Tag Archives: WordCamp

WordCamp Philly: WordPress & Version Control

Dave Konopa talked about how to get control of WordPress with version control in the second session at WordCamp Philly. Version control gives you a safety net you can step back to at any time. It allows you to manage different streams of development work. This lets you simultaneously develop new features while still patching existing bugs.

By creating a documented history of code changes it makes synchronization and collaboration much easier. It all requires commitment, though. You need to do it every day so that you don’t end up with a haphazard project.

The two big options: subversion and git. Subversion is a centralized repository system while git is a distributed version control tool.

With git, when you’re ready to share you code you can push all your changes to a remote repository. You can clone a repository and also create a staging area for intermediate work.

The easiest implementation of version control for WordPress is custom plugins and themes. While you could use version control to manage your entire site it’s probably more than you need unless you’re working on a significantly large site.

If you’re a git fan but want to stay up on the recent changes to the WordPress code base it’s all mirror through a Github repository that Mark Jaquith set up. It’s synced every 30 minutes so you can keep up with anything that’s coming down the pipe.

Dave’s last bit of advice was to learn by trying. The best way to learn how to use version control effectively is to use it. Get a plugin up on Github, experiment with things, and have fun. The slides from the talk are all available on Github.

WordCamp Philly: Building Community

The first session of the day at WordCamp was with Patrick O’Keefe who talked about building a community around your WordPress publication. Patrick is from iFroggy Networks and has written a book entitled “Managing Online Forums.”

Patrick believes there are 3 key things to do to create a strong community. You need to have quality products and content. You should appreciate your readers, commenters, and followers. Finally, you must create a respectful and healthy culture around your content.

Quality content, email, and comments are the three types of “community by default” with any site. They let anyone come in and participate on your site. To encourage more people to get involved it helps to shine the spotlight on commenters sometimes. Forums, comment plugins, and social networks extend your community and allow more people to get involved.

With forums and lots of other social aspects of your site Patrick says, “If you don’t set it up to be successful then it won’t be.” It’s not enough to just have a forum linked on your homepage. You need to feature it, highlight content from it, and more. You cannot launch something and leave it alone, any community needs a significant time investment.

Key to anything you do though is ownership. Patrick emphasized that you need to own your content and your community in a tool that is truly yours. He also talked about things like edge rank which is Facebook’s algorithm for surfacing content in your news feed.

Ultimately, “people want to engage with you in spaces they already are.” The less friction between discovery and participation the better for your community’s growth.

WordCamp Portland: Educators and WordPress

Shannon Houghton led the first unconference session at WordCamp today. She’s a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher at an elementary school in Federal Way, Washington. She uses a WordPress site for her classroom.

The class blog is used to contact students as well as authors. Shannon also posts lesson plans on the site as well that are all available to download.

Access to sites can be a problem in school districts. Shannon’s district usually blocks access to blogs by restricting domain names. Having a custom domain name routes around this though and lets her students access the site from the school network.

Like many school districts they require all school data to be hosted on their own servers. Shannon’s site isn’t currently hosted there but the district as a whole is moving to WordPress from Dreamweaver sites so she’ll likely be able to move on to the school servers.

One issue mentioned with sites was controlling access and permissions to a site or a network. One plugin that can help do this is called Role Scoper. There are others like User Role Editor. They’ll give you a level of granular control over user roles and permission.

Someone in the session asked where the other teachers in the room got their tips and tricks from. Shannon mentioned Edutopia as a great resource that isn’t blocked on school networks. There’s also a large teacher community on Twitter that organize nightly chats relating to specific grade levels or topic areas.

Another person mentioned the biggest flaw in WordPress as its lack of event calendar support. School districts really need a good event calendar plugin. This district uses Schoolwires which has a granular calendar feature but was described as terrible otherwise.

For setting up a demo site for your work I highly recommend using a local installation on your computer. There are terrific instructions on the WordPress Codex that walk you through how to do this on a Mac or a PC.

For anyone who was in the session and has more questions feel free to get in touch. I’d love to talk more about how WordPress can help teachers and schools.

WordCamp Portland New User Workshop

This weekend is fast approaching and it’ll be filled with WordCamp Portland.

In addition to the WordCamp we’re running a new user workshop on Friday, September 16th from 9am to 4pm. We did this at WordCamp San Francisco and it was a blast. Over 60 people went from total newbies to knowing everything about publishing with WordPress. Now, you can join them.

