Blogging With No Exit

Crossposted from my EchoDitto blog.

I am not a developer. I’m a writer with just enough technical knowledge to be dangerous. So there’s probably a lot I don’t know about creating blogging software. I’m not the guy who builds the platform. I’m the guy who comes goes comes in, redecorates, adds some content, and makes the place his own.  

I’m also in the process of having a house built.  Now, I’m not a builder either, and there’s definitely a lot I don’t know about building a house. However, I know the one I’ll soon be living in has a front door, a back door, lots of windows and several other ways to get in and out. It’s something I almost take for granted. So, why is it that my blogging platform has a way to get in (via import) but no way to get out? Why do developers build blogging platforms with no internal export function?

The reason I ask is because of the trouble I’ve been having with my blog lately. If you visit that link, you’ll see what the trouble is. It’s not there. Or it’s there but you can’t see it because you can’t access the database. It’s the result of an ongoing problem with my current blogging platform. Ever since the most recent version came out, databases queries have been insane to the point that my host has finally blocked all access to my database from any IP address except my own. 

I’ve tried everything to solve the problem. I’ve enabled caching. I’ve killed all but two plugins that connect to the database. But nothing works. Besides, I’m inclined to think that it’s not just me, because lots of people have written about their problems with it and they’re all nearly identical to mine. It seems that something about my blogging platform makes MYSQL databases go wonky during traffic bursts, because of some bad mojo involving dynamic content generation, caching, and skyrocketing database queries. The higher your traffic, the worse it gets. And I get anywhere from a couple to several thousand page loads per day. 

So, it seems the answer would be to switch to a different blogging software, or at least test drive a few with my current content, to see how they handle the load. There’s just one problem. My blogging software has several ways in, via internal import functions to retrieve content from other systems, but no exit. No built in export. None. So, I could leave if I want to, but right now I’d have to leave my content behind. 

And when it comes to blogging, content has value because that’s what people link to. It’s your the accrued interest in your "blog cred" account. Lose your content, lose your links, and you start over again from square one. That’s a lot harder to do than it was even just a few years ago

I don’t get it. Why build something that has so many ways in, but no way out? Especially if it’s open source software, and nobody’s going to lose any money if I switch to a different platform? Maybe I’m misunderstanding the meaning of open source, but it seems to me the way out should be as available and clearly marked as the way in, and that I shouldn’t have to become a programmer to find it or to build my own.

Asking on the support forums doesn’t yield much in the way of help. My last attempt got me a pretty derisive response, basically telling me I’m crazy to think that any developer would include an internal export function, because "nobody is offering an export script to let users go away from their tool."

This, however, is in direct contradiction to what the über developer himself had to say on the matter earlier.

There’s no need to "lock" anyone in to WordPress , it stands on its own merits. No one makes or loses money if you use WordPress or not. We do this because we love doing it. We don’t have any propietary storage formats or obscufated code, anyone is free to do anything with the data they want, and they do. There are WordPress import tools for other systems (though they’re all lossy at the moment). Also remember WordPress content is available through the same standard APIs (blogger, metaweblog) as everyone else.

An export function has been planned out and the code has been assigned to someone, and as far as I know he has been working on it. When everything is done you’ll be able to export and import to RSS/Atom and to a custom lossless XML format.

Insinuations about the motivations of WP developers is uncalled for and not productive toward what we’re all trying to do here: make WordPress better.

Posted: 2004-08-11 08:59:52

That was almost two years, and a couple of versions ago, and still no export function is forthcoming. And the lone export plugin in existence stopped working due to sum code changes in the new version of the blogging software. So there was a tunnel under the wall, but somehow it got filled in.

So perhaps the lone person who responded to my call for help was right after all. But if I take the developer in question at his word, I still have to ask: why build something with an easy way in, but no easy way out? If you don’t stand to gain or financially from my decision to use your platform or switch to another, why not have a clearly marked exit? Why make me dig my own way out or wait for someone else to dig me out?

Bottom line? I don’t have to be a builder to get into and out of my own house. I can walk out the door any time I choose. And I shouldn’t have to be a developer to get my content in and out of my blogging software either. It should be as easy as opening the door and walking out of my house. 

Instead, choosing a blogging software is akin to hastily jumping into a relationship with someone you barely know, and moving in with them. By the time you realize what the problems are, and how deep the trouble goes, it’s a lot harder to get out than it was to get in. And even if you manage to get out, it might not be so easy to take your stuff with you.

From now on, my advice to anyone who asks about blogging software is this: don’t use any blogging software that doesn’t have an internal export function, unless you are absolutely sure you will never ever want to move to another platform and take your content with you.

Update: A couple of weeks ago, when I was having trouble, I contacted Anil Dash at Six Apart to see if the folks over there could help me. Fortunately, I hear from him today and it looks like they will be able to do so. And it helps that my Typepad subscription is still active. I’m glad I kept it. I guess something told me I might need it someday.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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