Blog

Themes

The observant may have noticed that the look of this site has suddenly got rather gaudy. There is a good reason for this - I've been creating a WordPress theme which I want to be as flexible as possible. I.e. a 'bare' theme, which can then be styled easily with css. I know these themes already exist, but I wanted my own, m'kay?

The reason for the gaudy colours? Testing. I wanted the default colours to be fairly obvious, with each main element being distinct so that I could be sure that I had the no typos in the CSS selectors.

I'll leave the theme running for a little while, I'd be interested to hear about any usability issues (other than the horrible colour scheme).

The theme should be fully widgetised, it should have comment threading, avatars and so on.

The theme should be fluid and resize gracefully, as screen width reduces, the images reduce whilst keeping aspect ratio.

Things I know I want to fix - some of these are purely 'behind the scenes':

  1. I want, at most, one sticky post on the front page. At the moment, it'll put any number on.
  2. I want to have a tags page which shows the tag cloud.
  3. Behind the scenes, the entry formatting uses the same template, called when needed by index.php and archive.php. I need to get the single.php template to use this as well in order to minimise maintenance (requires some 'if' statements).
  4. Do I *need* single.php and archive.php once I've done that?
  5. Author pages, ideally automatically pulling in gravatars.
  6. Decent 404 page
  7. The comment form gets screwed up on a narrow screen and doesn't resize gracefully. I don't know why.
  8. I want the theme to be accessible. I.e. Good for screen readers and the like. I have no way to test this however, so if you know anyone with a screen reader, please do point them in this direction and ask them to comment (or, pass on their comments should it *really* be unusable).
    1. Is the order of elements okay?
    2. aural stylesheet hasn't been done, for me, that'd be coding without testing - I would want a sheet though!
    3. The tags/related tags stuff - does there need to be a way to, ideally optionally, skip that for screenreaders.... I wonder how (without introducing new screen cruft)
  9. I'll then package up this rough theme for release, create a duplicate and change the look and feel to customise it. If I find that I have to customise anything other than a stylesheet, I'll need to amend the 'raw' theme.

Things I'm unsure of:

  1. I've appended categories to tags (with a different class for styling)
  2. Do I want to keep the related posts thing? It relies on a plugin, so isn't essential for the theme (plugin may be disabled as a recent update caused a problem behind the scenes... I hope I remember to remove this sentence when fixed, but I've couched it as a conditional just in case)

Number 10 and Wordpress

Number 10 has modified their site to use WordPress, and it does look good. At first.

Unfortunately, they're not using the full power of WordPress - I note in particular that comments are switched off for everything at the same time that they're talking about 'dialogue'.

What I find particularly amusing is that the first, most obvious link on their homepage, which promises us "Number10TV" and the ability to "watch the PM’s introductory film." gives this result:

I think the phrase they need is 'Whoops'.

Epic Fail. Says it all really.

Original heads-up from ocaoimh.ie

When starting from scratch (as opposed to migrating a site over from another URL or software system), there is really little excuse for broken links in WordPress, especially when you're paying developers to manage it for you. Hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, manage it quite comfortably.... and there is especially no excuse for a broken link on something that takes up half the screen on the homepage - the first thing people see.

Update: The 404 has been fixed.

Comments

I'm always wary about posting about things like commenting, I worry it'll sound desperate - but here goes! I'll try to steer away from the desperate... Richard Hooper over at WPProject makes a post about comments:

One of the greatest rewards you can give a blogger in appreciation of providing content that suits your needs, is to leave your thoughts in the comments section at the end of a post.

Leave a comment

If you’re a blogger, I know you’ll agree with me. There’s no greater reward. Sure, it’s nice to monetize, publicize and so on, but when your readers participate, leaving related comments, suggestions, and even criticism, you really appreciate that. We all do.

Without question, getting comments from interested readers is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of blogging.

~ Chris Pearson

Jai, over at Blog Oh Blog lists a few reasons why we should leave comments below the posts that we read and enjoy.

This blog is relatively new and isn’t getting a great deal of comments just yet, but in due time if I continue to provide valued content, comments will grow. Comments are almost guaranteed when bloggers “regularly” provide top notch content that their readers or subscriber base are tuned into. It’s automatic.

Now, I mostly put this site together for me, for example, my posts about my trip to India recently came in handy as someone asked me for information and it was easy to give it to them. Despite this, at times I have wondered why I keep writing in a public way if nobody is reading? Am I really that chap standing on the street corner babbling to himself?

Occasionally, an article gets a load of traffic, like these ones, but very few comments. This is a shame - it is always nice to get comments. As I posted on the original article:

I love comments - I don’t get nearly enough of them… but then, I don’t post in a niche, I post on whatever concerns me when I post…. this is probably the cause of the ‘not nearly enough’!

