12 Oct

Intro to WordPress at TCANZ

Emily Cotlier, the still coordinator of the Wellington branch and Vice President of TCANZ (Technical Communicators Association of New Zealand, Inc.), whom I had met on the first Sunday after arriving in Wellington, asked me to give a short introduction to WordPress and be available for Q&A during one TCANZ event that she was organizing. This event happened today.

I was very happy to have been asked because I like using WordPress and introducing people to new tools that might be useful to them. The knowledge about blogging and WordPress in the small group that had gathered for this 1-hour session had ranged from very little to rather experienced. Judging from the nods and looks from the participants, I did not bore them, and the information that I gave them was helpful.

10 Aug

WordCampNZ (Part 3)

My summaries of the presentations I listened to at WordCampNZ 2010 continues. If you missed the previous installations, you can read Part 1 and Part 2. A list of presentation slides can be found on the WordCamp NZ site.

This blog post covers the morning sessions on Sunday, August 8, 2010.

Matt Miller – Business Communities

Matt talked about building an online community for businesses in Hawke’s Bay. Instead of choosing a dry name like “Hawke’s Bay Online Business Community”, they came up with Fruitbowl.

They will soon celebrate their 1st anniversary and have learned a lot of things during the last year. For example, that social media is about people and not hearing about business all the time. That resonates with the other presentations on communities by Suzanne and Courtney.

Very successful posts on their blog (58 contributors already) deal with non-business things, e.g. a list of suggested restaurants and the making of a duck shooting boat. Tell stories and do not promote your business endlessly on your blog because people want to read stories is Matt’s advice.

A cool plugin that Matt showed and uses on Fruitbowl is Author exposed. If an author provided details about himself, these are shown in a small pop-up immediately on the page and you don’t have to navigate away from it first.

Take-home message: Setting up a community for (local) businesses is worthwhile because they can interact differently. The community should not just be a self-promotion and ad space, but a place where stories can be told and where people also connect socially.

Matt Miller

Matt Miller; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Jeffry Ghazally – Extending WP e-Commerce through plugins

Jeffry had a talk prepared that led the audience into the depth and intricacies of the plugin that he and his company develop, WP e-Commerce. The main message that was important to me was that a plugin should never be hacked, but added onto ideally via another plugin that hooks into the existing one. That way upgrade issues can be avoided.

Jeffry did a live demo of his plugin showing off the technical side, but also giving us a glimpse at the frontend. For example, he uploaded audio files that were added automatically and retrieved from the database for purchasing. Basic information on the songs were provided and the songs could also be previewed before purchase.

Jeffry reflected his impressions in WordCampUK + WordCampNZ. You can also find his slides there in the recording from WordCampUK.

Take-home message: Leave the original code alone and extend it by writing a plugin. And: live demos can work. 😉

Jeffry Ghazally

Jeffry Ghazally; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Special mention – Vicky Teinaki

Vicky Teinaki deserves to be mentioned specially. She was called the Twitter Stream Queen because she covered WordCampNZ continuously and exhaustively on Twitter. Her speed of finding references and cranking out the tweets were amazing. She has written a blog post How I Live Tweet Conferences that should be on the reading list of anybody wanting to embark on such a task.

She received a reusable coffee cup and specialty coffee for her contribution to WordCampNZ.

Vicky Teinaki, Bill Bennett and Jason Kemp

Vicky Teinaki, Bill Bennett, Jason Kemp, and unknown woman; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Final thoughts

The 1.5 days of WordCampNZ were brimful with a variety of presentations that ranged from providing an overview of BuddyPress features to talking about examples of designing WordPress sites to building and managing communities in WordPress (and in general) to nitty gritty technical issues.

One topic that I missed, I realized on my way back home, was the educational sector. Why was there no talk about the use of WordPress at school or university? Are there not so many educational users in New Zealand? Did they think a presentation by them would not fit because all other presenters came from the business field?

My shining example of WordPress use that I refer to when I want to get inspiration is University of Mary Washington where Jim Groom started out with WordPress MU and expanded to BuddyPress. His experiences have been tremendously positive and he gets invited to present at conferences and other institutions to talk about his implementation and in some cases also assist setting up something similar.

In hindsight, I could have asked, once I knew that I would attend WordCampNZ, if there was still a slot available to talk about using WordPress in a university study program. But for some reason I felt far removed from Luxembourg (and it was not only the distance) and especially the university to talk about the use of WordPress in the Bachelor in Educational Sciences during the academic year 2009/10.

