Building a link blog with WordPress

I recently pushed a whole bunch of updates live to my site here. The goal behind all of this was simple: combine what I love about the power of WordPress with some of the features of Tumblr.

For a while now I’ve been keeping two separate blogs. The main site has featured more long-form writing while my Tumblr has ben a repository for what I find interesting throughout the day. To me, this kind of fragmentation just doesn’t make much sense so I set out to find a way to accomplish both goals with one CMS.

The structure

One of the main things that I wanted to do was to create some type of distinction between categories of posts. This is something that Tumblr does that I think is necessary for a blog that posts a variety of content. I accomplished this by first finding a great set of icons from Glyphish and second by some nifty php code.

The new setup has what amounts to 6 different options for every post that I publish. There’s categories for links, photos, quotes, video, audio, and then everything else. Each one of those categories references a specific icon that displays to the left of the headline and serves to give some idea of what that post is about.

The code

The tricky part was figuring out how to alter the permalink structure of WordPress so that all posts in the link category would function properly. What I wanted to do with these links that I occasionally post was to emulate what Gruber does with Daring Fireball: when he posts a link the headline takes you straight to the source.

I think that this is brilliant and exactly how a link blog should work. I’ll post a link here because I think that the original source is worth reading; thus, I ought to make it as easy as possible for a reader to get to that original page and read the article.

By altering the functions.php file that you can include in WordPress themes I changed the permalink structure in both the RSS feeds and as it displays on the site so that any post title in the “Link” category would go straight to the source. If you’re interested you can download the file for yourself and make use of it. It’s a really simple solution that just makes use of a custom field to link to the original piece.

The design

After setting the structure and the code in place I decided that I would revamp the design as well. I’ve been trying to find a way to balance content and minimalism in such a way that reading articles is easy and enjoyable but that if you’re trying to find more articles or pages they’re a short click away.

I took a lot of inspiration from the DePo Skinny Theme that Derek Powazek wrote as well as from sites like Daring Fireball, Instapaper, and Tightwind. I think that these sites all present content in a fairly unobtrusive way that allows for readers to really focus on the content.

To accomplish this I did a couple things: I kept the navigation simple and out of the way at the top and bottom of pages. I also decided to go without a sidebar and rather opted to keep ancillary content in the footer or on separate pages. This means that reading is now much easier as there’s essentially nothing that gets in the eyes way as it moves up and down the page.

The site’s built of the fantastic system and uses @font-face for all of the custom font rendering. The masthead is set in Alexandria while headlines and headers are all set in Delicious. The rest of the site is ideally displayed in Helvetica.

In the coming weeks I plan on cleaning up the code a little bit, something that’s most likely quite necessary since I wrote it all in an evening, and possibly releasing it as a GPL theme. Unlike past themes this one is also here to stay. I’m happy with it and find that it’s actually making me want to write more posts so we’ll see what comes out of that. Any feedback with likes/dislikes is definitely welcome and if you can think of a way to improve something let me know.


Mo Jangda says:

Might just be me, but I’ve always found Gruber’s method of using the headline as the link to be counter-intuitive. I prefer the traditional method where the link is placed after the content that most blogs tend to use; it’s a good example of Fitts’ Law in action.

Also, just curious, did you look into integrating the built-in Links functionality that WordPress has instead of using custom fields?

Andrew says:

It’s a good point that you raise Mo and I do think that the style of linking is probably a personal preference for most. For me though I’ve always enjoyed the way Gruber does it and find other blogs to frustrate me sometimes.

The way I look at it is this: I use the links category in a similar way to my Publish2 links, a means to pass on interesting information. My Reading List pulls my most recent Publish2 links; however, instead of clicking a headline and seeing the resulting Publish2 page for that link you are instead just taken directly to the article.

I think that as link aggregation becomes more common on the web this will be the type of user experience that becomes the default. Granted, that’s just a hunch but it’s what I’m betting on and thus, what I’m orienting this blog toward.

I did consider using the built in Links function but decided that for my use custom fields were easy enough and fit my workflow better. Using Links could be good though if I release the theme as a GPL.

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