Adapting…

Well, I’ve been with WordPress for, what?, a week now.

I probably visit WordPress.com a couple of times a day, I’ve gone through the process of subscribing, and unsubscribing, from several blogs. I’ve already experienced finding fifty emails in my mailbox when I fire the computer up. I’ve been amazed that people have started following my blog, although I expect they’ll unfollow when they realise how dull my life is.

So, a lot of the week has been spent working out how wordpress.com’s dashboard works (I’m going to try posting this on a schedule, rather than immediately). And not just WordPress. I installed Grammarly to help with my typos and am pretty impressed – I’m going to buy their premium subscription just as soon as I feel like spending £100/year on computer-related subscriptions. In fact, I’m using Grammarly to compose this – it kicks in for comments, but not in WordPress’s “Post Composer” – presumably it hooks into various HTML tags, which the composition page doesn’t use. I’m already seeing a consistent message that I use too many commas! But certainly a step up from Firefox’s default spellchecker – so ineffective that I had to go check whether it was running or not!

There are some things, though, that aren’t technical. Rather than can I change a post?, questions like should I change a post?. Not at all technical, instead one of principle. I have always had the power to edit my posts and comments, and I’ve used this occasionally to enhance what I’ve written, or just to correct typos. Never really to alter my point, but just my words.

Now, I’m aware some people are looking at my posts. I’m a lot more uneasy about changing them. If somebody reads X, and writes a comment on X, then it’s not really acceptable for me then to change X into Y. I’ve decided that for that reason, I can’t edit things I’ve already published. If anything, there’s a lesson in this for me to slow down the process, to check and check some more, to make sure I don’t publish exactly what I want to say. With some comments that I know I need to word carefully, I already have a 12-hour rule – I have a “cooling-off” time before I say anything, until I get my wording straight in my head. I’ve been burned a couple of times, especially with other stroke survivors, because we’re all at different stages of recovery. I try never to say anything which might be offensive, but I know I can be…irreverent, sometimes. I try to apply this rule, those times where I don’t, I often wish I had!

There is an exception here, though, and it’s those dratted typos I mentioned earlier. Whenever I notice one, I am frankly embarrassed, especially as for every mistake I spot, there must be 100 others go through unnoticed. I will correct them if I see them. I have to – I can’t knowingly leave silly mistakes out there for the world to see. I hope you understand, and if you wish to message me when you see one of my typos, I promise I’ll be grateful, not offended.

Too Good To Be True?

I was unbelievably pleased that my migration from Blogger happened so smoothly. Within a day, probably, I had something ready to share with the world. I suppose the abortive attempt a few weeks ago helped out, just in terms of having a pre-idea of how to set things up.

I didn’t quite go the whole way with WordPress, just as I never did with Blogger. I bought the domain name through my usual registrar (I’ve probably got ten domains with them). They allow me full management. For the Blogger site, I set up a few things to point to Blogger, so when I made the change, I reset these to point to WordPress. Because I own it, I can make these changes without having to ask so-and-so to do such-and-such.

WordPress still likes to manage a few things. When I performed the migration, I thought it was really smart, because things like my email worked perfectly, right from the off. WordPress must’ve looked up the old data and brought it across.

At this point, it gets technical. When you set up gmail.com (or any other email server), you have to set two things up, your incoming server’s address and your outgoing server’s address. For each one, you publish the server’s IP address. When you’re huge like gmail, you’ll have different addresses for each.

So imagine somebody opens their email program. When they’re picking up their emails, they’ll connect to one of the servers.

Then imagine that they then decide to send an email to joe.bloggs@gmail.com instead, their email program looks at the other address, so it knows where to send the message.

I own strokesurvivor.me.uk, so the plan was to change the web site settings from Blogger to WordPress but to keep the mail settings the same.

I could see it was all working, so I probably didn’t look closely enough at the settings. I assumed that wp had been really smart and pulled the old settings across, and I was good the whole weekend.

