Mark’s (we)Blog 2.0

Just under six months ago, I changed hosting providers and moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress. Ever since then it’s been tagged as Mark’s (we)Blog [v2.0β] but the time has come to remove the beta tag… after all I’m just one bloke doing this in his (limited) spare time so things are unlikely to ever be “finished” to the standard I would like!

So, after a few months of running the site on WordPress, were my initial impressions valid? Was it all worth it?

Yes, I think. It’s been hard work getting everything working the way I like it – I’ve had to edit every single post, categorising them and correcting markup issues (my own fault for not writing decent XHTML in the first place, although in the case of embedded video clips I’ve actually had to regress to a non-compliant solution).

Then, as I’ve edited every post there have been hundreds of pingback comments to approve (remembering to update the date and time on the comment to match when the post was originally published).

Editing the template to suit my needs has been great fun (and has really helped bring on my CSS skills) – Andreas Viklund (who wrote the original template) was very helpful in providing me with his original photograph so that I could produce a larger version (with help from my friend Alex) after I increased the width of the content. Alex also helped me out with a cell spacing issue on the few occasions where I used tables (in a semantically correct manner) with a little-known piece of CSS (border-collapse: collapse;).

One of the great things about WordPress is the extensibility of the platform – there are hundreds of plugins available and it’s these plugins that have allowed me to extend the functionality of the site, adding features such as external link highlighting, category tagging and control over meta tags (although I have stopped using others, such as Adsense-Deluxe as I found I could achieve the same result by editing my WordPress template) – at the time of writing, this is the list of plugins that I’m using:

There were also some other sites that provided advice/material for the site’s development (but not plugins):

There’s also really good support documentation for implementing code changes such as conditional tags (e.g. to allow sponsors’ advertisements to only appear on certain pages); however getting meaningful responses on the WordPress support forums can be pretty sporadic.

Of course, there is a downside to running on a self-hosted platform (cf. WordPress.com, Blogger, etc.) – I need to patch the software myself. Luckily, my web hosting provider uses the Fantastico system for installing popular applications (including WordPress) and I can use that to apply updates too (although even Fantastico is not immune from some issues… as I found when I upgraded to WordPress 2.2 – more on that in a moment).

I’ve also learnt some tricks along the way and I think it’s only fair that I post them here:

  • Firstly, after importing a large number of posts, I wanted to change the author. I can’t do that in bulk from within WordPress; however I did find a reference to using PHPMyadmin to run a SQL query and change the author for all posts on the database matching certain criteria – the query I ran in the SQL tab was UPDATE wp_posts SET wp_posts.post_author = "2" WHERE (((wp_posts.post_author)="1"));, where “2” is the ID of the new author and “1” is the ID of the current author.
  • Another day, after making a mistake editing the comment submission code, I found that all of the new comments were being attached to one post. I needed to move the comments to the correct posts by browsing the wp_comments table and editing the corresponding comment_post_id.
  • I also wanted to display the allowed (X)HTML for comments and didn’t know the correct function call (it’s <?php echo allowed_tags(); ?>), then, to change the tags that are allowed, I needed to edit the kses.php file (and will need to keep that updated after WordPress upgrades).
  • I’ve also found that, although I had my permalink structure set to /%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%.htm in order to maintain the links from the old (Blogger) site, the postname is defined by the slug and the slug must be unique for the entire site, so some posts have had -2 added to the end of their name (I used .htaccess redirects to manage this but didn’t spot the changes until after Googlebot had reported the links as not found).

It’s not all been plain sailing though.

  • For example, I found that not all of my comments had been transferred from the old site and had to copy and paste the missing ones manually, then go back and edit the author details, date and time. Then, there was a period of about a month when I couldn’t generate pingbacks (nor could certain friends leave a comment) – it turned out to be caused by a single comment which was accidentally dated in the future and once that was changed everything jumped into life.
  • Then, there is the blog spam, thankfully handled pretty well by Akismet although I no longer have time to check for false positives.
  • The built-in WordPress search function does not seem to work as well as the Google Search facility that I provided on the old site. I hoped that adding the full text search for the related posts plugin (ALTER TABLE `wp_posts` ADD FULLTEXT `post_related` (`post_name` ,`post_content`)) would improve this but it doesn’t seem to have helped.
  • Also, after the WordPress 2.2 upgrade, I noticed that characters like the UK currency symbol (£) were appearing as odd characters – a simple edit to the wp-config.php fixed that issue (commenting out define('DB_CHARSET', 'utf8'); and define('DB_COLLATE', '');) – further explanation of this fix can be found at My Digital Life although I haven’t been brave enough to convert the character set and collation yet.

I got there in the end – all the posts have categories assigned and I’m pretty sure that most of the CSS bugs are fixed now so am glad to say that the site is out of beta. Out of beta – but never finished!

So, that’s v2.0 but what next? Well, there are a few bugs that I’ve not yet fixed:

  • The print stylesheet does not work consistently across browsers
  • Some graphics are wider than the main content column and need to be resized.
  • External link identification is not accurate with .co.uk sites (and Internet Explorer places the external link icon in the wrong place)
  • Some graphics used for tracking page impressions (for advertisements) need to be removed.

I may also provide options for alternative themes (I particularly like Dean Robinson’s redoable theme), I’d like to sort out the poor searching, there are some accessibility and user experience enhancements that I’d like to implement and I’m bound to spot more snazzy plug-ins to add to the site. I’d like to use my own photos in the masthead and I also need to do some code optimisation as the page load times are a bit high and my bandwidth usage is rising faster than planned (more visitors are a good thing and ascomi are always happy to help out when I get close to my bandwidth limit but I’d like to bring it back under control).

I always like to hear from people who use the site – feel free to contact me and suggest enhancements, or to provide feedback/bug reports on the site.

Now, if only I could think of a better name than Mark’s (we)Blog (which was only ever intended as a working title and more than three years later it still hasn’t been replaced)! Any ideas? How about “Confessions of an infrastructure architect: echo $HEAD > dev/web”?

4 thoughts on “Mark’s (we)Blog 2.0


  1. Alex,
    You sound offended that I dared to criticise WordPress – don’t get me wrong – I love it but felt the need to point out a few tips and a single criticism (on which, based on experience with the readers of this blog, I’m sure I’ll receive some advice).

    My only problem is that the results don’t seem that relevant/targetted and when I’m searching for a post about something I wrote to link back to, I might have to go through 2 or 3 pages before I find the right one. Searching the codex hasn’t helped me either – I thought there might be some advanced search operators (AND OR NOT etc.).

    There probably are plugins that I can use (thanks for the recommendation) and I could revert to Google but after 6 months of never getting around to finishing the site it was about time I shipped something… regardless of how well the search function works (at least it’s there).

    Mark


  2. I’ve not had any major problems with the search, that’s all, and I wondered what yours were. I’m not offended; it’s not as though you were criticising Apple ;)


  3. Personally I like wordpress, because it is the best way for blogging. It is easy, seo friendly and you can use plugins which you want. By Blogger that isn’t a fact probably, because I don’t know a lot about blogger, but my feeling says wordpress is the best way for blogging.

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