WordPress import is powerful, mysterious ­— what it says (and what I’m saying) about the past, present and future of online expression

I recognize that the title of this post is absurd. I intended to write about WordPress Import and how it makes it so easy to move thousands of posts and images from one WP site to another. But the post took a turn into what we should do about everything we write online.

I should probably split this into two posts. Instead I’ll just ask you to go along for the ride. I’m adding this forward on my phone with the WordPress mobile app, and that’s another piece of the WP ecosystem that benefits both .com (Automattic’s WordPress hosting service) and .org (self-hosted) users alike.

I’ve always been skeptical of how you move content from one WordPress site to another. I’m about to move an entire installation, and I think there should be a lot less mystery and a lot more “here’s how you do it.” Maybe I’m missing something.

I always worry: What if my entries come over to the new site but my images are all on the old one, and I have a thousand posts with links to a site that’s going to go away.

So I did a test. I took the entries from two self-hosted WordPress.org blogs and exported them in the usual WP XML format. I uploaded those two XMLs to this WordPress.com blog, and all the entries, images and comments came along with it. Somehow the Import function was able to grab all those JPGs, stash them in the new system and rewrite the links in the posts. That’s the holy grail of blog migration.

The WordPress documentation should really be shouting from its rooftops about how well this works.

It works so well when moving from a WordPress.org site to WordPress.com. Does it work as well going from a WordPress.org to another WordPress.org, or from a .com to a .org?

Why did I move about 2,000 posts from a couple of .orgs to this .com? For one thing, I can’t believe that those two particular .org blogs (over which I don’t have control) are still live. I had to get the posts — and the image and comments — while I still could. Now I have them on this .com, and I trust WordPress to pretty much keep this site going forever.

My plan was to somehow convert these posts into a format that could be used in a Hugo static-site blog. I could still do that, but then I’d be on the hook for hosting them forever. I can probably do that as long as I’m alive. Who knows what happens after that?

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Shakespeare or Plato or anything like that. It’s just my once-daily musings. It’s probably too tech-heavy, and it definitely says something about what’s wrong with me as a person that I focused (and let’s be real, still focus) on tech and not other parts of life. If I were to analyze it, I’d say that tech is a “safe space” for me and my mind, and that’s why I do it and write about it.

That was a little heavy. I’d like to write more like that last paragraph and less like the 2,000 entries surrounding it. Be that as it may. I think it’s important not just for me but for all of us to write and have that writing survive.

The Internet Archive notwithstanding, there’s a huge “here today, gone tomorrow” theme in web-based projects and technologies, and most of us have written (blogged, tweeted, Facebooked, MySpaced, Google Plussed) in so many different places, at the behest of companies large and small. So many things go away. WordPress — in its “dot-com” form at http://wordpress.com — is one of the more consistent players out there. I wish hosting your own (which I have done and will continue to do) were as reliable. The slings and arrows of domain hosts (I’m fighting this battle right now), shared hosting, cloud computing and startup birth, acquisition and death — and our own changing obsessions and attentions — make for a complicated road if keeping our content visible and accessible ­is the goal.

Many of us blog/post/comment in dozens of places. Over the years, so much goes away. My blogPoster project is an attempt to address this. Just the act of mirroring a Twitter (and now Mastodon) post on a self-hosted site is me saying, “I give you this content, huge web service, but I also keep a copy for myself.” We should all be keeping these copies, and it shouldn’t be so hard to do it. Thanks go to WordPress.com and Automattic for being one company that makes it easy.

Reassessing WordPress.com

WordPress has been around a long, long time, and the company has maintained its commitment to keeping blogs free and available. Of course they would like it if you paid them for services like a custom domain or more storage, but you don’t have to.

Most geeky types, myself included are deep into static site generators like Hugo, Gatsby and Eleventy. It all began with Jekyll and Octopress, but those have fallen out of favor. There’s a big newness-hotness component to it. Hugo is already old, and Gatsby and Eleventy are hot at the moment.

But if you want to put out a blog with a nice theme, full-featured CMS and user comments managed through the same interface, WordPress is there for you. Even though I help manage comments for more than a dozen sites via Disqus, I prefer to use native WordPress comments when it’s manageable.

The new WordPress with ‘blocks’ has rekindled my interest

This new WordPress interface that is based on “blocks” that can contain paragraphs, images, headings, etc., is really growing on me.

I don’t know if or when we’ll get this interface at my day job, but it’ll probably be a long, long time because I think WP 5.0 breaks most of hacky plugins that “real” publishers depend on.

It’s not just the shiny newness, or maybe it is, but this new way of looking at WordPress has stoked my interest in the platform, both the .com service and the self-hosted .org project. That’s a good thing, right?

What is WordPress’ secret sauce?

tl;dr Now that social media is king, post-WordPress blogging systems don’t want to deal with comments, outsourcing them to services such as Disqus. But blogs are better with comments, and WordPress’ native commenting is worth a look.