During this short conference I learned a lot and not just related to WordPress. A number of presentations that I followed touched upon topics that are of general interest and have impact also on other things and not only WordPress, e.g. community management, creating a custom theme, and writing. But also the sessions that dealt with technical issues were helpful because I could always understand parts of them and make sense of these parts and learned more about the technical side of WordPress.

A big Thank You to all organizers, in particular Jason Kemp, who was the spokesperson and kept us updated before, during, and after WordCampNZ 2010.

09 Aug

WordCampNZ (Part 2)

My summary of WordCampNZ 2010 in Auckland, August 7-8, 2010, continues. If you have not read the beginning, you can read Part 1.

Bill Bennett – Writing for blogs

Bill Bennett has decades of experience as journalist and shared his wisdom with us in regard to what journalism can teach bloggers. He already summarized his presentation nicely. A few words that I want to highlight:

  • a lot of things that applied to newspapers of old are true again today in blogging, e.g. to write concisely (I have not yet mastered that art)
  • keep it simple: your audience often is often second-language speakers
  • keep sentences short and simple -> 15-20 words
  • don’t fill the entire screen with your words, but have short lines as reading on screen is already in general 20% slower
  • he called headings “page furniture”
  • remember to cover “who, what, why, when, where” close to the top to give the reader direction
  • make your points in descending order so that a reader could stop at any point and still get the entire story (and only get additional info when reading on)

Take-home message: Writing for blogs has a lot of same features as “good ol'” newspaper journalism that many journalists don’t know how to write anymore. Revive the old art.

Bill Bennett

Bill Bennett; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Jo Couchman – A plugin for every occasion

Jo wanted to share with us her favorite and most useful plugins. Unfortunately, the Wifi didn’t cooperate and she spent most of her speaking time trying to get connected to the internet. However, you can view her presentation online and check out the plugins she suggested for yourself.

Take-home message: There’s a plugin for virtually everything. Check it out via Google and read comments about it before installing it (cf. Quintin Russ’ presentation).

Jo Couchman

Jo Couchman; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Pippa Coom and Suzanne Kendrick – Community Management

Pippa introduced us to the Grey Lynn 2030 Transition Community. This is a community exploring sustainability and acting upon it. They also have a virtual home that she presented. The site connects local people around the idea of improving their community. They have established a community garden, started a Farmer’s Market and so on. The community members are also very active online.

Pippa Coom

Pippa Coom; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Suzanne talked about community management in general and gave useful tips, among them the following:

  • An online community manager must personify the soul of the company -> be “on brand” -> intrinsically personify the product, e.g. because you use it yourself, fit the target group etc.
  • Be personal, be authentic and use your real name and voice.
  • Be a bridge between the company and customers.
  • Companies should have only one Twitter account and not several because that gets confusing for people who want to follow the company and are put before the task of subscribing to a multitude of Twitter channels.
  • Remember: 1 creator, 10 commentators, 1000 lurkers -> Even if you think nobody listens / reads, there are lots who do. You just don’t know about them.
Suzanne Kendrick

Suzanne Kendrick; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Take-home message: Community management becomes more important and should not be neglected. It should be viewed as essential and engaged in appropriately.

Sacha Dylan – Who are your audience

Sacha shared facts about disabled people in New Zealand and how they are disadvantaged when accessing the internet. A lot of sites are not made with people with disabilities in mind. He pleads his case that everybody should at least be able to access the content of a page in one version or the other.  Often that already involves developers running their page through a color check. His presentation slides.

Take-home message: Accessibility to web content for people with disabilities is still not guaranteed widely and needs to be improved.

Justin Scott and Sam Dalton – Vital Gifts app

Justin Scott

Justin Scott; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

WordCamp is not only about WordPress, but great ideas in general and issues that can be presented using WordPress. Justin and Sam talked about their app VitalLink that they will launch in September.

the idea behind is VitalLink is the following: It is a storefront for Fairtrade where you can choose a real gift for a friend, have it delivered by the closest supplier and post a status update on your favorite social network (in the first version only Facebook) letting everybody know that you supported Fairtrade. In a latter version it will be possible to delay the delivery of a status message until after the friend has received the surprise gift.

The app wants to promote Fairtrade and better wages for producers in Third World Countries and at the same time give people an easy way to purchase Fairtrade products.

I think this is a cool idea with great potential for people to use it because you cannot get Fairtrade everywhere in a store.

