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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A to Z Challenge Survival Kit Part 1: Guest Nicole at Madlab Post

     Today we are joined by Nicole from Madlab Post.  As you'll probably gather from the following, Nicole takes her blogging seriously.  Today she offers some suggestions that are good for not only the Challenge, but for your blogging activity in general if you want to protect your blog content.

A Quick A to Z Challenge Survival Kit 

        Being as prepared as you can is one of the best ways to ensure that your experience Blogging from A to Z in April is less stressful and more fun. After participating in a few different monthly blogging challenges during 2011 including NaBloPoMo and The WordCount Blogathon, I learned the importance of having alternative plans in place for unexpected problems that arise with technology and online services. This is especially relevant for bloggers who utilize services that are available free of charge such as open source blogging software or free blog hosting platforms such as Blogger and Wordpress(.com). There is no one in tech support to call or email if something goes wrong. You usually end up having to just wait and see what happens.

        Here is a quick little survival kit that bloggers who plan to participate in the 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge, or any future blog events for that matter, can implement to save time, energy and sanity….all of which you’ll quickly lose if you’re busy yelling expletives because you can’t seem to shake that hopeless and powerless feeling of being stuck at a computer that you can’t use the way you want.

Backup Your Blog 

         Save backup files of your blog posts. You should already be doing this anyway whether you’re participating in the A to Z Challenge or not, but it's all the more important when you have 26 days’ worth of brand new posts that you worked hard on writing. Most, if not all blogging platforms have a way to backup your blog within the settings. Some services allow you to automate the backup process while others don’t. If you have to backup your blog manually, do this often, like every day or twice a day if you publish multiple posts on a daily basis. A manual backup is as simple as exporting your blog to a hard drive or CD-R disc. The file will be in XML format, at least for Blogger users. 

Have a Secondary/Plan B Blog on a Separate Blogging Platform, Ready to Go in Case your Host goes down for Maintenance, Unexplained events, Hacking, Spam or other Unforeseen Technical Difficulties

         If you haven’t already, you should open an account with another blog hosting service. The second blog can serve as your Plan B or alternate place for A to Z posts if something happens to your main blog. I’m speaking to you from experience, so take heed.

          On May 11, 2011, Google’s Blogger service was shut down for a so-called “maintenance” issue, causing posts and comments published that day to be removed from blogs on this platform. Blogger also appeared to be in read-only mode, so people could still visit blogs but bloggers were not able to publish new posts. The issue affected many bloggers, especially those of us who were participating in the WordCount Blogathon where we had to blog every day in May for a total of 31 straight days of blogging. This read-only mode continued through to May 13th.

         While the posts and comments on many blogs (except for mine, which I’ll explain in the next “Survival Tip”) were restored within a few days, this maintenance issue with Blogger caused many blogathon participants to panic and I was one of them. Instead of skipping a day or waiting around for Blogger to get back up and running as usual, I started a new blog on Posterous titled it The Madlab Post-Lite and published myDay 12 post over there. 

        During that time while checking out various options for blogging, I also realized that I had an old Wordpress account that I opened but never did anything with. Now, I have two alternative blogs to use if necessary.

       I’m sure many of you who are gearing up to tackle the Blogging from A to Z Challenge in April would hate to experience missing posts, missing comments and the removal of your ability to publish new posts on your blog. This is why I urge you to open a new account now. Do not, however, start a second blog using the same service that your first blog is being hosted on, because that defeats the whole purpose of having an alternate option for new posts in the event that something unexpected happens to your main blog.

        If you use Wordpress for example, then start a Blogger blog, or vice versa. If you use Tumblr, start a blog on Google+ or vice versa. Do you own any domain names that came with a free website or blog feature? Try playing around with it to see if it can be part of your Plan B if you ever need to use it at the last minute.

