Tag Archives: Wordpress

WordPress 101 – Themes

WordPress themes not only add design interest to your blog, they can often add functionality too. For example, the Gazette is a WordPress blog, but with a magazine-style theme making it look less “bloggy” and more like a web site. Yet, it still maintains all the benefits of a blog. Stop by Moultrie Creek Books and you’ll see a WordPress blog used as a storefront to show off the books on sale there. Now travel on over to Moultrie Journal and you’ll see a more traditional blog but with a very cool photo slider front and center to catch your interest. All of this is done with themes.

The Gazette runs on the Magazine Basic theme from Themes by bavotasan.  He offers both free and premium themes at reasonable prices. Both the bookstore and the Journal use themes from Elegant Themes. This designer uses a subscription model for his themes. You subscribe for $39/year and can use any of his themes. Elegant Themes include several styles of photo sliders, an extensive shortcode library and a number of different page templates that will turn your WordPress blog into a quite impressive site. Looking for feminine themes? Take a look at bluchic. If you don’t want to get too carried away, you might take a look at simplethemes. These themes don’t lack style, but they don’t require the work needed to make your posts look good within the theme. [More on that in a minute.]

Sample settings panel for a theme from Elegant Themes.

Many of these premium themes come with their own settings panel where you can choose colors, fonts, layouts and more without needing to know much about web design. The sample you see here is from Moultrie Creek Books. If you want a custom heading, you will still need to create your own graphic file, but your theme will often provide details on size and file type to use as well as provide the upload facility to get the file loaded in the correct place within your blog.

Shortcodes sample.

One feature to look for in a premium theme is shortcodes. While even the most basic WordPress site includes shortcodes for embedding media into a blog post, other themes provide shortcodes to create buttons, boxes, magazine-style text callouts, text columns, tabbed text and more.  In the shortcodes same shown here you see an example from Moultrie Creek Books where I use two shortcodes – a box and a text column – to generate the book details for each book listed. When a theme doesn’t include shortcodes, you can install the WordPress Shortcodes plugin to get that functionality.

Another very useful feature found in newer themes is that it’s mobile friendly. The term used is “responsive” If your blog uses a responsive theme, your content will automatically adjust to whatever device your visitor is using to view your site. With so many of us now using tablets and phones to access blogs and web sites, this is feature will be most appreciated by your readers.

WordPress.com users aren’t left out either. They have a huge selection of free and premium themes to choose from. Thanks to upgrades to the WordPress platform, these themes now allow a lot more customization than earlier themes did, giving you lots of flexibility to modify your design. Here you see one of the free themes listed in the theme catalog. Click on the Details link to get a description of the features included in the theme. This one supports sticky posts and featured images and lets you customize both the header and background.

Use the Live Preview button to get an idea of how the theme will look with your content and experiment with the options available for that theme to see how your customizations will work. With Live Preview, you can do this without impacting your current theme until you have everything just the way you like it. I use the Under the Influence theme for my fictitious Moultrie Creek Online Historical Society at WordPress.com. It gives me lots of flexibility without costing money. It’s also available for self-hosted sites at WordPress.org.

While a premium theme with all these new features will make your blog look great, there’s often some level of extra effort on your part too. For example, to get the magazine look here at the Gazette, I need to create an excerpt for every post I publish. And, to make them look their best, I should include a featured image too. If you go look at the front page today, you’ll see this post is currently the one of only a few posts with a graphic. In the bookstore, I use the book cover image as the excerpt for each book post in the store so you can browse the “shelves” like you would in a brick and mortar bookstore. At the Journal, each of the photos in the slider are posts, but there is a specific way they must be set up to generate the image and caption just right. All of this takes time and effort, but the result is worth it.

WordPress gives you a lot of design flexibility through its theme component. There is a huge community of theme designers offering everything from minimal to extravagant options. You not only have the opportunity to have a design that’s completely yours, you also have the ability to change it whenever you’re so inclined. All it takes is that first step.

