Blogspot's massive web 1.0 failure

January 13, 2013

Once upon a time Blogspot was a popular independent blogging system (cf), one of many at the time. It didn't entirely prosper, so Google bought it and folded it into the massive Google empire. Somewhat recently (ie in the past year or so) Google started rolling out some changes that I happen to think are a terrible idea, and I've finally reached the point where I feel like ranting about them. Well, especially about the larger and most recent change.

Put simply, some Blogspot blogs actively require JavaScript in order to get any content at all. If you visit such a blog without JavaScript, you get basically nothing (okay, a list of useless links). This is not a case where the content is hidden or mangled until JavaScript sets up the page structures; this is a case where the content is not there at all until it's loaded with JavaScript. As such it's the very opposite of 'graceful degradation'.

(Making it worse for me is that such blogs don't work in my main Firefox for some reason even if I turn JavaScript fully on. I'm not sure why but the whole situation irritates me so much that I don't care about such blogs.)

This strikes me as extremely stupid. In my opinion it's harder to get more 'Web 1.0' than blogs; blogs are, well, text. And these days, pictures. It is not as if blogs are a Web 2.0 thing, like Google Maps or some complex interactive web application. What does dynamically loading all content on the fly through AJAX actually do for a blog, especially when you still give each entry its own URL?

(I'm sure it enables some fancy-dancy design tricks and so on. I'm just questioning if said fancy design tricks are actually worth losing graceful degradation through a great big middle finger to all of the people who do not see JavaScript-based content.)

Since there are still plenty of Blogspot blogs that don't work this way (for example, SysAdvent), I assume that this is some new blog 'theme' that Blogspot has rolled out and that (for now) people have to opt in to. Unfortunately I see an ever-increasing number of Blogspot blogs that suffer from this (which insures that I don't read their entries when they get shared on Twitter et al).

By the way, I'm aware that I'm an old fogie here and that 'everyone' (for suitable statistical values of everyone) has JavaScript turned on. I'm sure that Google, land of measurement and statistics, has plenty of numbers that show that a miniscule number of Blogspot visitors are no-JavaScript people.

(If you feel like a conspiracy theory, note that a bunch of money-earning Google features, including some parts of Google Adsense, require JavaScript. Google thus has a motive for pushing people to enable JS for at least Google's domains.)

Sidebar: the smaller Blogspot change

The first and smaller change was that all URLs started redirecting non-US visitors to a country-specific version of blogspot (for that URL); if you visited, say, from Canada you got redirected to Allegedly this is so that Google could more easily do country-specific blog blocking if they were legally required to do so. The two problems with this change are that it basically destroys URL history for people outside the US and that it results in a proliferation of URLs for the exact same content. Making the latter situation worse is the fact that if you visit a country specific URL you don't get redirected to the 'proper' version for you; you stay on that country specific URL.

(If you follow people outside the US on modern social networks and they share URLs with you, you may have noticed a proliferation of .ca or or whatever blogspot URLs. This is why.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2013-01-13 08:31:41:

You aren't alone. I have also encountered such JS-only blogs. They often use 100% of my cpu and take minutes to finish loading, often crashing my webkit browser. I am forced to open a special JS-enabled browser just for such a blog, instead of my regular blazing fast non-JS dillo. They can't be fetched or indexed with wget, etc. And for what?! 99.9% of websites do not need scripting. (Perhaps 100% -- google maps should be a standalone program.) I am convinced JS is a make-work phenomenon by a large amount of underemployed web-monkeys, desperate to create "work" that is not needed. (I also think it's yet another naive attempt to overlook (and oversimplify) cross-platform programming. It's the new Java. And it'll fail just like Java failed -- because in trying to make everyone happy, it will make nobody happy.)

"Web 2.0" is a fad.

From at 2013-01-13 14:36:39:

If you are talking about those blogs that at best display some kind of gears in an orange box (and I'm quite sure you do): they require you to enable cookies before you can get at any content.

If the original author tweets a link to such a blog, please make sure to tell them it doesn't work in a secure browser. Hopefully, if enough people complain, we can stop this before it gets commonplace.

From at 2013-01-13 17:03:27:

I need to admit that I disposed with antijavascript bigotry back when Gmail became useful: purely due to the power of opaque and menacing Google borg. But a few years down the road a few truly wonderful (e.g. useful) applications of Javascript started to appear, in particular Etherpad, so I'm quite glad now that my JS deflowering happened a while back and I do not need to fight the symptoms today.

From at 2013-01-13 18:35:46:

I believe that Google redirecting visitors outside the US to country-specific versions of their sites is general, not limited to Blogspot.

By cks at 2013-01-14 11:00:30:

If you are talking about those blogs that at best display some kind of gears in an orange box (and I'm quite sure you do): they require you to enable cookies before you can get at any content.

You're right. I thought initially that it wasn't cookies because it still worked when I experimented in my 'accept everything' browser by turning off cookies from the domains that wound up with cookies set when I was viewing such a blog. However turning off cookies generally gives me the orange box of gears. More testing shows that what matters is accepting cookies from the blog's subdomain; block that and things break. Apparently the JavaScript is setting and then clearing some sort of internal cookie during the rendering process.

(This is really irritating because it makes it really hard to whitelist stuff. Although I suppose I now know a temporary workaround, which is potentially useful.)

I believe that Google redirecting visitors outside the US to country-specific versions of their sites is general, not limited to Blogspot.

The difference between Blogspot and other Google properties is that for other properties the redirection is just the default. Going to from Canada redirects to, but you can switch back if you want to. With Blogspot, the redirection away from the .com master version is mandatory.

Written on 13 January 2013.
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Good JavaScript usage is a good thing »

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Last modified: Sun Jan 13 02:41:38 2013
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