Today, though, my email program stopped picking up messages. It gave an error when it tried to read them. That was weird because people could send to me without any problems. My current wp settings mean that wp alone is sending me 50-odd emails per day!

So I looked closely at these settings, and here’s the weird thing: some of them had been set up, some hadn’t. The settings for somebody to send stuff to me were there, but not the ones my email program uses to receive.

Fortunately, my blog’s email is all hosted on my mail server, so I’ve been able to log directly on to that to see messages, and nothing was lost. And, I’ve made sure that the necessary settings are added in wp. Lo and behold, my email program is fine now.

A hiccup, no more. I can kind-of understand how I managed to pick up email after I migrated, because changes take time to propagate around the world, but I’m stumped, why wp picked up some of my original settings and not others.

Categories vs. Tags

I’m quite an organised person. When I wrote my posts in Blogger, it had a “subject” field in the metadata associated with each post. Over time, there were probably 20 or so subjects, which people could search on to make my posts on a certain subject more visible.

A great idea.

WordPress has the same idea, but two structures. You can assign a post a Category. Categories are basically closed lists. You can add a new category if you wish, but at the time of writing a post, you can either not select a category, or select one or more existing categories. You can’t just invent your own.

Blogger’s idea of a subject is one-dimensional. By which I mean, I can have a wider subject such as Health, and a more narrow subject such a Diabetes, but Blogger just sees them as two separate subjects- the wider/narrower aspects exist purely in my mind. In WordPress, there is a hierarchy. Health is the main category, and Diabetes is a sub-category. I mean, presumably, you can have subcategories of subcategories of subcategories… I’ve only gone to three layers (that’s probably as much as a reader can handle, anyway) but I can imagine the underlying data model. That is one of the things I probably will like about WordPress – that the basic product is a collaboration between software developers, so it’ll probably have a logical structure.

WordPress also has things called Tags. These are free-form pieces of text that you can use to describe a post. They’re like Categories, but they’re free-form, you’re not constrained to choosing something from a list. WordPress’s Tags are very similar to Blogger’s subjects. (OK, at this point I’ll admit that I’m using the wrong word to describe the Blogger functionality. Blogger actually calls it a “label”, but I’ve used them to hold subject text. So, strictly speaking, WordPress’s Tag equals Blogger’s Label.)

Just from a “purist” point of view, Tags are good, but Categories are better. The tighter you can define a post, the better. With free-form text, you can always mistype something, but you’re picking the wrong item from a list is a bit less accidental.

When I imported all my Blogger posts yesterday, WordPress obviously did some behind-the-scenes work too, didn’t just import the content of each post. It imported labels, too. As Tags.

No big deal, although going forward I’m going to start writing using Categories. So, last night I started the process of going through each post and changing Tags into Categories. It’s an onerous process, but it’ll give me more structure afterwards.

I suppose that as a result of this exercise, I have found out more about grammar-checking, and am actually writing this post in an application called Grammarly. Actually, it’s very good – I’ll copy it into WordPress once I’m finished. Plus I’ve found out about WordPress’s Bulk Editing tool. That allows me to see a list of posts and to edit Tags/Categories on each, without going into the post itself. It’s a bit less sexy and a bit more functional than their main dashboard, I’d guess it’s a previous version.

So that’s where I am right now. Even though I have found a quick way of doing things, it all still takes time, and I imported just shy of 400 posts. Still, I’ve just completed Page 6 of 20, so I’m about a third of the way through, and there’s no massive hurry. It’s a little bit inconvenient for a reader but hey, right now, what readers?

Success This Time

I got really hacked off with Blogger yesterday. A guy I know from his WordPress.com blog tried to comment on one of my posts, but couldn’t. I thought I’d sorted it by not forcing him to have a Blogger (Google) account, but no. So I had to go trawling for why Blogger did not allow i* users to comment, because of its use of cookies. Sure enough, this guy uses an iPhone and Safari.

It’s possible that he could change his browser settings to accept these cookies, but why should he have to? Instead, I changed my blog – dumbed it down, basically – so as to allow him to leave a comment.