 

Reporting Live

It doesn’t matter if it’s a major conference, a monthly meeting or a social event, there are a growing number of ways to provide live updates that will allow those who can’t be there to get live reports from the event. The solutions shown here are either free or low cost ways to share the excitement of your live event. And, in some cases, you can even provide two-way communications between the live and distant participants.

Twitter Widget

Twitter has developed a widget that works much like embedding a YouTube video or Scribd document onto a blog or web page. You choose the options you want in the widget builder and Twitter gives you the embed code to paste on your site. The widget can be configured to present a single user’s timeline, all the tweets associated with a list or with a hashtag. In the example you see below, I’m created a widget for the #RootsTech2013 hashtag. Right now there are only a few tweets, but come back to this post once chatter about the conference starts picking up and you’ll find there’s a lot more to see.

    Because it’s a widget and WordPress only supports widgets in “widgetized” areas – usually the sidebar or footer – I’m also using the Widgets on Pages plugin which lets me display the widget here in the post.

    The beauty of this solution is Twitter itself. Tweets can be sent from just about any kind of portable device – including many “not so smart” phones set up to text to Twitter. Smarter phones can send photos as well as text updates. And, all of those updates can get published with minimal bandwidth meaning they are more likely to get published in situations where Internet connectivity leaves much to be desired.

    Live Blog with WordPress

    The folks at WordPress.com have come up with another fabulous plugin for self-published WordPress sites which will turn a WordPress post into a live blog offering updates from multiple authors as they are submitted. I saw this in action at The Verge during the Kindle event last week and it was very impressive.

    Once the plugin is installed, you just create a new post with a title and some introductory text, select the checkbox defining this post as a live blog, then publish the post. Now, go to your blog’s home page and you will see that post with a data entry box just waiting for you to add more information.

    A live blog just waiting for one of the event’s reporters to add an update.

    Event “reporters” will need to have author accounts on the blog and be logged into their account. They will then see this view from the site’s front end with the New Entry box just waiting for them to add an update then click the Publish Update button. Their update will appear immediately below the editing box with their name and a datestamp showing when it was published.

    As you can see on The Verge example, Readers do not see the New Entry box or the Publish and Delete buttons. The page will update each time new entry is published so the reader doesn’t need to constantly refresh the screen either.

    I was able to post updates using Safari on my iPad, but the image drag and drop only worked – for me anyway – on my desktop.

    Sample image dragged onto the edit form from my desktop.

    This option would be good if you have several people dedicated to reporting from your event. Although the reporters don’t need WordPress experience to submit their updates, someone with WordPress knowledge will need to help manage things like photos. It isn’t as mobile friendly as the Twitter option so the updates won’t be as spontaneous either. On the flip side, since you control who can author updates, you can also set limits on what to post. In situations where controlling the message is important, this could be a better option.

    Storify

    The Storify platform allows the publisher to pull content from across a number of social sites as well as web sites to build a centralized “story”. These are not live updates, but more like the nightly news report. With Storify, the publisher collects and curates items from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Google+ and even RSS feeds. You choose which items are to be included in the story, their order and you can add your own comments as well.

    Sample published story using Storify.

    Storify stories can be viewed in the Storify platform or they can be embedded into a blog post. Although it would be tough to curate a “daily update” from a large event like a conference, it could be a very nice option to report on a keynote address or individual sessions. The nice thing about Storify is each story can get “set up” ahead of time. In a conference situation, this could mean that links to materials presented during the session could be added to the story file long before the presentation even begins. Although these publications wouldn’t provide the spontaneous reporting of Twitter, you control which items are included without having to write each update yourself. It could be used to provide a curated report of the sessions or events using the best updates/photos/whatever from across the social media spectrum.

