WordCamp Portland 2013

Welcome to WordCamp Portland 2013! It’s being run a little different this year in that there are only two sets of unconference slots, the rest is actual speakers. There is also a theme to the event this year (a first, at least for the Portland WordCamp), discussing permanence.

A few event announcements:

  • A lot of us are introverts here, or shy. Please try to be welcoming and encourage talking to new people. Just join in the conversation if you hear something interesting.
  • Code of Conduct is up on the website! Please follow it.
  • If you’re just on your computer/tablet/smartdevice for non-participatory reasons, try putting it away — if you’re taking notes, sure, fine, but still, be present if you can.

The Only Constant is Change – Jen Mylo (@jenmylo)

Key Takeaway: people age. Think about actors who were in things in the 90s, and then are in other things now: they look nothing alike, often. Same with bloggers and blogs. We use a templating system – when you change the template, it changes the look of your site all the way back – this sometimes loses context.

Think about just the admin interface of wordpress and how much it has changed in the last 10 years. There are reasons it changed, and you wouldn’t necessarily want to use the old interface (missing features, etc), it may also inform what you are writing and how.

“The only things that should be permanent are freedom and a path forward…. and permalinks.”

Q: How do you envision giving context for content from 10 years ago using blog software?
A: Caching more than content, need to build tools.

Q: What about Archive.org?
A: Great for some, but it only sweeps occasionally, so you miss things. Also, part of the beauty of WordPress is that you can own your data, rather than services that may disappear.

Comment: From a historian perspective, context is great, but from an author/user perspective, we seem to trend towards revisionism, we seem afraid to show that we used to have “bad taste”.

Q: Isn’t a lot of this not necessarily about the permanence and more about historical research, seeing the evolution of the blog.
A: It’s interesting for people who are interested, and they go hand in hand. It’s useful to gain that history, but mostly it’s because I want things to be accurate.

Comment: we’re losing our historical artifacts because everything is mutable. Physical records can also get lost (house fire, water damage, getting thrown out, etc), but they tend not to be as easily changeable.

We make cool stuff because it’s fun — we don’t always think forward about it, and what that data could have an impact on.

Other revisionist hits: you can backdate posts, which can imply that someone was there at an event (or an entry was in on time) when that isn’t true. These features are too useful to remove and have legitimate uses, but can also be deceptive.

Checklists: A path to mistake-free development and publishing — Matthew Eppelsheimer

Part of Rocketlift Development, talking about checklists and workflow. Rocket Lift does 100% WordPress solutions. Checklists are useful to everyone, whether a programmer or a blogger or a general newbie or pro.

Checklists can potentially make things boring, but they don’t have to be, and they can be incredibly useful. Example: Atul Narwanda (SP?) gave a talk a few months ago about the role of checklists in helping make surgeries safer. Introducing checklists in surgery reduce complications significantly. It’s not because the surgeons are negligent, it’s because there’s a lot of complexity in surgery. Specialists, materials, the surgery itself, a lot of people needing to work together. Remove the life and death variable, and you have web development: there’s usually a number of specialists involved in a project who all need to work together.

Checklists do not remember everything for you, don’t replace experience, don’t document everything or enforce behavior. That’s not their point. Checklists give a method to help manage complexity and help make sure important parts aren’t lost. It helps ensure that lessons learned stay learned.

Airplanes use checklists heavily, because people were dying because of minor mistakes like not checking a particular switch before taking off — even seasoned pilots. A checklist gives them a way to offload the important things to focus on what’s important. In web development, we also often have to do this.

Checklists: worry about the tedious things so you don’t have to; check assumptions; suggest next steps; memorialize lessons learned; check and balance hierarchy and group think.

We implemented checklists six months ago at work, and started tracking mistakes. Since implementing, yes we still make mistakes… once. We haven’t had a single regression (repeated mistake).

The goal is to not put down every little thing, but the things that are either mission critical or easy to forget. Don’t get too detailed — it becomes tedious and you gloss over and stop using the checklist. Give enough info to remind you of things you know.

If you make a deployment checklist, stick to it, even for little changes. Two parts to consider: task reminders; needs for communication (with other devs, with the client, makes sure we’re all on the same page). Checklists help reduce FUD (Fear, Uncertainity, and Doubt).

