How We Moved Thomas Hawk to WordPress

It’s been about a week and I haven’t said a whole lot about one of the most special projects I’ve ever worked on. Thomas Hawk has been one of the people I’ve most looked up to since I began shooting photography. I’ve never met the guy before, but I hope to at some point. I also keep my eyes and ears open to absorb anything and everything he ever says about photography in a hope that I will learn from him. Mentor from a far? Maybe.

A few weeks ago, a comment was made on Friendfeed (I don’t remember how it started) and it became clear to me that Thomas desperately wanted to get off of the Blogger blog platform. I can’t blame him. I’m always looking to help people move to WordPress so I asked him to contact me. As a veteran of “moving people to WordPress”, I was sure I could help him out.
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We exchanged emails over the subject and his biggest hurdle seemed to be the number of comments that were housed on Blogger. He was concerned, naturally, that all of his content would not be able to come over. I asked him to give me a shot at it and he obliged.

Blogger Problems

As I’ve mentioned, Blogger can be a bit of a pain. While it used to be the great granddaddy of blogging software, Google has done little to keep it nimble and competent. That, I hope, will change in the months ahead as my friend and colleague, Rick Klau, formerly of FeedBurner has taken the reins as the product manager and has been incredibly helpful working with me on this project.

The problem was a pretty common problem. It didn’t take long Googling around to find hundreds of other people who were having problems with Google having a 5000 comment cap on their export. In other words, if you had over 5000 comments (Thomas had over 21000), you were screwed and could not get all of your data.

I went to Rick and asked if he could help me get this problem solved. He happily obliged, asked me to wait a few days, and went off to his team. Within a few days they had solved the problem. Not only for me, they solved it for everyone.

WordPress Problems

For an unknown reason, though, the WordPress Blogger Importer did not work the way it was supposed to. Though it now accurately reported that there were over 21,000 comments that could be imported, it failed to do so. As a result, I was forced to improvise using the Blogger-supported format for data portability – a super large Atom-format XML export that included all the data I needed. Unfortunately, importing this data was now impossible in its present form unless I decided to build a WordPress import script for the occasion. Instead, I discovered the Google provided Blog Converters, open source scripts that could convert WordPress or Movable Type exports into Blogger Atom formats and vica versa. With this tool in hand, I was able to successfully convert the Blogger Atom file into a WordPress native WXR file.

Importing the new file was a breeze but created a new problem. I needed to maintain all of Thomas’ permalinks for the search engines. Blogger has a strange way of creating permalinks that involves breaking the title of the post into “word chunks” then piecing together a permalink out of a seemingly random number of words. In WordPress, permalinks are generated by taking all the words in a title, and piecing them all together to make a link. So I needed to find a way to preserve all of this.

I found the Maintain Blogger Permalinks plugin, a single use plugin that would alter the post slugs to the previously used Blogger slugs. Unfortunately, it relied on content that was pulled directly out of Blogger, on import, using the Blogger import script. Since I had gone around that by using the Blogger export format, I had to figure out how to get that data. Fortunately, it was as simple as actually running the Blogger importer. Since the importer only did not work with comments, all I had to do was make some simple PHP changes to the script in order to make it not skip over already existing content, and instead update that content with the appropriate data I needed.

I could outline those details, but that is special sauce. I’m happy for you to pay me to do this for you. ;-)

WordPress Perks

Once all the data had been moved over and Thomas had blessed the “flipping of the switch”, we kicked it on live. All the permalinks still worked. All the data was successfully moved into its new home. Comments were good. Posts were good. We had a nice minimalistic theme that brightened up his digs. I used the Picturegrid plugin to pull in his Flickr photostream.

We, of course, encountered some problems involving caching. WordPress still doesn’t do well on high traffic sites without some caching. I implemented WP-Super Cache, an absolutely essential plugin for high traffic sites.

I am Available

This was a special project for me as Thomas is someone I look up to. At the same time, it’s what I do. It’s how I make a living. And it’s how I am able to continue keeping this site going. Contrary to popular belief, it is not sustained by advertising.

In the next few days, I will face the darkest time of my life so far. At this time, I have exactly one week to extend my pipeline with additional work, find viable employment elsewhere or simply… I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it. The economy sucks right now, and I’m in the middle of it. Though I know everyone is tight and hiring is frozen, there is still some liquidity available. I am asking, even begging, that if I can help you with WordPress (or any) consulting work – even short term – that you let me know. I hesitate to strike this tone, yet I am in in dire straits right now and need a breakthrough.

If you work for a company, go lobby for them to employ my services. If you are a CEO, I ask you to consider if you could try to get me for a discount. If you are an entrepreneur, I ask you to consider if you are able to pass me projects that are filling your plate. I have put up a consulting page to provide an overview of some of the services I have done and can do for you.

Thank you all, and thanks Thomas for letting me work on your site. It was great fun.

Google Predicting the Future?

Geeks among us will recognize the term “chaos theory”. It is a highly philisophical, and yet scientifically unproven, theory of physics that says, among other things, that there is a natural order to the universe that cannot be observed directly, but can be seen in patterns. Popularly known as the Butterfly Effect, it theorizes that though there appears a dissonance and disorder in nature, nature actually behaves in an orderly and predictable way. Examples of chaos can be seen in weather, the flow of currents and even the natural cycle of economic conditions. Though no two iterations of an event happen exactly as they happened before, there is a pattern that is distinguishable if charted or mapped.

