Journal: News & Comment

Wednesday, February 04, 2004
# 12:35:00 PM:

Blogger hazards

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An obscure series of mistakes and coincidences led me to post something incorrectly on this site last night. They reveal some potential hazards of private weblogs, such as those that are beginning to appear inside some companies, especially when someone, like me, contributes to both private blogs (such as some for people I collaborate with) and public ones (such as this site and some others I work on).

Here's what happened:

  1. I was working on a long post in a text editing program, which I planned to cut and paste into the web-based weblog editing window of a private blog.

  2. I have bookmarks for editing both my public weblog (this page) and the private weblog near one another in my browser toolbar.

  3. Even though the two blogs use different web interfaces and different publication services, they both use a big blank text form field to enter weblog content, so I didn't notice when I clicked the wrong bookmark and brought up my own site's editor instead of the private blog's.

  4. I pasted the long entry in and previewed it.

  5. I immediately noticed that it was for the wrong website, and so didn't publish it. I clicked the proper bookmark, pasted the text again into the right place, and published it where it was supposed to be—for a small collaboration group. A little mistake, but no harm done.

  6. However, I was using Apple's Safari browser. Blogger, my weblog service, only provides full web editing features for Internet Explorer on Windows and Mozilla-based browsers (Windows, Mac, Unix, or otherwise). Since Safari isn't either of those, Blogger offers instead a functional (and, in some ways, superior) "lo-fi" interface with just basic posting capabilities.

    One key feature the lo-fi interface lacks is the ability to cancel a post you have previewed if you decide you don't want to proceed. And what it doesn't tell you is that, if you don't click Publish and just back out or move on to something else, Blogger saves your post for later publication. Most of the time, that would be what you want, but—as in this case—not always.

  7. A day later, I made my next post to my weblog here. Since the lo-fi interface doesn't show you previous posts without your asking for them (just the one you're working on), I had no idea that the mistaken private post was still in Blogger's database. I wrote the new piece, previewed, saw it was fine, and published it to my site.

  8. I was in a hurry, and tired, so I didn't look at my home page after I'd published the article to check that everything was okay, as I almost always do. I just went to bed.

  9. This morning, I finally took a look at my page and was horrified to discover that the mistaken post had resurrected itself and was now published on my public site, right underneath the item I had published the night before. It had been sitting in full view for nearly eight hours (overnight, but still...).

  10. I immediately removed the post by actively deleting it in Blogger, then republishing my whole weblog, archives and all, with that article removed. Luckily, it had not been up long enough for Google or the Internet Archive to index them for all eternity.

Fortunately for me, the document was not especially sensitive, though its appearance embarrassed me as a supposed web professional. The issue highlights what could be serious breaches of confidentiality as weblogs become more common in business—especially if the business uses the same software to publish to private (intranet) and public (Internet) sites.

The lesson? Double-check that you're posting to the right place, and always examine the results once you've done so, to make sure that what you meant to happen actually did happen.


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