As I mentioned here, I’m going to be going through all the WordPress.com themes one-by-one and evaluating them. For the first go I chose a few of the best themes: Shocking Blue Green, Blix, Regulus, Sandbox, and Kubrick (aka WordPress Default).
After a break, an overview of Shocking Blue Green, Blix, Regulus, Sandbox, and Kubrick themes plus a big table comparing the features.
WordPress is the best blogging platform.
You know, content? The reason why people read blogs in the first place? The reason why people write blogs in the first place? (And you thought it was AdSense revenue)
In my five months at engtech.wordpress.com my most negative experience with has been themes. Theme selection isn’t a problem, there are a number of themes to choose from (although there is a distinct lack of cat-focused themes, but hey, I can suggest one). It is the inconsistency in theme features.
Choosing a theme is like buying a house, there are purely cosmetic features that will appeal to some, but what’s of real importance is the bare bones — the foundation. My goal is to find the themes with the best foundations, and hopefully draw attention to the themes with poor foundations so they can get some Automattic lovin’.
Around once a week I’m going to review 4-5 different themes on WordPress.com and post my findings. I’ll highlight features and bugs, as well as develop a spreadsheet of what’s available so that the WordPress.com community can evaluate themes at a glance. Luckily switching themes is very simple, so I can do it all with one test blog.
This is why I read the WordPress.com forums: pressing
Alt-B Alt-V in the Rich Text Editor brings up a second menu with advanced options.
UPDATE 2006/09/22: The keystroke has changed to Alt-V. Alt-E can be used to switch between Compose and HTML mode.
UPDATE 2006/09/23: Mr. Matt of WordPress points out that you can insert page breaks instead of paragraphs in the Rich Text Editor using Shift-Enter.
UPDATE 2007/01/10: If you’re having trouble getting it to work, make sure you click in the text entry box first. Also try Alt-Shift-V instead of Alt-V� (if Alt-V is bringing up the View menu in your web browser).
The biggest surprise was that you can cut-and-paste from Microsoft Word to WordPress and have it generate good HTML!
It has options for
- selecting text and applying formatting
- heading 1-6
- underline (also Ctrl-U)
- align full (full justification, IE: text is fully justified on the left and right columns with extra spaces between words)
- text colour
- paste as plain text (instead of doing an OLE paste that will retain formatting)
- paste from Word (haven’t tried it, but I assume it correct some of the HTML cruft from Word)
- remove formatting eraser (leave text content, but remove and of the HTML around it, useful for correcting a messed up section)
- clean-up messy code (HTML auto-correction)
- insert custom characters (accents, special characters like copyright and trademark)
- undo (Ctrl-Z) and redo (Ctrl-Y)
After the break, formatting examples.
There are only two things about wordpress.com that seriously annoy me.
I was looking at the Presentation option on my dashboard, and I noticed the “Edit CSS” button. My first thought was that some kind soul had bought the feature to force me to make this site more readable. But no, this the Automattic guys being the geniuses that they are and letting you try out and mess around with the stylesheet before you buy.
Damnit, it was so easy to avoid purchasing this feature when I could lump it in with “CSS Editing is Hell”. Now that I can try it out and potentially develop something I really like, I know I’m going to get suckered into it.
WordPress.com is the best freely hosted blog solution. That’s why I use it. They’ve always been saying they’ll eventually offer pay features to make money. Today’s feature announcements (new minimal Sandbox Theme , private user-level access controlled blogs, custom CSS for a fee) revealed the first pay feature.
One of the main advantages to running a wordpress.org self-hosted blog versus a wordpress.com multi-user blog is the ability to customize your layout via themes and install plug-ins. WordPress.com offers a limited selection of 38 themes. The themes are very inconsistent. Each theme supports different features and has different bugs. In fact, the only thing themes have in common is that they all seem to have bugs.
I wonder if the ability to customize CSS for a fee will deprioritize fixing theme bugs even further? I trust the guys at WP, but I know that fixing theme problems would be the last thing on my list if people could get around it by using custom CSS.
The price is a reasonable $15/year. The average cost for having a custom WordPress blog hosted professionally elsewhere is around $7/month. I’m assuming that once you’ve paid it is good for all of the blogs hosted on your user account, but it may be by individual blog.
Update: it is per blog, not per user.
I hope once they’ve added other wordpress.com “products” they start offering bundles. There should always be a bundle with all the wordpress.com products that is similiar in cost to hosting elsewhere.
Evolving Trends is what I think the perfect example of a well-layed out WordPress blog looks like.
- Little sidebar clutter.
- Lots of tags to make it easier for people to find his blog and to increase inbound links.
- Intrasite links (Related and Semi-related) on every post to ease navigation to similar articles.
- A sane amount of Web2.0 social bookmarking site submissions chiclets on each article.
- Each post is a well thought out article instead of a quick link (like this post).
- …and as I mention again and again, the occasional off-beat post with a sense of humour.
Google Sitemaps has been updated to offer site statistics if you’ve verified your blog. The verification method requires either uploading and html file to the website root directory or placing a specific meta tag in your HTML HEAD element to prove that you are the owner of the website. Both of those methods of site validation are not possible for users of WordPress.com because you do not have the ability to edit the HTML template.
I was asking Lorelle of Lorelle On WordPress to see if she had any suggestions for a workaround and this is what she had to say on the subject matter:
Honestly, if you have a WordPress.com blog, then skip submitting your sitemap. WordPress.com’s pinging service gets you totally into Google. Focus on creating intrasite links between your posts, use Most Recent Posts in your sidebar, and choose a Theme with good intrasite links well-featured, and you don’t have to bother with this. Google finds you and crawls WordPress blogs REALLY well. Submitting a Google site map would be redundant, and could penalize you.
