Always Have a Backup Plan: a “Learning Experience”

There are so many things I like about blogging, but one that I don’t talk about all that often is the technical side. Maintaining a blog for almost 5.5 years has been a great opportunity to learn on the job. I’m pretty much self-taught and far from an expert, but I maintain this blog on my own…and usually, I know enough to keep me out of trouble. Not always, though.

I’m most likely to get myself into trouble when I’m tempted by the new and shiny. I’m always on the lookout for new tech tricks and apps to try–on my phone, on the iPad, and on the blog. This all started with a post from Blogger Buzz about making their Dynamic Views available for blogs on mobile devices, which made me think about why I wasn’t using it for my desktop blog template. I’d seen other blogs using the DV layouts, and liked the look; I also knew I hadn’t installed it when it first came out because it didn’t support gadgets, but they’d since added that–should I check it out again?

Dynamic Views aren’t ready for me. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way, and was up till almost midnight last Wednesday restoring The 3 R’s Blog to the way it looked before my ill-fated experiment. If you’re using the Blogger platform I hope you’ll read this and learn from my experience, but the last of my bullet points applies to any blog software.

  • Blogger’s own documentation says that you can “revert to a previous template” after “testing” a new one, without losing any custom code you may have installed–but I could not find the “revert” button they illustrate (see below) in the Template Designer, so, at least for me, it was not that easy. Don’t take chances. Download and save your current template before you change anything, so you can restore it after you test if you don’t like the results.
Blogger Template Designer "revert" link
  • If you’ve installed a lot of blog gadgets–bits of code in those little boxes in your sidebar–or made other tweaks in the HTML of the template, they most likely will not work in Blogger’s Dynamic Views. The only gadgets it supports are those it’s already coded into the templates. DV does not work with third-party JavaScript, and the templates–although they have a great, clean look–don’t have traditional sidebars (not even the one called “Sidebar”). If those gadgets–like ad code for providers other than AdSense, or a commenting system–really matter to you, or if you just like having those sidebar buttons and links around, don’t even try out DV at this time. End of story.
Blogger Dynamic Views "Sidebar"

  • Backing up your blog” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as  “backing up your template.” Your template may live in a separate file. Your blog platform should have utilities to export both blog and template files to your hard drive for backup/storage purposes–use them. Frequently. I had a blog backup file I loaded into my test blog–and it didn’t make all the changes I needed in that template. I’d hoped it would, so I could basically transfer that updated template here. That hurt, and it was the biggest reason for my late-night blog-surgery session, because I had to make most of the changes by hand.
  • Bookmark http://www.cachedpages.com/. You should be able to find a recent capture of your blog’s front page there, and it will be a valuable visual reference if you’re unfortunate enough to need it–you won’t be able to access the underlying code, but you’ll be able to see what it all looked like.

I partly blame Blogger’s incorrect documentation for this snafu–please don’t tell users they can revert their templates if they actually can’t!–but ultimately I got myself into this because I didn’t have a proper backup plan in place. Learn from my mistake, y’all–I made it so you won’t have to!

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