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A new look

Yowza! I’ve ditched my old wordpress theme and migrated to a new one  called thesis that affords a little more control over layout and design. I still have a lot of tweaks to do; it’s not anywhere near done.  (You can check out a screencast of the thesis theme in action).

Now wordpress supports theme frameworks, and I picked the most promising one (it was not free, but I am hoping that its flexibility will pay off in the long run. (The web designer hails from Austin, a city I now seem to be famous for hating). Here’s a gentle introduction to theme frameworks in Smashing Magazine.

Here are the two best parts about the  theme framework:

  1. you can specify teasers (reduced summaries of posts, which appear at the bottom of the main page—take a look at it. You may not realize it, but I have 30 posts on the main page (with 18 of them showing up as teasers). 
  2. You can add navigation items to the top and especially subnavigation items.

There’s a lot of CSS customization you can do from the wordpress admin screen, which I appreciate.

As far as good wordpress themes, I was particularly impressed with Anne Gentle’s new  blog theme, which looks great.

One blogging resolution I have is to vary the sidebar more depending on what I’ve been working on. One thing I’m trying to avoid is cluttering up the sidebar with too much stuff. At some point I’ll reach a happy medium.

You may notice that I have added a Category Cloud on the right. Tag clouds have struck me as particularly useless on a weblog. It’s far more interesting to see which categories are being covered more often than what tags are being covered. (Tags require extra effort, making it particularly difficult to do consistently).

If you notice something seriously look with the wordpress theme or have feedback to give, feel free to do it here. Thanks!

Update: I just noticed that the Previous Entries link at the bottom of the main page doesn’t link to complete posts, but simply to teasers of older posts. That’s a problem.  Oh, well. you win some, you lose some.

Update 2: I made  a comment on Anne Gentle’s blog about the nature of blogging which I am reposting below in paragraph form:

While magazine-style themes provide a better overview of your content, it does so at the expense of readability. Do people read one post at a time on your site  or do they read several? The thinking here I guess is that turbo-readers look primarily at RSS feeds and don’t need to look at your actual site. Unless you are posting 5x a day, I think you lose a lot by not putting several complete posts on the home page. My new thesis theme lets me have half and half (half magazine layout, and half full posts).

what the heck is the deal with tags and wordpress? From an information design point of view I understand the appeal of it, but in blogging it just seems to duplicate the function of categories (after all, these tags are created by the creator, not the reader).

I know tagclouds were the big thing for a while, but aside from providing extra metadata to technorati, I don’t see how it helps the reader.

It is extremely easy to create categories in wordpress. Usually when we think of categories, we think of 5-7 top categories. Actually though, I have about 50, and I am using wp pages as “uber-categories” especially because they are hierarchical and can be hidden or displayed more easily. Last night while trying to deploy my new theme, it occurred to me that wp pages in general should be created TOCs of posts (whether created manually or automatically).

Another problem with tags in wordpress is that you need to create them manually. Aha, I see that the wp- rich text editor lets you choose from existing tags but Live Writer does not provide such a capability. If you had the ability to choose from existing tags, I guess I can see the purpose (but I do all my content creation in Live Writer). Still, it seems redundant.

I appreciate Anne Gentle’s site, while recognizing that it tries to hide its blogginess. What is “blogginess”? Some characteristics:

  • frequent mixing of personal with professional content and social commentary.
  • a very cluttered sidebar, especially with recent comments. That allows readers to see where the action is.
  • An overall casualness in tone. (See #1). Typos, off the cuff remarks, rambling. Actually what I mean here is that typos and off the cuff remarks are there on the front page, easy to spot.
  • Rapidly changing home page, with emphasis on what has happened in the last week.

With a 100% magazine theme,  post summaries will vary over time,  but I don’t expect the  home page to have much different content on it. (We can assume that readers will be most interested in going to things in your sidebar or navigation bar).

Let me speak more of typos. When you hide full articles from the home page, you reduce the possibility of typos standing out to the first time reader. You can only see typos when you view a single post. That is something I have grappled with. My tendency is to publish rapidly (and worry about typos later) even if it reduces the professional look of the site. But as a technical writer, I can’t help wondering if this is the wrong approach. It’s like you’re begging people to see your sloppiness.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Anne Gentle 1/5/2010, 12:22 pm

    Thanks for the compliment on my new theme! I’m still getting used to it (especially the left column width) but boy, was it easy to use. Kudos to Blog Oh Blog.

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