Static-site generators have been turning the heads of developers who blog ever since the Ruby-powered Jekyll was first released in 2008, with the fashion turning to the Go-coded Hugo and now a flurry of React-based static-site generators that promise super-fast interfaces and advanced functionality.

But still, WordPress persists. Either provided by Automattic, or self-hosted, WordPress is “heavier” to run than a static site, being more or less “dynamic” depending on the degree of caching that a given site uses. But the “batteries included” nature of the system and the difficulty of adding features to static-site generators makes WordPress a workable and viable alternative for the non-technical as well as the very technical who don’t want to devote large amounts of time to bending a bare-bones framework to their will.

While features and ease of use are big, there is one reason why WordPress remains fiercely popular and uniquely complete. It’s the secret sauce:

Comments

WordPress was born at a time before social media. That means before Twitter and Facebook. Even before MySpace.

Even then, interactivity was king, and blog comments provided that interactivity, the back and forth between writer and readers, and readers and other readers.

What WordPress had then (in the early 2000s), and Movable Type before it, is a native commenting system. The interactivity was baked in.

Since that time, most “serious” users of WordPress have outsourced their comments to services like Disqus or Facebook Comments. New commenting services spring up here and there, but nothing has risen above the noise level and said, “Here is your self-hosted commenting system.”

The rise of Disqus was built on the perception — largely real — that native WordPress comments were a spam magnet, and that a unified account system would encourage readers to comment without needing to start an account for every self-hosted WordPress blog they visited.

Instead many dozen (probably a couple hundred) static site generators — StaticGen keeps track of them — tout the ability to build a blog or website and then deploy it as easy-to-server static HTML. But comments? It’s an afterthought. Actually it’s because comments — and any kind of interactivity — is hard.

Almost all of the static-site developers say, “Just use Disqus.”

Then you have a static site that is wholly yours with comments that are … not.

On WordPress you can mirror your Disqus-generated comments on your local database and presumably leave Disqus at any time with your comments intact.

Not so on the static-site generators. Unless you write some code that does it, you are chained to Disqus unless you want to lose your comments.

It kind of kills the “I’m an island” buzz of generating your entire site from Markdown files on your local drive.

I have only dabbled in static-site generators (mostly Hugo, but also the Perl-coded Chronicle Blog Compiler — one of the few that has a comments solution — and Racket-coded Frog), though for years I have been writing a personal blog that is dynamically generated by Ode, which uses Perl-CGI to render pages on the server and also allows for Disqus comments.

I didn’t think about returning to WordPress and embracing the system’s native comments until I saw the blogs written by Penelope Trunk. She’s been doing this on WordPress for a long time, uses native comments, and seems to be able to keep it free of spam. Like the days when my Daily News-hosted tech blog drew many comments — most only there to tell me how wrong I was about a given topic, The conversation was more interesting than the entry itself.

Do we want to give that up with the static sites? And do we want all social-style interactivity to take place on services owned by mega-corporations? Remember forums? They’re pretty much gone. Spam and trolls killed them, I guess. Also social media.

I guess you could think of Disqus as your own social services that integrates with your blog and then stick with them, but once you’re that far down the path, you could just as easily roll out a WordPress (dot org, aka self-hosted) site and see how it goes with native comments.

The biggest beef I have with WordPress right now is that migrating, even from one WP site to another, is tough because your images and links don’t tend to make it. WordPress likes to use full-path links in image tags, and if you download your WP site from one server as XML and somehow manage to get all of your multimedia (mostly images, I guess), you upload to a new WP installation and suddenly have broken image tags in every post.

I could start hacking at that XML, search/replacing URLs to images, but should’t the WP migration tools do that for me?

Maybe they do, but they’re sure hiding all of that well.

So now you know the thing I love most about WP (native comments) and the thing I don’t love (migration pain).

And you see that I keep a hand in with WordPress.com, where you can always blog non-commercially for free, though they would prefer you pay them $4 to $25 per month.

Annoying as shit: I can’t see this blog while logged in to WordPress.com without an annoying overlay asking me to buy domain mapping

It’s a long story, but I had domain mapping on this blog for awhile.

As you can see, I rarely post here. But I wanted to check out the new Javascript-coded WordPress.com interface.

But while logged in, there’s this annoying overlay when I try to innocently view this blog that says:

Uh oh! Your blog’s domain weblog.stevenrosenberg.net expired 578 days ago! Renew now for 1 more year.

While in theory I appreciate the reminder, it’s been 578 days. Odds are very, very good that I don’t want to renew.

Yet there is no way, seemingly, to make the overlay go away. And I can’t even see my own blog. It it some kind of “give us money” ransom?

Hint to Automattic: I should be able to type esc to make the overlay go away. Or click a button that says something like “No thanks. I don’t want to renew this service.”

How long is this overlay going to make it so I can’t see my own blog?

Update (on Jan. 26, 2016): I finally figured it out. You have to go into the configuration, open up Domain Mapping, then click “Remove Domain Mapping.” Now the overlay is gone.

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