Blogging: a publishing checklist! Did you spellcheck? Did you check your publicizing? Did you proofread? Is the title matching the permalink (if appropriate)? Are all the relevant tags added? Is the post format set appropriately? (A lot of this could be automated into a plugin that intercepts the publish button! Idea for a plugin that would be useful.)

Other useful checklists: requirements gathering — identifying stakeholders, what other materials or resources are needed, et cetera. If you only need to do a particular task once every month or three months or whatever, a checklist is probably a good tool to use.

Q: How often do you re-evaluate your checklist?
A: Constantly. Worth making notes/comments as to why a checklist item is there, so some of the more “obvious” ones don’t get dropped when it’s there because it’s a mission critical item that has been missed before.

Lessons learned: automation is useful and a checklist can lead to automated checks. Standards are proto-checklists: if there are standards you can reference (“a standard wordpress template has x, y, and z items”), it’s a great spot to start for your own checklist. Make everything close to the work.

The process will evolve, don’t give up on checklists just because you missed something or felt clunky. Adapt, iterate, do what you can to improve.

A development/production checklist can also make for a great way to show clients what work actually went into a process, as often they don’t really realize how much work something really is.

Q: What about people glossing over the checklist (example: the car mechanic who has a checklist but fills it out in one swipe after the fact)?
A: This is a great example of not having an enforced checklist. You need to develop a culture of use, and peer-check each other (or a producer/project manager helping monitor).

Q: Who seeing the checklists?
A: Depends on the checklist, depends on the client. Some are more hands off, others have more of a team/trusted relationship, and will be more directly involved and have more visibility.

Q: Do you feel team-client communication has improved since doing this?
A: Absolutely. Clients have to value this, too, but our goals and ideals as a company tends to attract clients who appreciate this sort of transparency.

Introduction to WordPress — Unconference Session

Why WordPress is important: it’s becoming a requirement for web design and web development courses. It’s a key tool used in a wide variety of industries.

Basics: pages are timeless content (masthead, about page, et cetera), posts have timely content (blog posts, chronological information). Categories are your table of contents; tags are your index. It gives ways for users to explore your content, and get a better sense of what you’re actually writing about.

Q: What do you recommend for backups?
A: We like BackupBuddy. You can also do it manually, through a combination of downloading the template and plugins (wp-content), and then download the data through phpmyadmin, cpanel, or your mysql interface of choice. You can also export WordPress data using exporting tools in WordPress, which exports it in a WordPress XML format for easy migration.

DO backup regularly. Don’t delete your originals on your computer, and back up regularly (how often is up to you, ballpark of how often is based on how often you post.. few posts a month, maybe back up once a quarter. 20-80 posts a month, maybe you should do it every month).

Q: wordpress.com vs wordpress.org?
A: Depends on what you need. You can play with the site visually and in code a lot more with .org (self-hosted), you own your content more, have more flexibility about what you post. But you have to do more maintenance and have less support, and have to pay for your own hosting. .com is plenty for most folks, and migration between the two is fairly painless.

Q: Security?
A: Generally, if you’re with a reliable web host, they’ll likely be up to date for security stuff, so you should be alright for the server. For WordPress, there are plugins if you want extra, but generally if you just follow basic security stuff (don’t name your admin account “admin”, use a strong password) and always keep it up to date (WordPress will tell you when an update is available when you log in or on your dashboard).

Q: Tag philosophy?
A: Keywords from your blog post. Think about what people might use to search to end up at that post.

Q: Importing?
A: WordPress has a lot of importers built in for most major other solutions. Exactly what gets imported depends on the service and what they’re willing to export/expose.

Q: Galleries?
A: Unless you’re a photoblog, just use the internal media solution. Integration with external galleries is not always great. If you’re a photoblog, NextGEN Gallery is the defacto standard.

Q: Theming for content?
A: There are theme frameworks (HeadWP, Thesis, etc) to help you customize your site. Post formats can also help you customize for different types of content.

