Adventures in WordPress

This page chronicles the things that I’m learning about using WordPress, so ideally I’ll update it on a regular basis. Hopefully it will become a quick intro to help guide others through using this system, though there is plenty of more in depth advice on the WordPress site.

Firstly, there are two flavours of WordPress. The most obvious is WordPress.com, which is a hosted service, with no need to download any software at all. Simply sign up and you’re immediately ready to start adding content. It’s free of charge, but you can pay to add extra features, such as better control over layout. It gives you a domain name at WordPress.com but for $18 a year you can have your own domain name while still having the site hosted.

The alternative, WordPress.org, is free software which you can download to a web server so that you can host your own site. Many ISPs support WordPress and it’s possible to start with a WordPress.com site and migrate that to your own server. A separate ISP would be able to offer additional services, such as email addresses to match the website domain name.

For the hosted version, WordPress will display adverts on your site, using this income to cover the costs for what is otherwise a totally free service. For self-hosted sites you have the choice as to whether or not you want advertising on your site, and if you do opt for advertising then you keep the income, making this a better option for anyone who wants to earn money from their blog site.

A further advantage of self-hosting is that you remain in control of the site. There are some complaints in the wordpress forums that indicate that WordPress has in the past simply cancelled some themes, causing those sites to default to another theme resulting in a loss of some custom elements and generally requiring a lot of unexpected work to get the site looking the way that you would like it to.

To start with
Getting started with WordPress.com is really easy: you just need to supply a name for your site and an email address for yourself to sign up. The next step is to pick a theme which determines the layout. There’s not much flexibility in altering the layout – certainly not anything like you might expect from a page layout program like QuarkXPress or a web designer like Dreamweaver – but you can easily switch from one theme to another to get different effects and you can tweak each design to a small extent.

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There is a bewildering choice of themes to choose from. I strongly recommend starting with the free themes and experimenting with different themes to get a feel for how they work and what kind of features you want to use. It’s easy to change from one theme to another but some things will need to be adjusted as you do this, because different themes support different features and are based on different underlying code bases. For this reason I also recommend not paying to add extra custom features to begin with until you’ve worked out exactly what you do need.
Each layout comes with two pages – Home and About, with Home being the front page to the site. The About page is a straightforward blank page where you can type in text and add pictures. You can add extra pages and these will all have their own link from the main menu. Some themes allow you to add nested pages, complete with a drop down menu to access them.
The Home page functions in a different way, as this is the blog. Each blog entry that you post shows up one after the other in the main column, with the most recent at the top.
The layouts mainly appear to affect the Home page and the blog’s title bar. You can switch from one layout to the next quite easily. They mostly appear to be made out of two or three columns but in reality there is a single central column for the blog posts, plus one or two sidebars that hold extra features such as the list of recent posts and a Search button. Most themes appear to lock one sidebar to the left side of the page. In some cases, the second sidebar moves according to the size of the page, for example, from the right side when viewed in landscape mode on an iPad to the bottom when the iPad is turned to portrait mode.
Of the other pages, only the fonts appear to be affected with the main design choice being where you put the pictures.
Most themes give a choice of white or black backgrounds and some allow you to choose different colours for the headline or background. You can add extra features, known as widgets, by dragging them from a list to a sidebar area. The widgets add all sorts of functionality, from the ability to search the site to display additional pages or a logo.
Some themes have more features than others, so its important to get a sense of which features you actually need when setting a theme. For example, only some themes will work well with mobile devices, which would seem to be important as many people read blogs while on the move. For this, you need to choose a theme that supports Responsive Widths, and then to set that up in the Settings–Mobile part of the Dashboard.
Some themes will offer multiple sidebars, usually one to the right or left, but a small number will also let you have two sidebars together on one side of the page, which is particularly useful for any kind of magazine type layout. But, you must be careful to check the size of the main column, and of the sidebars, which can vary considerably from one theme to another.

The WordPress app
One of the big advantages of WordPress is that it can be administered from a mobile device via an app. Actually, this is essential if you’re working from an iPad because it’s difficult to administer your site via a mobile web browser. But it’s also handy to be able to post an update direct from an iPhone.

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