If you’ve always wanted to start blogging but never knew how, now’s your chance. We’ll walk you through each step of the process and by the end of the day you’ll have a great looking site you can take with you.

Or, if you’re one of those people who is always the default “guy/gal who knows about computers” in your social circle you can use the workshop as a way to get all your friends set up with sites. We’ll do the work so you don’t have to. :)

By the end of the workshop you’ll not only know how to publish and customize your site but you’ll be prepared to get the most out of the two days of unconference sessions as well. You might even think of a session topic to pitch yourself.

WCSF: How the web works with Jeff Veen

Jeff Veen opened Sunday’s sessions with a talk about how the web works. He started with a story about beer and how 200 years ago the only way you could have a cold beer was if it was winter or if you were rich and could transport and store ice.

Frederic Tudor was an entrepreneur who turned ice into a business. He became quite profitable and later realized that he could make a greater fortune by shipping that ice to the Caribbean and all over the world.

Technology marched on and people found ways to create ice in warehouses that did not need to be shipped. It could be stored and created locally. The companies that were successful warehousing ice did not successfully transition to ice in the home. Newer entrepreneurs eclipsed the traditional businesses.

A similar thing happened with gold transportation. Wells Fargo and American Express were experts in the stagecoach business. However, they anticipated the changes coming and restructured their businesses around the conveyance of information instead of the shipping of physical goods. They made this transition rapidly too, needing only a few days.

So the question is, are we building companies like the ice warehouses or like the gold businesses? How do we know which path our business will take?

We’re in a similar situation now where incumbents are losing ground to services like Hulu, Spotify, and Pandora who are native to the web. The same thing is happening with typography.

The ability to embed web fonts has revolutionized the model that foundries have relied upon as their business. This is what Jeff is doing at Typekit. They’re trying to help foundries be like the gold companies and less like the ice warehouses.

So as we look back we realize that the ice industry was less about ice and more about health. The gold industry was not about moving bullion from San Francisco to New York but was about transforming wealth into data that could be communicated. Likewise, media is not about selling assets but is rather about services that make consumption seamless.

The qualities that contribute to the success of the web are also what will make us successful.

On the web the thing that wins is that which generates rough consensus and has running code. It’s the code in people’s hands that ultimately is successful. The first person out with running code in front of users can generate momentum.

Jeff also quoted Jeff Atwood who says:

The velocity and responsiveness of your team to user feedback will set the tone for your software, far more than any single release ever could.

Jeff Veen uses Twitter to see if the code deploys they’ve made that day are impacting the experience of users in a positive way. Iteration will get you closer and closer to perfect.

In other words, “The speed of iteration beats the quality of iteration.”

We’re putting our most valuable memories on the web with Flickr. We’re also creating a collaborative record of human history with Wikipedia. The web is not dead, in fact it’s never been more vibrant or successful. To keep it that way we need to protect and advocate our open systems and avoid the walled gardens sold on a broken concept of safety.

Geocities is an example of these walled gardens which can just be shut down by a single company. As Jeff said, “There are literally people who don’t give a shit about the web.” That’s who we need to protect the web against.

WordCamp St. Louis: It’s about time. It’s about type!

Mary Baum was one of the last sessions of the afternoon and was talking about typography on the web. Mary has a long history in design and typography and believes it’s about damn time we have full access to type on the web.

The web-type drought

Up to recently we have all be frustrated by the limited typographical options we’ve had for 15 long years. 5 choices is not enough, it’s time we had more.

Mary pinpoints the web-type drought ending on the day Paul Irish posted his work on @font-face in September of 2009. He saved us. :)

We came from a time of Times, Georgia, Verdana, Trebuchet, and Tahoma. Now we thankfully have tons of options with different typefaces. Embedded OpenType has been around since 2004 but it’s only till recently that type foundries have opened up licenses for use on the web.

Background with WordPress

Mary just got started with WordPress within the last year but in that time has put hundreds of hours into learning WordPress themes and just enough PHP to be dangerous. She got started with the Thematic framework but is now working with the Genesis framework but also uses Elegant themes for some sites.

Type options

Cufón, sIFR, Typekit, fonts.com, Google web fonts are all options that we have now for using typefaces in our sites. There’s plenty more but those are the ones Mary pointed to as worth using and, in some cases, paying for.

