Yes, I know that my monthly archives were a bit huge. Yes, I know that long chains of posts aren't ideal when you're trying to pinpoint an individual post lurking within. Yes, I know that pages of that length aren't in any way Google-friendly. But monthly archives is what I want, and over the last 7½ years I've optimised my blog for this form of legacy storage. Alas, as of this week, monthly archiving no longer seems to be a viable option.

There's a very simple solution to this truncation problem, which is to include a link to "Older posts" at the bottom of every page. Users would read the first half of the monthly archive, click on the link, and then read the rest. Unfortunately Blogger only provides this option for bloggers using modern "Layout templates", which means that those of us still using the older "Classic templates" are stuffed. Indeed it looks like Blogger is about to abandon all support for Classic templates, like they just did with FTP publishing, and so this is a nudge to get people moving over to more modular, more generic Layouts. I hate being nudged. But I fear I'm going to have to jump, somewhere, because this current "half-blog" situation is completely untenable.

Possible solutions:
I could go back and delete most of the pictures from my previous blogposts. That would work, but it's not really on, is it?
ii) I could switch to weekly archives. That would work, except I'd then have nearly 400 archives pages, with various monthly features split across several pages, and nobody would ever find anything any more.
iii) I could "upgrade" from my current Classic template to a new Layout template. Blogger offers "over 30 gorgeous, professionally-designed templates", apparently, none of which look anything like my blog's current silvery retro feel. None are quite as tweakable as I'd like, preventing me from fiddling with the HTML under the surface, and they'd all force me to narrowblog inside a fixed-width column. Plus this still wouldn't allow me to have all my monthly archives on one page - it'd just allow people to find Page 2 rather than it being hidden.
iv) I could include "Jump Breaks" in all my posts. You know the sort of thing. "To read the rest of this post, click here". But I hate those. They conceal content beneath the surface where nobody ever looks, and I don't write stuff simply to hide it away.
v) I could tag all of my posts so that they still linked together appropriately. Except I've written more than 4000 different posts altogether, so do you realise how long that would take? And nobody ever clicks on tags anyway, not without being prompted, so I'd be wasting my time.
vi) I could abandon Blogger for being cheap and generic, and upgrade to something more professional like Wordpress or TypePad. Except they're complicated, aren't they? And 'modern'. And expensive, if you want something customisable. And they probably wouldn't let me transfer all my Blogger-hosted images. And all the internal links in previous posts would stop working. And diamondgeezer.wordpress.com has already been taken. And I still wouldn't be able to show a full complete monthly archive, not like Blogger used to do until last week.

It's not only me who's been affected by this decision. Any blogspot blogger with more than 30-ish images on a page is affected, and there are a lot of archive pages that suddenly don't include as much as they used to. Blogger's help forums are full of angry comments from the afflicted, along with much patronising advice from the admins on why it's important to put up and shut up. But it's only we few old-school bloggers with Classic templates who have no workaround, no alternative "older posts" link, just a whole load of missing content. We're stuffed.

If you want to read about my Mum's funeral, that's gone. If you want to read about how London won the Olympics, or the river-free tube map, or my visit to the sea forts at Shivering Sands, or that "single life" post everybody likes, you can't. If you have a favourite Random Borough report, it's probably missing. If you want to read my A-Z of London museums, it's now an A-L. And if you want to read my posts about the River Fleet, sorry, nothing further upstream than Farringdon is still visible. Sucks, doesn't it?

This mess brings home how fragile the world of online content is. All it takes is one hosting decision, one hard-drive failure or one corporate takeover, and everything you thought you owned can disappear. It's a sobering thought that if I'd died three months ago, my entire online legacy would now be half a blog (thank you Blogger) with no comments (thank you JS-Kit). We're all only one upgrade away from obsolescence.

So, as things stand, this blog is truly shafted. Unless Blogger reverses this latest rollout, either I'm going to have to upgrade something or else half of my posts are permanently lost. I fear I'm going to have to compromise and move to a format I don't like, simply to allow this blog to continue. Any helpful thoughts you might have would be welcomed. And hurry, because in a fortnight's time this post disappears too...

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