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WordPress

Stuff

I changed the theme of this site to Balasana. It was only after I chose and activated it that I saw that it is made by Automattic, the company that owns WordPress-dot-com.

Balasana is described as a clean and minimalist business theme designed with health and wellness-focused sites in mind.

Well, now it is going to serve me for this site.

I googled and found out that Balasana means Child’s Resting Pose, a kneeling pose in yoga. You kneel on the floor, put your head to the floor in front of you and hold your hands behind your heels. I am pretty sure I did this as a child.

Newsletter

I published issue #1 of my GetRevue newsletter. If you want to read it, it is here:

David’s Satisfying Newsletter #1

And if you want to sign up to get future issues, the link is at the top of the page here.

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WordPress

WordPress.com Becomes Home.blog

A funny thing happened when I started what I thought was going to be a standard setup of a new WordPress blog. I expected it would be in the usual style of something dot wordpress dot com.

I started and chose the name Pangolin, and I could see that for the free option the URL would be https://pangolin.home.blog

Now I know that Automattic (the company that owns WordPress.com) bought the top level .blog domain a couple of years ago, but I never expected they would be using it to direct everything away from using the word WordPress on the front end. 

As I continued I could see that in the back end the URL was pangolinhome.wordpress.com.

Try typing that into the browser and you will it change to pangolin.home.blog

Is this just something they are experimenting with, or is it a permanent change for WordPress.com?

Follow-Up

I wondered what home.blog was, so I went visiting. It is the website of A3 – Appalachia + AGI + Automattic and in the About page it says:

Project A3 Goals

Building upon the ethos of WordPress — the open and collaborative technology platform co-founded in 2003 by Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg at the age of 19 — Alliance Graphique Internationale design legends Marian Bantjes, Michael Bierut, Minchaya Chayosumrit, Yung-Chen Nieh, Alejandro Paul, Taku Satoh, Eddie Opara, Nancy Skolos have created visual designs for the web together with high school students in Paintsville, Kentucky and digital designers at Automattic in an all-remote collaboration that spans the world. The one-of-kind visual designs crafted by the AGI designers center around themes that include Home, Art, Photo, Science, Code, Poetry, Water, and Music as presented on the dedicated websites Home.blog, Art.blog, Photo.blog, Science.blog, Code.blog, Poetry.blog, Water.blog, Music.blog as permanent symbols on the Internet of digital creativity. From these websites, anyone can create a blog as a free subdomain like: laura.science.blog or philippe.code.blog, etc.

(My emphasis – text made bold)

At the bottom of the page it said to click to start a home.blog so I clicked to start a blog and found myself back where I was when I had started hours earlier to create a new blog.

Only this time as I was going through the process I clicked on ‘alternative -something or other’ (can’t recall exactly what it said) and I typed in some vaguely random words. And before I knew it I had created SearchDotPress which is searchdotpress dot wordpress dot com

So by accident I had managed to make a site with an address that was wordpress dot com rather than something or other dot blog.

This is getting out of hand and about as confusing as heck.

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WordPress

X Reasons To Consider A Business Plan on WordPress.com

WordPress.com has come a long way since its early days of offering a simple way to get into blogging without having to worry about how to set up a self-hosted WordPress site.

I know some people use WordPress.com as a stepping stone to a self-hosted site. I did. I wanted to host my own site because I wanted to be free of restrictions. What that meant in those days (this is back in 2007) is that I could put Google Adsense adverts on my blog.

And I was attracted to the idea of getting to grips with how to do it at all – how to set up a database, how to set up the config file, and all the other bits that go to making a web site. It was nerve-wracking at first. I was afraid that everything I did would break the site and leave me lost in a maze.

It didn’t happen, but what I did get into were the twin notions of ‘optimisation’ and ‘security’.

Optimisation includes using keywords that accurately reflect what the site is about. That way, when someone searches in a search engine such as Google or Bing, your site is likely to be tagged because your keywords fit well with what the page on your site is about.

But optimisation also meant making the site fast to load. As search engine optimisation experts said – it didn’t matter how attractive your site looked, or how perfectly apt the keywords were, no one was going to hang around long enough to see your site if it took a long time to load.

