September 13, 2015 colophon

Moved to Blot

You’re reading this on the 5th version of my blog.

Some History

The first was a set of static text files I managed in FrontPage. The editing was nice (once it get the HTML-on-the-disk problems right), but I dropped everything into the same file, using anchor tags to separate posts in one giant file, which didn’t scale.

The second version was ASP.NET code to pull in my static content (I did not want to give up my FrontPage) and arrange it into a nice layout.

The third version has been lost in the mists of time.

The fourth version was a complete rewrite in ASP.NET using SQL Server as the backing store. The bulk of the content was in SQL Server as either HTML fragments or image blobs, requiring me to implement a blogging API (I was way into AtomPub at the time, so that’s the one I implemented). Along the way, I moved this version of the site to Azure.

The good news is that Windows Live Writer worked very well with this site (even better than FrontPage!). The bad news is that it was the only editor that did, it requires Windows and we no longer live in a single OS world. I want to write my blog in Markdown from OSX or even my phone.

So, the fifth version my site, the one you’re looking at now, is running on Blot. It was the video of the workflow on the home page that really did it for me. I saw that, paid my $20 and have been spending weekends exporting the data from my old blog ever since.

The Beauty of Blot

Here’s what I get by moving to Blot:

  • A Dropbox-based file management system with complete flexibility to arrange things how I like. Blot just takes what I give it and uses it to produce my blog. And I don’t need to maintain certs to protect my writeable AtomPub endpoint anymore, either. Blot and Dropbox use OAuth2 for such things and leave me out of it.

  • A mix of HTML and Markdown content, which let me dump all of my old HTML fragment-based content into Dropbox but still letting me write new content in Markdown with whatever editor I feel like, including one hosted on Windows, two hosted on the Mac and one that runs on my phone.

  • A live preview that’s updated every time I save. I get a preview by prefixing the post filename with [draft]”, which produces a cooresponding [preview]” file that matches the styles on my site. When I’m ready to publish, I remove the [draft]” prefix and it’s live with a date that matches the first time that Blot saw this post. Or if I want to provide my own date in the future, I can easily do so with a bit of metadata in the file. Easy peasy.

  • Integration with Disqus, where I keep my comments. Not only do new posts get Disqus comments, but I was able to drop in a bit of metadata to point to the existing comments for my existing posts.

  • Direct integration with my existing Google Analytics account by simply providing my ID.

  • Forwarding of old URL patterns to their new spot on my new site, so I’m not contribuing to the dead web.”

  • Several Blot templates provide mobile-friendliness out of the box (as defined by Google mobile friendliness test tool), which is handy so that mobile searches continue to find things on without bias. This saved me from having to figure out the issues with the old site.

  • Fabulous support from David, the proprietor of Blot. I don’t think he’s had anyone drop 20 years of blog content into Blot all at once before, but he was super responsive, fixed all of my issues and even added some features just to support my scenarios. Blot is worth it just for David.

  • I get the piece of mind knowing that all of my content is in Dropbox, so if Blot goes away in another 20 years, then I have confidence that I’ll be able to take my content and drop it somewhere else or even build my own host. Also, while I’m not quite 100% confident in Dropbox’s ability to keep all of my files for all time, I’m got the whole thing checked into GitHub, too, which Blot has no issues with.

  • And I get all of that for $20 a year! That’s a bargain and a half.

Not quite everything

While Blot does let me drop in JavaScript and do dynamic things, it’s not a place to host server-side code. So, I rebuilt (the URL forwarding service that I built for my books) and moved it to the Google Cloud Platform. It’s about six lines of Python code if you’re interested (not counting the hardcoded data which I’m sure I’ll move someday).

Also, while Blot has a full set of fully customizable templates, none of them was quite what I wanted and my hacking has left me vaguely unsatisfied. If anyone has design advice, I’d sure love to hear it!

Where are we?

I imagine that I would’ve been just as happy with WordPress as Blot, but David does such a good job with Blot that I couldn’t say no.” Certainly I’ve blogged more in the last week than I have since joining Google, so I’ll take that as a good sign. Blot seems to have inspired me; what more could you ask from a blog service than that?