On self-hosting WordPress blogs

A long overdue post on the way I go about blogging. It would be too grandiose to call it a strategy, but actually that’s a reasonable way of describing what I’ve been trying to work out in my mind.

The first thing (as ever with blogging) is context and identity. This “problem” has led me to create different blogs for different purposes. This in itself has caused me problems of identity and of course the targeting of posts to different audiences. [At least in my mind, if not in practice.] This led to a proliferation of blogs on different platforms and a sparsity of posts on nearly all of them :-(. This had to stop!

Some of these issues were also resolved to a large extent by using Google+ and Circles. However the one insurmountable issue appeared to be the spamming of Circles with Public posts – I have come to the realisation that I can’t solve that one without going down the separate identities again, and I’ve come to the conclusion I just can’t do that. I want simplicity, not complexity – so “spamming” it would appear is unavoidable! Actually, it’s not so much spamming as a challenge to me to get people learning a different way of looking at posts :-).

If you think of it, using Google+ is akin to reading a newspaper and absolutely no one reads a whole newspaper from cover to cover … do they? So, I’ll just be sending an explanatory message to my Google+ Circles requesting tolerance and suggesting they just ignore anything that has the word Public after my name :-).

The second issue is where to blog – what platform to use and how to integrate them with social media. For a long time I’ve used Blogger as well as WordPress. That had to stop. The latter is so much a better platform than the former, even if Blogger did integrate so much better with the other Google services. However, WordPress gets better all the time, and in its hosted form the flexibility it offers, and the integration you get by using the Jetpack plugin, creates a platform that is a joy to use. So I decided that my Private (mainly family) blog(s) would remain on Blogger, and so gain from the close integration with Google+, but that my two remaining Public-facing blogs would move to a hosted WordPress platform.

Here I must put in a plug for 5quidhost who (as well as being a UK-based hosting company, which I appreciate and would wish to support in any case) are also incredibly good in their email support and account administration and whose response time for readers in the UK is very good. They have an easily understandable approach to hosting which allows a try-before-you-buy free hosting account before you decide on the scale of hosting you want.

I also would highly recommend DomainMonster for domain registration. Again their dashboard is the easiest to understand of any hosting organisation I’ve seen or used. I moved a number of domains to them from another domain registry a couple of years ago and this went remarkably smoothly. They’ve got a very satisfied customer too!

So, I now have two Public-facing blogs – this one, and one – “Moments like these …” to focus on my photography hobby. They both integrate seamlessly with my social media accounts and I believe now that I’ll be able to keep both reasonably active.

Issues? Well … yes! I thought I’d like to share with you what I’ve learnt from my self-hosting experience. I’ve found that it’s absolutely a time-saver to have a development platform with loads of space that I can have a number of blogs hosted on – as I do authoring and design work for others as well. Using this platform led me to realise a number of things which I wanted to share.

Firstly, store your images off your blog – use flickr, Google+ photos, whatever, and link to them in your posts. This reduces the space used by your blog and therefore the cost of the hosting at very little decrease in the speed of loading a page.

Secondly, be absolutely ruthless in your choice of widgets and plugins. Only use ones that do not impact on the speed of loading a page. Then having made your choice, not only de-activate the plugin but delete it as well – the space and speed you gain by doing this for a number of plugins is remarkable.

Thirdly, only use Responsive themes. There are plenty of them available for free at WordPress.org. Doing this will make the rendering of your posts on mobile devices so much better and easier and the effect is remarkable. It’s like looking at different blogs, every time you look at a post on a different device. Choose the theme that makes your post look best on those multiple platforms.

Fourthly, don’t be scared at the thought of “messing” with your theme. There’s a huge community of wordpress bloggers who will help you create and edit your first child-theme and after that you’ll fly! In fact there’s even a widget or two to help you do the job.

And that’s about it. I hope to have the opportunity to plug (sic) the plugins I’ve found most useful – it may be of use to someone – in a later post. That’s for another day.

April meeting notes

A larger than before attendance helped by a specific invitation to participants in the forthcoming Technology Enhanced Education Conference being held on May 6th in the Optometry Building to meet and discuss the programme. So we had @amcunningham, @egrommet, @mrsimonwood, @joenicholls, @sphericaln, @agentjohnson, Sarah, Nathan and of course @thoughtgrazing in attendance for some or all of the three hours from 12 ’til 3 on April 6th. Perhaps Wednesday afternoon (and a little bit later) suits folk better. No matter, I’m back from my world-travels and I’ll be more active in canvassing for dates and encouraging attendance from now on.

I couldn’t hear all that was being discussed – my hearing’s not what it used to be in any case, but nine people talking at any one time is just a little bit beyond my capability – but some interesting things were raised, apart from discussing the forthcoming conference.

A lively discussion took place between @egrommet et al on @amcunningham’s tweets about listening to Etienne Wenger the previous day. I’m not sure what the context was but it led to the names of George Siemens, Brown and Duguid (ie Cognitive Apprenticeship) and others being thrown into the argument. Such is the discussion of educational practitioners.

I was involved in a discussion about web hosting (I need a “proper home” for thoughtgrazing.com et al) and @mrsimonwood came up with 5quidhost – looks well worth a second look! I also had Rackspace recommended by @sphericaln, but I think (even with the recent BCS discount) that it’s a bit OTT for me.

Next stop was QRcodes and a discussion on which readers to recommend. [The conference flyer promotes a very large QRcode.] The QRCode Code Machine which both encodes and decodes QRcodes and is available as iPad and iPhone apps (and others ??) was mentioned – it’s now on my brand-new iPad {smug grin}.

This led onto iPhone apps in general and @egrommet showed me iProcrastinate (a neat task manager) which I just had to have; as well as Vtok which purports to enable Google Video Chat on the iPad (I’m yet to test that – although it has been installed).

Finally, as the time flew past just so quickly and as I swallowed my last bite of baguette to go with the second cup of coffee (certainly not up to Twin Peaks standard unfortunately), we started talking about what I will call (loosely) “digital citizenship”. I’ve blogged in other places about digital identity and the importance of context – knowing when and where and what to tweet, blog, whatever, in social media; @amcunningham retold the events of a recent social media “encounter” which caused her to examine what were the boundaries of her contributions to public websites, even though she kept her professional identity apart from those interactions. What should we be advising our students, future professionals, about why and how they should use social media? Does this have a part in Information (or Digital) Literacy – I feel it does. We need to be able to provide leadership in this challenging field where for instance facebook openness meets professional responsibility.

Final thought – does anyone other than @egrommet do regular and systematic “vanity searches” on the web to trawl for personal references. As a professional, perhaps this is something we should all be doing. We need to protect our professional digital footprint.