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: All about post formats

Today I gave a talk at WordCamp Portland about post for­mats and how they make your site awe­some. The slides are posted below and some handy links are included as well. Enjoy.

The WordPress Codex has some ter­rific infor­ma­tion on what for­mats are and how they can be imple­mented in case you need more details after this talk. Ian Stewart also gave a great talk about this at WordCamp San Francisco which I wrote some notes about before.

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.