Blogging About Breaking My Blog: A How-To.

03/15/2011 By Shawn Burns

Although it’s pretty tacky to blog about blogging if you aren’t a blogging blogger, (if you are a parenting blogger, for example, with no particular expertise to offer the inquirer about blogging), this post will almost entirely be about blogging. Well, it will be about blogging and stupidity.

First a Few Minor Changes, But Written in Such a Long-Winded Way That You Will Wish to Die

If you look around a little bit (after clearing your browser cache so the new page loads) you might see that I’ve made some changes to the site.

Changes Involving the Disqus Comment System

I’ve made some tweaks to the Disqus options, so if you’ve previously considered Disqus a barrier to commenting, you might have an easier time of it now.

  1. I’ve changed the recent comments side menu (formerly titled “These People Pay Attention”) to a list of the most active commenters. I don’t know why I did this, beyond being bored with some things. Maybe it will be flattering, challenging, or embarrassing to see. Maybe people will think it’s lame. I’m willing to give it a try for a while. The tracking is done by Disqus, so if you don’t usually log in with a consistent Disqus-linked account, you probably aren’t going to show up on that menu.
  2. I’ve moved the comment box to the bottom of the comment thread, since the comments on a post are worth reading, and replying to, and I don’t want you to miss them.
  3. I’ve also enabled the options to log in with Facebook, Twitter, OpenID (which is just a name, e-mail, and a website, if you have one), and your Yahoo account to leave a comment. If you are really shy, you can just type your comment and click the “Post As…” button and the first option on the new pop-up will be to post as “Guest”, with just your name and e-mail address (not shared).  You don’t need a Disqus ID to leave a comment.
  4. In addition to the old feature involving “liking” an individual comment, now at the top of the comments section there is also an option to “Like” or “Not Like” the entire post within the Disqus system. If you “Like” it, you have an option to share it on Twitter or Facebook too, or just keep the “Like” in the system for ranking purposes. Maybe I’ll use that feature to share the posts that are most popular, at some future date. For now, it’s mostly a redundant sharing feature.
  5. Also at the top the comments section there is an icon with two head silhouettes. This is the Disqus Community menu for the site. If you click on that button, you can see things like who leaves the most comments here, who receives the most individual comment “likes”, and who is new to leaving comments or otherwise interacting via the Disqus features. I didn’t know that one was there myself, until I clicked on it a few minutes ago.

Other Changes to the Site

  1. I’ve moved the “Share” links from the top of the post to the bottom. If you are so inclined, you can share the posts with Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, or Google Bookmarks by selecting one of the icons. I think these buttons, from SexyBookmarks, look better than the old share buttons I was using.
  2. I removed the MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog windows from the left sidebar. I think they looked ugly and I didn’t see any benefit to them.
  3. I added a Twitter feed to the left sidebar. It’s only my two most recent Tweets. Just as I link to blog posts on Twitter, sharing these long-form thoughts with my short-form audience, I thought it only fair I let blog readers see what I was saying in that other space.
  4. I changed the Facebook button from my personal Facebook Profile to my Facebook Page. It’s a subtle difference, and I don’t use Facebook that much anyway. But I might eventually want to do all of my Facebook interaction through the Page rather than the Profile. Also, I think if you “Like” the blog with the Facebook Page instead of adding me as a Facebook friend through my Profile, you don’t end up sharing your newsfeed and things with me automatically. So, if you’d rather I didn’t get access to your Christmas morning pictures, this is probably the way to go. I still have a link to my Facebook Profile, to add me as a friend, on my “Who Am I And How Can You Send Me Gifts” page. I don’t know if I’ll keep the Facebook button. I’m not even sure I have the right thing over there. Do all of you see that it says “Shawn Burns likes”, or is it just me, because I’m logged in?
  5. I kept the Google Friend Connect button on the left sidebar. I have no idea what to do with it, but I keep it out of spousal loyalty. You can become a member of the site that way, I guess. I really, really don’t know what it’s for. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone? Can you interact with each other through that thing? I don’t know. I wish I knew how to link it up to the old widget I had on the Blogspot site that showed the other Blogspot/Google-type blogs that had chosen to link up to mine. I feel like I abandoned those people when I moved over to my own domain.

