Trying something new

I’ve been meaning to redesign this site for a while, to set aside more screen space for writing, both to make it easier to read longer pieces for readers but also to help me focus more on just plain old writing instead of all the other junk I used to keep here. As I sat down to think about how I could wipe out what I had and start over again visually, I kept coming back to all the cool WordPress themes I’ve seen lately, including the one you see powering this site.

Now, I would consider Ben and Mena Trott to be pretty close friends and I’ve helped write a book on Movable Type tweaking. I still use it for several other sites and don’t plan on changing, but when it comes to personal websites, I’ve always wished for a simple way to share MT templates either through actual files or the API. I’ve requested it from SixApart for the past 3+ years and in the meantime, WordPress came along with Themes and eventually every good web designer that wanted to see their work shared with millions flocked to it and started offering up downloadable Themes.

A few months ago when I was praising Vox I said I never wanted to work on another blog template file again and I was serious about that. WordPress has a great theme system and while I think editing php templates is an even worse idea than custom Blogger/MT tag templates, I don’t have to thanks to the thousands of free theme packs available online. I was somewhat reluctant to jump to WordPress until I saw some 2.0 screenshots and heard good things from longtime MT-using friends. The last time I used WP, I had a lot of problems with the admin editing backend. I noticed a few things have been fixed but a lot of things still got stuck.

Here’s a list of hang-ups I found when converting over. Some might read these and feel it’s nitpicking or criticism, but I consider these bug reports:

  • When searching google for info on importing a MT blog, I ended up at codex.wordpress.com with some instructions I followed only to find out the entire system has changed with the latest release. Since the docs are on the wordpress.com server, they should be updated to say “the following is for the 1.x version of WordPress, go here to see Importing tips for WordPress 2.x” or something like that. Adobe/Macromedia is great about this — anytime I hit an old Coldfusion docs page I see a pointer to the latest version of that page for the latest release.
  • I had to split my exported MT blog since PHP had a 1Mb upload limit on my server. That’s a drag (I had to ask a friend how to do that) and I wish it used the API instead.
  • To activate Akismet, it said I just needed an account (not a blog) at WordPress.com to get an API key, but I couldn’t get an API key unless I got a blog, which seems like a waste (and possibly a way to artificially inflate the subscription numbers at WordPress.com or something).
  • Plugins are activated in the Plugins area, but not set up there. Why? It makes no sense to me to activate something on one page, but have to jump to a submenu buried in the Options area to change settings on it. Why isn’t there a Plugin Options submenu in Plugins? And why instead is there a way to tweak the actual PHP of the Plugins? Does any normal user really need that? Oh, it looks like Akismet is configured in the Plugins area, but nothing else I’ve added is.
  • Where can I turn off comments by default on new posts? I don’t see it anywhere in the Options area (I found it under Discussion options, which I guess is more specific (though I would think putting in the Writing options would make more sense) though the checkbox describing it sounds confusing to me “Allow people to post comments on the article” when really I want a “comments enabled/disabled by default”. Fixed.
  • I don’t see anywhere to turn off or on Pings/Trackbacks system-wide or set defaults for it. Fixed.
  • The feedburner plugin I installed doesn’t auto-forward requests to Feedburner. I don’t think it works well with a pre-existing Feedburner feed. I’m going to have to edit my .htaccess or templates to do it. Fixed: it worked five minutes later.
  • Some custom styles (simple floats and margins) I applied to images in previous imported posts appear to be stripped on import. Dunno if that’s MT or WP’s doing.
  • After I publish a post, I get sent to a blank Write New post page. Why not jump me to the edit page on the thing I just posted? Also, I see that the Manage page still has the Edit screen linked on one teeny tiny link marked Edit. The “View” link made me think that would allow me to view the post in the Manage interface, but instead pops me out to the live post on my blog. Why not link the full title of the post to the editing interface? Why else would I be in the Manage section unless I wanted to edit/delete my posts?
  • Why isn’t the Categories widget expanded by default? Why do I have to tweak that every time I make a post? Why is “Uncategorized” an actual category?
  • In the wysiwyg interface, when you go to add a link, the popup has two buttons at the bottom, one to insert the link and the other to cancel. The Cancel button is on the lower right, where all the save buttons are located in WordPress, but you have to click the one on the left instead to actually save it. Intuitively, I almost hit cancel every time.
  • Widgets are kind of a mess. I had to download it and activate it like a plugin, then go to Presentation to edit (another weird plugin on one page, options on another). There’s no Flickr widget by default even though the first Google results for flickr widget say it is included. My other results ended up with 404s on download sites. There doesn’t seem to be a user-friendly widget gallery, as the plugin itself dumps me into some programmer widget trunk page which makes no sense.
  • My Archives page is a 404, and I have no idea where to find the actual page. Fixed.
  • The wysiwyg interface rewrites any custom CSS I try and add to an inline image. This is broken and needs to be fixed.

12 Comments

  • The pingback default is also under Options>Discussion, right above the option to turn comments on or off by default. And forget Akismet: go with SpamKarma instead.
    I’ve been using WP for a while now, and I’m really happy with it. Haven’t done any development, but I’m pretty sure if you posted all of your comments (which are all things that have driven me nuts, too, especially the thing about Write) to the dev listings, someone’ll jump on that bandwagon.

