Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Google Blogger Exceeds My Expectations

By +Dietrich Schmitz

I have used many Website blogging tools, including WordPress, Movable Type, Plone, etc.  With each tool, I learned to hack html/css reasonably well and found that no two tools approach managing content in the same way.  Content Management Systems (CMS) tend to be more comprehensive offering ways to create workflows, new datatypes, allowing users to host their own sites, with integrated forums and scalability.  Of the aforementioned tools, I'd say Plone and Movable Type are the only tools I have used which are true CMS.

I won't dwell on the CMS issue other than to say too many vendors are labeling their product as CMS when it really is not as such.

WordPress has probably the largest following and a significantly large ecosystem built up around it including a wide variety of theme templates, plugins, third-party template Designers and support forums for getting help in any situation that might arise.

WordPress is followed closely by a new legion of MVC tools nipping at their heels for a slice of the market, including the likes of Joomla, Drupal, Django, Mojolicious,  and Catalyst, to name only a few.

All have a 'learning curve' which varies--some easier, some less than easy.

That being the case, I went ahead with my plan to start Linux Advocates with +Katherine Noyes in January 2013.  I wasn't particularly concerned as I went through the various tools considering which to use as I knew full well I would be able to handle whatever challenges I encountered.  I've spent years torturing myself in one way or another with all manner of programming tools, I thought--what's the difference?

So, how did I come up with Blogger?  Some might react and say that Blogger has limitations.
I think that might have held true a few years ago when Google first acquired Blogger from Pyra Labs in 2003.

I did a lot of reading on line and of course had a Google Blogger account which I had 'fiddled' with not too seriously several years ago and had put aside.  And I quickly discovered a lot has changed since my last encounter with Blogger.

It turns out that Blogger has done a lot of growing up since 2003 and is quite robust, including many default features not present in other perhaps more popular blogging tools.

I chose Blogger, not the least of which because it relieved me of some of the many 'headaches' and maintenance issues which come with co-location service based blogs, most of which are big time consumers in the setup and configuration phase of designing a website.

For one, there's no ftp service and no special apps to configure as might be found in the typical LAMP stack.  You are isolated from any part of the website operating system--all tasks being done through the Admin console.  Unlike Blogger for example on my self-hosted Plone site for www.dtschmitz.com, I had to tediously configure an Apache reverse-proxy, a Plone server, and a Zope Server as all interact to present the Plone CMS site.

With Blogger, there's no load balancing or clustering needed to scale.  Blogger is running on the back-end on Google Apps Engine Folks and includes its own sophisticated template language and JSON/AJAX API.

Templates are freely available from Google and third-party Developers.  The templates support the newest web standards including HTML5, CSS3, and AJAX and support a 'Widget' plugin architecture unique to Blogger.  Blogger has a thorough on-line help system for both end-users and Developers that will answer most questions, but if you don't find your answer there, you'll soon discover that the answer is a few Google searches away as most likely someone else has encountered your issue and will have the answer.

The Blogger has undergone many revisions since 2003 reaching the most recent feature set in 2012.  Each iteration brought new features and a redesign of the administrative authoring interface.

Starting with selection of your template, Blogger will hold your hand in the selection and deployment and does a good job of guiding you to what needs to be done with a very nice Drag & Drop Design Layout system, that enables even a novice to quickly add gadgets and plugins, tweak css settings such as font, color, in the header, body and footer areas, add favicons, banner images, etc.  The layout is easy to learn, and designed well with little clutter to confuse the user.

Blogger integrates well with other Google tools, and on the backend all image files are archived for free in Picasa.

Integrated also into Blogger is Google's Adsense and Web Analytics with a really nice 'Stats' page giving all manner of metrics regarding how your site is doing including cross tabulation of Pageviews by Author, Post, Operating System, Browser, and Country.  One can go to the Overview page and quickly see the day's activity at a glance to see how things are going or to see trending stories and the largest referrers to your website.

Blogger Admin Console Stats Section

The Design Layout by default includes embedded Adsense so unless you need to move the ads around, the placement is generally good in its default configuration.

I had little to do in terms of changing the Template in January.  There were some SEO optimizations and jQuery plugins which I embedded in the site for added features and special effects.  I tend to be conservative in that regard and find too many sites saturate the visitor with clever jquery widgets that simply do nothing but get in the way of the user to the point of annoyance.  Bearing this in mind, I took a minimalist approach to making any jQuery additions with the objective of only adding a feature if it provided added eye appeal or additional usability.

To my surprise, Blogger's approach to templating is to include the CSS and HTML together in one file using clever header VARiable declarations for various attributes in the template CSS schema followed by a skin section where the CSS is fleshed out passing in the VAR CSS elements as a $CSS.selector identifier usually named the same as the CSS selector for consistency.

It's easy to read and following the skin section comes the <html> <head>, <body>, </html> sections.
All is well organized and predictable.  In fact, porting popular templates from other vendors such as WordPress is common-place and easily accomplished in Blogger.

In addition to the default threaded and moderated comment system, DISQUS offers their own comment SaaS interface, which I chose to use with Linux Advocates. It integrates seamlessly with Blogger, provides support for spam blocking, multiple moderators, and multiple nested comments, single-signon, just to name a few features.  It's a better more flexible commenting system than the default Blogger system but even the Blogger system is quite doable for those who care not to make a replacement.

The posting editor does a reasonably good job with drag-drop ability and most of the typical toolbar formatting options.  Blogger supports third party SEO optimization tools--one of which is Zemanta, and I use the Zemanta plugin for Chrome.  A plugin is also available for Firefox.

The result is that the Blogger ecosystem has grown to such an extent that is now quite mature and does a really good job at standing up against the competition on a feature-by-feature basis.  It is quite respectable and I am now in my second iteration of template replacement which I upgraded this past weekend.

All in all, I must take my hat off to the Google Blogger Developers.  Blogger has exceeded all of my expectations.

So, whether you are a newcomer to expert or are thinking of switching from your current tool set, you owe it to yourself to evaluate Blogger before you make a choice.

I highly recommend Blogger.  -- Dietrich
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. I would have to look but I think I started using Blogger for The Blog of helios in 2008. I had been toying with a WordPress blog and three weeks into it, having failed to update some php files and vulnerabilities, they were ripe for hacking. Not only did they hack and Pwn my blog...they got into my FTP files and deleted everything stored there.

    I realize that was years ago but still it soured me on WP. Blogger has gotten better and better every year and it meets my needs. Besides, I don't need server storage for my blog because Drive is hooked right into it with a couple of nifty addons for storage and upload of files and other bloggie stuff.

    My very first website was Joomla-based.

    I had hair before I started hacking on Jooma. srsly.

    I guess it just comes down to what you are comfortable with and what lengths you are willing to go to maintain your blog. Personally, I've probably written all the meaningful code and scripts I am ever going to write, and I am into easy and hassle-free these days. Blogger gives me a professional presentation with not a lot of effort. That's a good thing.

  2. I am quite pleased with it. WordPress and many other blogs using PHP are inherently unsafe. The safest is Plone. If you go here and read the security matrix, it shows a breakdown for security patches by language:


    Bottom of page, Security Track Record.