    Each of these options offers a way to provide updates to people who can’t attend an event. They all serve to keep those people engaged with your organization and included as part of the event – even from a distance. All are quite affordable and easy to use. The toughest part is developing a plan to incorporate them into your organization’s outreach efforts. Start small – reporting on meetings for example – to get a feel for the platforms. Once you’re comfortable using one or all of these platforms, you’ll be ready to tackle larger events.

    The technology is here and many of your members are already using it. Isn’t it time your organization did too?

    Tech Notes – 7 September 2012

    Tolomato Lane near the City Gates

    This weekend my home town, St. Augustine, celebrates its 447th birthday with parties, re-enactments and other activities.

    Moving from the historic to the technical, the big news this week was Amazon’s introduction of its newest readers and tablets. I “watched” the event at The Verge. They were using the WordPress LiveBlog plugin to post updates and photos from the event. It allows multiple authors to post live updates within a single post and automatically refreshes the reader’s view as new updates are added. It could be a useful tool for reporting from a genealogy conference or event . . .

    Amazon introduced a new e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite, with both a Wi-Fi [$119] and a 3G [$179] version. This device has a brighter screen and includes a built-in light for reading in low-light conditions. They have increased the screen resolution which makes the text even clearer. These devices can be ordered now for October 1st delivery. The basic Kindle got an update with more font choices and faster page-turning. It also got a price reduction to $69. The 3G keyboard Kindle [$139] remains part of the Kindle inventory.

    The Kindle Fire got a significant update with a faster processor, more memory and longer battery life. It also got a price reduction to $159. It can be ordered now with a September 14th delivery.

    The new Kindle Fire HD offers two sizes – the standard 7″ screen and a larger 8.9″ screen. Both screens are HD quality and are combined with dual stereo speakers and Dolby audio. The processor is faster and the Wi-Fi system has been improved – including using two antennas – to make it even faster too. Bluetooth capability will allow you to use an external keyboard and there’s an HD camera on the front of the device which can be used with the Skype app to make video calls. The Kindle Fire HD  (screen resolution is 1280 x 800) is available September 14th and there is both a 16GB model [$199] and a 32GB one [$299].

    The big story is the new larger Kindle Fire HD. They have all the functional goodness of their smaller cousin, but with a larger screen showing a 1920 x 1200 pixel display. The Wi-Fi version is available with either 16GB [$299] or 32GB [$369] of storage.  The 4G LTE wireless version offers all the goodness of its Wi-Fi cousins with high-speed wireless too. The 32GB model will sell for $499 and the 64GB model sells for $599. The wireless service for these devices is $49.95 a year and includes 250MB a month, 20GB of Amazon Cloud storage (in addition to the free storage you get for all your Amazon content) and a $10 credit in the Amazon app store. When you consider that 250MB  service for the iPad starts at $15/month – and is only 3G speeds – this is quite a deal. These devices are expected to ship November 20th.

    There’s a lot more Kindle stuff to talk about, but that will be saved for later postings.

    One news item from yesterday that all ebook readers will enjoy is the settlement of the ebook price fixing case against Apple and several major publishers. The settlement returns the pricing process to the “normal” method where retailers buy books from publishers at the wholesale price, then set their own sale price. With luck, we buyers should see lower prices, sales and other enticements.

    SlideShark has a new app for the iPhone/iPod Touch that will let you post your PowerPoint presentations at the site, then view them on the device. And, you can use the device with AirPlay to present the slideshow to others.

    MacWorld has a great article – especially for Windows users with iPhones – listing easy ways to get your pictures off your iPhone.

    WordPress released an update – v. 3.4.2 – with both maintenance and security fixes. This is a mandatory update and should be performed as soon as possible.

    If you haven’t already, stop by the bookstore and read my interview with Denise Levenick discussing her new book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes.

    That’s it for this week. Hope you have a great weekend!

    WordPress to Go

    WordPress released a significant update to its iPad app last week and this one makes blogging on the go a truly viable option. Here’s a gallery of screenshots to give you a quick look at the app.

    You can view your blog from inside the app.

