About This Site: The Technical Stuff

I wanted to include some information about the site’s technical bits. It’s never been easier to self-publish things like this, but there are still a LOT of questions you’re likely to run into along the way. By the time I actually turn this site “on”, I’ll have easily ended up spending three or four times as much effort on widgets and themes than on actual articles (though, in fairness, I’ve had drafts of most of these articles kicking around for a while).

The Engine – This site is powered by WordPress. It’s a terribly easy to setup and most hosts have a one-click option that spins up a new site with almost no effort. WP is shockingly easy to use while still allowing an insane about of freedom. They’ve got a responsive enough staff that updates are regular and security or other high-severity issues are rare and responded to rapidly.

The Theme – I’m currently using the “Magazine Basic” theme by c.bavota. It’s a solid, basic theme that does a lot of the layout “heavy lifting” I was looking for without weighing things down with unnecessary stuff – a solid theme for getting into publishing this style of site. (I also really like the Arras theme. It’s a good choice, I think, for the kind of site I want this to be, but requires a different level of publishing-speed than I think I can handle on my own. It’s got some good out-of-the-box functionality and more than a little flexibility). I was using Jeremy Clark’s Techozoic theme. While it’s a great theme pack, and has a load of great features, it just wasn’t quite right for *this* site. I’ll probably use it on at least one of the other projects I’m looking it. It’s too well done not to use.

Plugins – The theme comes with a lot of the site’s functionality built it, but I have added a few plugins to tweak things.

  • Bad Behavior – BB is a security/annoyance plugin that helps minimize the sites exposure to bots, spammers, etc.
  • Fast Secure Contact Form – I can’t say that it’s actually “fast” or “secure”, but it is a contact form and a pretty good one. It’s probably overkill for my needs; it’s got a LOT of options and functionality that I’m not using. But it does integrate nicely with the site without much effort. It’s also one of my favorite examples of on of Word Press’s strengths – with only a couple of clicks I added a fully functional contact form that’s completely integrated with the site and the site’s visual style. No muss, no fuss. Very lazy. 🙂
  • Maintenance Mode – Hopefully, you’ll never have to see that plugin in action after I ‘go live’. MM just puts up a nice status page to show to users so they know that the site’s down, but not gone. Includes some nice functionality like a count-down-to-live timer and a system for you/your staff to view the site even when the rest of the world can’t. I’ve used it extensively during the ramp-up period of the site. It’s made setup much less of a head-ache.
  • SI Captcha Anti-Spam – There are a number of great options for Captcha’s and anti-spam/anti-bot filtering. This was just the one I settled on first. Askimet is a very popular and very effective service, but requires an account (free for most uses); I just didn’t feel like I wanted the hassle of yet one more login to manage. When I launched my first WP site, I didn’t use any Captcha/security plugin and just had all posts set to “moderated” – in part because I wanted to see what the actual traffic was like. It didn’t take long before spam-bots were trying to post away on the site. I installed SI Captcha and Bad Behavior at about the same time and the spam traffic disappeared.
  • Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – This plugin tries to match the current post you’re reading to other, related posts in the system. It does a pretty good job and, most importantly, does so automatically and with no effort on my part. I only tweaked a little bit of the text it uses to insert itself into the page. YARPP recently teamed up with another service that tries to relate your posts with posts on *other* sites as well. I’m not sure (1) how well that works and (2) how I feel about that kind of system, so I may end up replacing this plugin with something else. Otherwise, I’ve been quite pleased with YARPP’s performance.
  • Widget Context – Added this one when I switched to Arras. Arras has some great widgets, but some of them don’t make much sense on every page. Widget Context let’s you set where/when each widget will be present. It’s not perfect – indeed it’s down right ugly – but it does work, and I like things that work.
  • WP-PageNavi – This was something I added “just because”. It replaces the default next/previous page functionality with a more feature-rich pagination bar.
  • After The Deadline – a good plugin for those of you, like me, that have…shall we say… sub-par writing skills. 🙂  It expands on the built in spellchecking and adds some functionality for basic grammar validation.
  • PhotoDropper – A nice plugin that helps (1) find images suitable for you posts and (2) ensuring the images have the proper attribution.

The Host – I’ve got three WP sites up and running right now, and a fourth in the back of my mind. Two are up over at iPower.com and this one (and likely the next one) are at 1and1.com. Both have had some good and bad points to be honest, though at the moment, 1and1 is probably the better of the two. iPower has had some reliability issues – the site is often extremely slow to respond, and their prices – while not bad – aren’t that great either. 1and1 has good prices, and snappy servers and a great reliability record. Their default WP one-click install is very limited and was a pain to fix. Certain tasks with 1and1 seem to take far too long. My initial account setup, for example: nearly instant with ipower, nearly 24 hours with 1and1.

Graphics/Images – There’s a number of sources of legitimate, royalty-free images for use out there. As I start to narrow down my favorites I’ll try to post a few links to them here. A good place to start is on Google. Click on “Image” search, then “advanced search” options and select usage rights that include “reuse”, or “commercial reuse” if you’ve got ads or other revenue generators, and “with modification” if you need to/intend to alter the image in any way. Just remember when building a site that there are two rules you should never, ever break: (1) Don’t steal images. Only use the pictures you have permission to use and always give credit to the artists where-due. And (2) never, ever, EVER link to an image (or other file) hosted elsewhere unless you have permission.

Beyond valuable were the advice and tips from other WordPress sites and message boards. One of my favorites being It’s WordPress!. It’s a fairly new site, but the guy doing most of the reviews really knows his stuff.

When it comes to writing articles (or what passes for my writing), I usually outline an idea in a simple text editor. This is also where I’ll record any research or notes I gather on the topic. Sometimes I’ll even write an early draft this way.Then I move over to Libre Office (formally Open Office) and do a more formal draft including checking for spelling and grammar. Finally, I move to the WordPress in-browser tools where I do a final draft and schedule for publishing.

Hopefully this will help you make some decisions about your own site. Feel free to leave a message if you have any questions.

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