       The possibilities are endless and the alternative blogging platform that you choose is up to you. It doesn’t really matter which one you use, so long as you have a means to blog on all of the 26 days in the A to Z challenge. Some blogging options include; Tumblr; Typead; LiveJournal; BlackPlanet; Myspace (remember this Social Networking site? It does have a blogging feature!), Redgage, Gather; Google+ and Posterous. I’ve used nearly all of these services at one point or another so I can attest to the fact that they all pretty much have every basic feature needed to write and publish a blog post.

Consider Developing a Routine to Backup Your Comments

        After the Google hiccup (as mentioned in the previous “Survivial Tip”) that caused posts and comments to get deleted, I started saving every single comment that I receive on my blog. 

        The one and only comment that was posted on my May 11th blog post was not restored by Blogger and remained missing, so I found the original notification for that particular comment, in my email (sidebar: Email or SMS notifications can come in handy in a variety of situations) and republished the comment as a reference in one of my blog posts, a few days later. I then decided to save or backup every comment on my blog posts.

        Now, I do this manually and some of you who get more than a dozen or so comments on your blog may find this particular task to be time-consuming but it is worthwhile to at least try to figure out a comment backup plan that works for your lifestyle and your blog. If you use self-hosted Wordpress, maybe there is a plug-in that you can utilize to backup comments. If you use Intense Debate or Disqus, maybe you can find a backup solution within those services. Just try to find a way to keep track of all your comments, if possible. Funny enough, the missing comment that I am referring to is showing up on my restored post, at the time of this writing. So I guess it has been restored, miraculously. I say, whatever! Too little, too late. Backup your comments!

          Our thanks to Nicole for this first installment of her guest post which will be continued tomorrow.   She points out some issues that many of us don't usually think about and probably don't want to think about.  Maybe we should.

           Do you back up your blog as Nicole has described?  What are some of your blog horror stories?

          Here's one of Nicole's entries to the A to Z Video Contest.  Are you still stumped for ideas for the April Challenge?    Try this:

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  1. To my surprise,there is also chance to send post to the world through facebook, twitter and email, options . Editing the blog is also easy; options to edit its title, blog description and byline are available

  2. Thanks for these fabulous tips, Nicole. I will definitely see about a backup plan.

  3. i am terrible about backing things up. thanks for reminding me! great advice!

  4. Wow, I never thought I'd need to back up blog posts!

  5. Blog horror stories. Hmmm. My blog has gone down a couple times; my service is Dreamhost and lately they seem to have issues. So for a half day it just goes away. They regularly back every thing up so I have never lost anything except patience. My horror story would be about the Wordpress forum which is like a wild wasteland. No help ever. Millions of people posting "I NEED HELP" no one ever responding. Pretty sad. It has gradually gotten worse. It's too bad, because wordpress is a cool platform.

    Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

  6. Thanks for the tips! I back up my blog by exporting it. I've never had a mishap, but I do know of others who have.

  7. Nicole...can you read my mind?! I have been wanting to know how to back up my blog (hopefully, I can figure it out), and, I've been wanting to try out Wordpress. Now I have a reason! But, I do have a question...since we are already signed up with our current blog, how would we tell our fellow challengers that our blog URL has changed if we can't post a link on our old blog??
    Any suggestions would be appreciated!

  8. Great suggestions. I just don't know if I'll have the time to back everything up before April as I'm on a tight writing schedule until the end of the month. Good tips though!

  9. I back up my blog at least once a week, but I don't have a backup platform anywhere. Backing up comments? At 140 per post, think I'll skip that part.

  10. I don't know a whole lot about posting blogs on Facebook, etc. but if that works for some people, then cool. To each, his own.

    Sabrina A. Fish,

    I'm glad you found these tips to be useful and also hope that you look into creating a backup plan that works for you sooner rather than later. The sooner you do it, the better off you'll be in times of unexpected technical issues.

    Tara Tyler,

    Most of us could probably improve on our habits of backing up our content, much like being prepared for environmental or other disasters that occur offline such as hurricanes or power outages, etc. but the good thing is that knowing it and being aware of what needs to be improved is half the battle.