Ike Pigott requested my input on a theory he floated last night on his blog. The theory is that Google, in their attempt to meet their stated mission of “organizing the world’s information”, is attempting to predict the future. He framed his argument around the dissolution of many Google services over the past week, in an effort to economically streamline their business and Steve Rubel’s prediction that their Google Reader product is next on the chopping block.

Ike’s argument was that, through Google’s monitoring and recording of key behavioral patterns – such as reading and sharing of stories, commenting, time of engagement, and subscriber base numbers – that Google is able to create a massive database over time that “learns” the patterns of human information engagement. With these patterns (and a nod to Chaos Theory), Google can accurately predict a large number of events, or cultural shifts before they come to be. Additionally, as the only owner of multiple copies of the internet in their massive server farms, Google positions itself to be the one and only benefactor of such information. It could be argued that “the Machine is among us” (in another nod to common science fiction themes),

It has long been my assertation that the tendency of the internet world to easily trust and adopt to Google efforts is a dangerous precedent to set. Increasingly, people rely on Google for mail, calendaring and even productivity. New bloggers tend to setup blogs on Google-owned Blogger and the saturation of video content is due, in no small part, to Youtube. Why? Because Google makes products that are easy and ease of use is more important than virtually any other factor that consumers might think of.

Without raising the alarm bells, folks should be cognizant about entrusting Google with all of their data. Personally, I use Gmail, FeedBurner, YouTube and other services, but the data is yours and should be diversified as much as possible.

Question of the Day: Is this theory of future prediction fact or fiction, good will or conspiracy? Isaac Asimov outlined the rules for robots in his book I, Robot:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Food for thought.

Tech Predictions for 2009

As we gear up for 2009, there remains many questions about the economy and the growth curve of the technology industry. As a team, we have come up with predictions for 2009. Ray Capece, Venture Files editor for Technosailor.com and I make our predictions.

As always, these are predictions. Last year, we were dangerously accurate with our predictions and would like to think that we have a good understanding of the business and technology marketplace in 2009.

Ray’s Predictions

  1. By now, all VC firms have had the ‘triage’ partners meeting — where they decide, whether existing portfolio companies will 1) receive additional funding, because they’re generating revenue and have the prospect of getting cash-flow positive; 2) be shut down (and recapture any remaining cash); and 3) receive no additional funding, but be left to their own devices (to get funding however they might on their own). In 2000, there were a good many in category #2, since dot.com rounds were in the $10s of millions; now, with social-networking investments averaging around $1M, there will be little cash if any to recover. But I predict there will be many in category #3 (also known as ‘the walking dead,’ since they’re burning their cash, no matter how slowly, till it’s gone.)
  2. Online advertising revenues in 2009 will continue to fall, as inventory outpaces demand. I *don’t* see the $$ flowing from other media to online offsetting this downward trend.
  3. Consumers have discretionary (albeit small) $$$ to spend. In times of bleak economy, they seek distractions (gaming and feel-good entertainment), and will happily pay $0.99 for iFart. The hope for developers in the social networking space will potentially lie with commerce in real and virtual goods. Facebook and the others need to make this extremely easy for third parties, and it will most certainly happen in 2009. (Yes, despite what others are saying about FB’s party line.)
  4. Consolidation always picks up in down times . . . good, small apps facing a difficult fund-raising environment reset their valuations lower, and robust companies with solid funding swoop in to pick up the team and technology on the cheap. It began in the fourth quarter with Pownce and others, will continue throughout 2009.
  5. As an extension to this prediction — we’ll see more Intellectual Property for sale on eBay.
  6. Apple will continue to grow its mobile share as others fumble about. Watch for new BlackBerry Curve to become the defacto standard for ‘button lovers.’

Aaron’s Take: While I agree with most of Ray’s predictions, I’m more bullish on early round VC. Even though we won’t see as much investment as we have, I believe it will still happen and companies that have already been funded will probably continue to receive investment funds, even if on down valuations, as long as they are somewhat viable. The reason is that most funds are long-haul investments of about 10 years.

Aaron’s Predictions

  1. Consolidations will occur en masse this year. Small companies with angel funding or Series A funding will be lumped into bigger conglomerates as the acquisition threshold is low.
  2. Brightkite will be acquired by Facebook, as poignantly pointed out by a commenter over at Read Write Web.
  3. The second Google Android-powered G2 phone will be released to T-Mobile in Q1. As the first one was a proof of concept that had little impact, the second iteration will be an essential release to prove the Android platform. No other carriers will take the platform until the concept is proven, but T-Mobile is already there and will be the victim for the second release.
  4. Twitter will *not* be acquired, but an advertising/partnership business model will emerge in Q2.
  5. Apple will release 3 new products this year. That is it. Their growth will continue upward but will see a decline over growth patterns of previous years.
  6. Net Neutrality will take a massive hit in 2009 with governments and companies looking to defend themselves in a down economy. The result will be regulations that will allow the big telecoms survive. Too big to Fail. Unless it’s the general public.
  7. No clear winner in the “single identity” space. OpenID fades, fbConnect gets fleshed out and adopted by many while Google Friend Connect makes significant inroads with others. An emerging war akin to Bluray vs. HD-DVD emerges between Facebook and Google with the internet world divided evenly among the two. Blogs and social networks will tend toward Facebook while bigger sites and services, possibly including newspaper walled gardens, trending toward Google.

Ray’s Take: Aaron’s crystal ball looks pretty good to me . . . except that, like Jonah in the whale’s belly, Twitter will be devoured.