Category: WordPress

Where Doe Medium Fit?

I’ve spent some time in the last few days poking around on Medium. I haven’t been paying a lot of attention recently to online blogging and publishing technologies so my own writing life has settled into a well-worn groove. Today, I set up an IFTTT recipe to auto-post my blog entries from here on Medium, just to see how that works.

Medium is a strange but interesting place/idea. In one of their own blog entries, I ran across this summary of their (apparent) benefits: “a fully hosted writing platform, distribution of stories to a community of engaged and thoughtful readers, the clean aesthetic for which Medium is known, and innovative features like Text Shots.”

It seems like the first three points are the big draw, particularly the idea of easy distribution of stories within the Medium community. In this respect, it’s sort of like WordPress’ hosted platform which provides tools for the sharing and discovery of other peoples’ blogs you might find interesting. Having spent some (but not a lot of) time with Medium, it does feel like the level of discourse is above that at hosted WordPress, but I don’t know the relative size/reach of each of them. WordPress clearly has tons of features that are missing from Medium, which, after all, claims simplicity as one of its primary features.

In any event, this will be my first cross-posted article to appear on Medium as a result of the IFTTT recipe I created. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens as a result. I’m expecting nothing so I know I won’t be disappointed. 😀

Check Out My New Sports-Only Blog!

I’m in the process of revamping my online presence. Again. I feel compelled to do this every year or two. Since I used to do this for a living — and still maintain Web development as an active avocation in retirement — the bug bites me from time to time.

During the last year I’ve become disenchanted with my self-hosted WordPress blogs while maintaining my respect for and knowledge of WordPress as a platform. The overhead of maintaining three separate blogging presences on WordPress has started eating up way too much of my time. Updating WordPress, updating plug-ins, dealing with the not-infrequent hacking and graffiti, trying to stay on top of ways of doing slick things…it’s all become more than I’m interested in doing in my new status as a retired technologist.

So I decided a few weeks ago that I would look for an alternative blogging platform and migrate this blog to it. I actually settled on Blogger.com. I exported this blog, imported it into Bloger, and was working on getting it ready for the switch when I realized that what I really wanted to do was to segregate my blogging topics into separate blogs. See, I have a reasonably large following of my sports and technology commentary, a somewhat smaller audience for my politics and governance related stuff, and an even smaller group paying attention to my spiritual stuff. Climate change has a number of regular followers as well and is my fastest-growing segment.

It was about then that I discovered that Blogger does not handle captions on images at all well. Nor is it particularly good about image placement. I decided that, on balance, WordPress is a fine blogging platform. It’s the hosting I hate. So I’ve relocated my sports content to a new blog at WordPress.com. The “Sports” menu link on this blog now links to that new blog location. For a time, I’ll cross-post the headlines from my new blog to this one so that my fans who come here will still see that I’m publishing on sports and eventually make the shift.

After a few weeks of this experiment I’ll decide whether to shift other topics to WordPress.com hosted blogs or whether to choose a different alternate platform or to leave it all here or…

There’s no end of fun stuff when you’ve been fatally infected with the Technology Bug!

WordPress 4.0 Should Have Been 3.10

Some time in the next few days, if all goes according to plan (not always the case with software), WordPress 4.0 will burst forth onto the Web design scene causing nary a whimper in the fabric of spacetime in the process.

wplogoYou’d think that an upgrade to a major rev level like 4.0 would mean huge changes to the functionality and/or core engine of a product used as widely as WordPress (probably approach 100 million sites on the Web by now).You’d be wrong.

This version is such a tiny incremental upgrade it is undeserving of being called 4.0; it would be far better labeled 3.10. As far as I can tell, not one significant change is taking place that WP users are likely to care much about. Here’s a page at WordPress.com that allegedly lists the most important end-user features and enhancements. I think you’ll agree there’s not much there to get your heart pumping. Here‘s another attempt to put some lipstick on the pig. I just don’t see it. Some nice improvements to be sure but enough to call it a major new rev? Nope.

One of my biggest objections to WordPress (which I use…a lot!) has been the too-frequent upgrade path. That’s one reason all the ballyooing about this one has me scratching my head.

 

Divi, My New Best Friend from Elegant Themes

Elegant Themes has emerged as my favorite WordPress theming site and their brilliant Divi theme has become my go-to theme in the past few weeks.

elegant_themesDivi is a  drag-and-drop page-building theme that features support for an impressive array of designs and features. For more than 75% of the WordPress site work I engage, it is a perfect and perfectly adequate tool for the job. Among the primary features that I personally find useful in it are the following:

  • columnar layouts per section with unlimited sections
  • sliders, both full-width and columnar
  • sidebars
  • accordions
  • maps
  • toggles
  • full-blown newsletter subscription
  • portfolios
  • audios

It also includes post format support for video, audio, links and quotes as well as mega-menus. I’ve found it particularly adept at handling one-page sites and its one-click support for parallax content-over-image sections is easy to implement and nicely done. It is easy to have content on revealed sections ease gently into space from any direction, which adds a touch of graphics class to a site that some clients find elegant.