But I was really turned off by the Blogger experience – I think if you’re going to have a blog, one of the top priorities is to allow other people to interact with your posts. So, overnight, I decided to give wordpress.com another go.

If I were going to change at all, going through WordPress.com was a no-brainer, because the three or four blogs that I follow are all on wordpress.com, so there won’t be any issues logging in, to comment of each other’s posts. I’m still not convinced by WordPress itself, but…..for better or for worse. In fact the only thing I found so far that it couldn’t do is to embed videos. But, I only had three anyway, so I uploaded them to YouTube instead, and linked to them in my posts instead. And because of my tendency to mis-type, I’d very much like a spellchecker, but for that, apparently, I need a plug-in, and a more expensive subscription. It feels weird to pay all this money, and to get messages telling me I still haven’t paid enough. Anyway there is a workaround on an add-on to the browser instead, which should help with all web forms not just the “create post” form on wordpress.com.

So, that was after breakfast, and it has taken the afternoon to go through the links on the site. Even now, I’m not finished but the main pages are done. In truth, because I’ve now tinkered with wordpress.com, it was a darned site quicker this time around. I’m probably ready to publish the site and just rely on people to report broken links. Actually, knocking up the site was easier than the first time because I knew how to do things.

When I posted from here last time, I never got so far as assigning tags to posts. My categories in Blogger imported as tags, so I’ll stick with that – there’s almost 400 posts on here. So….next challenge!

All change!

As I’ve said, following the abortive WordPress move, I decided to spruce up the site. 2½ years ago, I started the site off with a pretty orangey theme, which must have appealed to my Dutch sympathies. Because I hadn’t been blogging for long, this was all pretty much out-of-the-box, I fiddled with things like fonts over time.

I then decided to spruce things up again, a very sepia theme. Sufficient deviation from Blogger’s “factory” theme that I took care to keep a backup, just in case.

Since the wordpress episode, I’ve decided to change once again. In fact, the base was just one of Blogger’s minimalist templates, which I subsequently customised into a kind-of “After Eight” theme. For those of you who aren’t UK, a dark green theme. Right now, it looks elegant, but I expect I’ll tire of this, sooner or later. but being able to take something barebones and customise fonts and colours, that was a big win for Blogger over WordPress.

When I moved back from WordPress, I checked all the post-to-post links were working. I think “all” in any case. There were akmost 400 posts to go through, so it took a while! I’ve also tried to rationalise the labels of each post. I kind-of work on the basis that I want to have as few labels as possible, provided I have a label to cover the post. If not, I’ll create something new. Certainly with some of the early posts, there was a lot of label-editing happened, just because the blog grew organically into what it is now.

So, new theme again. I hope you like it! You can, of course, use the buttons below the post to tell me!

Failure

The experiment is over. My daliance with WordPress is over. I fiddled around with it yesterday and Tuesday, but… it felt a bit like wearing a straitjacket.

I went through the wordpress.com subscription process, having justified to myself that the price of a subscription would be worthwhile I forked out the cash on Tuesday morning. My Blogger site imported nicely, seamless so far. Posts, pages, media, comments…the lot! I then wanted to set up all my domain credentials. With Blogger, I set up the domain, configured the name servers and DNS settings. Blogger said, if you want your domain to point here, just add a few domain prefixes in the DNS. Just like “www”. I added these and, bingo! With wordpress.com, it was a little different. A bit easier, I guess, for a novice user, but less control. wordpress.com just said, “point your name servers to us”, and they took over from there. I did find a way that I could subsequently manage settings through their site, but by then I’d made my decision.

I’m trying at this point to find an article which clearly explain what name servers and DNS are, but failing miserably on the “clearly” front. If you imagine you have a bunch of phone books covering a big city. Do you remember phone books? Well the name server is which one of the phone books you use, and DNS is your phone numbers in that book. A real-world example of DNS is where you type “www” in front of a domain name, to signify world-wide web.Against this record, is the address of a computer, the domain’s web server. Another typical value might be “mail”, say, which points to the mail server. I’ve been brief rather than acurate, but it is near enough.