Theme Development — Unconference Session

The basics of theme development: to do theme development, the core things you need to know is CSS and HTML, and only a little bit of PHP. A good spot to start is a theme called “_S” which is up on github and is developed by some of the folks at Automattic.

It’s not uncommon, especially when starting out, to modify an existing theme. Don’t modify directly — create a “child theme” and make the changes you want there. This way, you still benefit from updates from the original theme developers.

Q: What’s a good way to select the theme you want? What are the essential things to look for?
A: It depends. For free themes, you can search the theme directory on wordpress.org based on tags that can help narrow down based on what features you want. For premium themes, it’s harder because there’s no single marketplace. Googling for things you want and reading reviews is a good bet.

It takes a while to find the right theme, and that’s okay.

Keep an eye out for “gotchas” when doing theme development — this is where it’s useful to know HTML and CSS, as this can help inform your development and avoid odd behavior that exists in these standards.

Q: How do you feel about using static site templates like bootstrap?
A: It’s hard to make them work with WordPress due to odd conflicts with naming and similar. It’s doable, but may cause more headaches than you want. In general, the simpler the framework, the better off you’ll be. (Responsive Grid works pretty well in templates.)

Q: Development time? How to deal with time estimates for clients?
A: Depends on how it’s set up, how complex. We tend to avoid using frameworks for client sites/themes as you end up losing time getting up to speed on the framework. _S has been a nice starter space, but it’s not really a framework.

Q: Top 10 most essential steps when starting up a new theme project?
A: Don’t try to do too much yourself — learn the APIs built in, only write new/modify when you NEED to. Look at default themes and see how they do it (for better or worse). Test – a LOT. Learn the difference between an action and a filter in the engine and when things should be triggered. Use enqueue_scripts in your header to help improve plugin compatibility. Learn about the template hierarchy (what template gets called when, what it defaults to next if a particular template is missing). Make sure you use wp_head inside and wp_footer right before the closing .

Q: How to make a site responsive?
A: Test a lot. It’s mostly done with styles. Exactly how to make it more responsive depends on the theme. There are some good articles on how to do this better online.

Q: What’s new in the 2013 theme?
A: It’s more colorful, uses HTML5 and CSS3 when possible. It uses post formats extensively to reward bloggers for leveraging post formats, with per-format customization. More with post formats may come soon to make it more robust, but didn’t make it into this release. Much more multi-media centric, works best as a 1-column theme, though it does offer a 2 column option if you want.

twentyfourteendemo.wordpress.com to see what’s being worked on for the 2014 theme (as before, something entirely new). More magazine-style — the idea is to alternate between a more CMS-y theme and a more blog-y theme each year… should come out around version 3.8 (December-ish).

Q: What are your favorite themes and why do you feel they are effective?
A: On WordPress.com, Profile, because it’s both simple and very visually captivating. Collections: beautiful, makes me feel like a kid in the candy store. Hum, a 2011 child theme that is beautiful.

Lightning Talks

Tomorrow will have a WordPress Contributors Day, where if you want to help out WordPress in some way (writing documentation, helping write plugins, themes, core development, providing subtitles for training videos, et cetera), starting at 10, info on the website.

Paul Clark

Technical Director at Storm Front Media. What WordPress means: anyone can publish! Democratized Publishing! This also means we get a lot of cats. But it also means there are fewer barriers from putting your ideas and voice out there. “You are not a nobody.”

An “Internally Displaced Person” — not wanted by their own government, not wanted by others… was able to still have a voice, and effect change, stopping the bombings in Burma.

Solve problems for people, not computers. Usability trumps Sophistication. (You can be as robust and amazing in features, but if it’s not usable, no one will use it.)

WordPress can be used to solve problems for people — you can use it to track and record important data, and give that data context and visibility. Go and create.

Mika Epstein

Rolling your own WordPress support Character: spend your attribute points — what are you good at? Apply that! Make a familiar — as in, a username that you use consistently. Spend skill points: listening, writing, learning to pick up cues. Learn. Meet strangers: soloing is boring. Meetups are fun! Even if you’re shy and introverted, meet ups are usually low-key and fun. Join the guild: start participating in the community. Attend WordCamps, participate in the forums, volunteer. Use your scrolls: discuss it in communities, which leads you to more information. Annoy your DMs: sometimes you still don’t get it — don’t be afraid to ask questions. Pay attention to the details.