Be sure and create a body of work, about two to three months of consistent blogging before you do a search on Google to find out how many posts it has found. Usually they are found by Google within hours, but you make it into the page ranking through time and volume.
As for verification, I didn’t have to go through that when I wrote this article and submitted my blogs. This may be a new feature. All you should need is to follow the instructions above.
As for meta tags, some WordPress Themes include meta tags in their Theme’s header. Check your source code to find out if they do. If they didn’t, understand that few search engines even pay attention to meta tags any more, so they aren’t the SEO feature they used to be. Too many people abused them.
Pings are the way to go and you can get much more mileage to know who WordPress.com pings and how to ping other search engines and directories.
Well, I found another WordPress bug and consequently wiped out a post that had taken me a while to put together.
Right underneath "Add trackbacks" where you would expect a submit button is the delete button.
If you hit the "Delete Post" button you will be prompted with a dialog box that says "Are you sure you want to delete that post? [OK] [CANCEL]"
If you choose cancel it gives you a *second* prompt "Are you sure you want to do that? [No] [Yes]".
Of course, I'm thinking "Yes, I'm sure I want to cancel deleting that post".
This is also the same dialog that you see when ever you publish an editted post, so it isn't unreasonable to think it's not doing something harmful.
Unfortunately, the second query seems to be asking you again if you want to delete that post, as you are quickly present with a blank page.
I'll keep this updated as to whether or not it was possible to recover the post. My glance at the WP interface doesn't seem to show any kind of undelete option. I'm glad they recently put in an Import/Export feature so that it is possible to make personal backups every now and then. It's too late now, but definitely something I'm going to start doing for the future.
The theme I initially settled for was "Silver is the New Black 1.0 by Gregory Auld". The problem I had with it is that categories are displayed flat with no hierarchy. WordPress.com installed some new themes this week (1, 2).
What I'm looking for is
- hierarchical categories
- doesn't have "empty categories*" bug
- uses a good amount of horizontal space (not fixed width)
What would also be nice
- looks good
- displays the number of posts in each category
* The "empty categories" bug is that if a parent category is empty then the child categories are not displayed.
Here are the candidates:
|Dusk 1.1 by Becca Wei||Flat (looks good though)||Doesn't support hierarchy|
|Blix 0.9.1 by Sebastian Schmieg||Hierarchy||Fixed width, does not display categories on the posts|
|Connections 1.0 by Patricia Muller||Hierarchy (with posts/category)||Empty categories|
|Emire 1.0 by Phu Ly||Flat (looks good though)||Doesn't support hierarchy|
|Fresh Bananas by Jeff Wheeler||Hierarchy||Empty categories|
|Supposedly Clean 1.0 by Alvin Woon||Hierarchy (if sidebar is on right)||Fixed width|
|Sweet Blossoms 1.01 by TalkXHTML.com||Hierarchy||Fixed width, pink with little hearts|
The show down on features is between Blix and Supposedly Clean and Blix wins. Even though they are both fixed width, Blix is wider. Also Supposedly Clean does not respect widgets properly (it shows "About Author" and "Links" even though I have those widgets removed).
It looks like Blix is the winner on technical merit, although I'm not a big fan of the colours.
Well, I found my first bug with WordPress tonight. I decided to change the "Jobs" super-category to "Careers", and all of the sub-categories disappeared. Luckily, the categories still exist on the individual posts, they have just disappeared from the "Manage Categories" and "Add to Categories" views.
The work-around is to recreate the "Jobs" super-category, refresh and then the sub-categories will reappear. Manually edit them and change them to be under the "Careers" super-category, then delete the "Jobs" super-category.
The fix would be to move all sub-categories when renaming a super-category.
Note: even though this bug exists, you still want to rename the "Jobs" category instead of just creating "Careers" and moving it because there were some entries marked with "Jobs" that you want to move to "Careers".
I have to laugh at the work-around I was using to have a categories in Blogger versus the simplicity of WordPress. So far I am really enjoying it. It was very easy to import the existing posts from Blogger. I seems very well organized as far as maintaining categories, posts, links (blogrolls). I also like how there are options for creating static pages (like an About page), and then automatically generating a site map off of those.
One really great feature is that you don't have to modify templates at all, which makes switching between templates very easy (unlike Blogger where you would have to merge over your links, etc). WordPress seems to be designed so that all the blog specific information is stored as part of the blog, not as part of the template.
Update: The category hierarchy is interesting. When viewing posts in a parent category, it will automatically go through all of the child categories as well. If a post belongs to multiple child categories in that tree, then it will repeat.
Update2: Just tried out Sidebar widgets for the first time. This is a very good idea. It lets you change the look of your sidebars without affecting your themes at all. There are several interesting default choices (including Flickr photostream). They don't seem to have all of those "Add to Digg" etc badges, but I'm sure I'll find them somewhere.
Update3: I'm really impressed with the HTML Post editor for WordPress. It has just the right amount of features to be very useful (bold, italic, strike-through, lists, block-quotes, alignment, links/images/line-breaks, spellchecker and the ability to look at the raw HTML to fix something to look very specific). I especially like the status bar that shows you which element you are on, so if you want to grab an entire table or a specific row of a table you can.
Update4: The Post editor for WP has a re-sized bar for text entry. That's so cool. The spell-check feature is rather versatile as well, as it will underline in red all of the misspelled words, and then you can right click to get a list of suggested correct spellings. I'm a bit surprised that it doesn't recognize "blog" or "WordPress".