All those hosted solutions are good but Mary still prefers going the route of using your own fonts on your own server using @font-face. One thing to be careful of though is uploading the license information to your own server as well so that it’s clear you have the rights to use that font on the web.

When using @font-face you want to be careful to make sure you have a bulletproof CSS set up for your font. Fontspring posted an updated version of bulletproof CSS to use that will cover all the way back to IE6.

WordCamp St. Louis: The Anatomy of a Premium WordPress Theme

Brian Fegter gave a talk in the afternoon discussing WordPress premium themes. Brian runs Mister Nifty where he works with churches of all sizes on their tech needs.

He got started by covering the truth about commercial themes. As he says:

There is not one single theme that does not require support. You must build a support system

Brian also believes that software development needs to be for the customer. This is why support and documentation are so important. As he pointed out, a purchased theme rarely stays in its original condition.

Having a solid template architecture is also fundamental to creating a good premium theme. Brian pointed to the WordPress Codex for information on theme development and template hierarchy.

Brian set down a credo for properly developing a theme. He believed that you should:

  • follow template hierarchy patterns
  • clearly name supporting files and folders
  • never, never, ever, never, ever nest a plugin inside a theme
  • clarity over cleverness

WordPress assets are your friend when coding a theme. There’s a lot that is built in to WordPress which will let you easily enhance a commercial theme without a large code footprint. The main things discussed were:

  • clearly named sidebars
  • custom post types only when necessary
  • define theme locations for menus
  • localize your strings
  • set WP image sizes vs image resizing scripts
  • leverage the power of CSS with body_class() and post_class()

He also showed off some cool functionality in the UpThemes framework that’s available on Github. There’s lots of sweet stuff built in there for Google fonts and more.

In some ways code is narrative. Your theme tells a story and has an intended result. The back-end code should clearly narrate the story of the front-end display. All this helps because clean code leverages the brain to quickly identify and associate words with functions.

Functions though need to use prefixes and should only try to accomplish one thing. If any function includes things that can be spun out into a separate function then they should be spun out that way. For code comments with functions Brian says that:

If it’s necessary to comment about how a function works, your code stinketh.

It’s also a good idea to use built in functionality for things like browser detection and content filtering. This keeps you from having to add lots of server overhead and user frustration. In other words, we should be creating useful code, not duplicate code.

Every university auditorium should be required to have power outlets prevalent throughout the room. Good thing someone brought their own power adapter to this one. :)

WordCamp St. Louis: WordPress for Writers and More

Shawntelle Madison gave a talk at WordCamp St. Louis titled “WordPress for Writers, Publishers, and other Content Providers.” Shawntelle is an urban fantasy writer with a new book coming out. She also works with design firms in St. Louis and has been working with WordPress for over 5 years.

With her book coming out Shawntelle has seen both sides of the coin with what publishers require from author websites.

WP in the publishing community

It’s a lot more prevalent than you first think. Shawntelle polled 47 authors from various genres and 85% were using WordPress. The user-friendly Dashboard, ease of theme changes, and flexibility with widgets and plugins were favorites.

They also like it because it’s far easier than coding a site from scratch. When your job is writing content you don’t want to be spending all the time coding and designing your site.

Branding

Shawntelle said that “branding is very important for authors.” The design is what readers first see and it should really fit with the genre of your writing.

A great example is Scott Westerfeld who has a site which fits his steampunk style writing quite well.

What’s common

Authors expect a few key features for almost every site. They like having things like:

  • Newsletter integration
  • The ability to add a backlist of books
  • Integration with social media
  • Other basics like ad management, contact forms, and a well-designed blog

Most authors Shawntelle works with already have had some experience with WordPress. They don’t want a complex front-end layout and prefer to keep things simple.

Determining who is responsible for site maintenance is key to any project you work with an author on. Many won’t keep the site updated so figuring out who will be responsible for that going forward is crucial.

Shawntelle also mentioned some of her favorite and most useful plugins from projects with authors.

Publishers

Out of the 6 big publishers 2 are running WordPress in their work.1 Random House and Hachette use WordPress to power parts of their imprint on the web.

For example, Random House uses WordPress to power their At Random site. There’s tons of reader guides, audio and video, as well as links to the books in the Random House catalog.

Data from the existing Random House catalog was used to power things like the New Releases slider and more on the site. They also link up to services like Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing.

  1. The big 6 are Macmillan, Random House, Penguin, Simon and Schuster, Hachette Books, and HarperCollins.