Tag: livejournal

State of the Vox Export Tool

Note:  The post below is extremely geeky and probably not interesting to anyone except those who would like to follow along with the progress of HOW I'm implementing a Vox export tool.  If you're just interested in hearing when I'm done with it, this is not the post for you – that'll come soon. 

I'm more laying this out for my own thought processes than in any sort of attempt to educate on how the export tool is going to finally work.  The good news is I have a tentatively working solution that will theoretically import a full Vox blog onto a self-hosted WordPress installation.  The bad news is that the solution in mind will NOT work for (free-hosted) WordPress.com installations, so I'm still trying to figure out an alternative for those.  Preferably one that does not involve someone having to find a friend with access to a self-hosted version to do an intermediate conversion for them.

After countless hours (days? weeks?) of half-assed research online, here's a summary of what I've come up with regarding exporting from Vox (VoxPorting?  Anyone got a better name for the eventual tool I'll be posting?)

  1. Blogging services SUCK at normalizing on an export standard.  Every single one of them is different.  Likewise, almost all of them try to trap you into their service by only allowing you to import their export types and/or only export a type that will be incompatible with other services.  This means people have to get crafty if they want to jump from one platform to another, especially if they do it more than once.
  2. The big contenders for free (hosted) blogging services out there seem to be (in no particular order): Vox, LiveJournal, Blogger, and WordPress (hosted on WordPress.com).  Yes, MySpace and its clones exist, and no, I'm not going to even try to get content over on to them.
  3. Additionally, you've got WordPress (self-hosted) and MovableType (self-hosted) which are free, but require you to host them somewhere.
  4. Paid services exist (TypePad, etc.) but since they require you to front money, I'm not focusing on trying to export to them.
  5. That being said, looking at the free services, I've found the following:
  • I'm not looking to import into Vox, since that's obviously contrary to the whole point of a Vox export tool.  I believe there are easier ways to migrate content from one Vox account to another than exporting/importing.  That being said, if you're just trying to back up your Vox blog, you can either use BlogBackupOnline (to back up online only) or Simon Wistow's VoxSlurp (to back up to an .mbox file) – more on these in another post.
  • Apparently exporting to a file to import to LiveJournal is out, as LJ doesn't even appear to be able to import its own export files.  Unless you're planning to repost every individual post on LJ, probably not an option.  I'm not even considering this at the moment.
  • Blogger only imports "Blogger export files".  There are solutions out there that seem to use Blogger APIs to get around this limitation, but this looks like A LOT of work.  I looked at what the Blogger export files look like and don't know that I can forge one to duplicate a Vox account onto a Blogger blog.  Holding this out as a last resort option, especially as there seems to be an alternative (see a couple bullets down, below).
  • WordPress (self-hosted or on WordPress.com) seem to be the most likely choices.  I've had success importing an RSS feed from Vox to a self-hosted WordPress blog.  It would be fairly trivial to expand this to create a custom RSS .xml file to encompass a full Vox blog, and import that into a new WordPress blog.  HOWEVER, WordPress.com blogs (free-hosted) do NOT have the "import from RSS" as one of their options (for some bizarre reason, they don't offer this??)  Instead:
  • WordPress.com imports from WordPress export files, called WXR (WordPress eXtended RSS).  Both self-hosted and free-hosted solutions export to WXR files, and both can import from the other (I believe).  Furthermore, once you've got a WXR file, you can use a solution to convert this into a Blogger-compatible format to import to Blogger!  Sounds like the winner, if I can figure out how to properly create a WXR file from a Vox blog.  Except documentation on the WXR format seems to be pretty much non-existant, so the only way to figure it out is to analyze an existing blog's export file, the WordPress import code, and experiment.  Not the ideal way to make sure I'm doing it correctly, and definitely a way that's going to take more time to get to complete.
    • One added benefit to doing a WXR file – if I set it up properly, I could actually scrape the Vox blog posts for comments, and forge new comments to be imported along with the blog posts – this way, not only would you be importing your hard work to a new blog, you'd be carrying along the comments (which oftentimes are as informative/entertaining as the original post!)  Currently the plan is to do the first pass with just blog posts, and then once I get that up and running, consider devising the import w/ comments.  The big problem is my approach to getting the content off the Vox blog will vary tremendously depending on whether or not I'm capturing comments – if I am, I have to do the much more tedious (and much slower) page-scraping, as opposed to taking advantage of the Vox RSS feeds that I would be using for the other non-comment method.  I'm not sure I'd want to commit to doing a page-scrape for every Vox export – I currently am doing that for my Picture and MP3 backup tool and it takes a bit of time – this would be even worse, given that some people have thousands of posts on Vox.
  • Movable Type also seems to be able to import WXR files.  Definitely looks like WXR is the way to go, and then provide that file to the user for their use in importing to WordPress or MT (directly) or Blogger (via the converter).