When you buy a domain name, some companies (e.g. the company that I use) have their own name server (phone book). You use this by default. But you can also change to a different name server if you like. If you choose to stick with their phone book, you can set up whatever DNS entries you like. Like I say, this is your actual name and address. Full control, that’s why I use them. Beyond that, there’s basically a trade-off between control and ease of use. When I signed up with wordpress.com, I said I had the domain name already, and wanted to maintain ownership. You have the option of transferring management to them, but again you surrender control. The solution was for me to keep ownership of the domain, but to reset my name servers over to them, thereby surrendering control of the DNS entries. Obviously, they’d set the ones critical to the blog!

The blog it created looked decent, but I couldn’t configure the appearance anywhere near as much as I can with Blogger. It was frustrating, having this page in front of me, wanting to tweak it, and being unable. I mean, I’ll say early on that if you have no html experience, WordPress is probably easier to use to build a slick-looking web site, but it does that by hiding a lot of things away from the user. You might feel that if you’re starting a blog, you’ve got enough on your plate creating content as it is, but I was unimpressed. I tried to customise something called CSS, which are the instructions they send to a browser, to tell it how to display your page, but I was told that I needed a more expensive plan to do that. Having come from a free platform to start with, to one that cost £48 per year, you can imagine how happy I was to have to pay yet more! Getting cooler!

I did actually create a post in wordpress, although again there were fewer options than in Blogger. They had a nice effect where you could make the first letter of the paragraph bigger. This looked good, but posed problems when I subsequently tried to copy/paste the text into Notepad. Funny, one of the things that was missing, that I find invaluable these days, was a spell-checker. You’ve seen how badly I type! Cooler still.

I also found a funny where it looked like I couldn’t set up my email. An existing mailbox, an existing server. When I hit the links, it wanted to sell me a Gmail address, at more money per month. When you set up a Gmail address through Google, it’s free anyway. These guys were out to get every penny! Ironically, after I cancelled, I discovered a screen where this looked to be possible, but by then it was too late.

The last straw was when I attempted to contact their support team, to find out about this email business. I couldn’t actually get as far as making contact, merely looking at one page or another in their knowledge base. ‘Course, none of their articles covered anything as intricate as what I was looking for. I decided that a relationship with a company I couldn’t even contact was doomed to failure.

So, I’ve spend today putting everything back onto Blogger, including a bit of “rebranding” a new theme. I’ve even customised the CSS – in part, because I can.

There was one silver lining in the cloud – literally. Once I decided to stick with Blogger, I decided to do some tidying on wordpress.com. I figured, I’d bought this hosting plan for two years, the least I could do was to have it point to my real blog. Instead I found a button which at first offered to cancel my subscription (i.e. to not renew it in two years’ time) but this led to a button which allowed me to cancel my subscription immediately, including a refund. So at least I have my money back.

As far as I can tell, everything is safely back on Blogger, looking good and in full working order. The experience has cost me nothing but time. but really having gone through the process I understand only too well some of the pitfalls associated with wordpress.com. So, next time somebody tells me that they use wordpress.com, I’ll take note of their IT skill level!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure wordpress.com is appropriate for some users. If you hate the idea of going anywhere near html, you might like it, although with Blogger, you don’t need to write code either. Furthermore, with the core wordpress.org product, this gets rave reviews precisely for its flexibility, so I’m sure wordpress.com have taken a deliberate decision to eep things simple. And I’m told that wordpress has lots of shopping cart-type plug-ins (certainly with wordpress.com, more functionality equals a greater subscription cost) which are way beyond Blogger’s scope. Blogger is specifically written for blogging, no surprise there.

There is also a warning here. I was lucky to get the refund, but while I’m not earning I can’t really afford to spend that kind of money, without getting some kind of return. I must be more careful in future before committing myself to things.

 

Took the plunge

I’ve been toying with the idea of switching my blog from Blogger to “WordPress”.