Once you’ve made that character, go forth and adventure!

Eric Mann

The Future of WordPress — what we’re doing wrong. The future of WordPress lies in the past. Keeping it simple: a lot of the developing world is mobile-only. But you can’t assume smartphones — only 27% globally is a smartphone (even in the US, it’s only 50%-ish).

This is a problem: we can’t blog on a feature phone. A basic blog can take 20+ seconds to download a single page. What can we do? Semantic markup! Parse out your site using HTML5 to identify parts of the site, let it degrade to text readably. Also, SMS integration — text to post. Remember: Mobile != Mobile.

Corey Freeman

Stop Tweaking! Stop messing with your website! Typical setup is piecemeal, random host, random plugins, random theme. What you WANT is something that self-optimizes, reliable hosting, buy a domain somewhere not your host (don’t put eggs in one basket). Invest in a solid framework to build your theme. Use semantic markup, use standards (H2, etc). Write for people, then worry about SEO and keywords (but do think about them).

Build, Design, THEN Optimize! Make optimization a habit.

Aaron Hockley

Social Photo Networking, or Owning Your Content? Why Not Both?

Lots of social photo systems, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, Facebook, etc. We like the social part of it… but they tend to all be restrictive, and you give up rights and control. We put up with it and rarely leave even when we find out about these restrictions, because at that point we’re embedded. Also, services shut down, and then your content is GONE.

Why not both? Tools like PressGram are trying to fill that gap: it’s a social network, you share and comment on photos, works similar to other social networks, BUT you can integrate it into your wordpress blog (self hosted or .com) — suddenly, you can cross-post and post to your own site natively. Your photos == your web visitors. They click a photo? Goes to YOUR site pressgr.am, coming soon, go sign up.

Big Ed Barnham

Carries a lot of demi-humans (lawn jockeys, gnomes), flamingoes, wind chime registry, and corn liquor. Big Ed Barnham’s Bobble Barn. This deck is available, talk to @bigscotty for the slide deck.

Internet Archive and Preserving WordPress Blogs — Brewster Kahle

Brewster Kahle is the founder of Archive.org and Librarian. Archive.org is not a newbie to WordPress — they use it for a lot of blogs and other needs. That said, there’s more that can be done regarding the archiving of WordPress content. The idea of Archive.org is Universal Access to All Knowledge — can it be done? Can we make the Library of Alexandria 2.0?

Internet Archive is a non-profit based out of San Francisco. Think about the Boston Library motto: Free to All. These libraries were funded by the Robber Barons — not the type to like sharing… and yet they made an exception for libraries.

How much content are we talking about? Well, think about text. The largest library in the world is the LIbrary of Congress — over 28 million copies. A book is about 1MB — you could fit the entire LIbrary of Congress on 28 TB. Neat! There are efforts to get as much of this online as possible.

They’ve made a “Build-a-book-mobile” — costs about $1 to download, print, and bind a new copy of a digital book. This is big because it means you can distribute information to places that may not have viable online solutions themselves. It’s a stopgap solution, we expect things will end up going to screens eventually.

Trying to scan and bring online all books of a culture or people. First to say “yes!” was Bali. A lot of their literature was written on palm leaves, and is written and read in unique ways, but they managed to do it.

All texts via Archive.org are free — about 3 million books, and you are encouraged to download and store as much as you want. We feel strongly that public domain should be freely available and not locked up. But what about things not in public domain? We’re working on openlibrary.org. We try to purchase ebooks — actually buy, not lease, which some publishers are surprisingly reluctant to do. This runs on a borrower scheme — it loans out one at a time (per license), and encourage authors to choose to submit these. It’s been incredibly difficult to work with publishers.

What about Audio? Another litigious area, sadly. We’re trying to figure out how to do better with this. We’re working with the taper community (bands that allow concert taping as long as no one sells it). We aim to get permission from the bands themselves, sign up about 3 new bands a day, now over 1 million concerts have been uploaded.

What about video? Another litigious area, so we have to work around public domain. We have a lot of those random training videos from the 50s, et cetera. These actually get downloaded often, by people interested in remixing. We’re also working on uploading home videos at scale.

