Saturday, October 10, 2020

End of the Blog: The New Blogger Interface is Broken

 Well, I've wondered when I'd give up blogging, and it looks like "now" is the right answer.  Why?  Because Google has forced the new Blogger interface on everyone as of a few weeks back, and say what you will about how "responsive" or "beautiful" or... whatever web developer bullshit you want, it fundamentally fails as a blogging interface.

A fundamental feature of a blogging interface is that it deals well with text.  The new Blogger interface?  It burns a ton of CPU on new hardware.  On older hardware?  It's literally unusable - and I mean this as someone who has experience with high latency internet connections.  I'm going to go through this absolute abomination, and then?


And then I'm done.  I'm not going to fight my tools this badly for the sake of blogging.  Maybe Google will un-fuck their interface.  Maybe I'll get around to hosting my own site again.  Or maybe I'll just stop even trying to engage with the modern internet.


Is it Really That Bad?

Syonyk, you say.  This is nonsense.  No new interface could be so awful as to make you quit blogging.  You can just upload content, or self host, or... I mean, it actually that bad?  Sure, it's all whitespace, but you can still type.

Can you?

Let me make a rare exception to my normal "Video is stupid" stance to demonstrate, in video, just how awful this new interface is.  I will also mention that there is literally no way to resize a video in the new interface.

I haven't used screen capture because one might (rightly) complain that it's impacting performance.  This is really this bad.  I've got a post I wrote on my netbook being unusable, CPU burn during typing in a plain text post being absurd, and then a newer i7-6770HQ being choked out as well by daring to have lots of images in a post.  Watch it, I'll be here.

This stuff used to work.  Easily.  It's just text!  How do you ruin text?  I have no idea.

Oh, and editing the size of the YouTube video?  Not a big deal, change over to HTML and...

*eeeeeeeep*  You ruined this too!  I absolutely wanted to edit literally a single line of HTML, right?

I write long form content with photos.  Now?  I can't write long form content with photos on anything older that I like to use.  Thanks, Google.

Steps to Reproduce

Use Blogger.  Type quickly.  Monitor CPU use.

If that doesn't slow stuff down noticeably, add photos.  I can choke out even quite modern hardware around 200 photos, but there's some interaction with text length as well, and I don't fully understand it.  But I cannot use hardware that I used to write posts, to then edit them in the new interface.

Seriously, even though I'm using a modern computer to write this post, I'm burning half of a 6th gen i7 core to just type this post halfway through writing it.  This is absurd (and, yes, this is the only tab open).

But it's not just that.  The entire new interface is fundamentally bad at being a blog interface.


Did you even talk to people who use Blogger?

Part of this is my fault, certainly.  I saw the announcements, I saw the "Try the new Blogger!" popups.  I tried it, briefly, found out that it fundamentally didn't work (I don't think links translated properly from the old editor to the new one), and... went back to the old interface because I wanted to actually get some writing done.  I didn't file extensive bug reports.  I didn't send screenshots (how do you send a screenshot of lag anyway?).  I didn't pester my contacts inside Google to go find out what in the hell they were smoking (hey, man, it's legal...).

At any point in the redesign, did those responsible sit down and actually just watch (or screen share, I know, it's 2020...) people who use Blogger?  Just ask about hardware, what features they use, what they'd like?  I can't help but wonder, because it feels like the new interface is a lot of shiny things I don't care about, and it literally ruins that which I do care about.

If you toy around with Blogger on fancy new, modern, $5000 systems with gigantic displays?  Yeah, it's fine (if you don't look at the CPU use).  The wasted space is limited, it performs fine (at the cost of a huge amount of energy burned), and... sure, you could convince yourself it's ready to ship.  I'm sure the demos looked great.  Just, by people who apparently don't actually blog.

Check out their announcement about the new interface - it's worth a laugh.

Maybe I'm the minority of one here.  But I don't care about how responsive a blogging platform is on a mobile device.  I want it to work on a desktop, where I have a keyboard to write!


But something useful like a word counter?  Of course we can't have that.

Even the right side interface is confusing and slightly broken.  Labels overlap weirdly as you scroll, and I have no idea what the "Published on" segment means in a draft post.  I've not published this post yet, so why are you telling me it's been published?


Also... sorry, how, exactly, are the "Preview" button and "Save" button conceptually related?


I Use Slower Hardware: You Should Too!

I'll make the guess that nobody on the team involved uses older hardware.  Why bother?  New stuff is cheap.  Why not just drop a couple grand on a new laptop every year - and, hey, it's probably work hardware anyway.  Blogger works great on 4k screens with high end year old hardware!  Who cares about the older stuff?