    The Dashboard view gives you access to all of the work area elements.

    Choose an existing post or page to work on or create a new one. Use the Photo button at the bottom of the sidebar to create a quick photo post from your iPad’s library or camera.

    Here’s what a photo post looks like once a photo has been selected.

    This is a look at the post editor in action. Notice the limited toolbar at the top of the keyboard.

    In addition to editing content, you can manage comments and, if you’re using WordPress stats, you can view them here too.  You have access to the WordPress Reader from this app so you can use it to keep up with all your favorite WordPress bloggers – including adding your own comments. I have had one issue with the app. I can use the quick photo post option with no problem, but when I try to insert an image from either the camera roll or my photo library on the iPad, it doesn’t load the image. Not sure what’s going on there, but I hope that gets fixed soon. Once that’s fixed, this will be an awesome app for blogging from anywhere!

    Widgets on Pages Plugin

    Normally, WordPress confines the use of widgets to the sidebars or footer area of your design template. The Widgets on Pages plugin lets you put any of your WordPress widgets into a page or post. How can you put this to work on your site? Take a look at the Personal Publishing page here on the Gazette. I have used a custom menu to point readers to specific content within the Gazette site. A custom menu can only be displayed as a widget so Widgets on Pages makes it possible to include that menu on this page. This plugin is also handy if you want to put a tag cloud or a collection of links from your blogroll or an number of other widgets into your page or post.

    Once the plugin has been installed and activated, you’ll see a Widgets on Pages item in the Settings menu. Here’s where you will define your widget areas.

    There will be one sidebar item already set up for you. If you want more, you’ll first need to update the Number of additional sidebars item at the top of the screen and save your changes. Those additional sidebars will appear under the Optional Sidebar Names area. Now you have to give each sidebar a unique name, then save those changes.

    Next stop is the Widgets screen in the Appearance section. You’ll notice your custom widget areas have been added below the standard widget areas included in your theme. You can drag one or more widgets into these areas just like you do with any other widget area. In this example, you see I’ve dragged the standard WordPress Custom Menu widget into the PubMenu widget area and pointed it to the Personal Publishing menu. Notice the shortcode displayed at the top of this widget area. Each of the widget areas I created with this plugin has its own shortcode. You’ll need to use that shortcode to insert this widget on your page.

    In this example, you’re looking at my Personal Publishing page in the WordPress editor. At the point where I want the custom menu to appear, I’ve inserted the shortcode. That’s it!

    Here’s what the menu looks like on the published page.

    Whenever I update this custom menu, those changes will also appear here on this page. On a family history blog, this combination of custom menus and Widgets on Pages can organize your archives into family groups or story collections making it easy for your readers to find and enjoy your growing collection.

    Oh, and if you’d like to learn more about custom menus, stay tuned . . . that’s next week’s WordPress topic.

    Yet Another Related Posts Plugin

    One of the downsides of any blog platform is that it doesn’t take long for articles to get lost in the archives. WordPress does provide both categories and tags to help your readers find archived posts, but wouldn’t it be nice if each post included links to other related articles in your archives? Yes, there’s a plugin for that – several actually. The one I’ve found quite useful is Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP). This is one of those set it and forget it plugins that does its job beautifully.

    In this example from Moultrie Journal you see a list of four related articles at the bottom of this post. I have them arranged in order of relevance ant the number you see in parentheses is YARPP’s relevance calculation.

    Set up is quite simple. Once the plugin is installed and activated, you’ll find a Related Posts (YARPP) page has been added in the Settings section. It will look something like this. In this example I’ve made a couple of simple changes to the standard settings. First, I’ve changed the displayed text in the “Before/after related entries” and “Default display if no results” section to use the word “articles” instead of “posts”. I’ve also made a simple HTML change in the “Before/after related entries” section. The default HTML creates a numbered list (using the <ol> tag) and I prefer a bulleted text (using the <ul> tag). You see the closing tag displayed in its on text box on this screen, but the text for the beginning tag is not immediately visible in its text box. Click in the box showing <p>Related articles: and scroll to the right to find the additional HTML. Once your changes are made and saved, you’ll see your changes in the HTML code example in the upper right corner of the settings pane.