Television: we’ve done some experiments with this, doing comparisons of the news around the world at the same time, to provide context and comparison. This leads to a lot of anger when you realize how much spin doctoring and downright lying happens. We are working on archiving more.

Archive.org got an NSL (National Security Letter)… sued and won about it. It’s important to remember what has happened when people we rounded up based on what they believed or read, and to push back when it’s ethically or morally wrong.

Software also gets archived, still working on how to sort that.

Internet Archive! 358 BILLION pages so far and growing. It’s fascinating what it catches — cases of people repainting the past, adjusting press releases and other. It’s immensely important to have a third party to capture this information.

Also trying to collect rare books, letters, and manuscripts.

Next, trying to get more into personal digital archiving. Making sure data on services is collected while it’s around, in case services go away (because they do, often, even when from major organizations)?

So, how do we preserve information in a way that doesn’t rot? Libraries have a history of being burned, usually by governments who feel threatened. Classic example: Alexandria, famous for being burned. Because it was all centralized, when it was destroyed, it was all lost. We learned from this, and have multiple locations and mirror information in entirely different geographic and geopolitical locations.

So, what does this have to do with WordPress? We’ll, we want to make archiving better. Archiving WordPress is hard right now. Wishlist: how about smart links, so instead of 404ing, it reroutes to the Wayback Machine version? Wishlist: “Archive Your Blog” — solutions for users to voluntarily make sure the content is uploaded to Archive.org. Got a firehose for wordpress.com. New: you can now easily embed archive.org content in your blog. Wishlist: Distributed proofreaders via WordPress — some way to improve the proofreading sharing technology.

Making Your WordPress Knowledge Stick — Bob Dunn (@bobwp)

It’s huge and rewarding to learn how to do things on your own. The thing to remember is that “easy” is in the eye of the beholder — while WordPRess is easier from some other solutions, it’s not necessarily EASY, and you can end up feeling overwhelmed “Bob, I have been staring at this dashboard for hours…”

Maybe you can pick up a book, but if it’s not the right context for you, it might not work for you. So, three goals:

  1. Clarify your goals for the website and/or blog.
  2. Understand the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org and a self-hosted site. Even if it’s just a basic understanding.
  3. Think about your theme — what is your site going to look like? This matters because it may influence what features and extra work you might do. The theme you’re going with influences that nature of your site.

Choose your learning resources:

  1. Books & manuals: not for everyone, but if your learning style suits it, there’s some great depth and breadth here. WordPress.org: codex, wordpress.tv, learn.wordpress.org, all great docs.
  2. Random tips and tutorials: great for specific one-offs, for breadth of knowledge, not necessarily depth. Better for once you’ve already started to get into WordPress.
  3. Video tutorials: some learn better with this. Like with manuals, it comes down to knowing your learning style and seeing what works for you.
  4. Online classes: it’s a style of learning. Since this tends to cost more, really do your homework and investigate the class to get a better sense of whether it’s worthwhile.
  5. One-on-one training: more expensive, do your homework on which you select.
  6. In-person workshops and classes: also more expensive, but WordPress is starting to see more academic use.
  7. Asking questions on forums: can be great, use caution, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So, how do you magically make what you’ve learned stick? Well, depends on your learning style, though a common theme is some level of using the knowledge you’ve learned. Also, know your limitations: be prepared to admit that maybe someone is beyond you. That’s okay, and it’s okay to ask others for help for those things. If you’re trying to learn something and find that you loathe that part, find someone that can help with that, and focus on the things you’re more prepared to learn and use.

So how do you keep what you’ve learned organized? Lots of different ways, find one that works… the recommendation is Evernote. Great way to bundle up your notes and have it easily internally searchable (and can be sync’d in the cloud). And find other creative ways to make it stick — for instance, favoriting tweets that post about a neat tool or trick.

When teaching someone about WordPress, don’t assume ANYTHING. Assess their knowledge as you go — better to be occasionally remedial than to miss something important. Be patient. One of the most common questions asked when getting started is “what is the difference between posts and pages?” Number one comment: “I thought it would be easier.”