WordPress 101

I’ve gotten a few questions about WordPress lately, so thought I’d share the bits and pieces I’ve learned as a relative newbie. For those of you who aren’t into web stuff, feel free to skip this one.

I knew almost nothing about WordPress going into this, but there were a few things I wanted to accomplish:

  1. Maintain all of the content from my old site
  2. Host my blog on my domain and mirror it to my other sites
  3. Create a theme that could be easily tweaked or updated without a lot of work

At this point, I’ve accomplished most of those things.  The initial setup took several weeks.  One of the hardest things was finding and customizing the theme, which sets the look and layout of the whole site.  I found the Atahualpa theme, which is highly customizable.  This means more work, but it also meant I could make it look the way I wanted.  Atahualpa supports a fluid layout (meaning it should work on small and large screens), and gave me an overwhelming number of options.  I even got to create a little Jig icon that should show up in your favorites menu if you add my site to your favorites 🙂

After that, it was all about the plugins and widgets.  These are basically modules that you upload to add various functionality.  Some work better than others, and most of them are provided “as is”.  Here are the ones I’m using so far:

  1. JournalPress – allows me to mirror the blog to LiveJournal and Dreamwidth.
  2. Google Analytics – lets me track site stats through Google.  (So far, I seem to be my #1 visitor!  Go me!)
  3. Akismet – spam buster!  It’s blocked five spam comments already.
  4. Easy Contact – creates the Contact page on my site.
  5. Global Translator – inserts those nifty little flags on the right that allow you to translate the site into various languages.
  6. Sociable – adds a button at the end of my posts allowing folks to share them on Facebook, Digg, E-mail, etc.  (These only appear on the jimchines.com posts, and don’t mirror over to LJ or DW.)
  7. Subscribe Me – creates the button on the right to let you subscribe to the blog.
  8. Subscribe to Comments – exactly what it sounds like, letting folks subscribe to the comments on a particular post.
  9. Exec-PHP – this was the scariest one I added, which allows me to execute PHP code within the body of a page.  I needed this in order to add the “Latest blog post” excerpt to the home page.
  10. MySpace Crossposter – in theory, this crossposts my blog to MySpace.  In reality, the dang thing crashed my blog posts and doesn’t work.

The “Latest Novel”, “Find Jim Online”, and “Free Fiction” bits on the left sidebar are all done with the built-in Text widget in WordPress, which lets you code in whatever text or HTML you’d like.  The “Recent Posts” and “Archive” on the right are also built-in widgets, as is the search option.

Creating “pretty” permalinks required an e-mail to tech support, since the modifications required were beyond what I could do.  (This changed my web links from things like http://www.jimchines.com/?page_id=2 to http://www.jimchines.com/about/ ).

Everything else was details.  I created the banner in Photoshop, working on something that would still look good even with the ends chopped off on smaller monitors.  I manually edited the CSS code to make the horizontal lines (see the Bibliography page) a little smaller and color coordinated with the rest of the site.

Overall I’m fairly pleased.  I miss having all of the cover art on my bibliography (see the old Bibliography), but I don’t see a way to make that work.  Image layout gets a little ugly when mirrored to LJ, so I’ve had to edit a few LJ posts to make them look better.  I haven’t decided what to do about the “What I’m reading” and word count meter I used to append into LJ, since that doesn’t work as well now.

So there you have it.  Not as flashy as Jay Lake’s professionally designed site (I love what Jeremiah Tolbert put together there), but as a total amateur, I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve managed to put together.

I’m no expert, but I am most certainly a geek, so I enjoy this stuff … except when I change a setting and crash the whole site, of course.