I originally thought Divi would be the ideal prototyping tool, that I could use the page-builder to throw together a quick layout to show a client, and then go build the “real thing.” But increasingly I’m finding that Divi can handle most of what I need to have in the final version without needing to abandon the prototype.

 

 

Bye Bye Dreamhost! 3333 Days and No Longer Counting

I discontinued my hosting account with Dreamhost today. As I was signing off, I was told I was slightly outside the 90day free cancellation period. I’d been a customer for 3,333 days. I joined them on June 6, 2005.

I wasn’t particularly unhappy with Dreamhost, though some recent performance turndowns have caused me to be a little less than satisfied. The real reason for the consolidation was that when I was doing Web work full time I didn’t want all my hosting eggs in one basket so I split customers between Dreamhost and Bluehost with an occasional foray into another service at a specific client request. Today, with my business just about retired and mostly hosting my own and family-owned sites, it made sense for me to consolidate in one place.

As I evaluated the two services over the past four weeks or so, I discovered that Bluehost was just a tiny bit better in almost every regard I was evaluating. That, combined with the fact that I had more of my sites at Bluehost now than I had at Dreamhost, mitigated in favor of the move toward Blue.

Dreamhost’s services are quite good. I particularly found their Dreampress service — with which I experimented the last couple of months on one of my WP sites — to be quite performant. If my WP business was continuing, I’d be tempted to move in the DH direction because of that service (though I haven’t yet checked to see if Bluehost has something similar).

So now everything’s on one service, which I’m sure will add at least a little efficiency.

WordPress Adventure: Final Update and Wrap-Up

required+themeslogoWell, my one-week adventure to discover the best methodology and workflow for WordPress site development to suit my tastes, skills and needs, has ended after a minuscule time overrun of 200%. Tonight, I made the last decision I had left when I picked required+ Foundation for my starter theme / mini-framework. I had the hardest time with this last step, in part because I wanted to get it right and in part because the damn ground kept shifting under my feet.

First, I eliminated Reverie because the docs looked pretty sparse compared to roots and required+, the other two candidates.

Then I discovered that roots had dropped support for Foundation, which I’d spent a lot of time selecting over Twitter Bootstrap as the core platform for my work, and gone with…you guessed it!…Bootstrap instead.

Then I very nearly made a classic mistake and took the word of some Web folks that required+ Foundation — which I really liked a lot — was stuck at Foundation 3 and had no plans to upgrade to Foundation 4. But before I eliminated it on that basis, I read their support forum and found they were already at work on a new release that will in fact be built on Foundation 4.

The required+ codebase is readable, well documented, support seems sharp and responsive and I like the way they’ve integrated Foundation. As added bonuses, it is fully responsive out the gate and ships with a nicely crafted and documented blank child theme. I’ve spent about two hours rummaging through source code and I’m comfortable with their coding style and the amount of commenting they include.

Meanwhile, I made two additional minor changes to my workflow methodology based partly on a video I watched of CSS guru Chris Coyier describing his personal methodology.

I had indicated earlier that I would wait to adopt LESS or SCSS for CSS development but Chris convinced me I should incorporate that in my workflow immediately. He’s a SASS guy and I’m probably going to be using LESS but the principles are the same.

And I decided that where I need JavaScript, I’m going to write my code in a pre-compiler and use CoffeeScript rather than raw JS.

keynote-logoThe one place I differ from Chris is in his use of Photoshop. I prefer to do my graphics work (such as it is; I’m not good at it at all!) using tools that are more comfortable. So I use some combination of Apple’s Keynote (a vastly under-appreciated tool), Graphic Converter, and my friend and business partner Chipp Walters’ ButtonGadget to create my simple graphics. I hire professionals when it gets beyond the basics.

So to summarize my final workflow decisions:

  • required+ Foundation as starter theme
  • always work on a child theme
  • Dreamweaver as primary code editor, layout tool, CSS creator/editor
  • Local development stack
  • LESS for CSS
  • CoffeeScript for JavaScript

So, end of road. Now I get to go back to work and start mastering this toolset.

I want to express again my great thanks to the folks on LinkedIn’s WordPress Experts group. A more knowledgeable, kind, courteous and helpful bunch of people it would be difficult to imagine finding.

 

Semi-Final Report on WordPress Best Practices Adventure

Well, I’ve gone one day over the time I allotted myself to find my way out of the inefficient ways I’ve been approaching WordPress development for the past year or two. But I’ve finally settled on a methodology that I’m going to stick with for a long enough period to see whether it pays the kinds of dividends in efficiency and effectiveness I expect it will.

