Version 3.3 of my websites: the software side
As I mentioned in my earlier post this week (Version 3.3 of my websites: the technical side of things), I have tried various applications to “run” the website. Early on, I used Microsoft FrontPage. Then I tried some out of the box HTML and ASP applications with names like GPEASY or EZ107. I eventually went bigger and tried various content management system (CMS) applications like Drupal, Joomla and even MediaWiki. None of them were quite right for me.
Some people have opted for commercial platforms like Blogger or WordPress.com and those were all viable options. But I always came back to running my own site with my own set of installs. I started small, I went bigger and bigger, I went up to a WordPress install, I dropped back, and then finally, I went all in on WordPress.
I would be the first to confess that it is WAY more power than I need. People run full company sites with this thing, including full e-commerce capabilities or thousands of users with forums and discussion groups.
Me? I need a blogging platform, comments, and just a bit of capacity to show videos and images. Occasionally I get fancy and run a poll or something, but mostly it is just me blogging and the sound of a dry lonely wind blowing across my front page, maybe with digital tumbleweeds rolling along. It is not high traffic. One of my favorite Pearls Before Swine cartoons suggests the one character’s blog would have more traffic if he wrote it in crayon on a bathroom wall, and that is probably true for my site. Once in awhile I touch a nerve and garner an uptick in viewers, particularly if I’m talking about HR or development. Other than that? Mostly me prattling on into the digital ghostlands of the internet.
Yet I still want that power of WordPress. As I mentioned in the previous post, I tried separating my various musing into two camps for awhile but my approach to my site was still pretty diffuse. Blogs I would write with a specific angle in mind on one site often would end up fitting better on the other site under a different heading. Not a big deal to move, just illustrative that my approach to my separation into two blogs was not very concrete.
And when I rearranged my setup into a single blog, I thought, “YES! This is what it is all about. Everything I write in one place. Awesome!”
However, I realized over time that it wasn’t quite as awesome as I had hoped. I post in bursts and spurts, often on a single theme. Someone looking for HR info doesn’t particularly care about the latest quote I might share or what’s going on in my personal life (sob). And the balance didn’t seem quite right at times, particularly when I started adding quotes or humour. So I started thinking again about separating the blog entries into two groups.
The first group is what you see here. The more personal side of my musings:
- Posts about family or just daily experiences…the truly personal side of my life;
- In the same vein, but a little less “directly personal”, some of my approach to life like goal-setting, learning including photography, and spiritualism;
- A science and technology theme, in that I will be writing more about astronomy (a hobby) and computers (mostly about this site, but not always); and,
- A general set of posts around humour, quotes, recipes, and a catch-all around “ideas” (often involving principles and current news items).
The second group of blog entries is over on my other site (polywogg.ca), although at the time of writing, it isn’t really properly formatted and set up yet. For these ones, the groupings are not quite as defined yet either, but they are my more professional topics as a writer:
- Of course, there is my main theme around Human Resources, and more specifically, my HR guide to federal competitions for jobs…I’ve considered even making this a theme for another single purpose site, but I don’t need to do that yet, and I’ve included the proceedings from an HR conference I helped organize with some friends from university;
- Key insights that I can write about, since I can’t write about some aspects of my work life, are around the role of the civil service, governance, and international development;
- I like writing reviews, and people seem to value them on Amazon and elsewhere, so I wanted to collect my book reviews all in one spot, along with musings on reading in general, and eventually expanding so that all my movie reviews, music reviews, and regular TV reviews are together too;
- I read voraciously at times about the world of publishing, and I have some views I want to share regarding publishing, marketing, pricing, and even the role of libraries in society; and,
- Finally, what probably pulls all of this theme together, I want a place to post some of my own writing — shortstories, maybe some novel excerpts, some non-fiction guides, etc.
The funny thing is that deciding all of that still left me with a major choice.
A choice of branding
Which site would be “PolyWogg” and which site would be “ThePolyBlog”? Technically, they are both PolyWogg, as they are both my musings, just on different topics. And I could certainly tell myself that if the first site had entries about my personal life and family, and I’m “PolyWogg”, it made sense that PolyWogg would be the one that was more personal.
Yet ThePolyBlog is a far more informal title than PolyWogg, and if I used the personal for PolyWogg, and put the HR stuff on ThePolyBlog, well, the guide isn’t really blog entries. Plus it would then make sense to call it “ThePolyBlog’s guide to …”, and that doesn’t sound right to me at all.
In the end it doesn’t matter of course, or at least not to any one but me, but it would be a major pain in the patootie to change it around later, so I wanted to try and get it right the first (well, actually the SECOND) time.
In the end, my wife cast the deciding vote. She felt that ThePolyBlog was more informal too, and PolyWogg did seem to be more about my writing normally. So the Blog title goes to the personal informal stuff (site 1 above) and PolyWogg goes to slightly more formal “public writing” (site 2 above).
I have to confess, I was a bit surprised by how easy everything divided up once the decision was made.
Making the move
Of course, making the move was more complicated than saying “site 1 is this”, “site 2 is that”. It was all on a GreenGeeks platform under PolyWogg.ca. I needed all that content moved to WHC.CA, and I needed it split.
In the end, I settled on a two-step move. First and foremost, I migrated EVERYTHING to ThePolyBlog temporarily. WordPress has some tools that help you move everything from one place to another, including the install, but since I couldn’t be sure the GreenGeeks site wasn’t all screwed up from the myriad of changes, I decided I would do a fresh install and just move the content. I had hoped to have both PolyWogg sites (old and new) running simultaneously and bop back and forth from one to the other while the new remained in sandbox mode, but that didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped (I would have had to play constantly with my HOSTS file, too much trouble).