Don't get me wrong here: It's not a question of affording it.  I can comfortably afford newer hardware.  I just don't have any interest in it unless I have a need for it, and "Google can't write Javascript" doesn't qualify as a real need.  I should not need modern hardware to type text - and, hey, halfway modern hardware chokes out anyway.

But I don't see a point in throwing out and replacing perfectly good older hardware if it still does what I need.  "Writing text" should not be a valid reason to scrap slower systems, sorry... I go on about repairability and such for reasons, and part of that is reducing waste.

One of the common biases of the tech industry that drives me absolutely up the wall is the general assumption that everyone (who matters) has flagship modern hardware, and everyone has low latency gigabit internet.  I mean, it's practically a human right, isn't it?  Not everyone does - and stuff should still function without it.

Gmail still has the HTML interface.  It's hidden in the corner and only shows up very briefly if you've got a fast machine and a fast connection, but it's still present - and it works.  Even the main gmail interface works fine on something like a Raspberry Pi or old Atom netbook - you just have to wait.  It works, you can type, you can send emails.  It's slow, but nothing is broken.

Not showing a sentence or two at a time while typing is broken.  No other way to describe it.

But if you're doing anything with the web, you should have access to slow hardware with slower internet connections.  Lots of people use that - and if you write something that can't handle it, shame on you.  Yeah, sure, it's libraries that use libraries that use libraries that use libraries that... but at some point, you have to admit that the CNN homepage is a third of a Windows 95 install.  That's absurd.

I don't care if it's real or simulated.  Try your product out with something a decade old and see if the stuff is usable.  If not?  Congratulations, you're responsible for generating an awful lot of e-waste.  Go ask the Cloud folks what they do.  Their stuff works just fine on old hardware.  Slow?  Yes.  Works fully if you wait and doesn't choke out text input?  Also yes.

Screen Utilization: We Don't All Have 4k Monitors...

Let's say you're a Googler who has a nice high end display.  You've got it scaled to 2560x1440, as is sane for a 27" display, and you look at the interface.  Does it look sane?


Now let's say you try to run Blogger on an older netbook with a 1366x768 panel - as was common for quite a while.  Now?  Well, squoosh.  All that wasted vertical space just gets in the way.  There's no way for me to get rid of that gigantic white bar across the top and actually see the content I'm working on.


If you have an image?  Well, forget seeing it and writing any text.  Again, these just weren't issues with the old interface, but they're issues on this horrid one!

On the other hand, I will give them some credit.  They removed the utterly idiotic "+/-" buttons for resizing the image in a distinctly non-WYSIWYG editor.  Now it's only twice the clicks to resize the image as from the old interface instead of 4x...


"Yeah, but can it run Blogger?"

If you're of a certain age, you probably remember the whole "Brand new supercomputer, 50k cores, 20k GPUs" article with the first comment being, "Yeah, but can it run Crysis?"  That game was either insanely demanding of hardware for the time, or a bit of poorly optimized software, but point is, it was a meme for a while.

I propose a new version of this: "Yeah, but can it run Blogger?"

Please liberally sprinkle this around articles with new CPUs, because this whole state of affairs is utterly absurd.

The Environmental Disaster That Is The New Interface

Screwing up what is fundamentally a rich text editor is inexcusable.  In all ways.  But I'll pick on just a few things that maybe someone at Google cares about.

You've rendered older hardware quite literally incapable of writing blog posts.  I (used to) use an 8 year old netbook for posts, because, hey, I can.  It's just text, it works fine.  Except, now, it doesn't work at all.

Should I buy new hardware (which requires very real resources and energy to create) to deal with your bullshit?  Should I take far, far longer to write a post because text doesn't show up when I type it?  Should I use high powered hardware to chew through the damned atrocity that is your interface?

ALL of these have a significant environmental impact - and that impact wasn't there with the old interface.  Your new interface, quite literally, has a carbon impact - and it doesn't matter that your data centers are low carbon, because your new interface pushes this CPU spinning off to the end users.  People posting in developing nations?  People posting on high carbon grids?  All of them are using more energy if they use photos - in a blog!  Because something in your shiny, new, "responsive" interface can't handle images.  I work in an off grid office, and I can literally see the power impact of typing on my power monitor while going at it.  This is stupid.


Low Income?  Minority?  Developing Nation Posters?  Screw 'em!

But beyond that, Google, as a company, tends to claim to care about low income, minority groups, structurally oppressed groups, etc.  Often enough, this group tends to have less money to throw around for modern hardware - which means that video is a bit harder to manage.  I'm not insane enough to try and edit video on Clank.  Text and images?  This way of communicating is a method that has stood the test of time, and has historically required very, very little in the way of computing resources or bandwidth to use.  I could run my blog, without much difficulty, from a modem.