Of course, other reasons could be that what I'm writing is without merit (some will be, I hope that it's only some!) - it could be that when I write a big article, I've covered all the bases and there is little left to add.

Nevertheless, at a guess, I'd say it's because I'm chopping and changing topics - it's harder to 'build and audience'. For this reason, at times I've toyed with the idea of separating out the various topics which I'm interested in into their own sites - but would that be too restricting? Would I generate the content to keep each one fed? Probably not.

Perhaps I should 'theme' each category page and so produce sub-blogs, but that'd be a real pain to set up with the categories I have. I like the freedom of a general site, but would like the interaction one would get by having a site on a given topic which builds an audience. It's a bind. A catch-22.... but I would like more comments, they're nice.

Perhaps the first step is to restrict the categories - I have way too many, then I could theme the category pages more readily for the 'sub-blog' solution. The categories were made before tags became part of WordPress, so contain too much information, so the first step would be to take the current categories for all my posts and turn them into tags - how could I do this? Does the cat2tag feature remove the category info? Then I could remove categories, re-assigning deleted categories wholesale and create a few broad categories for my posts. Perhaps: Cycling, Art, Politics, Travel, Entertainment. It's a plan, I suppose. Doesn't sound like a fast change - and there may be broken links caused (a big item on my to-do list already is to fix links in old posts which remain broken from my change from movable type to WordPress!)

Before I commit to trying to improve the commenting situation by radically altering the structure of my categories, I'd really like to garner some opinions - is my analysis reasonable? Do I not get many comments due to the chop-change nature of this site, or is it something else? Perhaps it's simply that what I write isn't worth a comment?... or it's so good a comment would be superfluous?

(This could be an interesting experiment, how many comments will I get on a post about a lack of comments?)

So, there's my post about commenting. Did I manage to keep away from the desperate?

Update: The Cat2Tags feature does remove category info. Glad I saw this post. I'd want to make tags of categories without destroying the categories (I'd want to destroy them manually!)

Gravatars

I have now included gravatars on this site. Not that I get many commenters to use them *sniff*....

I've added a comment below to show how they appear. If you don't have a gravatar then you'll get a default icon (I have plans afoot to automatically assign these should the commenter not have a suitable gravatar set - but first I have to generate a few icons).

Clicking on any gravatar will take you to the gravatar website.

Feel free to experiment to see how your comment will appear.

Enjoy.

Update: I have added Identicons for those without Gravatars

Two Weeks until NWT Shipping

My estimated dispatch date for my New World Tourist is two weeks today. I'm so looking forward to getting the bike - it'll get some good use this summer if my plans come to fruition. It'll be used in the London Bike-A-thon, (I'm raising cash for Leukaemia research here). It'll be used in the London Freewheel. It should be used in Iceland, and I'm 'planning' to do an 'out the door and see where I end up' trip.

The suspense is unbearable - how's the bike looking, has it even entered the start of the construction process?

A thought occurs for something GreenGear might like to do as a good bit of PR. At every stage of the process, get whoever has been working on a bike to take a photo or two (a few seconds), and upload the photos to a page which the customer can access. Encourage a few words from the employee (e.g. "The spray job went well, the bike is now on the way to final assembly")

If customers are happy for their build to be public - which should not be a problem if the customer info isn't shown, then WordPress can be used for all of this (set the category to the stage of the process, set the tag to be a bike reference number). One could give the customer the opt-out by putting on the order form 'we will post information about the building of your bike at this address, http://foo.bar/tags/orderID - tick this box if you do not want us to do this' (doing this would print a message like 'NO WEB UPDATE' on the top of the tag used to track the progress of the bike in the workshop).

The site to do this could literally be set up in minutes. Styling it to look 'right' would take a little longer. Training people to use it would depend on the willingness of the staff (it'd need to be easy to take the photos from the camera)... though a text update ("I've just welded the frame" would be very quick).

In a stroke, several things would happen:

  1. The customer would be able to see their bike being made, this would be cool.
  2. Potential customers would be able to look at the range of bikes being produced.
  3. Existing owners would get a regular fix of "Bike Pr0n".
  4. It could potentially save responding to 'how's the build going?' emails.
  5. By browsing categories, people could look at a particular stage of construction that interests them (e.g. see all posts in the 'welding' department). By browsing a tag, people could track any particular bike. I would also add a category for the type of bike (e.g. New World Tourist, Pocket Rocket, Llama etc.)
  6. Most importantly, it further improves the relationship between customer and company.

The only downside I can see is that if the process isn't fast and easy for the employee, it'll get in the way - but if this can be addressed as part of the workflow it'd add a lot of value, and would be a distinctive feature for the company.

I know this customer would have loved it for his bike!