In October I’d had enough of this website. I had topics I wanted to talk about, but getting them onto the screen was so difficult thanks to a half finished editor and a lack of motivation on my part to finish getting the site working. For the first eight years of owning this website, I’d steadfastly refused to use WordPress or any other CMS system. Then I decided to give it another go. It’s amazing what a few years of development on a product can do. The experience went from being impossibly annoying, to being relatively straightforward. Three months on, I thought it’d be worth sharing a few more impressions.
Prototyping and Setup
Installing and prototyping took all of three hours for this website. Using a subdomain, I created a WordPress installation and then fully configured it with some sample content lifted from the old website. The theme was chosen from the default WordPress catalogue and really suits what I’m trying to achieve with this website. Some people, rightly or wrongly can spend many days or even weeks obsessing over themes, paying sizable amounts of money for them, or customising the PHP to make them look just so. To me though, I wanted something that looked respectable and did what I needed.
Having confirmed that WordPress was now a suitable platform, the next step was backing up and then clearing down the old website. Followed by a clean installation of WordPress on the main CallamMcMillan.com domain. Installation, reloading the configuration of the theme and adding a few basic plugins were all easy enough, and only took another hour. The hardest bit of the setup was actually transferring the content from the old website. Because the old site used a custom data structure, the only way to automate the process would have been to write an ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) script which likely would have taken longer than just doing the work. In the end I ended up copying the source for each of the old blog posts into a new post, then publishing it and manually bringing over the few worthwhile comments. Working around my other obligations, this was the hardest bit of the process taking a couple of days to do. After which, and a bit of fine tuning the plugins, the site was once again complete.
Maintenance of a WordPress powered site is about as easy as it gets. I log into the site once per day, to apply updates and moderate any comments that have been left (I also get an email to tell me there’s a comment waiting.) That’s about it. There’s no messing about with anything vaguely technical – all that was done in the setup phase. From time to time the technology press reports on attacks on WordPress powered sites, invariably though these are sites running out of date cores or plugins. There’s no excuse for it – regardless of the type of site you’re running, from a blog like this, to “Bob’s plumbers”, you can afford to spend 30 seconds a day to hit the update button.
As part of writing this post, I’ve installed an activity monitor to keep track of the updates the site receives. Later in the year, I may quantify the above statements about the ease of updating in real numbers.
Writing on WordPress
One of the biggest pleasures of moving over to this new site is being able to write when I want, wherever I want, without having to do horrible things like using PHPMyAdmin to work directly on the database. A full WYSIWYG GUI means I can easily write large articles, with images, and be confident of what they’ll look like when they’re published. This is a big benefit, as trying to write a 3500 word article with 70 images on the old website would have been near impossible. Of course, the goodness comes with a downside, which is that the JS heavy design can lag, with some characters being missed when you’re typing quickly. This is actually very annoying, but on balance, could be much worse. When this happens, the solution is to save a draft, which forces the page to refresh and you can begin typing normally again.
Commenting and Spam
As I’ve written about previously, trying to allow comments but prevent spam is an exercise in futility. Fortunately I’ve found a happy middle ground. On this site, commenting is open – anybody can come along, bots included, and leave a comment. What’s different is that I’ve set the site to force all comments to be moderated (By default, once a user leaves a single moderated comment, all subsequent comments are posted without moderation) which stops crap getting posted before I have a chance to look at it. The great thing about people that spam sites though is that they’re so terribly unimaginative. So to stop them, all I have to do is maintain a blacklist of words and phrases I don’t want to see on the site. Longchamp and Louboutin are amongst them, suggesting peddling knock-off fashion stuff is a favourite. As this isn’t a fashion site though, anybody that mentions them goes straight to the bin. I then review the bin for false positives (In three months I haven’t found any!). Where a comment avoids the automatic filter, I review and spam bin anything else that’s left, including posts which are blatantly off-topic to try and get around the first-moderated restriction of come sites. If I pick up on a trend around the use of a certain word or phrase, it goes on the block list.
Is a WordPress site ever going to be as good as a custom written site, specified by a Business Analyst, and written by a team of experienced web developers? Probably not, but then again, it won’t cost you tens of thousands of pounds to stand one up. Some of the niggles that were originally off-putting are still here, but are less pronounced, and are less important where the focus is on writing content. To that end, if you’ve got a need to stand up a website for simple content quickly and easily, then WordPress has to at least be a consideration.