But this new update?  Fuck all that!  If you want to write a blog post, better have modern hardware if you want images, because otherwise the "new" interface is unusable.  And if you're going to put up some images and type, better have a good laptop battery, because this abomination will burn an awful lot of your CPU core doing something in the background.

What are your goals here, Google?  You probably didn't intend to build an environmental trainwreck that requires modern hardware to blog - but yet you did.  You write something horrible.  And, despite a lot of feedback on it, you released it with no fallback to the old system.  Good fucking job.


If You Want to Kill Blogger, Just Kill Blogger!

Look, Google?  If you want to kill something, just kill it.  You've done it plenty over the years past for plenty of well liked products, so I see no reason why Blogger should be different.  If it's boring, if it's not sparkly and shiny anymore, just kill it off.

Sure, you'll piss people off when you do that, but not like that's stopped you in the past.  Remember Reader?  Remember Google Plus, with all the bonuses tied to getting your products working with Google Plus?

"Release a horrible update, force people onto it, and then wait for them to move to other platforms" seems abnormally complex and long term to just get rid of an inconvenient platform.  I was of the impression that you made a lot of money from ads hosted on Blogger (I've certainly provided millions of impressions), but... what are you trying to do?

Not everyone wants to push everything to video, not everyone has the hardware to it, and not everyone likes viewing it over reading.

But, The Static Hosting Options!

Yes, I know, I can move my blog to another host, host myself, use static blog generators... and I might, at some point, in the future.

But I shouldn't have to when all I want is a fucking text editor that allows me to edit text.  Seriously.  This is not some radical bit of revolutionary technology that requires AI and Machine Learning and The Great Gigantic Cloud.  It's a text editor.  With some photos inline.  The kind of editing I did all the time back on a 486 with Word Perfect (which was a WYSIWYG editor...).

Part of the reason I chose to use Blogger (and made the admittedly idiotic decision to just use one of their domains) is that I was tired of being a sysadmin for personal stuff.  I've spent more of my life hosting services than not, and I drank the kool-aid and believed that, in 2015, I didn't have to.  That I could rely on a large company to make sane decisions, to host my content, and to not ruin it for the sake of a couple people getting promotions (because I know damned well that the way to a promotion inside Google is to do something new and shiny, not to maintain something old).  It worked very well for 5 years - I could edit from anywhere on nearly anything, and the scaling was beautiful.  I went from a around 1000 views a day to close to a million views on the day I frontpaged Reddit with my solar shed, and nothing even blipped.  Self hosting?  That would have been a day of panic - but Blogger?  Smooth sailing.  Google scale.  And it was nice.

And now I can't even edit a post on the older hardware I use in the house, because... really, I don't even know why.  I'm not good enough at web debugging to be able to stare at the web developer tools and tell you what the problem is.  Not my area anymore.

Thus Ends Syonyk's Project Blog

In many ways, this blog was an experiment.  Back when I started it, people making livings on blogs were a thing, and I figured it was worth some time to see if I could do something similar in weird technical niches.

The answer?  A resounding "Not a snowball's chance in Hell."  My blog has generated beer money, some interesting people to talk to, incentives to finish projects, but nothing resembling anything I could live on.  And that's fine!  It's been an interesting outlet, an interesting way to force me to document and finish projects, and has led to an awful lot of interesting research over the years.

But I'm just not committed enough to the concept to fight the tools this badly.  Maybe Google will fix things and I'll be back in six months.  Maybe I'll be motivated enough over the winter to move everything somewhere else and static host it.  Maybe I'll decide to "roll coal" and use a modern computer to write posts, CPU spinning the whole time.

The modern internet, though?  I've been trying to adapt to it, and I'm apparently just not suited to it.  I like text.  I like photos.  I hate video.  I hate "social" media.  I like repairing and using older equipment.  I don't like spending tons of money on brand new, modern hardware to do basic things like write text.  I like low power computing.  I've written about all of this.  I try to actually live it out in my life.  And I'm not going to toss all of that in the trash just to deal with a rubbish new interface written by people who probably have no idea what Big O notation is, or why they should care (hint: this post explains why).

If you want solar updates, you might find some at https://conversation.sevarg.net/ - my attempt at an older style internet forum.  But don't expect many details.

Anyway, it's been an interesting five years.  Syonyk out.

21 comments:

  1. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. It is a very sad day...

    I could try to make eloquent arguments that these points are exactly why the internet needs your blog as a voice of reason, but you have the data to say whether that's working better than I can.

    I'll just say your blog is a favorite among very few that I read. I've found it provided useful pertinent information for alternative/thoughtful strategies that intersect with tech, and done so in ways that are fun to read.

    Thank you for what you have written/shared so far! If you do decide to continue blogging again in the future, please at least update this blog with a link.