That led on to well-coded versus poorly coded themes, to plugins that optimised CSS and Javascript, to database cleanup tools, gzip, expires headers, memory allocation, and more.

Security meant long and complex login passwords, and it meant keeping themes and plugins up to date. I had to destroy one site when it got infected with a virus that I introduced when I tried out a theme from a dubious source.

I tried to clean up the infection but in the end I nuked the site. That meant first extracting the xml file with the text of the blog posts, then deleting the database, the themes, and the plugins, and starting from scratch.

Not something I would recommend, but I learned from it. One thing I learned was to put a security system in place to prevent it happening again.

Oh yes, and to take regular backups. And store at least one copy off-site.

Later, much later, I built a WooCommerce store. I didn’t have a product in mind, just the desire to build a store with WooCommerce. That’s another thing that has got easier over the years. The setup wizard is good and the explainer videos are excellent.

But it also means that security has got to be nailed down because customers will be signing up, creating accounts, giving their credit card details, and expecting to receive stuff.

And backups becomes a much bigger issue. It’s one thing if your blog posts go missing – sad, but only sad for you. If your customers’ data goes missing, you are going to be responsible for cleaning up the mess.

Some of the front runners for taking payments on WooCommerce stores don’t take any sensitive details on your site. For example, Stripe puts a little popup on your site at the payment stage, and the information your customer puts in is encrypted and sent straight to Stripe.

So you would think that takes care of credit card security. Not so. If your site is hacked, the hacker can, for example, execute a ‘man in the middle’ attack. Your customer thinks they are going to Paypal or Stripe, but secretly they are being led off to something that looks like them but really it is giving your customers details to the hacker who has put a lookalike page over the real page.

That’s just one issue. They are not impossible to overcome – after all, WooCommerce powers an awful lot of stores both big and small – but you have to take steps to keep your site secure.

A Good Web Host

A good web host will complement the hard work you put into making your site load fast. A bad web host will overstretch resources, fail to guard your site from having its resources hogged by another site on the same server. It can even let in a hacker via the level above your site on the server.

A good web host will take regular backups. And they will make extra backups available to you so you can store them somewhere else – a copy on your hard drive and a copy with something like Amazon AWS, for example.

Managed shared hosting is an option, where they take care of optimisation, backups, and security – with a bigger monthly cost.

A virtual private server (VPS) is the next step up, but that requires a lot more technical skill. There are services that will act as a kind of intermediary or control panel to help set up your site on a VPS, but if it is already starting to give you a headache, it’s something to think about further down the line.

It takes a lot of reading to find accurate data on good versus bad web hosts. I generally look at Review Signal’s benchmarks as a starting point.

A fast web host on shared hosting with cPanel should be around $20/month. Access to top-notch WordPress themes that show off your store to its best advantage will be, let’s say, $100/year. WooCommerce itself is free, but you might need some extensions to get your store to do exactly what you want. Or maybe not. So that’s $300/year or more.

WordPress.com has a business plan that enables you to use your own domain name, use any of their premium themes, add plugins, change the CSS, set up WooCommerce, and set up Google Analytics. It also offers unlimited storage, but I can’t see that being an issue because it would take a huge store with many thousands of products to make storage an issue.

I have the Premium plan here on WordPress.com. It’s one step down from the business plan, which I haven’t tried. I haven’t tried the business plan because my partner and I already have our e-commerce store set up on a self-hosted site and I can’t see any reason to change.

But if I was starting again I would look at the WordPress.com business plan option (affiliate link) because the two big things that are taken care of – optimisation and security.

Here’s the list of what the business plan offers for £20/month in the UK (not sure what the cost is in other parts of the world – click the link and find out – it should geolocate to wherever you are).

  • Google Analytics support
  • Unlimited storage
  • Remove WordPress.com branding
  • Custom Domain Name
  • Jetpack Essentials
  • Email & Live Chat Support
  • Unlimited Premium Themes
  • Advanced Design Customization
  • monetisation (WordAds, Adsense and affiliate ads)
  • add plugins

The Competition

Squarespace (£21/month in the UK) and Shopify ($29/month) are the front runners.

