WordPress – Past And Future

Matt Mullenweg’s interview with Blogging Pro might not have been the hyped up media event, but it gives some insights into his thoughts which will drive the future of WordPress. I really like when he says that

I don’t take competition too seriously, you have to do your own thing and not focus on other projects, but where services or features are particularly successful

There is also a very interesting link to the moment when WordPress was created. Very two powerful notions are projected from these:

  • Web is forever, it is one of the best archival systems where you will be able to find stuff for a long time, and even track it.
  • WordPress is an ideal example of open source movement. You can actually see collaboration between those comments and a common urge to build better software.

It will be really interesting to see where WordPress and WordPress.com head too. I personally feel, somewhere WordPress should look at integration into the enterprise world. However, the challenge here would be to do it without affecting the common WordPress user.

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Wordress Admin Changes

WordPress.com can be usually considered as a preview of what is coming in the future WordPress versions. It carried a new dashboard today. It is faster, has lesser boxes and shows more information, like, weekly individual comments.

The problem with such a popular tool is that a lot of users have got too used to the older layout and there will be resistance. Scoble does not like it a lot. I like it! With Akismet working hard I don’t have to deal with spam a lot, so more comments are useful. Of course bloggers like Scoble might have a different story with spam because of the huge amount of traffic. But overall, I prefer this to the older one. Just that there is a slight feeling of nostalgia ;-)

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WordPress 2.0.5 Ready For You

WordPress 2.0.5 has been released. A recommended upgrade, it should make your blog easier and secure. Mark has the entire story.

Another story is it has been nicknamed Ronan, for the first WordPress baby, congratulations Ryan.

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You Don’t Own WordPress Name

If you are not Automattic. Lorelle explains why. Sometimes it is important to enforce restrictions to preserve authenticity.

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Not Only WordPress But Even WordPress.com

WordPress family now has a full bouquet of products. But its not only the tool, the WordPress.com is now offering all the services for hosting your blog. You can now have your own domain name for WordPress.com blog along with the CSS Upgrade feature. You can choose the VIP hosting if you expect high traffic on your blog. Full marks to the Automattic team which works behind the scenes on all this.

Six Apart and Google now have to face the competition on multiple fronts – the blogging tool as well as the blogging service.

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

Random Quote WordPress Widget

I wanted to use the excellent WP-Quotes plugin for random quotes on my main blog. However it did not have a widget, so I made one. Note that it will require WP-Quotes to be installed.

I believe Dustin is planning to release the 2.0 version of the plugin which might include a plugin, so keep a tab on it. Till then feel free to use my version.

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To Move Or Not To Move

I am contemplating moving to a self-hosted blog. Not because WordPress.com falls short of anything, just that I have become greedier. I want to control more and want to experiment more.

I will definitely continue with WordPress. It has achieved the privileged milestone of one million downloads and is coming up with some dynamic features. WordPress.com too has seen massive growth, it hosts 310 thousand blogs on its first birthday. WordPress.com has time and again shown that it is one of the highest quality blogging sites, with lot of high traffic and slashdottable blogs.

I want to dig deeper now, get more control and start some experiments. The new avataar will also host some projects and some personal stuff. After some research I have narrowed down to bluehost.com, dreamhost.com and mediatemple.net for hosting with a bias towards bluehost. Feel free to suggest if you have any information regarding this. I am looking at PHP, Ruby and Python support. Any kind of guidance will be appreciated.

I am trying to evaluate the costs of moving, some are apparent and I am sure some will raise their head later. Right now though, none of the disadvantages are heavy enough to outweigh the basic advantage of being able to do more with self-hosted WordPress for me.

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

More Interesting Uses Of WordPress

Lorelle points to a detailed article on using WordPress for online magazines. Max says:

WordPress, however, is an extensible website content management system that can be used to run magazine-type websites. Here are steps I took to turn this online magazine on Cebu from a blog into its current presentation.

So very right, WordPress is being used as a CMS. You can see sites like The Blog Herald, that are inherently news sites. Supporting multiple authors, roles, scheduled publishing, custom fields, comments, static pages, multilingual support, syndication support are some of the capabilities that make WordPress suitable for this. The feature that takes the lion’s share though, are categories – multiple hierarchical categories. These categories can be used to implement so many features that they have become a must-have feature. The terrific template system along with this can work magic.

Along with the stuff mentioned by Max, WordPress automatically handles the volume and issue management. Being a blogging tool, the posts are archived chronologically, which is usual way for handling issues and volumes. Even if not, WordPress provides mechanisms for retrieving posts for any period, literally any.

