My wife’s friend’s husband, James, has started a blog and will be blogging about his experiences growing up in Ontario with some expected emphasis on simpler pleasures of childhood like toys, comic books, and TV shows (you can check out his blog here –> https://70scanadianmanboy.com/). The premise got me thinking about some topics I have had in mind for a while, as well as “toys” I have now, and it led me down a rabbit hole thinking about my current website.
I do have the tendency from time to time to “just play”. And I recently decided to revert to my own childhood and play with Blocks.
When WordPress went to version 5, they switched from a classic editor interface to a more graphical one called Blocks. The basic premise was that they were upgrading from a word processing program (like Word) to a graphical layout program (like Publisher). And like Publisher, it focuses less on the words and content and more on how all the elements fit together — page layout and design.
But outside of the virtual world, I have Word and Publisher at home. And I never use Publisher. I have no need for it, as I can do everything I want to do in a program like Word. Truth be told, I suspect about 80% of the people using Word don’t know how to use more than about 10% of its power. And that was the rub for me with Blocks.
Entry into the World of Blocks
I did not transition gracefully to the block editor when WordPress v. 5 released and they dropped the classic editor as the default. I immediately did what most people did, which is add Classic Editor as a plugin. And promptly went right back to using my admin site exactly as I had before. That was 2 years ago.
Since then, I’ve seen lots of stuff on Blocks, but most of it is irrelevant to what I do, which is regular blog entries. Not a lot of formatting involved, nor page layout, and to the extent that there is, I tend to fix it by designing one page/post I like and then just duplicating a template version of it whenever I need a similar layout.
If you’re an experienced Block user, and a convert to the Cult of Blocks (trademark pending), you’re likely sputtering, “But, but, but…”. Yes, of course, I *could* do all those things with a Block editor. But like using Word for my documents instead of a desktop publishing program, I didn’t need to, my trusty Classic Editor worked just fine.
About two months ago, my resolve to stick with the CE started to weaken. It’s a slippery slope to want something to look just a little bit better, for the design to be a bit more consistent in look and feel, or for a workflow to be just a little more efficient. And I slid all the way to the bottom.
In terms of looking a little better, I saw a design about 5 years ago where a website put the date out to the left of the content, stylized it to look like a Google Calendar button, and coloured it in red and white so it would “pop”. I’ve seen other themes do the same, but almost always with some fatal flaws. Not the least of which is that it often had just the month and day, no year. That goes against every grain in my design fibre, having a date like “March 15th” and not knowing which year it was. Many do it deliberately to fake something looking more modern/up-to-date — the post could be 10 years old, but the date makes you think it was more recent. But I thought it was still cool, and I wanted it on my site if I could. With Blocks allowing you to control and format layouts, could I do that with my site? It had made me curious for awhile. Sure, 200 BRs provide a lot of friction to sliding, but if the slope is steep enough, any friction can be overcome by momentum.
In terms of consistency in design, I have Book Reviews on my site, and I’ve either chosen or been forced to change the layout and content of my BRs for varying purposes 3 previous times. When there were only 20 reviews and again when there were about 50 reviews, I changed my approach and content for my reviews, and it wasn’t a big deal to quickly go through them, open them up, tweak the layout, close them down, and be done. I did the same when there was around 100 because of something dramatic that Amazon changed in the way I could link to images of book covers. When I finished, I ticked a box to say “done” and fully expected to continue on my merry little way with that template / layout until I die. I know consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but I like the idea of a consistent look. So I was determined not to change it again unless something dramatic happened or I was forced to change it. And even then, I thought, “No going back. Old ones stay as they are.”
Yet, over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing with the back-end of my site for TV Reviews and Movie Reviews. And that process has given me insights into how I layout my Book Reviews, with some alternatives that I didn’t do before. But the TV Reviews and Movie Reviews have different elements, and as I figured out how to do those, I realized that I had some inconsistent layout in my BRs too. Plus I could upgrade an element of design.
Finally, the inefficiencies in workflow were brought home when I attended a virtual WordPress camp from San Antonio a couple of weeks back. I joined the web conference specifically to get a better feel for Blocks, and while I misjudged a few sessions and their likely relevance, one that was more about workflow showed incidental uses of Blocks that were quite useful. Ways, for example, to create and save a “reusable” block in my template for use in all my Book Reviews — and if I later want to edit and tweak it? It will make the change across ALL of the BRs. Plus I found a way to collapse my BR index from six separate pages to a single sortable one, complete with filters too, and that requires a change to all 200 BRs to make them consistent. I could “cheat” and create a redirect, but it wouldn’t look right. At least not to me.
So I put on my deep water waders and headed away from my safe shores into Lake Block. In my next post, I’ll talk about learning to swim again, but I’m still alive, and switching from one editor to another quite frequently. Later I’ll even talk about the calendar “block”.
Update: To see my current collection of blocks, check out the blocks I use.