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.

Status

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.