Changes for Feed-Only Readers

  1. Hi there. I see you there, feed subscriber who never clicks over here to see the actual page I have here. Maybe you think the page is ugly. Maybe it loads too slowly. Maybe you read  a lot of blogs and it would slow you down to click through to every single page. I understand. I do exactly the same thing. Because I do exactly the same thing, I appreciate it when a blogger delivers their entire post in a feed, so I’m not just reading snippets. But, just because I am reading something in a feed reader doesn’t mean I have to feel like I can’t share it with anyone. So, when a blogger makes it easy to share their content from the feed, that helps me out a lot. I have done just that for you, my darling feed reader readers. Although you always had the options, at the bottom of the post, to e-mail the post, e-mail me, Stumble, Digg or something else the post, I know that I myself gloss over them when I see them on a feed. It’s no surprise that none of you really use them. So I’ve added options now to Tweet (“Twit This”), share on Facebook, and bookmark the post in Google. I spend most of my online time on Twitter, and it was stupid of me to have no option to share feeds to Twitter and Facebook.
  2. I added a comment count link to the bottom of the feed. It was just another option I came across while messing around in the Disqus control panel.

Changes to the Blogroll

I haven’t made any changes to the blogroll in a while. It has its own page, and it’s really just the blogs I read through Google Reader under my “Parenting” label (kind of a misnomer in many cases, since they aren’t all parenting blogs, but that’s my private heading for them), exported to the site. So if a blog is on there I actually see every post that goes by. However, even though it’s my active blogroll, it’s still wildly out of date and useless.

  1. I will be deleting blogs that are clearly dead, looking for their new homes if I can find them, and re-linking.
  2. I will be adding a slew of blogs that I read regularly. For the most part, these are blogs I almost always read when I see a new link on Twitter, but I’ve never actually subscribed to their feeds. I’ll be rectifying that oversight

So, lots of changes, all of them minor. Are you still awake? Good, because I want to talk to you about being a stupid blogger.

My Stupid Blogger Story

I woke up on Monday morning and thought to myself, “Self, you just told everyone how many site visitors and feed subscribers you have. Why did you do that?”

And I replied to myself, “Well, Self, nobody ever talks about that stuff, and I think it’s stupid that they don’t, and I felt like I had a reputation I hadn’t earned, so I would let people know that even though I’ve been doing this for a while, I wasn’t some insanely popular blogger. I want people to have genuine responses to me, unshaded by how they think I am situated in some culture of blogging.”

Myself riposted, “Ah, so you think your actual numbers would make people think you are a small blogger? Fool! Think about your reach when you first started writing! Some, many, most bloggers don’t ever achieve the kind of exposure you have. It doesn’t matter if you can name twenty, fifty, or a hundred bloggers who dwarf your presence online. Your modesty is misplaced, and not only does it ring false, it is insulting. The only people who would be positively influenced by you claiming your actual numbers bespeak little influence are those of your friends with bigger numbers, and bad attitudes. And they, if they are your friends, will continue to be so whether they think you are as popular as they are or not. So stop trying to goad them into revealing some character flaw in the face of your real numbers. Idiot.”

“Is that what I was doing?” I asked myself. “Testing people? Trying to see if they’d see me in the same way rather than hoping to get them to see me in a genuine way?”

“Yes,” myself replied. Myself is very cynical about my motives.

But I am not so cynical. So I ended with, “No, I don’t think that’s it. I think I was just hoping to be transparent. Shut up. Also? I’ll show  you.”

And so I proceeded to figure out a way to add a Feedburner counter to the side of my blog. Show it off! Pull back the curtain! Blogs are dumb! Various battle cries went through my head as I snipped code and added it to various widgets, headers, footers, and sidebar files, behind the scenes. I never once got the counter to work properly. I cleared my cache over and over again, hoping it was just a problem with my browser failing to download the new page to see it. I tried different plugins and workarounds, to no avail.

I also tried to add a site visitor counter, one that would display daily visit totals. The ones that show total visits were everywhere….ten years ago. And they were useless to me in my quest for transparency, since aggregated numbers like that are meaningless when trying to figure out your actual reach. I needed daily visits, only. Again, snippets of code, widgets, footers and sidebar files were mucked with. I tried out different site analytic programs, again to no avail.

Finally, I wondered if part of the problem I was seeing was that I hadn’t yet upgraded my blog software to WordPress 3.1. Maybe all of these workarounds were getting blocked because they couldn’t get through to the outdated shell I was using to house my words. So, I upgraded the WordPress installation from my WordPress dashboard and…

….my posts were gone. They weren’t really gone, since I could still read them in the dashboard. But the site was failing to load beyond a certain area of the sidebar where I had been hammering away with code and widgets for a while.

That is when I began to wonder if my aunts and uncles back on the rez hadn’t been right when they complained, loudly and often, that I had no common sense in my head. It was also when I began to think about things like “backup”, and “database” and “remember that other time you broke your blog, idiot, and you had to learn some SQL coding to transform ^%&%^&% character strings back into things like apostrophes all throughout your blog after restoring the wrong character set?”

I quickly went to the “backup” plugin and e-mailed a copy of the database to myself. It wasn’t going to be perfect, since I had just mucked things up and now I was grabbing a copy of the mucked up version, but at least if I screwed everything else up I’d have my posts. I also, laughably, set the backup plugin to do an automatic backup every day. Why it wasn’t already doing so, when I’d originally installed it because I almost lost everything back in October, I don’t know. I could have sworn I set it up then, but clearly I had done something wrong.