I think the biggest reason I would choose WordPress.com over either of these is that if at some point I wanted to self-host my store, I could export all my settings/database information/themes/etc . I don’t think you can do this with Squarespace or Shopify.

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WordPress

Colour Backgrounds behind quotes

Colour backgrounds behind quotes in Gutenberg

If you use Gutenberg and you want add a splash of colour behind a paragraph of text, you go over to the sidebar and you will see two tabs.

One says Colour Settings and the other says Advanced.

When you open the Colour Settings you see two palettes of colours.

You can change the colour of the text and/or the colour of the background to the text.

And you can either choose one of the colours that are there or you can click on the multi-coloured circle at the end of the swatch of colours and make any colour you want.

Here is a short paragraph with the background colour a nice rose pink.

But if you make a quote, the Colour Settings tab disappears, leaving only the Advanced tab.

If you open the Advanced tab you will see that it says ‘Additional CSS Class’.

I wondered what it meant until I realised it was an invitation to create a CSS class.

(Actually, the ‘until I realised’ took quite a while…)

The little that I know about classes is that you should name them something that is not likely to have been used elsewhere in the main code. So I named it ‘quote-thing’. Catchy, eh?

Stage 2 was to add the CSS to the CSS section in the Customiser. It has to refer to the class and it has to tell the class what to do. So I said it should make the background a specific colour (#ebf2f5)

And I wanted to put a bit of padding around the quote so that it didn’t look like it was sitting in a straightjacket.

Here is the code:

/* background colour for quote */
.quote-thing {
	background: #ebf2f5;
	padding-top: 15px;
	padding-right: 15px;
	padding-bottom: 15px;
	padding-left: 15px;
}

You can see it in the duck-egg blue background colour to the quote that begins ‘RICHARD JEFFERIES AUTOBIOGRAPHY, The Story of My Heart…’ in the previous post Spes Phthisica and the Heights Of Consumption.

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WordPress

Should Automattic Disallow Scammy Ads (Poll)

The title of this post is ‘Should Automattic Disallow Scammy Ads’.

Scammy is an urban dictionary word rather than something you will find in the Oxford or Webster’s Dictionaries, but I am sure you get the idea that it means anything that is and/or related to a scam.

It doesn’t have to be fraudulent to the extent that it is illegal, just a crappy way of hooking gullible people into a dream that hasn’t a hope in heck of being fulfilled.

The first question then is, are there, in fact, any scammy ads on WordPress.com – at the end of posts and in emails?

For the answer, read on.

First, a bit of background about who owns WordPress.com.

In case you didn’t know, the WordPress.com blogging platform is owned and hosted by Automattic.

WordPress.com is run on a modified version of  the open-source WordPress software at WordPress.org that is used by bloggers on their self-hosted sites.

In a nutshell, if I run a self-hosted WordPress website, I can do pretty much what I like as long as it does not violate the terms of service of the hosting company.

And if I don’t like the terms of service of the hosting company, there are other hosting companies with more liberal policies and I can switch to their hosting.

Running a self-hosted website costs money. Having your site on WordPress.com is free.

There are some restrictions that come along with ‘free’. One of the restrictions is that I have to accept advertisements at the end of my posts.

That’s not quite true. I can pay Automattic a yearly sum so that I don’t have ads at the end of the my posts. I do that with this site at PhotographWorks.me and the reason above all that I do it is because of the poor quality of the ads.

In an article I entitled ‘Why, Dear WordPress, Oh Why?‘ back in 2012, I asked why the ads were so crappy.

It was a rhetorical question, although I kind of hoped that the people art Automattic would listen.

I hoped they would listen because I bought into the idea that Automattic wanted to do its bit to foster, nurture, and encourage the WordPress community.  

That had to be so because it kept declaring that community was dear to its heart in the democratisation of the Web.

In fact, if you go to Automattic.com, the first thing you will see emblazoned in big type across the page is this:

We are passionate about making the web a better place.