Take-home message: If you have a cause in mind, do something and don’t just think about it.

Sam Dalton

Sam Dalton; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

That concludes the first day WordCampNZ 2010. Day 2 will be covered in the Part 3. If you missed the earlier presentations I followed, you can read Part 1.

09 Aug

WordCampNZ (Part 1)

(with apologies to Bill Bennett for writing 5 times his suggested word limit)

The second WordCampNZ took place over the weekend (7-8 August 2010) in Auckland. I had never been to a WordCamp, basically an (un-) conference for WordPress users and developers, before. Shortly after learning that I would be moving to New Zealand, I checked whether there would one. Luckily there was going to be one already organized in August. Once I knew whether I would have the time to go from Wellington to Auckland, I booked my ticket.

Jason Kemp, one of the organizers besides Anthony Cole and Dan Milward, kept everybody perfectly informed about new speakers, the venue, and also how many days were left till the beginning so that nobody could miss to book a flight and accommodation if needed.

Jason Kemp

Jason Kemp; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

I had already gone to Auckland on Friday to explore the city. The day was brilliant and I had a great view of Auckland from Sky Tower and went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Saturday was the first day of WordCampNZ 2010 held at Unitec on Mt. Albert. We had two conference strands: One with a great mix of topics and the other one more developer-oriented. I spent most of my time in the main conference room.

There was a livestream for some time, but as the Wifi could not manage it, it had to be cut off more than it was up and running. However, Vicky Teinaki kept us and the rest of the world completely informed about what was going on in the sessions that she attended. She is amazing at live microblogging and earned her specialty coffee and reusable coffee mug well.

Here’s a quick run through the sessions that I attended. It was not until a couple of sessions in that I started to take photos. Due to critical editing not all made it to Flickr and I apologize to all speakers whom I did not capture in pixels and only mention here in the text.

Robert Popovic – BuddyPress live & other advanced topics

Rob gave a thorough introduction to BuddyPress and its features. Although I had of course already heard about BuddyPress, mainly from Jim Groom who uses it at the University of Mary Washington along his WordPress MU, but I had never had the chance to put my hands on it myself.

Take-home message: BuddyPress is a powerful tool that I need to check out.

Rachel Cunliffe – Blog designer and community site designer – Custom themes

Rachel deals with custom themes on a daily and often nightly basis as many of her clients are overseas. In her opinion, the biggest challenge is not the theme design itself, but dealing with people’s content and making it easy for them to add further content. “Nice” and “easy” are the two terms that pop up most often when she talks to clients who come to her for a better web site.

Although WordPress can be used as CMS, she advises to use Drupal or any other CMS as they bring in the desired functionality natively and not via plugins (potential security vulnerabilities, compatibility issues).

Take-home message: Small things can actually define the entire design process of a theme and often require that a theme is written from scratch to make it easy to handle in the end.

Courtney Lambert – Social Media and Blogging for Corporates

I had first started out in the technical strand and thus missed Courtney’s beginning (thanx to her uploading her slides, I can view them anyway). However, I was happy that I switched sessions and could listen to Courtney’s presentation. One of the many things that stuck: New Zealanders are increasingly using social media to interact with brands and to support their purchase decision making. The key term here is “interact”. Social media should never be used as a one-way street by a company, but always regarded as a conversation. Participate and don’t broadcast. That new thinking is often still difficult for companies as they are not used to it and have not planned for resources to fulfill that role.

Courtney did not only give her presentation, but also interacted actively with us, the audience, when she played “Oprah’s awesomest fruit” game with us. We were divided into 3 groups and had 4 minutes time to come up with a pitch for our fruit (apple, orange, lemon) to Oprah aka Courtney to make it to her show and become famous instantly. The game showed us the following:

  • think outside of the box and don’t cling to what’s in front of you and what you are used to
  • think big because you need to get attention and have to compete with others
  • you need to engage the person you are pitching to into a conversation to gain their attention
  • the person you are pitching to usually doesn’t have any time, only half-listens and you are pitching at the same time as many others -> you need to stand out
  • make yourself available on as many channels as possible and be contactable
Courtney Lambert (right)

Courtney Lambert (right) and the leaders of the teams in the "Oprah's awesomest fruit" game; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Take-home message: If you engage in social media in a company, you need to provide for a community manager and make resources available as this job takes time and dedication.

Michael Brandon – SEO 101 – Search phrase selection especially for WordPress

Michael knows all about search engine optimization and shared his knowledge with us. SEO is often also increasing usability of a site by putting content at the top of the page and not hiding it at the bottom.

