Bloggade 2013: the nuts and bolts of blogging and WordPress

Timico data centre

Have you ever wondered what goes on at a data centre, perhaps one that hosts your website or blog?

If that’s a question you’ve asked before, then here’s your chance to get the answer.

A tour of a state-of-the-art UK data centre in Newark is a central part of an event taking place on August 21 that will focus on the underlying technology that powers many WordPress blogs.

I’ve joined Matt Russell, CEO of WebHostingBuzz (the hosting service that sponsors and hosts my blogs) and Trefor Davies, co-founder and CTO of Timico (the owner of the data centre) to put together Bloggade 2013:

The focus of this first Bloggade is on the underlying technology that powers many WordPress blogs. You’ll experience a tour of Timico’s £5m Midlands datacentre that opened in 2012, and see at first hand the technology that powers the web including many WordPress blogs hosted with WebHostingBuzz at the datacentre.

We have round table discussions planned on WordPress hosting, hardware, search engine optimization and more, all addressing the topics from a non-technical perspective, but in the true round table spirit – anything and everything to do with WordPress is up for discussion.

Bring your questions, comments and experiences!

You’ll also get ideas and insights from experiences and blogging best practices in a panel discussion with Andrew Grill and I  – Andrew’s blog is also hosted by WebHostingBuzz – as well as from others there, all designed to help you get the most from the WordPress content management system, especially the new version 3.6.

Thanks to Timico, the half-day event is free to attend: the only condition is that you must have your own blog, whether it runs on WordPress or any other platform.

Sign up for Bloggade 2013

Sign up for your free ticket and join us for an afternoon in Newark – an historic town within easy reach of major towns and cities in the Midlands, East Anglia and the Northeast (and less than 90 minutes by fast train from London).

It’s a great opportunity to talk about the nuts and bolts of blogging and WordPress, see inside a modern data centre, and conclude things in a local pub.

What a pleasant way to spend a Wednesday afternoon! Hope to see you there on August 21.

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WordPress 3.6 – blogging gets even easier

WordPress 3.6A new version of the WordPress blogging platform and content management system was released on August 1 that not only fixes some bugs and improves security, but also brings a raft of new and enhanced features and functionality.

WordPress version 3.6 includes a new default theme, Twenty Thirteen, with a contemporary look and feel that lets you focus on your content far more than before, in a design made for media-rich blogging.

As the theme is a responsive web design (just like its predecessor default theme Twenty Twelve), it will look good and work well on any device – from a large widescreen desktop monitor to the compact touch-screen of a smartphone – without a plugin or any other external add-on needed.

If you’re just getting started with WordPress, or you’re thinking about a new design for your blog, Twenty Thirteen will work for you right out of the box. It will also give you a great foundation for your own customizations through creating your own child theme.

Of all the improvements and new features in WordPress 3.6, perhaps of most appeal to me and my WordPress blogs is the significantly improved support for audio and video with a new HTML5 media player as part of the WordPress platform that does away with the need for a specialist external plugin just to play the media.

As the media player isn’t Flash-based, an advantage is that it will work on Apple devices like iPhones and iPads.

There’s enhanced audio embedding that lets you embed songs, albums and playlists from Spotify, Rdio and SoundCloud just by pasting a URL into a post on its own line.

Like this, from SoundCloud:

There’s no special pop-up to add it to or something on the editing menu you have to open – just paste it into your draft post. The actual code I pasted is this:

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/96585117" params=""
width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

(The song, “In My Demon’s Name,” is the latest track from my favourite rock noir band, Belladonna, who make their songs available on SoundCloud. Check them out.)

For editing your posts, there’s a much better autosave, the behind-the-scenes method that saves your draft posts automatically at regular intervals when you’re logged in to your blog and in editing mode.

There’s also better post locking when you have multiple people who might be editing posts – easy to see who’s editing what and what to do if they’ve left a draft open that you need to work on.

These are just a handful of the great features in WordPress 3.6 – see the release announcement or the WordPress Codex for a complete list of everything including the bug and security fixes.

Or, view this cool video that presents all the new stuff in an entertaining way.

([Later] If you read this post on an Apple or Android device, you won’t see the video – because it’s a Flash video, as Armin Grew notes in the comments below. Ironic, to say the least.)