I put that term within quotes, because the first thing I had to learn was exactly what WordPress is! As it turns out, that’s not such a daft question.

The core WordPress is a content management system. That is a familiar term in computing. This product is free, open-source… all the good things we expect from the internet. The product is based at wordpress.org and is written in PHP – a language which is supported by absolutely everyone.

It hits a MySQL database. MySQL is another common product, traditionally with an “open” ethos, although I learned from my last project that they are now owned by Oracle (a big, proprietary database company), so who knows? In any case, WordPress can work with other databases, it’s just that MySQL is the common one.

This whole application is known simply as “WordPress”.

So the raw product is just an application that you host somewhere. And that’s where it gets fuzzy.  There is a host – wordpress.com – a commercial company, out to make a profit, who run this application, and who are also known as WordPress!

So, I was looking at moving my blog from Blogger to a WordPress site. I’m still not convinced that either will beat the other with a knockout blow, but aficionados tell me that WordPress is the better platform. As regards which host I used, it didn’t overly matter. The main thing was that it import my existing Blogger posts in. Everyone I know uses wordpress.com, so that’s who I ended up going with.

And yesterday, I finally bought a wordpress.com subscription. This is my first post using that platform. My initial impressions? Well, it imported okay. It didn’t get many of the page-to-page hyperlinks right, I need to sort them over the next few days (weeks, probably).

I’ve already seen a “dumbing down” effect. Previously, everything was under my control. Now, it is slicker but I have less control.

Visually, they’re much of a muchness. wordpress.com offers a richer choice of templates, but once you choose a template, you’re bound in. Blogger has fewer templates, but has more choice exactly how you lay your page out.

So, no firm feelings on whether I’ve made the right choice. I’m still in the have I / haven’t I made. I’m already missing the spellchecker that I used to have on Blogger. Worst-case, this is a few pounds down the drain.

Enough?

I had a disaster yesterday. You know I was talking about moving to WordPress? Well, I was exploring how I’d do this. I had a successful backup of the Blogger site, from the day before. I wrote a post yesterday, but the backup was near enough complete.

The disaster occurred when I managed to re-import this backup file, over my existing files. I can only say that I was expecting another screen to come up, but instead it said “Importing…”.

The result? Well, I ended up with two of everything. Posts, static pages, comments…

The main problem was not, though, the stuff I could see. Lots of these pages have links to other pages in them. When you write a post, Blogger assigns it something called a perma-link, so you’ll be able to get back to that page, well, permanently. A nice straightforward:

So then began the clean-up. From the Blogger UI, I had no way of spotting the difference between my original posts, and those I’d just restored. So I was flying blind. Furthermore, when you restore pages, Blogger must recalculate these permalinks. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except for my next step. In other words:

 This image starts to show the problem. Page 1 was pointing to Page 2 still, but I was unable to see any difference between Page 2 and its duplicate.

So, I started deleting (what I thought were) the duplicate posts. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure whether I was deleting Page 2 or its duplicate. The end result?

I had this in all three scenarios,

  • Page 1 is a post, Page 2 is a post (there are a few of these, but scattered all over the blog)
  • Page 2 is a static page, Page 2 is a post (there were only 9 static pages, for example the “About” page at the top-right of the blog, but they contained probably fifty links to posts in them
  • Page 1 is a page, Page 2 is a comment. Comments must be linked, internally, to some kind of “Post ID”. If the post subsequently gets deleted, the comment is an orphan. There were eighty comments.

So, having deleted the duplicate posts, that was the rest of Sunday. As you might imagine, I sorted the static pages (absolutely fine, you’d never know the difference unless you actually looked at the hyperlink) amd the comments. That’s how I know the exact extent of the problem. With the static pages, I even took the opportunity to bring them up to date.

But post-to-post? Well, I’ve looked through recent posts and sorted them. I’ve looked through the most popular posts, and sorted them. Third, I’ve installed a custom “not found” error page, which explains to people why the links might be screwed, and invites them to contact me. I’m not sure what more I can do.