This blog had its seventh birthday recently. I know there are many amongst you who have been blogging since before the term was even coined, and who make more posts in a month than I’ve made in seven years, but still.
Anyway, back in the early days of blogging, a significant percentage of blog posts weren’t original content, but the equivalent of retweeting: a way of passing on to your readers something interesting you’d read elsewhere. Of course the vast majority of those were links to other people’s blogs. It’s how word spread about interesting posts before digg and reddit and twitter and the like.
I tried to do something slightly different for a while: rather than just regurgitating other blog posts, I instead regurgitated interesting snippets from real dead tree books I was reading, picking interesting excerpts chapter by chapter.
It seemed to be well received, and I had a lot of fun choosing which couple of paragraphs from each chapter could convey something interesting enough to both stand alone without the surrounding context and also encourage others to seek out the book for more depth.
Early in 2004, I seem to have abandoned the idea. Likely it’s just because I was super-busy with Twingle, and then with Unite, and I probably always meant to get around to picking it up again, but just never did. Until now.
I decided, however, to do this on a new separate blog: dustyvolumes.com. So I had to work out how to move all the old posts to there. This was significantly more complicated than I expected. Doubtless someone will point me to a WordPress plugin that could have made the whole thing take 30 seconds, but in the absence of that, here’s the gory details for anyone else who ever wants to do something like this.
First, of course, I needed to have the new blog set up. I’m assuming that’s self-evident, and needs no further explanation.
Next I needed to find all the posts I wanted to move. I already had them all tagged with “Books”, so this part was fairly easy and avoided an even longer manual process. WordPress doesn’t have an ‘export by tag/category’ option, though—the only way to restrict an export is by author. So I had to go into “Posts > Edit”, find a post with the relevant tag, and click that tag to give me a list of all those posts. Then I could do a Bulk Edit of each to change the author to a new temporary account I set up just for this purpose. There were multiple pages of them, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to operate on more than one page at a time, so I went through them page by page. It was repetitive enough to make me want to find a short-cut, but there weren’t quite enough pages to make it worthwhile.
Then I exported all the posts by my new author, and imported those into the new blog. I did some more tidying up there of tags and categories etc, and found a few posts that should probably still remain on this blog instead (they were tagged with Books too, but were, for example, about me getting rid of my collection before moving to Estonia, rather than being excerpts suitable for Dusty Volumes), so deleted them from there, and changed the author here back to me on each of them in turn (I wanted that author to match exactly the posts that were on the other blog so I could continue to operate on those here).
Now I had the new blog working, but hit the much harder problem of what to do about the posts here. I could, of course, just have deleted the posts that I’d moved, but I still get quite a few hits on them from Google searches and links from other blogs, as well as some internal links to them, and I didn’t want to break all those. After some research I found a couple of WordPress plugins for setting up redirection. The first one I tried, “Redirection“, has lots and lots of features, but wasn’t quite what I wanted. The second, “Redirect“, was perfect. It does only one thing, but does it simply, and does it well. Using the Custom Field options in WordPress, it lets you set a ‘Redirect’ field with a value of the URL that viewers should be redirected to on viewing a given post. So now it was just a matter of going through and setting those up one by one.
Thankfully the WordPress import maintains the post ID from the export, so I didn’t need to spend any time building a map of which IDs should map where: each relevant post would just need to redirect to http://dustyvolumes.com/archives/<id>. I did a couple of these manually to make sure everything was working, but there was no way I wanted to do another 150 or so by hand. It was time to go to the database.
I’ve never actually explored the WordPress schema before, but there aren’t very many tables, and it’s fairly easy to work out what’s going on. (There’s probably decent documentation for it all too, but I tend to prefer to just work things like this out manually.) I’m not going to detail all the SQL commands I had to run: if you don’t know enough to work them out yourself you probably shouldn’t be playing with the database directly anyway, and should just do this the longwinded way (and I really don’t want to be fielding questions on it 6 months from now when the schema has changed). But it was a simple matter to just select the IDs of all posts by my fake ‘author’, and insert the relevant Redirect custom field values.
However, this still left a large number of ‘Books’ entries in my tagcloud that really weren’t there any more, so I also wanted to remove all the tags from these posts too. Ideally the Bulk Edit should be capable of this, but it currently only allows you to add a tag to multiple posts, not remove one, so again I went to the database. This one was slightly trickier, as it’s a cross-table DELETE, but again, if don’t know how to do that, you shouldn’t just be pasting in random SQL you found on someone’s blog somewhere.
Unfortunately, although that successfully removed all the tags, the tag cloud still proudly declared that I had a huge number of “Books” posts. WordPress, presumably for speed, keeps a total of how many posts are assigned to each category in a different table, and, being a typical modern webapp, maintains that count in client code rather than in the database itself. So having manually removed lots of tags without updating the count field too, my database was now out of sync with itself. MySQL doesn’t do cross-table UPDATEs with aggregates, so this time I needed an UPDATE with a subselect of a COUNT(*).
Including lots of cautious exploratory SELECTs, lots of LIMITs of my UPDATEs and DELETEs to make sure the right thing was happening each time, and backing up carefully after each major change, the whole thing took about an hour. I could possibly have done it all via the web interface in that time, but it would have been a close call, and there was a very high chance that I’d have gotten so bored in the middle of it that I’d have abandoned it half-way through, promising to finish it another day (and likely never quite gotten around to it). This way was mentally stimulating rather than draining, thus giving much more satisfaction when done, and I learned much more about the WordPress database structure that could be very useful if I ever decide to write a Plugin.
And now I have two blogs to rarely write in…