So I did OLD POLYWOGG and NEW THEPOLYBLOG setups, got everything all moved over, tested, all the content fine, and then I deleted the old PolyWogg site, moved to a fresh install at NEW POLYWOGG, *and* what was really cool? I then just copied the NEW POLYBLOG content over into NEW POLYWOGG and started deleting the stuff I didn’t need from each.
I even got to play with plugins as I went to make sure everything was relatively identical. In the end, my goal is that the back-end will be relatively identical, it is just the content and names that will change. “My branding” will be relatively uniform across the two, just mild differences in colours and menus, etc.
Setting up the new WordPress sites
One of my goals in setting up the new sites was to completely clean up a bunch of old plugins that I might not need anymore while streamlining certain bells and whistles too.
As a small digression, I’m often amazed by the number of people who blog, “Hey, I use this great plugin called ACME WIDGETS”. Which is great that they want to promote something they like, but it also starts giving out information to potential hackers about how your site is set up, what it is running, etc. I break this rule myself as I say I’m running WordPress, but that isn’t that big a surprise — while it doesn’t say it on my site, anyone doing a VIEW SOURCE on any page would see WordPress references pretty fast. But I don’t feel like I should make it easy for anyone to tell them things they don’t need to know, so while I will talk about plugins, I won’t talk about their names, just about the functions I’m looking for…
- Obviously, one of the first decisions people make in their design is what theme to run. Lots abound, and most add functions I don’t need — sliders, magazine setups, etc. I’m a pretty vanilla guy whose posts revolve around words. A lot of words. I was using a theme that I subscribed to a long time ago, upgraded to pro, upgraded to a new version, upgraded to the pro version, now it is available in regular free mode and another pro version. The regular free mode is more than good enough for my uses. Not quite as “clean” looking as the previous one, but lower load time. It will easily meet my needs. And free is good.
- The second piece people need to think about is protection. No glove, no love, and that applies to websites too. Spam protectors, firewalls, login blockers, ongoing monitors, backups, and my personal favorite? Changing the default login page so that the bots can’t even find it to try and log in. Of course, if you screw up or forget where you hid it, you can get locked out too. Oops.
- My next set of tools are around beefing up the look and feel from the default theme options to add a few bells and whistles. For me, this is mostly around adding some custom widgets, some better page navigation, maybe a tool for polls and charts, and even ones around helping identify other posts that are like the current one to help encourage people to stay on your site longer.
- Of course, if you don’t write anything, there’s nothing to see. So I added some basic tools for improving the writing and editing experience, adding in shortcodes to simplify certain functions, making it easy to clone or copy posts into a new post, and even controlling how quotes look/work and adjusting how many revisions to keep in the database.
- One of the hottest categories in the plugin world is social media, but I keep mine pretty basic — some simple sharing links, something to help with printing, adding in some contact forms to make it easy to contact me, improving the way links are done, and just for fun, tweaking integration with major sites like Twitter and Facebook.
- I added some functionality to one site to allow me to more easily facilitate downloads of some documents, but mostly I am more about the back-end — statistics, word counts, checking for broken links.
- Lastly, I add a few plugins that are usually not active, but help me with certain functions you have to do from time to time like managing a database, optimizing setups, or in the case of the “big move”, duplicating and importing another WordPress site.
The agony of defeat, the thrill of victory
One of the reasons the “move” went well is that I made a painful decision a few months ago. I finally accepted that part of the frustration of the last few years with my site has been constantly trying to integrate my large photo and video gallery into the same workspace. Sure, WHC offers galleries too, and like most hosters, block video hosting (you can import links, but the files have to be stored somewhere else). In the end, I bit the bullet.
I moved my photos and videos to SmugMug. It has been the best decision I ever made. Of course, if/when SmugMug goes under, I’m screwed, but in the meantime, it is working flawlessly. Videos, pictures, all together, easily controlled, nice layout. It just works. And allowed me then to concentrate on addressing more gaps in years processed than in figuring out which plugin or theme wasn’t working. I wish I had it working well in a self-hosted site, but it was just sucking too much time to get it right. We recently had a birthday party for a 90 year old member of our family, and I put a whack of photos all up on the site, ran the app, and voila, instant slide show for the party. Worked great.
For the first time in several years of trying, I feel like I’m organized for processing photos.
However, with the pain of the move, and the thrill of it working, I then moved into the renewed pain of fixing my WordPress site for photos. I know what you’re thinking, “Wait, you put everything on SmugMug, didn’t you?”. Of course, I did.
But some of my blogs LINK to those photos and use them in posts. This means all the old links for any photo in my OLD SITE which pointed to a page on my self-hosted site now point to dead links — I had to re-add all my photos back into my blog entries.
Mostly these were entries where, for example, I talked about my honeymoon, and what I was putting in the blog were samples of the things we saw as we went. Almost like a trip blog with pics added. I tried a couple of plugins that were designed to make it easier to link, but it wasn’t required. After testing several methods, I realized that the link available on SmugMug integrated seamlessly into WordPress just by pasting a certain form of the link. It was almost instantaneously PERFECT. Really happy with it. What I thought would take possibly weeks to fix was all done in a couple of hours, and not very strenuous either — most of that time was re-reading the original blog!
Where am I now?
This site is basically done for layout and configuration. Which is why I’m blogging again. I didn’t bother blogging on the old site since back in May, partly as I didn’t know if I was going to be able to keep the content. Now that I’m up and running again, I’d like to get the word count on this site up to the 250K mark this year. Particularly now that I’ve fixed a small formatting glitch as two conflicting plugins tried to format the same text. Bye-bye to one plugin.
Now, on to fixing ThePolyBlog, a bit more challenging for some of the plugin tweaks.