WordPress is excellent, however, as a personal publishing tool only. For anything more than that WordPress can be found to be lacking as a CMS. The basic content type it can handle is a post, which can be packaged as an article or news item. For radically different items, say, events, post would not be an apt structure. In case you create a new content type, it will not be completely supported by WordPress, e.g., search will not work for that content type. Additionally, there are certain publication features that are missing:

  • customizable and extensible workflow: the default workflow is very two step and limited. Usually, in practice, magazines include multiple roles in the workflow – jouanalists, editors, publishers. Sometimes, different types of articles are to be edited by different editors.
  • version control and rollback: maintaining versions of the drafts, and ability to rollback to an older version.
  • tracing: tracing actions that can be audited.
  • search: the search is partially effective. It neither supports relevancy and does not search across pages, excerpts or custom fields. There are certain solutions, but still not what the industry expects.

Besides these, WordPress is an ideal publishing tool. The best thing about WordPress is it lets you control not just the content, not just the style, but both. Using this combination you can develop a theme that is accessible, usable and supports standards. And it has been used for websites of various types:

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda

Missing Wordcamp?

Wordcamp – A WordPress Conference was announced and is on its way in San Francisco, California.

It is a sore miss for those of us who could not be present there. Fear not, we have Matt Craven, Aaron Brazell and David Krug from The Blog Herald giving live coverage of Wordcamp. Thanks a lot guys! You can see (literally) them live blogging different sessions and contributing too to the barcamp style event. Live blogging is an efficient way to report.

More interesting stuff is expected to come out of the event. Hopefully we will get to attend the future ones. Or Wordcamp can start webcasts or virtual conferences :-) so that the world-wide user base can attend it. Nevertheless, we will see more coverage and more reports of the event later, till then continue to follow The Blog Herald guys.

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

Get More Accessible

This post is not about the commonly discussed and basic accessibility issues. They are very well covered by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This is about adding the last straws to get closer to being accessible by doing a design with that intention.

Skip Links

Skip Links function as navigators within the web page being described. They are required so that a person can navigate through the structure of the page with minimal clicks. They turn out to be an issue of accessibility for those who cannot scroll or move through the page because of mobility problems. And they are also a usability issue for the users with less than efficient tools for navigation, like mobile users.

An classic demonstration is at the 456 Berea Street site. The topmost links fall in the category of the skip links which can be used by users to skip to a specific part of the page. Since these links become part of the design itself there are various ways of including them, one of which has been discussed by the Accessites article. It discusses a way of hiding the skip links from the normal users but making them available to the screenreaders or on demand. You can try it out on the site as Mike Cherim says:

I use an off-screen method, typically taking an unordered list and sending it a few thousand pixels into the darkness off-left — using the display property none should be avoided to ensure access to screen reader users. Then, one-by-one, employing a:focus (or a:active for IE users) in the CSS, I bring the anchors, not the list items, into view. In the interest of a best practice, I recommend locating them, when viewable, in the upper-left or across the top, giving them a good background and enough positive z-index in the CSS to ensure they stand out. An example of this is available right here on this site. Press Tab a couple of times to see the available skip links in action.

As you can see, on accessites.org the skip links are provided to jump to even different types of information like accessibility information. However, hiding the links falls into the arena of usability which might not approve of it. The article very nicely highlights the importance of skip links and why they should be handled by the developers today to compensate for lack of standardisation in the user agents (browsers).

Whichever way they are included, skip links provide the last mile of accessibility. The fun part is that they are not at all difficult to implement. All they need are anchor names or bookmarks as they are called.

CSS for multiple media

As part of the theme development Cascading Style Sheets should be developed for multiple media – screen, print, aural and other recognized media types.

Alternate High Contrast Theme

Providing a high contrast alternate can make your site more accessible to visually challenged users. Again, using 456 Berea Street as an example, the link in the top right corner – Switch to high contrast layout – does that. For some reason this option is not employed in many sites when this is the most direct and fruitful way of making a site accessible.

Implementation In WordPress

Since WordPress is a popular blogging tool (and one of my favorites), lets use it to see how we can implement the discussed points.

The skip links themselves are nothing but links to specific parts of the page which, as mentioned earlier, can be implemented by using HTML links. They should typically be placed in a location which can be accessed without any additional effort, something like top-level navigation. Once the different parts of the page are identified, mark them up and change the theme to include the links, e.g., header.php can be modified to include the skip links.

WordPress supports CSS to the fullest extent, and supports CSS for media other than the default for screen. It is only a prerogative of the designer to provide it, WordPress does not cause any hindrance.

Switching to the alternate high contrast theme can be provided using the popular theme switcher plugin. The theme switcher temporarily changes the theme using cookies. You can modify the wp_theme_switcher() function to provide link to the alternate high contrast theme. Of course a high contrast theme has to be developed first to be able to implement this. This is something that probably designers should practice, provide a companion high contrast theme along with every theme they develop.

WordPress accessibility has been studied a lot. Here are some good resources:

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

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