If you’re already  running WordPress, you should upgrade. If you’re not too bothered about all the bells and whistles, still upgrade if only because of the bug fixes and security improvements. As WordPress now runs 19 percent of all web sites in the world, it’s a hot target for hackers, crooks and others who will cause damage if they get into your blog (and whatever you do, change the default login user ID from ‘admin’ to anything else!)

So do yourself a favour – upgrade to the latest version. The simplest way is to use the automatic update feature in your WordPress dashboard, making sure you back up your database first. Just in case. Then, hit the ‘Update Now’ button in your WordPress dashboard.

WordPress Updates

Happy blogging!

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WordPress ten years on

WordPressTen years ago, on May 27, 2003, WordPress was released.

It wasn’t the first software that enabled anyone to write their thoughts down and publish them online for the world to see. But its free and open source credentials along with its extensible plug-in architecture made it an easy choice for anyone to start blogging at a time when the landscape was dominated by blogging software and platforms that were somewhat complex to learn and most cost money.

Ten years ago, I was using Blogspot, the paid blogging service from Blogger that was acquired by Google in February 2003. I moved to TypePad in mid 2004 – that site is still live, kept as an archive -  experimented with Movable Type along the way until settling on WordPress in early 2006.

So much has happened in these ten years in a constantly- and rapidly-evolving landscape, one that has expanded massively and globally and that offers would-be content publishers, individuals and organizations, myriad choices of methods to get your thoughts out there, connect with others and join that phenomenal conversation that’s going on.

Pioneers like Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, deserve recognition and thanks for the architecture they have created, upon which you see the many platforms of today.

Among it all, though, WordPress stands out as a worthy example of a real ecosystem – embracing platform, developers, users, fans and critics – that still is true to its original free and open source ideals. That’s crystal clear to see in Matt’s words yesterday extolling WordPress.

And in the practical sense, WordPress is just easy to use: easy to set up, manage, change your blog, add to it, use it on any device… In sum, I love WordPress.

Here’s to noble ideals, great content, conversations and longevity!

Additional reading:

[Later:] Some great metrics on WordPress over the years in this concise infographic from Statista via VentureBeat:

WordPress Turns 10

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Refreshing design

A Bank Holiday weekend is a good quiet time for a web project and to roll out a new look to NevilleHobson.com.

The look and feel of a website – whether it’s a blog like this one or a corporate site like any you can think of – is a key element in the overall experience someone enjoys (or not) when they come to your presence on the web. It plays a role in your brand presence, whether it’s personal or corporate. (Ask Jakob Nielsen about web usability.)

In thinking about the reader experience, the focus in my mind was on putting the content front and centre. Consuming content in a blog or wherever else primarily ought to be about that: what the consumer experiences and whether that experience is worthwhile for him or her.

With that in mind, I present the new NevilleHobson.com.

The new look

Lots of white space, a pleasing serif typeface for the text, an overall uncluttered look.

The new look is a bit of a departure from the busy, newsroomy one it’s replaced.

The old look

The major feedback I’d had about the old look was in reference mostly to the typeface – sans-serif and too small – and how cluttered everything seemed to be. It largely reflected my own thoughts, too.

Both the new and old looks are WordPress child themes  – eleven40 and News respectively – that run on the Genesis Framework. I installed and enabled them myself.

With the new look, what you see is pretty much out of the box. I’ve made a few changes and tweaks here and there, mainly in the CSS. There will probably be a bit more tweaking in due course.

The structure of the site has not changed although I have simplified the navigation menu system, getting rid of a lot of clutter there, and retired some out-of-date content (static pages, not blog posts). I’ve also removed the background image that appeared every time you loaded a page. It looked nice but it had a huge negative impact on page-load times.

Importantly, I wanted to continue the responsive web design aspect of this blog that the Genesis Framework developers have made easy. It works well on whatever device on which you access it – whether it’s a 24-inch widescreen desktop monitor, an iPad or other 10-inch tablet, a Kindle Fire or other 7-inch tablet, or any modern smartphone with their 3- to 5-inch screens.

Let me add that as this blog runs on WordPress, changing a theme typically is a simple process that doesn’t require you to have much knowledge or skill in PHP coding or even HTML. The actual work I had to do to get to what you see now – from installing the new theme on a test blog, testing it, changing some elements, updating some content here, the other changes I mentioned earlier, etc – took me about five hours spread over this weekend.