    That’s all there is to the setup. Once you’ve saved the changes, your posts will immediately show the articles related to them. YARPP uses the title, contents, categories and tags to find repeated key words. You may want to experiment with the tags you include in each post to see how they affect which related posts are included in the list. The list is dynamic and will automatically adjust as new content is added. The related articles you see at the bottom of this post today could be entirely different when you look at it again a month from now. As the content on your blog changes, so will the related posts listed on all your posts. It really is an amazing plugin.

    Tech Notes – 20 July 2012

    Early morning at Chickamauga battlefield in northwest Georgia.

    I have all but abandoned Google Reader for keeping up with the news. Twitter, Flipboard and a couple of Twitter apps have made my reading experience more enjoyable, provided a way to efficiently keep up with the news and even enjoy a quick conversation with friends. If you don’t already, I highly recommend that bloggers add Twitter along with their RSS feeds as distribution paths for your blog posts.

    Barnes & Noble has introduced a web-based book reader. Now you can access all your B&N ebooks from any web browser. I was pleasantly surprised with the interface and the ability to quickly follow links within the text makes it a very useful reader for research.

    Are you a Susan Branch fan? If you don’t have a clue, Susan is an artist well known in the scrapbooking community. She has just returned from several weeks in England (which were well documented on her blog) and yesterday gave away a limited edition of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit that she brought home with her. In the post announcing the winner, there is a photograph of a page-in-progress from her trip diary. It is gorgeous! My first thought was how well this format and style could translate into a family history project. Maybe it’s time to pick up a pen again . . .

    Over at The Signal, a delightful story about one family’s efforts in building a personal digital archive.

    Taneya’s got her WordPress webinar slides posted on her site. If you missed the webinars, go check them out.

    Evernote for the Mac has been updated. It includes support for the new retina displays (nothing I’m going to see any time soon) but it also has an activity stream. My first thought was “huh?” but when I realized that it was mostly for use with shared notebooks, it all made sense. If you’re using a shared notebook to work with others, this activity stream will keep each of the shared users informed about additions to the notebook. This can be an awesome collaborative research tool! The update is available now to Mac users who downloaded their app from Evernote. If you installed from the App Store, you’ll have to wait for it to complete the review process. Ever since that nasty bug from a couple of weeks ago that caused all those crashing apps, the reviews are taking a lot longer to complete.

    If you’re a Mac user and an Instagram fan, you may want to take a look at the InstaBackup app [Mac - $1.00]. It’s an easy way to back up your Instagram photos to your Mac.

    This week’s spotlight book at Moultrie Creek Books. Combine these writing tips with your version of Susan Branch’s creativity and you’ve got a family treasure in the making.

    WordPress Tip: Preview post in the same tab

    When I’m working on a blog post I can easily have half a dozen tabs open in my browser displaying sites supporting the topic of the article. Having WordPress open up yet another tab just so I can see what the article is going to look like can be quite irritating. Thanks to the WordPress ribbon, I can now easily move between the editing window and preview window all in the same tab.

    Both preview options on the actual editing screen will open your preview in a new tab, but if you choose the View Post option from the ribbon, it will open the preview in the current tab.

    You’ll notice that the View Post option changes to Edit Post when you are looking at the preview. Click it to return to editing this post. You can also click on the New button from either screen to start a new post – again in this same browser tab.

    It may take a bit of effort to get used to using the ribbon instead of the original links, but it won’t take long before it becomes second nature.

    FD Footnotes plugin for WordPress

    As family historians, citing sources is a fact of life. Just because we are publishing online more often than print doesn’t reduce the need for citations. And while a bulleted list of sources at the end of an article is quite acceptable, the FD Footnotes plugin for self-hosted WordPress users makes it delightfully easy to provide our sources in the traditional footnote style. Here’s how it works.