To cut to the chase for those who are tired of reading these long posts all week, here’s my new WordPress setup and practice. It’s how I’ll build every site I tackle until I see something a lot better come along.

  • dw-wpstart with a starter theme based on Foundation for WordPress
  • create a child theme off that Foundation-based starter theme
  • edit the child theme files principally in Dreamweaver
  • design new page templates and tweak existing ones as layouts in Dreamweaver
  • stay with CSS rather than LESS or SASS for the moment, reserving the right to switch later
  • do all development locally within Dreamweaver CS5.5 using Live View and a local WP server setup for test

What Happened to Drag-n-Drop?

I looked closely at three different drag-n-drop tools for WP, hoping desperately to find one that would essentially allow me not to have to use Dreamweaver for design. I’m a big fan of direct-manipulation UI design. Unfortunately, none of the three held up to my testing even fairly early in the processes.

After discovering some real weaknesses in Ultimatum and Pagelines, I thought I had a winner in Elegant Builder from Elegant Themes. It’s a plug-in that will work inside any theme, which I felt was a big advantage. But when push came to shove, I discovered that it fell short on too many fronts. Without dropping into CSS, e.g., I was unable to figure out how to control image size and alignment, the Slider element was not nearly sufficiently flexible out of the box and Simple Slider was just a bit better than a Lego. Overall, I just felt limited and hemmed in by it.

That was a big disappointment on my adventure.

Why Foundation?

At last report, I had narrowed my choices of a starter theme to Bones, Foundation and Roots. This turned out to be by far the toughest decision in this whole process. That was partly because I quickly saw that this was perhaps the most important decision I’d make and because the contest among those three was awfully close. I bounced back and forth a dozen times before I made my final decision.

And even that decision isn’t quite final yet.

While I originally intended to pick the FWP theme itself, I soon discovered that it appeared to be all but abandoned. Its online forum hadn’t had a post by the theme’s creator since last August or by anyone else since December. I posted a question about its support and viability on LinkedIn and three other forums. Nobody answered in 24 hours.

But I really liked so much of what I’d seen in Foundation I was reluctant to let it go. Until I discovered that there are a number of starter themes out there based on FWP. So I surveyed those and narrowed my choice to:

Again, what I’m looking for is a minimalist theme that is easy to extend and tweak. If anyone has experience with any of these themes and can offer some advice, I’m all ears! I plan to put each of them through its basic paces and make the final choice in a day or two.

Why Child Themes?

After studying not only responses here and posts on other forums but also advice from seasoned WP developers, I concluded that a significant percentage of the successful ones were using child themes essentially all the time. The model makes eminent sense to me.

I know some folks believe that child themes impact negatively on performance. I suspect that is probably even true. But I’m not sure the overall impact is in and of itself a reason not to adopt what is clearly a superior methodology from many other respects.

Dreamweaver? Seriously?

If I didn’t already have a license for DW, I’d keep looking because it’s almost certainly not worth spending a few hundred bucks on a glorified direct-manipulation GUI builder and code editor.

But since I already have it and am comfortable with it and thanks to a great tutorial on the Adobe Dreamweaver forums on how to edit WP theme files with DW, it makes great sense for me from an effectiveness perspective to extend my DW skills into WP.

Why Not LESS or SASS?

This was a close call. But with DW to do the editing (and its built-in CSS tools are great!), I decided learning LESS (probably won’t choose SASS) was just one more thing to add to my kit bag and one thing I didn’t necessarily need right now.

So There You Have It! And Thanks!

So I’m off to make the final choice of a Foundation-based starter theme (though a few Catalyst advocates are not yet giving up convincing me to go that route) and then start developing my six new assignment sites — four for my own business, two for clients — following this methodology and tweaking where necessary.

I really appreciate all the help I got from the members of this forum, including some who answered in private mail rather than here on the public forum. Without your experienced advice and encouragement, this project might never have been completed or, if it had, not as well.

I look forward now to working in WP rather than on it!

 

Update #3 on My WordPress Adventure: Miscellaneous Findings

I eliminated Roots from consideration because it feels just a tad on the geeky side to me from a preliminary investigation.

You have to config the thing through a config.php file and you have to edit another PHP file to  setup custom navigation menus and post thumbnail sizes.

That’s two too many PHP files that must be touched for my taste.

I also eliminated Thematic for a similar reason. So I’m down to Bones and Foundation assuming I go the bare-bones starter route.