He said it’s not so much about individual words than it is about search phrases because most people don’t search individual words, but entire phrases. Furthermore, if you get your SEO right for Google, you are pretty much covered.

A common mistake people make is to not put the search phrase on their web page. Apparently, that’s a SEO no-go and should be corrected as quickly as possible if you want to increase your listing spot.

Nowadays when your site is listed as #2 on Google, you are basically #1 because hardly ever can anybody beat Wikipedia that dominates the throne.

Take-home message: SEO is also improvement of usability of a web site and not just pushing a site up on the result list in a search engine.

Michael Brandon

Michael Brandon; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Richard Hollingum – TEDxAuckland – Making a difference

Richard Hollingum from the Deapartment of Doing (what a cool company name) shared with us his experience of organizing TEDxAuckland, being at TED himself several years ago and having taken up again the organization of TEDxAuckland that’s coming up on September 26, 2010.

TED and TEDx events are all about “ideas worth spreading”. Richard, however, wants to take it a step further after having seen that people wanted to continue the conversation last year beyond the event. He wants to include “ideas worth doing” and therefore charges an entrance fee for this year’s TEDxAuckland to get the seed money for supporting a cause.

Take-home message: Inspiration is good (and can be bought for $15 from the Department of Doing) and necessary, but it should not end there. Keep the dialogue and engagement going.

Richard Hollingum

Richard Hollingum; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Quintin Russ – WordPress and you – Security tips for 2010

Quintin’s presentation was the best scariest presentation I have ever heard. He talked about how to make a WordPress installation (or for that matter any installation) more secure. It was scary because it showed that you live in constant danger of falling pray to security vulnerabilities and other exploits.

Quintin’s talk was very technical, but I could follow except for the occasional abbreviation or something like “hash with a salt” (What? Make hashbrowns with salt? Well that’s a given 😉 ). His target audience was site hosts and server admins who need to make sure that the installations run smoothly.

But what can a normal WordPress user already do without spending her / his entire day monitoring web sites that publish updates about security vulnerabilities and without needing a diploma in techspeak?

  • update, update, update
  • don’t use “admin” as any user and use strong passwords -> use KeePassX, for example, to manage your passwords
  • write your blog posts with the least privileges because you don’t need admin rights to write
  • read OWASP
  • Google every plugin you intend to install to find out what others are saying about it and whether there are security issues related to it; you can check the Exploit Database for that as well
  • intrusion detection software / plugins are not free of vulnerabilities as they are just plugins themselves -> don’t trust them blindly

Quintin had many more useful tips, but if a normal user follows the ones above, s/he is already well ahead of the majority.

Take-home message: Everybody who has a WordPress installation, should know basics of web site security and do her / his share to ensure a site’s security.

Quintin Russ

Quintin Russ; shared by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Part 2 and Part 3 to come.

01 May

Productive May Day

Today is May 1, Labor Day in Europe, and thus a holiday. I used it to see if I could get my WordPress MU installation running and actually create blogs which did not work earlier during the week. I had run into trouble when I used sub-domains, but the sub-directories work fine.

The reason behind the upgrade to WP MU was that I wanted to create a second blog on my server to showcase my daily photograph. Of course, I could always link to my flickr photo set, but I prefered to use a blog. Well, that was not a novel in itself, as others had already done so before me, e.g. D’Arcy Norman and also Alan Levine as I realized very recently. From them I got the idea to use the Monotone theme, which displays the photos with an individual background that matches the dominant color in the photographs. Way cool.

After having solved my blog creation problem and having moved my regular blog (this one here) over to my MU installation, I started to tackle my photo blog. As Alan Levine describes nicely in his post “(Almost) Effortless Photo Blog”, I wanted to connect my blog with flickr as well to be able to post immediately to my photo blog from there. I had no such luck until I found out that I had to activate the XML-RPC publishing protocol in my blog settings under “Writing”. Once the checkmark was placed, I could link my blog to my flickr account.

Now I had the monumental task to add all pictures to the blog. That took about four hours for 119 photos (I had missed to take a photo one day) because my internet connection was uncooperative today and everything was rather slow. However, now that I am done, I really like the result, and I also found the “Page Links To” plugin to allow a tab in the blog menu to open my photo blog immediately.

Update: I changed the archive page to display 31 photos instead of only 24. That is particularly nice when the archive of an entire month is displayed.