  • I was wondering why I had 26 new items in your feed in Bloglines, then I read your latest post and understood ;).
    As for the commenter before me, I would recommend using both Akismet and Spam Karma. Both are extremely effective, and very easy to use.
    Also, post your concerns to the wp-hackers mailing list. Chances are someone will listen to you.

  • Did you make a page in the WordPress admin? You can create a page there and have the slug archives, so /archives/ should go there.

  • Matt,
    Just last week, I converted my long-time MT site over to WP, and I ran into the exact same issues that you did.
    Perhaps the suckiest aspect of the transition was the fact that I lost all class declarations that were tied to images, blockquotes, or spans in the MT Entry Body and MT Entry Extended fields. Strangely, classes applied within MT Entry Excerpt were not affected. I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that the Excerpt field goes “unstripped,” but I’ll leave the experts to answer that definitively.
    As far as WordPress goes, I would strongly recommend that you not use the rich visual text editor (WYSIWYG). You can turn it off by going to Users, and then un-ticking the little check box in the lower left.
    Finally, the default installation of WordPress will not set up an Archives page for you (very annoying). A lot of themes, including yours, contain an “Archives” page template that you can employ to set up a basic Archives page.
    Use my simple tutorial to help you set up your Archives page (assuming you’re using the Cutline theme, which you are at the time of this comment).

  • Spam Karma is where it’s at. I also tweaked my admin css and the main dashboard on WordPress, and I find it much more to my liking. (screenshots)

  • “I’ve always wished for a simple way to share MT templates either through actual files or the API.”
    The style catcher plugin that comes with MT does let you do a lot of this, and the nice thing is that it works purely in CSS, so there’s no danger of insecure PHP scripting in the templates that are shared.

  • As you know, I’ve recently set up several sites with WordPress, and moving from MT I encountered some of the same confusion you did.
    First, as Chris P. suggested, turn off WYSIWYG editing in your user settings if you haven’t already. You don’t need it. It’ll just get in the way and slow things down.
    Regarding your questions:
    * Activating plugins is a little non-intuitive. I have about 5 or 6 at GRS, and after I turn on a new one, I always have to hunt for where the settings are. (There’s no consistency.) You get used to it after a while, but when you first turn one on it’s annoying.
    * As for dumping you to a blank page after posting — WordPress actually dumps you on the last page you were looking at, I think. And it does this any time you “save” or “post” an entry that’s going to be published. (Meaning if you “save” an entry that has already been published, it behaves as if you just posted it for the first time.) This is non-intuitive, but you do get used to it. I’ve learned to use the “save as” button a lot, though eventually you do have to post.
    * That’s odd about your categories widget. My installs (and/or browsers) remember whether it was open or closed. You can edit the “uncategorized” category to something else (I always change it to “administration”).
    On the whole, I am quite pleased with WordPress. MT is a good product, too, but I always feel like I’m wrestling with it. WP just does what I want it to do.
    And, really, the main deciding factor for me is spam control. At foldedspace, it’s a never-ending battle against spam, and I’ve basically given up. WP gives me excellent control. (I’m only using Akismet right now.)
    If you have any questions, drop me a line. I’m no expert, as you might have guessed, but I have been using WP on several blogs for the past few months!

  • Here’s the Flickr plugin I use: http://eightface.com/wordpress/flickrrss/
    Incidently, your old “latest photos from the cameraphone” sidebar gallery was what inspired me to go find this. It was trivial to set up and get going.
    And let me second Jessamyn’s Spam Karma shoutout. I’ve been using it for years and spam just isn’t an issue. Don’t even have to think about it.

  • Sideblog http://katesgasis.com/2006/05/02/sideblog-plugin-v30/ is a pretty sweet plugin that enables multiple blogs on the same page (as the name implies). Simply install and select which categories the miniblog should pull and it should work… Too bad WP doesn’t support this properly but this plugin seems to work well (Widget enabled too).

  • Matt, WordPress/MT issues aside, your new design is a pleasure (and much easier) to read. While I liked your previous design, the higher contrast between text and background helps its readability. Thx.

  • I hear ya Jeff. The last design was way too low-contrast. I don’t know what I was thinking.
    btw, this layout is just a theme (linked in the footer) that I didn’t do much design tweaking of at all.

  • Thanks for the feedback! I completely agree with a lot of these points and I think most are addressed in 2.1, which you can poke around with on WP.com if you’re so inclined.
    The only thing that is off, and this is probably due to the way the signup process works but you should have gotten an API key in your signup email. It just wastes our resources to have blogs that are never posted to, and the only number folks care about is active blogs anyway.
    In 2.1 the category box is now open by default and at the top, you can switch between code and WYSIWYG with a single click like Blogger, the permanent WYSIWYG disabler is more prominent, and in general the interface is a bit more consistent, for example after you submit a post from the write screen it gives you a link directly to it. (Though I think the post-post page could be even better, any ideas for what else to put there? Maybe a dedicated page?)

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