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.

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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A fix for Windows Live Writer to ‘see’ a WordPress theme

windowslivewriterI’ve used the Windows Live Writer content creation and publishing tool for blog posts and pages from Microsoft since it first appeared in beta form in the mid-00s. In my experience, it is the best offline blog editor for Windows bar none.

It’s not perfect, mind you, with probably the biggest frustration being that of configuration with a theme on your blog, often manifesting itself  when you change the theme from one to another.

When WLW doesn’t recognize your theme, it means that you don’t get almost-true WYSIWYG when you write or edit content. So you don’t see your writing as you would when the post or page is published on your blog.

It is frustrating when you can’t see what you’ll get either in WLW’s edit mode or, more importantly, in its preview mode. What you have to do is publish the post to your blog as a draft and then view it in preview there if you want to see what it will look like when actually published, before you hit the ‘publish’ button.

What a performance – one that frustrates many bloggers enormously and can seem a huge deal if you do a lot of blogging.

If you search for solutions online, you’ll find no end of suggestions: this one, for instance, which talks about setting a static page – a suggestion I’ve seen quite a bit.

I tried it, but it didn’t work for me for my self-hosted WordPress blogs (meaning, it might with other blog platforms).

I experienced the issue myself this week when I changed the theme of my primary WordPress blog. WLW worked fine with the previous theme, but wouldn’t ‘see’ the new one. As I ‘ve been through this quite a few times before with mixed results on resolving it, I decided to live with it this time after being unsuccessful with the suggested solution I mentioned above.

Yet a thought occurred to me today that, when I tested it out, proved to be a solution to the problem. When writing in WLW, I now see a post as it will closely appear when published as this screenshot shows.

wlwtheme

The fix was very simple. I don’t really know why or how it works but it does.

One thing I noticed when researching a solution this time was references in some of the ideas I encountered to how WLW works when it tries to detect your blog theme.

A common view I saw that was that when WLW publishes a temporary post to your blog as part of its detection process – which, btw, it asks your permission first – it publishes that temp post to the category ‘Uncategorized,’ which is the default category set by WordPress when you first install that platform.

That was the key in my case – the default category was set to something else. Here’s what to do:

  1. In your WordPress admin dashboard, go to Settings -> Writing.
  2. Check in the dropdown list that the default post category is set to ‘Uncategorized.’ If not, select it.
    writingsettings
  3. At the bottom of the page, click ‘Save Settings.’
  4. Then, in WLW, try to detect your blog theme again.

(While you’re on that page, double-check that the check box for ‘XML-RPC’ in the Remote Publishing section is actually checked.)

In my case, it then worked. As I mentioned, I don’t know how or why it worked as ‘Uncategorized’ wasn’t set as the default category with the previous theme I was using: WLW had detected that theme just fine. Maybe it’s something in a particular theme as well.

Still, if you’ve been experiencing this issue, and whatever WordPress theme you have, maybe this fix is worth a try to see if it works where other suggested fixes haven’t.

If it works for you – or doesn’t – I’d love to know.

Incidentally, it looks like the future of Windows Live Writer in terms of Microsoft’s continuing to develop it is in doubt with changes to Windows Live Essentials (the software suite in which WLW forms part). It would be a shame if WLW falls by the wayside in terms of development as blog platforms evolve and become ever more functional, where an offline editor that lets you take advantage of that becomes even more an essential tool.

I’ve always thought that WLW ought to have been an integral element in Microsoft’s Office suite. You can write blog posts in Word (did you know that?)

wordblogpost

A far from satisfactory tool or experience, though, compared to Windows Live Writer.

Introducing the new NevilleHobson.com

nholdnew

Today, the new NevilleHobson.com makes its appearance – version 4.0 of this site I started writing in 2006.

Not wanting to make a huge deal out of what, essentially, is the installation of a new WordPress theme – like a new wardrobe – I’ve given the site a new look and and a better feel with the News theme from StudioPress running on the Genesis Framework.

If you’re reading this on the blog itself, the design is what you now see and is shown in the right-hand part of the screenshot above, with the left side the previous look of the Thesis theme that I’ve used for some years.

My goal is quite simple – enable a website that has a minimalist appearance, is quick to load, easy to navigate and lets you quickly find the content you want to read, watch or listen to. I felt the previous design was getting too blinged out with tweet streams and widgets here and there; it was slow loading and required a lot of maintenance.

The major obvious change to the previous design is how content is presented on the home page. Before, you’d find the full content of five posts, resulting in a lot of scrolling which tests your patience. Now, you see an excerpt from the first part of each post plus its accompanying image so you can read the ones that interest you while you only need a click or two to see what there is in total on the home page.

A big appeal of this News theme is that it’s been developed to be mobile responsive, meaning it will work equally well on a desktop computer screen as it will on a smartphone screen or a tablet screen without the need for a separate theme or – worse – no separate theme at all.

Unfortunately, it’s the one thing that I can’t get working properly; with some help from StudioPress, I hope to have it fixed soon. In the meantime, if you visit on a mobile device you should see the site fine via the WordPress Jetpack mobile theme.

The design is almost out of box as the theme comes, just some typographical tweaks here and there plus a little bit of personalization. The News theme is fully widgetized which offers interesting design and other possibilities. I’ve not used any of that – minimalism in overall presence is what I looked for. And it’s not yet final – call it a work in progress. But the key things are here: posts, pages and related content.

If you subscribe to this blog’s content via RSS or email, or read the content syndicated elsewhere, you won’t see the new design. That’s ok – please continue to enjoy the content! But why not pop over for a look?

Let me know what you think. Thanks.

Boost your WordPress blog with Jetpack

jetpacklogoIf you self-host a WordPress blog, one of the most useful plug-ins you can install is Jetpack, created by WordPress publisher Automattic originally for blogs built on the hosted WordPress.com service

The Jetpack plug-in has recently been updated to version 2, which now makes it an indispensible part of your blog presence on the social web.

Jetpack offers a huge range of features, services and functionality that enhances your WordPress experience – both yours as the content publisher and those who interact with your content.

With version 2, Jetpack currently brings nearly two dozen modules that you activate to use in your WordPress site.

jetpackdashboard

Once you install the plugin, it created a dashboard in your WordPress admin through which you manage all aspects of it.

You will need an account at WordPress.com even if you don’t have or plan to have a blog there, as the plugin connects with data and services in the WordPress cloud. Opening an account is free of charge.

You use the Jetpack modules you want, which may not be all of them. I have some activated, not all; the ones I find very useful are these:

  • Comments: enables your visitors to use WordPress.com, Twitter, or Facebook accounts when commenting on your site.
  • Subscriptions: Allow users to subscribe to your posts and comments to receive a notification via email.
  • Contact Form: Easily insert a contact form any where on your site.
  • Sharing: The most super duper sharing tool on the interwebs. Share content with Facebook, Twitter, and many more.
  • Shortcode Embeds: Easily embed videos and more from sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and SlideShare.
  • WP.me Shortlinks: Enable WP.me-powered shortlinks for all of your Posts and Pages for easier sharing.
  • Mobile Theme: Automatically optimize your site for mobile devices.
  • Enhanced Distribution: Share your public posts and comments to search engines and other services in real-time.
  • Custom CSS: Customize the appearance of your site using CSS but without modifying your theme.

I’ve dispensed with other plugins where Jetpack offers similar or better functionality. It’s definitely a core plugin that will give any self-hosted WordPress blog a boost.