I wish there were some standards or conventions to define how themes are to be modified and extended. For example, some themes have all their contents in the library folder, others in the standard WP places. Some themes don’t even have a functions.php file but instead have two files: one called source-functions.php and one called custom-functions.php. Without study, it’s not possible as far as I can tell to determine which loads first and thus is overridden by the other, or precisely which one to use for custom functions we want to add. All of this may exist in WP Lore somewhere, but it’s certainly not easily accessible.


If I end up deciding to go with a fully-loaded theme, I have about decided to go with Catalyst. It  has a staggering array of things I can control via a property-sheet style interface and the notion of using a Dynamik as a Theme with dozens of “skins” creates a looser coupling between design and implementation. I’m somehow more comfortable with that notion.


At the moment, however, it seems likely I’ll settle on a minimalist theme over a decent lightweight framework or starter theme because the sense of lock-in I get from heavy-duty themes and tools like Catalyst is a bit too restrictive.


I have ruled out the major drag-and-drop theme approaches. None of them is quite what I’d like to see yet and, as with heavy-duty starter themes and frameworks, I’m just leery of the sense of closed-in restrictiveness that comes along as part of the gestalt.


At the moment, Elegant Builder is leading the pack for the drag-and-drop part of the story and as far as I can tell, I can implement it on just about any theme by anyone, which gives it another big plus.

I’m down to choosing a bare-bones theme to accompany EB. Bones is feeling a little too bare-bones. I feel sort of adrift on it. So I’m spending this evening and tomorrow morning running Foundation through its paces before making this choice. Elegant Themes’ Minimal is still very much in the running as well. I have a feeling this one’s going to come down to personal preference and taste rather than winning feature sets.

Then it will be Truth Time as I’ll have to make a decision between the two remaining combinations:

  • bare-bones starter theme or framework with EB for drag-and-drop layout of the easy stuff;
  • Catalyst (with the open remaining question of whether I can make EB work in Catalyst)

 

Countering the Web-Site-in-15-Minutes-For-Under-$50 Misdirect

As someone who earns some reasonable proportion of my income helping people design and build WordPress Web sites and apps, I constantly encounter prospects who have been sold a bill of goods by a plethora of people and companies who benefit from encouraging people to devalue Web development, particularly on the WordPress platform.

This morning on the LinkedIn group “WordPress Web Designers,” I posted a fairly lengthy semi-rant on this subject. Here is a condensed version. If you want to read it in its entirety, you can go to LinkedIn to read it (but you’ll have to be logged into your LinkedIn account).

your website in record time and at lowest priceAll of us who do WordPress development for all or part of our careers constantly encounter what I all the “dot-com misdirect.” This syndrome arises because customers and prospects have been told repeatedly by friends, colleagues, online advertising and promotions that building a WordPress site is a two-hour job.

This makes it particularly difficult to sell a prospect on a four-figure project to create what he probably sees as a simple site when we’re using this amazingly powerful tool that lets you create a site by answering five questions on a form or some such.

Our job in the selling process becomes one of clearly (and patiently) explaining the difference between a one-page, slapped-together brochureware site and an actual dynamic Web site. I find that this process goes fairly smoothly when I focus on benefits and not features.

Then they either get it and hire me (or a competitor) or they don’t and they end up with a disappointing brochureware site.

Sometimes I think we need a Word Press Developers Association that we’d all support and that would do branding work to counter the web-site-in-15-minutes-for-$50 messaging out there. 🙂

Status Report #2: Elegant Builder Plugin Looking Good As I Explore Starter Themes

I’ve been studying what next step to take in my adventure in WordPress development methodologies and best practices. I’ve decided that drag-and-drop frameworks are not a third option on my list but rather a distinctive new approach to front-end design and layout with (in the case of Ultimatum at least) some backend stuff baked in as well.

In the process of looking at d-n-d stuff, I ran across Elegant Builder from Elegant Themes. At the moment I’m wrapping up my assessment of using that plug-in with another ET theme called Minimal. I hope to complete that evaluation in the next 24 hours or so.

barebones_wpThen I want to try a really barebones theme (Minimal comes close but isn’t quite naked enough). Based on a number of reviews and comparisons (including a particularly pithy one here), I’ve narrowed the field of Starter Themes down to the following:

I clearly don’t have time to do a thorough eval on all of these (I have to get back to billable work at some point!) so I’m going to scour reviews in an effort to narrow the list to two which I can then spend a day each with actually building out the site I’ve been using as my test bed.

I’m predisposed to give Bones a try because of my son-in-law and WP buddy Jeff Soule’s recommendation. Thematic may prove too geeky for me. Roots and Foundation seem not too dissimilar: both support LESS (which I’ve decided I prefer to SASS), both use Foundation. Roots supports Twitter Bootstrap for front-end stuff while Foundation relies on HTML5 Boilerplate. Neither of those tools is WP-specific but they are interesting tools for sure.

I’m open to hearing experienced opinions.