So, database in hand I went to my hosting interface at GoDaddy, and spent the next six hours making things worse.

No common sense in my head.

I found a way to restore my WordPress files to the previous day, and since things had only gone wrong in the morning that would work fine, and everything would be back to before I started screwing around with widgets. However, in the interface where you can select all the files in a column, I neglected to see I had three pages of files to worry about, not just the visible one, and proceeded to restore only one third of my files to the previous day. Not knowing that’s what I was doing, at the time, all I could see was that things weren’t working.

What do you do when things aren’t working? Try breaking something else. I went into the database manager and tried to import my backed up database, but the WordPress plugin had exported it as an archive file (I didn’t realize it at the time), and the interface I was using couldn’t automatically unarchive it to import. So I kept getting failure messages. Damn.

What do you do when things aren’t working? Try breaking something else. I went to the WordPress installation on the hosting account and saw that it had an old WordPress installation, and that there had been a problem even back then with completing the installation properly. So….I deleted WordPress.

Well, why not, right?

Now, I wasn’t so rash as to think I could just delete it and reload it and everything would be fine. And I even backed up some files before I deleted it. But (see above regarding the three pages of files), I didn’t actually back up all the files. But I didn’t know it. At the time, I re-installed a clean version of WordPress, ended up with a brand new blog and a welcome message from Mr. WordPress, and my feed sent out a new post to everyone. It caused amusement and confusion. Then, I thought, now I can import the database and things will be fine, right? Still not right.

Because now the WordPress files were set up to look for a specific database name, the one that just got created when I re-installed WordPress, and although I could import the content of my old database (having unzipped the archive file myself), I couldn’t change the new name to match the old, deleted, one. And the WordPress files couldn’t talk to the database file to see anything. I didn’t realize any of this at the time. But, what do you do when things  aren’t working? Break something else.

I deleted WordPress over and over, installed it to different roots, different directories. Sometimes I’d end up with the main page of the blog loading fine, and none of the individual pages working. Sometimes I’d end up with a site redirect back to my Blogspot blog, which already has a redirect in place that sends people to my own domain. I put people in an infinite Backpacking Dad loop.

I tried restoring my files to previous days, previous weeks, but without seeing that I was only doing one third of the files I was never going to fix things that way. The database was backed up, re-installed, deleted, recreated with exactly the same name as the old one, deleted again, re-installed.

I contemplated switching to Typepad, or any other blogging platform, but I was pretty worried I wouldn’t be able to import my posts to a new one, and I’d lose the look of my blog entirely.

I complained to Twitter, a lot. And that’s where things took a turn for the better. Although I’d been spending a lot of time searching for websites with helpful posts about my problem, Twitter is actually full of helpful people. I had some great help. Cultural Savage offered to just do it for me, and also pointed me to some great resources. Avitable helped me clear up the confusion about why my database wasn’t talking to my WordPress files. And Astrogirl426 held my hand while I tried to figure out why my permalinks weren’t working even though my main page was. With their help I finally figured everything out.

I ended up with a new WordPress Installation, a new database name, my old database files imported into the new database, all of my files restored to the day before (instead of just grabbing the first third), and then a change in the wp-config.php file from the restore to look for the new database name, even though it had all of the old database content.

“SUCCESSSSSSS!!!!!” I yelled to Twitter when I was done. I refrained from offering a link purporting to be to my restored blog, but would actually be a Rickroll. Twitter had been too kind. Even though, as Mr Lady hinted to me, it would have been one of my best Rickrolls ever. But no, I was feeling happy, celebratory, even. I had conquered my rogue blog. I had gone forth with allies, brave and true, and returned victorious to my online space. I settled in to the couch to try to get on with the actual business of the day.

Then Emily came home from work, and I realized just how long I’d been questing. Too long. Dinner calls, kids must be bathed. A day wasted online in the least fun way I can imagine that is also safe for work.

Now, note that essentially what I did was set myself the problem of adding a counter to my blog, and then in a few short steps I had deleted the entire thing. Do not be like me. I was lucky to have help, a recent restore point for some files, an okay database backup that I grabbed right before I really broke things, and some time. Backup your files. Backup your database. Don’t add widgets and code and make changes to your blog layout when you don’t know what you are doing. Be smarter than me.

Oh, remember all of those changes I made to the blog, way, way up there at the top of this post? Yeah, I did all of that after I restored my broken blog to all of its glory. Because I couldn’t leave well enough alone. But, I didn’t add any subscriber or visitor counters. Because maybe I was doing it for the wrong reasons after all.

I’d say my blog had a pretty strong opinion about that.