Google Blogger Frustrates Users

Some users of Google’s Blogger are steaming over persistent problems that have affected the popular blog hosting and publishing service in recent weeks.

Outages and sluggish and erratic performance have reached unacceptable levels for some publishers who voiced their displeasure in interviews on Wednesday.

"Google has such high standards. It strives for perfection. How is this happening? It’s so disappointing," said Justen Deal, who is distressed over Google’s recent deletion, apparently by mistake, of hundreds of photos from his blog.

Eric Case, a Blogger product manager, acknowledges that Blogger has had a rough time recently due to what he calls "a perfect storm" of network hardware failures and other infrastructure problems. However, Case said these issues will be a thing of the past once Blogger moves to a more solid and scalable platform. That’s where Google is hosting the Blogger beta version, which is in limited availability and includes many new and improved features.

Still, some are running out of patience. On Sunday, after what she termed an "appalling week" of Blogger problems, Nicola Brown replicated her blog Life at the Edge over to the competing Wordpress.com platform.

Whether it was outages, slowness or malfunctions, like the inability to post entries and comments, problems affected her blog about 25 percent of the time last week, estimated Brown, who lives in Devon, United Kingdom, and began using Blogger about 10 months ago. On the bright side, the migration to Wordpress.com was smooth and she finds she likes that service better in general.

Not everyone is crying foul. Jill Hurst-Wahl, who maintains four blogs on Blogger, including this one, doesn’t feel the problems have severely impacted her sites. "I guess I’m fortunate in that regard," said Hurst-Wahl, president of Hurst Associates, a digitization consulting firm in Syracuse, N.Y. She looks forward to the wider rollout of the Blogger beta version, because she’s very interested in the new feature for categorizing entries.

Others, like Chuck Croll, an independent network and security consultant in northern California, are uneasy about that upcoming migration, fearing it may get bumpy for publishers. The recent problems aren’t helping Croll be optimistic, he said via e-mail. "I don’t even have enough time to document the outages, let alone my personal experiences with them. They keep coming up so frequently," wrote Croll, who hosts several blogs on Blogger including a work-related one called PChuck’s Network.

Beyond the system issues, Deal, Brown and other users interviewed complain about a lack of responsiveness on the part of Google to their help requests. "Blogger has a contact support form built into it but it’s like sending a message into a big black hole because you get nothing back," Brown said.

Google’s Case said it’s hard for the Blogger team to field support requests from so many users, and that it prioritizes dealing with the most serious issues. Because answers to many questions already exist, the Blogger team encourages users to assist one another in the Blogger Help discussion forum. Blogger, which is free, is the largest service of its kind in the United States, according to comScore Networks.

But there are cases like Deal’s that peers can’t help fix. Over several weeks, Deal, a manager at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, tried to get help from Google via e-mail and phone calls. On Tuesday, he finally got a message from Google with bad news: "We regret to inform you that due to a server malfunction, your uploaded images were lost and cannot be retrieved," the message reads in part. Deal is so discouraged by what has happened to his blog, which he started in late 2002, that he might stop blogging altogether.

Asked specifically about Deal’s problems, Google’s Case said the message he got isn’t the end of the story and that the Blogger team is working to remedy the situation, with which he is familiar. Deal’s problems relate to a transition Blogger is making of a small set of users who use a special hosting service Google inherited when it acquired Blogger in early 2003 from Pyra Labs, Case said.

Robert Brinkmann began using Blogger about four months ago, assuming it would work well because it is run by Google. After the recent mishaps, he’s not so sure. "I don’t think I would recommend Blogger at this point to anyone," said Brinkmann, chairman of the geography department at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Brinkmann, who hosts several personal and work-related blogs on Blogger, has begun investigating other options. The blog he updates most often—daily—has regularly gone offline or responded slowly in the past week. "It’s surprising Blogger doesn’t work very well because Google has such a good reputation overall," Brinkmann said.

-Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service (Miami Bureau)

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