Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Android Blogger app will drive you insane

In this short tale I will attempt to convince you that you should not use the Blogger mobile app under any circumstances except to finally publish an article to your blog, written elsewhere.

I'm on a 3-day break with my family at the moment, doing the usual sightseeing and relaxing by the beach. We rented an apartment at Noosaville, right on the river. While hanging out with Tina and the kids I usually do a bit of fiddling around on Twitter and Google+ on the phone, a HTC One X. This trip I thought I'd work on a blog post while I had a spare moment or two. Keep writing; if I can just keep writing!

There's something really wonderful about writing on the move. Mobile Phone technology allows you to live your own Kerouacian road fantasy, unshackled to the desk, typing out ideas pretty much as they occur to you. (I've no idea if Kerouacian is the correct adjective but if you say it out loud you'll realise it's a keeper.) As I type this, in fact, I'm sitting in a park in the kindly shade of a giant fig in the small market town of Eumundi in the Sunshine Coast hinterland of Queensland.

Flickr photo
FlickrJack Kerouac-Florida-1958, by pitoucat. Should have just used a typewriter, like Jack here

I noticed the Blogger Android app had been updated (to 2.0.41 - it must have been v1 previously). It looked newer, but whether it had any new features I couldn't say. There didn't seem to be any. Still lean as a whippet. Anyway, I fired it up and worked on a post I'd been writing for a few days. Penning a blog post in the Blogger mobile app isn't easy - making a link involves switching to Chrome, copying the URL, switching back and handwriting the 'a' tag, copying and pasting, which is fiddly to say the least.

I soon found out it was a bit worse than that. Pasting in a URL at one stage I realised I'd accidentally either pasted over much more of the post than I'd intended, or else cut instead of copied, or something or other - I can't be sure what I did exactly. Text editing on a phone is tricky, full stop. When you're composing a blog post which is supposed to have links, using software like Blogger which has no intrinsic way of making links, it's even trickier.

But here's the thing: Blogger has no 'undo'. Think about that. Let it sink in there for a minute. You could have spent a month writing an article, poured your heart into it, but one slip of the index finger and it's toast. In my case I lost my entire first paragraph, and could see no way to retrieve it. I knew the intact version of my article was only one level down on the history stack, but there was no way to get to it.

Switching to Chrome again, I Googled in vain for 'how do I undo in blogger Android app'. I couldn't find any way to. I did find plenty of links lamenting the lack of undo functionality in Android. But time was running out, or so I thought. Desktop Blogger auto-saves every minute or so, so fearing something similar I thought it best to quit back to the main menu at which stage I might get a save warning which I could cancel, possibly restoring my work. No such luck. With a diligence at once impressive and infuriating Blogger saved on close of the document. I had lost work in a harsh, unforgiving environment, much as I imagine the surface of Mars to be.

After some trial and error I realised that the way you have to use the app is to save as often as possible and use the Android back button to rollback your pending changes. That's because of two things: auto-save isn't enabled, and back button is effectively the undo button. Which is harsh, since it obviously undoes everything since your last save. Remember, this is a mobile app, one you might use waiting for take away fish'n'chips, waiting for someone to return from the toilet, waiting for the kids to get ready. I'm usually not 'in the zone' when I use it, so it's tough to keep to a sentence, save, sentence, save rhythm.

Google Drive can do undo and redo, so why the Dickens can't they do it for Blogger? I have since used Drive (ex-Google Docs, of course) to work on the article, happily undoing as the need arose, and will paste my finished piece into Blogger for the sole purpose of clicking the publish button. Because if there's one thing worse than using Blogger on Android, it's trying to use the Blogger website on a phone or tablet.

I'm not even going to talk about the way the app will HTML-encode the tags it itself places in your post if you dare to preview your piece more than once. Ok then, I will. Paste in something you've written in Drive and Blogger will turn any paragraphs into blocks surrounded by 'p'  tags. Ok, it's hard to see the structure of your article anymore, but that's valid HTML so that's ok. But on subsequent previews it will encode that 'p' tag again as well as whacking in a new, pristine one. It's around that time that your will to live starts fading.

And that's why the Blogger Android app is more than useless - it's a potentially dangerous waste of your words and your time. Writing on the road should be liberating and exhilarating, one of those things we can be so grateful to mother technology about. I love it. It's a real shame that Blogger makes such a mess of it.