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Do you own your web content? (Plus Blogger FTP migration)

11 March 2010


I always recommend that writers own the relationship with their readers as far as possible. That means owning your own domain name. All those blogs out there hosted on blogspot.com (and wordpress.com) don't actually belong to their owners: they belong to Google and Wordpress, respectively. While they don't lay claim to the copyright in the content, they have absolute control over whether it is displayed or not, and to whom. If your blog is on either of those services, it could be switched off for technical or commercial reasons at any time, and you'd have no control over that.

A lot of people tell me to calm down and that I'm scaremongering when I talk about this kind of thing, but there is a precedent out there. MP3.com was a precursor to MySpace, a site where musicians could post their music for fans to discover and download. In 2003, it was sold to Cnet and all the site content was deleted. It's easy to upload the music somewhere else again, but what was lost was the relationship between band and fan. A band might have spent six years building up links to its MP3.com page, only to find that they were all now broken. Search engine traffic went into a black hole. Bookmarks in fans' browsers didn't work any more, either. Bands who might have had a big following at MP3.com had to start from scratch.

There is a simple way to avoid this problem: buying your own domain name. Your domain name is your location on the internet. In my case, it's www.sean.co.uk. You can buy a domain name for about a tenner (I use Easily for several of my domains), and you can still use services like Blogger and Wordpress. Your website address can act like a postal mail forwarding service, redirecting visitors to your blog at blogspot.com or wordpress.com when people arrive at your domain. But if blogspot goes down, you can just redirect your domain elsewhere. You keep all the incoming traffic.

I've been using Blogger for several years, because you don't have to install any software but it will still post to your chosen hosting provider (using FTP). That means it's easy to integrate my blog with the rest of my website, and I can keep all the files in one place.

Recently, Blogger has announced that it will be discontinuing that service, and instead you'll need to host your blog with Blogger. That sounded like it was going to be a lot of work or result in the loss of control, but that wasn't the case. Blogger's FTP migration tool made it easy to manage the whole process, and my blog is now hosted at http://news.sean.co.uk. If I want to, I can later redirect that somewhere else, and retain control of my content and traffic. The rest of my site remains hosted where it always was. If you don't have a site to integrate your blog with, you can buy a domain through Google and have it host it, as the simplest solution. Even though Google's hosting it, it's your domain and you can move it somewhere else later, taking all your traffic with you.

I can understand why Blogger's made this move. Google says that a tiny proportion of people were using the FTP posting feature, and that it was becoming difficult to maintain. Let's not forget it is a free service. The posting had become time consuming for me too, probably because the link between Google and my host wasn't fast enough. Now that I've migrated, my blog is lightning fast in updating. So fast, in fact, that I didn't think it was doing anything at all at first.

If you are using the FTP posting feature in Blogger, you have until 1 May to complete the process. It will take a day or so though (not work time, waiting time for servers to update), so I recommend you start early. That will also give you time to fix any issues arising before you lose control of the ability to post to your blog. Google's dedicated FTP migration blog is worth a read, but don't be daunted. You can probably dive into the migration tool without too much trouble.

If you use Google Reader or a similar service to follow this blog, please update your RSS feed. My new RSS is behind this link. The new web address for this blog is http://news.sean.co.uk. There are links scattered throughout the site to the old blog and I'll update those over time, although there is an automatic redirect on every old post to bring you to the corresponding new post location. Thanks for your patience if you stumble across old blog links. The navbar at the top of the screen should always bring you to the new blog.

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