Since I know you CAN import to a self-hosted WordPress blog from Vox and then export that right back out to a WXR, the cynical part of me says I should post this solution and then people who self-host can go ahead and import, and people that don't can find someone to do it for them.  Heck, I might even go ahead and do this as an intermediate step to the final soltuion.  But in the end, I don't want to create half a solution and have most of the users have to fend for themselves.  People shouldn't be penalized just because they signed up for a free blog on Vox and now want to have a free blog somewhere else instead.

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BlogBackupOnline… Because Really, Who Wants to Lose Their Posts?

Recently, I've been trying out a free online service from Techrigy called BlogBackupOnline.  Up until now, I wouldn't have recommended it for Vox users due to a bug that wouldn't let them back up my posts past a certain date in history.  However, now they've fixed that and I feel comfortable recommending them here on my blog.

What It Is
What BlogBackupOnline claims to be is "an effortless way to backup, restore, and export your blog".  Supporting more than 10 different blog sites (including the big ones of LiveJournal, Vox, Blogger, Movable Type, Typepad, and WordPress), BlogBackupOnline crawls a specified blog for all your posts and comments, and creates a backup on their third-party servers.  Once the blog undergoes one full backup, you can then turn on daily update scans, that will record changes made to your entries, new comments, and back up any entries made from that point on.

How It Works
Once you sign up for a free account (50 Mb storage per account), you can register one or more blogs to be backed up using this "full scan" crawl.  After the scan is completed (took me about 7 minutes for ~200 entries in my blog history), you can enable the daily scans.  From that point on, all the existing entries, are scanned daily for changes and new comments, which are then added to the blog's backup.  New entries are also backed up the same way.

The Backup
Once your entries are backed up, you can go check it out using the dashboard provided at the BlogBackupOnline website.  The "Content" tab shows you all of the individual entries, and selecting any one of them will show you the full HTML backup of that page, as well as all the comments that have been backed up.  Although some people may only want the text portions of their posts backed up, I like having the HTML because it includes all hyperlinks, text formatting, etc.  Plus, if you ever want to restore/transfer your posts in the future, you're probably going to want this info.  There's no way to turn off the backup of all HTML, though, so for now it's like-it-or-lump-it.

Restoring Your Blog
Although BlogBackupOnline claims to restore blogs, there is NO option yet for restoring a Vox blog.  Although this may be due to the nature of the Vox platform, I hope that at one point in the near future, BlogBackupOnline will have a means to restore individual posts or full blogs to Vox blogs.  In the meantime, you can restore/transfer your posts to Blogger, LiveJournal, WordPress, or Windows Live Spaces.  You can, of course, copy/paste an individual entry from the backup into the Vox compose screen, but that defeats the real purpose of the restore feature and would be tiresome for someone with a large number of posts.

Exporting Your Blog
Are you one of those untrusting souls who can't stand not to do it yourself?  You can always export the entire backup's contents to a single .xml file (in RSS 2.0 format) via the export tab on the dashboard.  You can do whatever you like with it, including burning a copy to CD in case you want a hard-copy backup.  (Theoretically, you could try doing a Vox import off of this file if you hosted it somewhere, and see if Vox was able to pull it all in – that might get around the "restore" issue, but I can't vouch that this works.  If someone would like to test this and let me know, I'll update the review to let everyone know how it works.)

Other Features
The dashboard also contains a "log" tab that lets you view status of recent full/daily update scans (helpful, but not necessary unless you're paranoid about ensuring your backups took place).  There is also the option to back up "media files" (currently images), but this doesn't seem to apply to Vox blogs, as checking this box made no change to the backup content of my blog.  With a 50 Mb storage limit, I'm not sure you'd really want to back up media anyways – you might be constantly pushing the limit if you tend to post a lot of photos on your blog.  A better way would be to post your photos on flickr and link to them via Vox, if they're that important to you.

In Summary
BlogBackupOnline provides a quick-and-easy means to back up your blog.  I like the ease of signing up and setting up an account.  Tech support was very courteous and quickly responded when I had issues with my backup, and worked to fix the actual bug I discovered, rather than just putting it on a "to-do list" for a future rev of the site. 

While the site DOES say that "backups are free during the beta period" and gives no indication as to when this beta period will end or what the fees will be after that point, it IS a free service for use right now, and does a good job of doing what it is supposed to do.  At the very least, it provides a modicum of protection for your blog in case of catastrophic loss of posts/comments.  I'd recommend anyone without a backup solution in place currently to look into signing up.  It only takes a couple of minutes of your time, and can't hurt you to try it out.  Because really, who wants to lose their posts?

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