    Once FD Footnotes has been installed and activated, you’ll find a Footnotes page added to your WordPress settings. There are only two options:

    • Only show footnotes on single post/page. If you display the entire post on your blog’s home page or any of the index pages, checking this book will hide the footnotes on those pages. Footnotes would then only be seen when the reader follows the link to read the post on its own page.
    • Collapse footnotes until checked. When checked, the footnotes are hidden until the reader clicks on a footnote number or manually expands the citations at the bottom of the article.

    Adding footnotes is quite simple. Immediately after the reference text, type a number, period and space followed by the citation, surrounded by square braces such as you see in this example.

    Here’s how it looks once your post or page has been published.

    The footnotes are collected at the bottom of the post. The footnote number displayed as a superscript right after the reference is actually a link that will take you to that citation and the return arrow icon at the end of the citation is a link which returns the reader to the reference point within the post’s text.

    Do you see the error in this example? Notice that there’s a space between the end of the reference and the opening square brace of the footnote. Wherever that opening brace is located is where the superscripted footnote number/link will appear in the text. In this example, it’s hanging out there in space because there is a space between the end of the reference and the opening brace.

    Although you do need to include a number (followed by a period and space) with each footnote you create, they do not have to be unique and you don’t have to keep them organized. When FD Footnotes collects them, it automatically re-numbers them in the order they appear in your text. This is most appreciated when you have a long text full of citations.

    This plugin can’t help you format craft your citations, but it sure can make it easier to include them in your WordPress posts and present a very professional image for your writings.

    EasyRecipe Plugin for WordPress

    EasyRecipe turns a blog post into a well-formatted recipe that will show up as such in a Google search. It’s so well formatted that I can easily capture a complete recipe – including picture – with one click using my favorite cookbook app. (Paprika [Mac - $19.99 , iPhone - $4.99 & iPad - $4.99]) The only thing I have to add is the category where I want it located.

    Once installed and activated, you’ll find an Easy Recipe section added to your WordPress Settings. Check the Text/Language section to make sure all the label text for the different elements within a recipe suit your needs. If you make changes, make sure you hit the save button at the bottom of the screen.

    When you create a new post, you’ll notice the Easy Recipe button has been added to your toolbar. Because each of the recipes I blog about has a story behind them, the actual recipe is usually towards the end of the post. No problem! When you reach the point in your blog where you want to include the recipe, click on the Easy Recipe button. The recipe form appears as an overlay pane (much like the media overlay pane) on top of your post. Here’s what the blank form looks like.

    It’s easy to copy/paste recipe text right into this form. Each form entry has instructions on how to enter that particular type of information. If you want to include notes or other content, click the plus icon in front of those titles to display their sections. Once finished, click the Add Recipe button to place your recipe in your post.

    On the left you see an example of the resulting recipe as it appears in my post. You have the ability to adjust the formatting on any of the components of your recipe using Easy Recipe’s live formatting feature. Go back to the Easy Recipe settings page and click on the Live Formatting button in the Appearance section. Navigate back to a live view of the post with the recipe in it and click the Easy Recipe Format link in the Admin bar at the top of the screen. A formatting panel (shown on the right in the example above) appears and you can open each of the sections, make your adjustments and watch them change on your recipe in real time. Once you’ve got everything looking the way you want it, save your changes and this is the way your recipes will look on each post. Notice the format panel also has a Print tab. You can create a custom format for the printed version of your recipes too. And, if you want to see all this in action, watch their formatting tutorial for all the details. There’s a link to this tutorial right next the the Live Formatting button so it’s available whenever you need it.

    EasyRecipe is a delight to use and will present your recipes beautifully. If you’d like to see it in all its formatting glory, check out the developer’s blog, The Orgasmic Chef.