And finally, if you read this blog’s content in an RSS reader, in your email program or via a syndicated service, you may not notice the design at all never mind a change in it if all you see is the text. That’s great! But, if you have five minutes to spare, do pop in and have a look around.

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, I’d welcome your feedback, thanks.

A trustworthy method for the new thought leadership model

Dilbert: Dear God No

The humour in this Dilbert cartoon – the boss talking about blogging his thoughts about his business when in reality it will be his employee doing the thinking and the writing – is a simple but good reminder that expressing opinion online is a lot about authenticity.

You may have someone suggesting topics to you that reflect and are linked to your business objectives – a key role of the communicator as strategic counsellor and adviser – but if something’s published as a blog post with your name on it, authentic is not what it is if the thoughts and the words are by someone else and that fact isn’t disclosed somewhere.

Expressing authentic opinion online can also be a valuable use of your time whether you’re the boss or an employee. The time you invest in sharing what you think – a post you write or a comment you leave as you join someone else’s conversation –  can provide a powerful and credible demonstration of your knowledge and opinion about a topic and your willingness and ability to engage with others in discussing it.

If people like what you say – which can be in audio or video form, not only in the written word – they might come back for more. Or they might disagree and have their own opinions on what you posted. Either way, they might talk about your opinion, and share their own opinion of it with their own communities, online and offline.

I was reminded of these facts and others today when I read “2013: the bells tolls for the old thought leadership model,” a post by Fiona Czerniawska of Source, a UK-based provider of research about the management consulting market in Europe and the Middle East.

Especially if you’re as tired (or as cynical) as I am in hearing the phrase “thought leadership” parroted all the time, Czerniawska’s post is a thought-provoking read, and begins with this:

“If a consulting firm hasn’t written about it, we assume it doesn’t know anything about it.”

That off-the-cuff comment which we recently heard from a major buyer of consulting services is, in a nutshell, the thought leadership story of 2013.

From other research we already know that thought leadership has been playing an increasingly important role in short-listing decisions, but it’s always been expressed in positive terms, along the lines of “If a firm has written a good report or article on a subject, then we’ll be more inclined to get them to come in and talk to us.”  This comment sounds much more draconian: you’ve either got the expertise – in which case you’ll be writing about it – or you haven’t.

And it ups the ante for the consulting industry.  It confirms thought leadership as consulting firms’ most powerful marketing weapon, but it also means that thought leadership and strategy have to be far more closely aligned.  Thought leadership ceases to be something done in an ad hoc, fragmented fashion: success won’t come from serendipity (someone just happening to write about the right topic at the right time) but from intent.

The post is written from the perspective of the consulting industry. Yet I believe it is valid counsel to anyone in business  – especially the leader or senior executives  – looking for a competitive advantage (and who isn’t looking for that?).

According to the 2013 Trust Barometer from the Edelman PR firm, we’re in a time when trust in the leaders of organizations is severely diminished and in continuing, even trending, decline. You have only to look at a business sector like financial services and banking to see why. Where trust is rising is in subject-matter experts, academics, regular employees – people who are perceived to be authentic and transparent in their intentions.

Clearly this strongly suggests that what people look to trust is authentic opinion where the opinion-maker can be verified (hence the significance of Google’s author rank announced recently).

Read my blogNot to mention the measurable benefits from your name (and that of your organization) along with the topic on which you shared an opinion showing up in search results. If there’s one thing Google loves, it’s frequently-updated searchable content on websites (blogs are great) that will get indexed more often.

It seems to me that writing and publishing a blog post that sets out what you think about a topic is one of the easiest – and pleasurable – uses of your time that can put you at the heart of discussion, debate and people’s attention.

This also brings to my mind a workshop about blogging that I led at the Financial Times’ Digital Learning Week 2012 employee event last October, and some key elements I emphasised to the participants:

  1. Blogging is about the content not the platform. The primary point is your content not where it’s published.
  2. You’re telling a story not writing a press release or a sales brochure. Write informally, conversationally, avoiding jargon, and with passion.
  3. Be selfless and generous in your references to others. Attribute, cite, link.
  4. Disclose any conflict of interest. If in doubt, always disclose.
  5. Make your content eminently shareable. Eg, enable sharing buttons, make your headline concise enough that it’s simple to tweet it. Make the place your content is published on easy to use: a blog, in other words, not a corporate website.
  6. Be clear on your strategy and the measurable goal you wish to achieve. As Fiona Czerniawska wrote in her post I mentioned earlier, this isn’t about serendipity but about clear business intent.