Ads In Emails

In a post entitled Real Life Is Bad For Blogging, Jen mentioned that advertisements will now be included in the emails that followers get when they subscribe to a WordPress.com blog to hear about new posts.

I just saw my first ‘ads in an email’ today in an email about a new post from Dapplegrey entitled Gone, Leaves.

This is the advert section at the end of the email:

Oh come on! Mother earns £16,409/month! The ad is so obviously a scam designed to hook in the gullible.

Does Automattic Monitor Its Ads

Does the Ads team monitor the quality of ads?

I clicked the ad and it went to a blank page. I stripped out everything except the subdomain URL and got a 500 error and similarly with the main domain. Well, that’s good.

The ad for how to invest in bitcoin without buying bitcoin also led to a dead page – blank dot org. Strange.

My point being that Automattic states repeatedly that it supports community and the integrity of community in the democratisation of the Web.

Advertisements like these don’t do anyone any favours – not least the WP.com readers who have sites of their own and wonder exactly what is being put out in their name at the bottom of their blog posts and in the emails notifying other readers of their blog posts.

If you want to add your two cents, worth – you can go to the post at WordAds Now With Ads In Email Subscriptions  and offer your opinion.

A Poll, A Poll! Answer Here!

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WordPress

Troubleshooting Plugin Conflicts

Troubleshooting plugin conflicts is fun.

Yes, I know, you can’t have plugins on WordPress.com sites. That is, you can’t unless you have the Business plan (more about that another time).

So this is for people who run self-hosted WordPress sites.

Today I had a plugin conflict. 

There. I said it.

Actually, in about ten years of running self-hosted WordPress sites, this is maybe only the second time I have had a plugin conflict.

So what does it look like?

In this particular case it looks like this; a bar that will not move stuck across the text in the back end as I am writing.

It was actually worse than this because I had an image to the left and text to the right, and I couldn’t get to it because the bar covered everything.

What caused it? My first thought was that the latest version of Yoast was conflicting with Gutenberg.

A moment’s thought said that wasn’t the case because I would have heard about it.

The worst possible answer would have been that the Yoast plugin was conflicting with the theme I was using. There was no way I wanted to stop using it, but at the same time there was every reason I wanted to continue to use the Yoast SEO plugin.

So I asked Yoast on Twitter and he/his team suggested a plugin or theme conflict. 

It looks like a theme or plugin conflict. Can you please perform a conflict check? How to check for plugin conflicts. Also, can you confirm if the issue persists with the latest versions of Yoast (9.0.3), Gutenberg and your theme?

The article on Yoast recommends using the Health Check & Troubleshooting plugin to troubleshoot the issue.  Here is the blurb for it:

Once you install and activate the plugin it puts you in Troubleshooting Mode. This has no effect on your site visitors, they will continue to view your site as usual, but for you it will look as if you had just installed WordPress for the first time.


Here you can enable individual plugins or themes, helping you to find out what might be causing strange behaviours on your site. Do note that any changes you make to settings will be kept when you disable Troubleshooting Mode.

You really have to see the Healthcare Check plugin in action. If you have a self-hosted site, go try it out even if you don’t have a problem. Actually, no, better not because it might screw up the database.

Take my word for it that is is amazing to see the site revert to a plain vanilla WordPress site and be able to turn plugins on and off to see what affects what. But only you, who is logged in as the admin see the site like that. The site looks normal to your visitors.

If you detect that I got all excited doing it, imagine how I felt when I turned off one particular plugin and the problem went away?

It was like the holidays came.

I know, what kind of person gets a kick out of a problem like this being solved?

Well I did.

Next step was to disable the Health Check & Troubleshooting plugin and deactivate the plugin that was causing the problem.

Then I contacted the plugin author and asked if he might try to fix the issue with his plugin.

I was aware that in a tussle between two plugin authors, who is to be the final arbiter of who should accommodate who?

Yoast is used in millions of websites, so the Yoast plugin has the big guns of numbers on its side, so I think the ball is in the other plugin author’s court.

The final stage, pending the other plugin getting updated, was to thank team Yoast for their help.

And that’s the story.