    Now, you just have to make an effort to get into the routine of backing your stuff up more often :)


    As the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. used to say....If you don't know, now you know! Backing up your blog posts can be one of the most important things that you can do, especially if you are participating in the A to Z Challenge this April.


    It looks like Dreamhost and Wordpress may not be the best blog hosts for you to rely on, at least not long-term. I would recommend that you A. Backup your blog. Even though Dreamhost does it anyway, it doesn't hurt for you to also do it manually to have another resource if something were to go wrong, hypothetically speaking.


    It looks like you sure know how to survive the A to Z Challenge and blogging in general. Cheers to you!

    Blog: The Madlab Post
    Also socializing @MadlabPost on Twitter!

  11. Jarm,

    I wish I could read would save me from a lot of heartache and worry, but that's another story, lol.

    Here is what you can do to alert your readers if you make a backup blog:

    A. Publish a new blog post with the URL of your backup blog, and information telling your readers about it, so that they already know where to go in advance, if something were to happen with the one that you are already using now. This suggestion is assuming that you are creating a backup blog NOW (which I highly recommend) and not waiting until something bad happens with your blog, before you setup a backup blog.

    B. List the URL address of your backup blog somewhere prominently in your main blog's sidebar AND on all of your social networks that you use.

    C. IF...and only IF your main blog actually goes down, you can tell fellow challengers about where to find you by doing one or all of the following things:

    C-1. Make Twitter announcements about the sudden change, and make sure you include the #atozchallenge hashtag in your tweets. If you are also on Facebook, announce your backup blogging activities on there as well.

    C-2. Contact another blogger who is participating in the A to Z Challenge and ask him or her to post an emergency announcement on their blog about your situation and the new URL where you can be found. While you can contact the bloggers who you already know, it may be better to ask someone who is within 5-10 spots above you on the A to Z signup list to make the announcement, so as to keep the efficiency of the challenge flowing among all participants.

    C-3. I am making this suggestion as the last resort on purpose because of two reasons, which are that the A to Z Challenge hosts are already busy AND because if you experience issues with your blog, it may be temporary, so what I'm about to say could very well be unnecessary for you to do....Contact one of the A to Z hosts and request that your URL address on the signup list be changed to that of your backup blog, or whatever blog platform you are currently using -- AGAIN, I am mentioning this as being the very LAST resort and do not recommend you use this 3rd option unless you plan on using the new blog all the way through the challenge, until May 1st 2012.

    If you experience problems with your blog, just start using your backup blog and make Twitter or Facebook announcements and give the main blog a few days to get fixed...I'd say at least 3-7 days. Most problems should be fixed within 1 week.


    Thanks. I'm happy to know you like these tips. Consider backing up the stuff that you do DURING the A to Z Challenge, once April gets here. You think you're writing schedule is tight now? Imagine how tight your schedule would be if you have to scramble and figure out how to get A to Z posts up if your blog is down!


    You're usually on top of things...I'd expect you to backup your blog! :)

    Consider yourself lucky to have 140 comments per post!

    Blog: The Madlab Post
    Also socializing @MadlabPost on Twitter!

  12. I'm the person who will work for hours on a project on the computer without ever remembering to press Save, and then has a meltdown at my stupidity when disaster strikes, so I definitely needed to read these tips!

  13. Jocelyn Rish,

    I have faith that you'll get into a more frequent habit of saving your work as you write, so as to prevent any future meltdowns :) Have you tried to work in a program that provides an auto-save option? Those automatic saving methods can make it easier to write without having to remember to save your work every few minutes or so often.

    Blog: The Madlab Post
    @MadlabPost on Twitter

  14. Ugh, I remember when things went bad in May; that was a nightmare! Really good advice in here. I hadn't thought of having a backup blog ready to go should anything happen. I do own, so I imagine I could come up with something on there since I hope to switch eventually.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  15. Alternate blogging platform. I think many people now consider Google+ as the blogging platform. So in case one is not able to post in his blog, Google+ can be used as the alternative and later on the post can be transferred to the blog.

    Thanks for the ideas


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