And if you want a smoother ride on the road that can take you to the destination of trust, don’t forget – authentic is the name of your game.

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Blogging ten years ago

Finally

Ten years ago today, on December 13, 2002, I wrote and published my first blog post.

Nothing especially inspiring, earth-moving or even awesome in what I said, just a brief note to announce my entry into the embryonic blogosphere:

Dec 13, 2002 — Finally joing [sic] the thousands who already publish blogs. This blog will include random and occasional musings and comment on anything that grabs my attention.

The post even has a spelling mistake. How’s that for posterity?

I now can’t remember exactly how I’d heard about blogs – or ‘weblogs,’ as I recall the formal name – although I suspect it was in a magazine or newspaper feature talking about “the technorati” and a service called Technorati which was founded by Dave Sifry in November 2002 (a month before my first blog post), essentially a search engine and ranking system for blogs; plus the rise of a company called Pyra Labs, its free personal web publishing platform called Blogger and its business-focused pay-for service, Blogspot.

(The screenshot, btw, shows that first post published on a TypePad blog, the service I migrated to in mid 2004 from Blogspot. That blog is still online as my 2002-2006 content archive.)

It was also a time when I started questioning many things in my own world after I read The Cluetrain Manifesto, the core concept of which that ‘markets are conversations‘ just blew me away even if I was skeptical about some of the other ideas. But I kept thinking about the book’s strapline, “The end of business as usual.” All of it opened my eyes, no question about that.

Ten years ago, blogs essentially were social media. There was little else, perhaps apart from LiveJournal, an online social network and diary platform, now based in Russia;  Friendster, originally a social networking site that lives on today in Southeast Asia as a popular social gaming site; and Napster, the now defunct peer-to-peer file sharing service for MP3 music files. Not even MySpace or Skype were around – they didn’t start until the second half of 2003 – nor the photo-sharing site Flickr that didn’t start until early 2004.

And don’t even think of LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook … it was some years before their time came.

Ten years ago was a time for discovery and experimentation on small, less connected scales where the focus was on the liberated simplicity of writing and self-publishing content to the web that was a personal expression – a mega-shift away from the complexity, control and hierarchies of traditional web publishing with tools like FrontPage – far more than connecting that expression to many other voices, services and connected places the way it has evolved today, partly because the broad infrastructure and ecosystems didn’t exist yet.

Ten years ago, there were probably around one million blogs worldwide, of which 90 percent or more were surely in the US. Compare that to a reported 172 million today – which doesn’t include other forms of personal expression and publishing like microblogs (Twitter, for example) or Facebook posts. It was the time of the iPod and the iPAQ – long before the iPhone – and ISDN lines.

Heck, the internet itself was relatively tiny in 2002 compared to today as this chart from Pingdom showing growth in the decade 2000-2010 suggests.

top10internet

Pingdom says:

[…] There were only 361 million Internet users in 2000, in the entire world. For perspective, that’s barely two-thirds of the size of Facebook [in 2010]. […] There are more than five times as many Internet users now as there were in 2000.

So the landscape today paints a hugely different picture than the one of ten years ago. Not only the tools and channels but also the sheer connectivity of everything plus a seismic shift in people’s attitudes, understanding, willingness and ability to get online and talk.

Ten years ago, though, I discovered something that has had a massive influence on my own behaviour, thinking, openness and willingness to say what I think and engage in conversation with others, whether they’re like minds or not.

Technorati played a big role for me in finding other voices. (Here’s what Technorati looked like in December 2002 thanks to The Wayback Machine.)

Ten years ago, I made a foray into a new world. Like many, I wasn’t sure at all that this was something I really wanted to do. Who cares what I mused about? Who’d read this stuff? I didn’t see what it was worth from a business perspective (who did then, really?). So I was an infrequent blogger and didn’t properly get into gear with things until mid 2004 when I suddenly realized that thinking about blogging primarily as kind of online-diary-writing missed the point entirely.

That’s when everything got really interesting. But, that’s a tale for another day.

Ten years ago, blogging opened doors to experimentation, discoveries and the start of making valuable connections with other connected people. In that specific regard, not much has changed in that time.

Isn’t it great?

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