Why blog? A background

Okay, so this is my maiden post on my shiny new blog. And what better topic to start with than the blog itself? For a while now, I’ve been looking for a better way of blogging regularly. I had dabbled with the likes of Tumblr and Medium, but I guess the control freak in me wanted a blog I could call my own (and of course with analytics I could monitor). Plus, while you can embed Medium on any website quite easily, all visits to your blog section count as visits to medium.com and not your domain! Bad for vanity numbers in your analytics, even worse for your SEO.

I briefly considered doing it all manually on my personal website, which I first built last year by customising an excellent template from HTML 5UP. But that would have been way too cumbersome – it would have meant opening up Cyberduck and adding new code every time I wanted to write a post! I decided to keep the static HTML homepage for now, because it’s good for me to practice with raw code – I just needed to bolt on a blog. And therein, I guess, lies the main benefit of using a service like WordPress (which I went with in the end). Being able to create and edit posts from my iPhone or iPad (yes, I am an Apple fanboy) is really quite cool.

For a long time now, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with WordPress. In a previous life, a company website I worked with was powered by WordPress and utilised a particularly glitchy theme. As this was long before my coding days, I spent endless hours pulling my hair out trying to make pages shareable, keep images updated, embed social media feeds, and much much more. It’s incredible how a big an impact the wrong choice of theme can have. Anyway, it was this episode that convinced me to avoid using WordPress for company websites. From now on, everything would be built from scratch. And so, a WordPress snob was born!

 

Hard at work

 

I’ve always been fascinated by coding. It’s an incredibly useful skill to have, even if you’re like me and you just know the basics. Once you have access to a reasonably up-to-date computer (Macs are still best!), the stuff you can create with a little bit of effort is genuinely mind-boggling. Initially I was daunted, but having been surrounded by developers for a large part of my career, I was always able to ask for advice – which reminds me, never be shy about asking devs code-related questions. They love talking code!

I also got my hands on a great book called HTML & CSS by Jon Duckett. This really seems to be the bible for aspiring web developers and I’ve found it incredibly useful so far. Ironic I know, using an actual book made of real life paper for learning web development. Maybe I’m showing my age here, but sometimes you just can’t beat having an actual book to leaf through for reference. Good to give the eyes a break from screen time too.

 

Themes & plugins

I digress. Once I made the decision to give WordPress another go, that was just the beginning. I needed to integrate a WordPress blog with my static HTML website. There was some SQL stuff to be set up first, but it was really self-explanatory thanks to blacknight.com, my hosting provider. I also found a really useful article at the New Jersey Graphic Design website that I referenced throughout.

I then of course had to choose a theme. I started out with a freebie called Hemingway. Pretty slick for a freebie, but pretty soon I found it limiting. I knew I wanted a look similar to Medium too. I did quite a lot of digging and found a theme called Literatum. I loved its parallax scrolling and it seemed pretty easy to implement. I bought it for around €50 and spent an entire afternoon setting it up and all was great. Then I looked at a post on my iPhone and learnt my next lesson – parallax scrolling is a nightmare on mobile devices! So I got my hands on another theme called Ink (another €50). It looked great, and didn’t use parallax scrolling. Plus, its author offers 6 months of support after purchase (the Literatum author doesn’t offer support at the time of this post). Bingo.

The next hurdle I had to overcome was getting my head around ‘child themes’. What the hell was a child theme??? It turns out, a child theme is great to use because it lets you modify your chosen theme (such as CSS for example) without having to edit the actual theme itself. The benefit? Simple – when the theme author decides to release a theme update, you can go ahead and install the update without losing your modifications. Again, something that sounded unnecessarily complicated turned out to be pretty simple and very cool. And, luckily for me, Ink comes with its own ready-made child theme.

So, I was nearly there. Next came the plugins. Which ones did I need? There are thousands! I’ve always been a fan of keeping things as simple as possible, so after much searching I decided to keep it to a minimum. Google Analytics was a no-brainer. I also wanted to include subtitles in each post header – one of the very few things that Ink didn’t offer as standard. So I installed Subtitles and left it at that… or so I thought.

Finally, there was the whole sharing, commenting and subscribing thing. I briefly looked at Facebook Comments and Disqus – both looked decent. WordPress’s own comment system wasn’t bad either. But then I discovered Jetpack, which could integrate directly into my WordPress account – this would allow people to post comments using their chosen social network profile, and it allowed me to include subscribe functionality (though I’m not really sure I need this to be honest!). I also preferred its post-sharing functionality – Ink’s own sharing buttons I found to be a little glitchy when tapped on mobile (they opened up the relevant app alright, but no sign of any auto-generated tweet/post). In short, Jetpack convinced me to add a third plugin so I could manage all of the above from my WordPress account.

 

The end?

That more or less brings us up to date. You are looking at the end result right now. I still have a few things to tinker with – it kind of reminds me of that old quote: “a book is never finished; it’s abandoned” (Gene Fowler).

Anything else you’d like to see here? Feel free to leave a comment below. And thanks for reading this blog’s inaugural post!

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