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    1. Part of it is certainly frustration that the bull rush of the tech ecosystem is in directions I think are quite hostile to humans. I get a few hundred page views on any typical post, and some of the ones that I wrote as "This is a common question; I'll answer it in long form and can just link to it if someone asks!" have, via a few heated discussions, gotten me banned from various subreddits that would have been relevant. Linking to something you wrote is "self promotion" even if it's literally an exact answer to the question asked (such as backup solar power without batteries).

      I'll probably be back at some point, I just have to really rethink my web presence and how I host things. Fundamentally, I hate being a sysadmin. I've done it for years, I've finally outgrown that weird obsessive "Must maintain enterprise uptime on college student hardware budget!" thing I had for years, and... I just like having stuff that works, that other people maintain. But that also means that they can change it out from under me, in ways I fundamentally disagree with.

      If/when I start posting again, I'll make it easy to find the new source from here. I haven't decided if I'll move all my content over, or simply leave old stuff here and start new from there.

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  3. An extremely sad day :(

    This has long been one of my favorite RSS feeds, but if the blogging software has degraded sufficiently, I guess that's that. Unless there are alternative blogging platforms that could be migrated to trivially?

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    1. Alternative platforms, yes. Trivial migration, not really. I'm no longer a "web guy" and haven't been for over a decade.

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  4. Gutted. This is one of my favourite blogs. If you do decide to come back, maybe a very simple static site on Netlify of GitHub pages - you can literally manage your entire blog in a text editor then. And it’s still free. :)

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    1. I've looked at that, and I'm not sure I want to just move to someone else's hosted platform. If I'm going to move to something else, I'm going to move to something that I have full control over, that won't shift around. Part of the problem here is that I'm using a blogspot domain - I can't just repoint the DNS at something I host and carry on with different formatting. I'm not opposed to paying for hosting, though I'm certainly not going to pay obscene amounts of money for hobby project hosting.

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  5. Can't say I blame you - if the interface is that bad, it can't be worth the trouble. Too bad.

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  6. I would like to add to the chorus of people who enjoy reading your blog, the battery teardowns -> the shed -> solar. I hope you find a solution to the usability mess you describe

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Maybe you and Low Tech Magazine should start a low energy hosting service.

      If they're optimizing for mobile, would an iPad plus keyboard be better? My brother wrote a few articles in LaTex.

      Thanks for your all your interesting subjects these years.

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    2. A modern iPad has enough CPU to brute force through their crap, but doesn't generally work with my style of writing/research. I can throw more compute at the problem, I just refuse to throw compute at nonsense work like... whatever they're doing on a per-key, per-image basis. Or something like that. I should not need a modern high end computer to write text, and I can choke out a halfway modern computer anyway. Doing that is just saying, "Yeah, you write terrible code, but whatever, I'll deal with it."

      As for low energy hosting, I'm not sure there are huge gains to be had there. Even their analysis of the solar hosting concluded it's worse than other options (mostly from the panel/battery embedded energy). And I sure don't have the internet connection to manage that without lots of cloud caching in the first place.

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  8. I'll miss this blog :( Thanks for all the interesting posts.

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  9. Another victim of the year 2020. It is a sad day :/

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  10. This is sad. I will miss it.

    Is the blog going to stay up, or should I get busy archiving the valuable solar posts?

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    1. I don't intend to remove the content at this point. I may, eventually, move it to another platform. But neither do I control Google, and I can't help but think their new interface will drive enough people off Blogger that they can then shut it down for "lack of use" or something. So, if you want a long term copy, you might want to copy stuff out yourself.

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  11. You have a great blog, as a web developer I'd love to help you get started with a different platform or using a static generator. Or even wordpress.

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    1. Contact form is on the right side. I'm considering Jekyll and static hosting, but my ability to wrangle CSS and such for formatting/layout/etc is a very small rounding error away from zero. I have legacy sysadmin skills, don't mind fighting with stuff to get it set up, but just don't have the time/energy right now with trying to get solar done. Winter, once the snow hits, is a better time for random projects like this.

      Wordpress is a perfectly good remote sysadmin tool with a content management problem... I don't see anything I do requiring that level of complexity/risk. Static content, perhaps with my Discourse instance used for some comment integration (I think it supports that...), should cover my needs, and be both cheaper to host and more agreeable to caching if I want to host on a poor connection (think Cloudflare).

      One of the problems I have, though, is that I tend to keep a LOT of draft/half written posts around. I've got over 100 drafts ranging from "Mostly written" to "This is an idea I considered writing about at some point." I'd like something that can manage those as well.

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  12. Just discovered your blog by researching ebike battery rebuilds. If you haven't heard of Roam Research, check it out. It could be a great way for you to start a new. You would still be beholden to a software company, but if you research the founders and their following as well as plans for funding, you might feel more comfortable.

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