Friday, December 11, 2020

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging: How to Save Your Posts from Catastrophe.


 Sumerian clay tablet with the text of the poem Inanna and Ebih by the priestess Enheduanna, Writing in cuneiform characters on clay tablets is a little laborious, but it ensures that your text is not vulnerable to accidental erasure: these tablets have survived for more than 5000 years. It is hard to think that the posts of our blogs will survive for so long. But, at least, we should try to protect them from accidental loss or direct attacks. Image from Wikipedia.


I don't know if it ever happened to you, but a few days ago I lost two post drafts in a row, the same day. Then I discovered something that I should have known: that Google's Blogger gives you zero chances to recover your text when you erase it by mistake. No way, impossible, I could have thrown those drafts into a black hole. 

No tragedy, but a few hours of work wasted. And that set my mind in motion: why is it that Google, the world's most powerful Internet company, can't provide even a minimal file recovery facility in their blogging platform? Call me paranoid, but I think they had something in mind when they structured Blogger the way it is. That is, prone to data loss. Just think of a few characteristics of the shiny new version of Blogger: there is no way to make an automatic backup. There is no trash can from which you can recover erased data. There is no way to disable the automatic saving that operates every two seconds or so, and that virtually guarantees that any mistake you make can't be reversed. I can't believe that these are bugs: they have to be features.

Google is not the only Internet company to be evil. You know how things are with Facebook, which you can see as a form of "micro-blogging." Since their service is free, you can't complain if they decide to erase one of your posts just because they don't like it. And they do that all the time. Of course it is not politically correct to use the term "censorship." They do that all in the name of fighting "fake news" to protect us. But, you know, sometimes the definition of "fake news" seems to be a little wide. 

Blogs aren't actively subjected to on-line censorship, at least not up to now and officially. But if you pause for a moment to think about the situation, you note how fragile blogs are. Suppose that Google just decided to stop its blogging service. They can do that, they have did that with other services they had been offering. Do you remember Google+ and Google Reader? They are gone forever because Google decided to pull the plug on them, despite the protests of their users. 

Of course, Google would give you some time to migrate to another platform (would they?), but just imagine that, suddenly, you find that your blog has disappeared. What do you do? Whom do you complain to? You paid nothing for the service, so you can't complain if that service suddenly doesn't exist anymore. 

One possible solution would be to hard-copy my post using cuneiform characters on clay tablets that could survive the worst: we still have the work by the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna that survived for some 5 thousand years! But I understand that this method is a little labor-intensive. So, what could you do, in practice? 

I think there are several methods feasible once you understand that there is a problem. Here is what I did. Suggestions in the comments are welcome. 

1. Switch platform. I have been blogging for several years, I tried WordPress, Joomla, Medium, and others. Yes, they do have text recovery facilities but, apart from that, I found that Google's "Blogger," is the simplest and most effective platform. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of WordPress, but it gives you good flexibility and control, much better than Medium. Besides, are your data really safe with another platform? You know that you just can't stand against a determined professional attack by someone who wants to destroy or hijack your data. No more than the Armenian soldiers could survive against the Azeri drones in Nagorno-Karabach.

2. Make backups. Once you realize how weak and exposed you are, the obvious solution is to backup your data. Note that Blogger gives you limited backup possibilities. Once you manage to find the hidden backup button (not so easy), it will produce an "eml" file that you cannot read off-line (at least I found no way to do that). All you can do with the file is to restore your whole blog from scratch, but your layout will not return alive. Besides, it won't allow you to recover just one of your posts or one of your drafts. Finally, there is no way to set up an automatic backup schedule. You have to remember to do that manually. That guarantees to lose a good chunk of your recent work if something goes wrong. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to remember to backup your blog every month or so. If you are truly paranoid, you can copy your eml files to an external USB memory that you keep in a drawer (I did). If they can destroy that, I give up: I can't win. 

3. Backup your files in HTM. I found a utility for "Firefox" called "WebScrapBook" that will download your entire blog in a form readable by any browser offline. There are other apps that claim to be able to do that, but I found that they just don't work with blogger (again, a bug or a feature? Who knows?). With WebScrapBook you can recover a single post, complete with images, by cutting and pasting it into Blogger or another platform. The problem is that you can't automate the saving process and not even customize where WebScrapBook saves your files. You have to manually transfer them to where you want to store them, including that USB memory I was mentioning before. Nevertheless, it is a good thing to have. 

4. Use a form saver. It would be nice be good to have something that automatically saves and stores what you type online, and not just for your blog posts. There was once a utility called "Lazarus" that worked very well but has now disappeared from the Web (I know that I am paranoid, but I can't avoid asking the question "why?"). After several tests I found an equivalent program called "Form History Control" that works as an extension for Firefox and, it seems, for other browsers. It will protect you from losing hours of work just because you pressed the wrong button. Of course, it is one of those fleeting apps that appear and disappear from the Web for unclear reason. But, as long as it exists, it seems to be working. 

And that's how things stand. The unbearable lightness of blogger remains a problem. Maybe we should really think about going back to cuneiform writing on clay tablets. 


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)