What IS a Blog?

(This is a sticky post)

In his 2011 book, Joomla! 1.6: A User’s Guide – Building a Successful Joomla! Powered Website, Barrie North describes “what is a blog?”  Here is my summary of his topic:

What IS a blog?
* communication medium: typically frequent brief posts about a particular subject
* unique communication style: honest first-person voice
frequent posting: daily? weekly?
* usually posts are brief, only introductory text is shown on the main page, along with a “read more link
* make regular posts to build a loyal readership that will have consistent expectations about your blog content

Carol’s comment: who has time to regularly read anyone’s blog? Even as much as I value Jacob Nielsen’s “Alert Box,” I only visit when I have time to read, and first I search through his recent topic lists to choose what to read. Or I read someone’s blog post when it turns up in Google search results.

Which platform? Barrie says pick one that’s extensible to other types of web pages. In 2011, when Barrie North published his book, WordPress was (probably?) not so extensible.  Hence Joomla was the choice.  Now (in 2015) WordPress has evolved into a more general website platform.

How to order posts?

How to Add Links to Your Facebook Posts

An effective promotional post would include a sentence or two (call to action) and an image illustrating your message that linked to a spot to read more.  But how to do that?  Here’s the best I can find TODAY:

A Facebook post in progress
Facebook builds a “Link Preview” if you type a space character after your link.
  1. Prepare your link, message, image, and start your post.
  2. Suggested image size is 560 pixels wide.  It will be displayed at full post width, so set the height with that in mind.
  3. Write your message in its entirety, followed by your link and a space
  4. The space will trigger a “link preview” (see picture on right)

    Facebook post composition in progress
    Editing a Facebook post: options to upload a photo
  5. The link preview appears to take text from the web page’s meta description tag, and let you cycle through a few images from the page.  You can’t edit the meta description part of your post.
  6. If you don’t like any of the pictures or the meta description, you can remove one or both using the tiny faint “X” upper right.  That leaves you with the text of your post and an option to UPLOAD a photo.
  7. New post in Facebook ready to post
    Facebook ready to post

    I don’t see a way to use a photo already existing at your Facebook account.  So you must upload from your browser/PC.

  8. The only way to close the image window is to hit the blue “Post” button lower right.
A Facebook post with a link and a photo
Finished Facebook post, containing a link and a photo.

To the left is the resulting post.  My link goes to the URL shown, the photo goes to … not the link, but to some details about the photo.

To summarize, if the page you link to generates a Facebook link preview that you like, visitors may actually click through to your call to action page.  If the page you link to doesn’t generate a suitable link, you can upload a photo that may draw visitors’ attention, but only the most dedicated visitor will seek out the tiny text of your URL and click it.

What is your experience creating Facebook posts with links?

I took my screenshots, and described my experience, using Facebook as of April 25, 2017.  Have you noticed any improvements since then that you’d like to share?

How Facebook can be a Conduit to your Website

Our chief Facebook poster at Santa Clara FireSafe Council taught me a communication method today, that I’ve shared with my budding Facebook team at Bicycle Exchange. She says it’s a way for Facebook to be a conduit to your own website. Or any link you want to promote. Maybe this technique will help you too.

Postscript: I believe the ideal link would be words or a picture that link to the action page. However Facebook will only let you post a “link preview” it builds from the page; or you must spell out the link and upload a photo from your browser/PC. The photo can only link to the Facebook photo comments panel. As described in my tutorial.

Facebook post
Facebook post that links to a web page

Our Facebook team at Bicycle Exchange has used this “conduit” technique to recruit more volunteer bicycle mechanics. For example, Ivan has created a post that links a photo to our website’s “Contact” page. Here’s the technique I learned:

1) Identify the action you want the person to take as a result of the post.

2) Identify the photo which describes the action, event, news or fact.

3) In a sentence or two describe the thing and summarize the action you want the reader to take.

4) Link the action words, or the photo (or both?) to … something.

5) The “something” in our case can be a page at the Bicycle Exchange website.

I recommend looking at anyone’s own Facebook feed for examples. My feed is here; FireSafe Council’s feed is here.

Looking at my own feed, I found several examples right away, of people reposting other people’s findings. “Let your chickens do the gardening for you,” “Sign this petition” etc. (Me personally, I’d rather stick to posting my OWN findings.)

At the Bicycle Exchange Facebook feed, we can choose a workday photo. Then, since what we most need is volunteer mechanics, we can link to the volunteering page at the website.

Do you have any good example Facebook posts you’d like to share?

Or better, have you found out how at Facebook, how to customize a link’s text or photo?

In Joomla: How to Float an Image Left or Right of Text

Here’s how to float an image left or right using JCE editor in Joomla, using your template’s custom styles.

image inserted into article in JCE editor
Image inserted into article in Joomla JCE editor

1) Create your article in the JCE editor, and get it far enough along that you have your text and image added to the article.  Put your image just ahead of the paragraph or list containing the text that’s to be floated alongside the image.

 

JCE editor showing an image selected and the styles menu open
Open the styles pull-down menu

2) Click on your image, then click on the styles pull-down menu to open it.  There are a bunch of styles there to choose from, listed in no particular order.  Scroll down to find the styles img-right and img-left.

 

image floating to the right of text, in JCE editor
Click to apply the style, observe that the image now floats to the right of the text

3) For our example, click the style img-right and note the image now floats to the right of the text in the JCE design view window.

4) Notice too, that the image now has a thin black border.  That is part of the CSS img-right style for this website, as well as custom margins all around the image.

How it works: For each Joomla website I create two custom CSS styles for floating images left or right.  I name them something like img-left and img-right, or image-left and image-right.  These styles will also apply the border and margins to the image, to match the style of your website.

image floating to the right of text on a web page
Front end view, image floated right with thin black border

The margins keep the text some distance from the edges of your image.  For an image floated to the right, I set the right margin to zero and the other top, bottom, and left margins to some small distance.

Extra credit: These custom styles go into the custom style sheet for the Joomla template, named something like custom.css.  In JCE editor global configuration I specify the location of this CSS file, so that the JCE design view window preview shows your article as it would look with these custom styles applied.

How to Add a Title Tag to your Image in WordPress

It seems both WordPress and Joomla make the website editor go the extra mile to add a title tag to an image in a post.  This is the tag that allows you to describe the significance of the image.  Browsers usually display the tag’s value as a “tooltip” when the visitor hovers over the image.  Not to be confused with the “alt” tag which describes how the image looks to a visually impaired person and helps Google to rank the image.

Small five-petaled pink flowers - Leptosiphon montanusTry hovering over this image to see how your browser displays the title tag.

Both CMS’s automatically build an alt tag value when the image is first used in an article or post.  Joomla hides the setting for the title tag behind an “Advanced” tab in the JCE image editor.  That’s not helpful for encouraging a novice author to provide text for the title tag.

Today in WordPress I wanted to add a title tag to the image in my new post.  I dutifully filled in the caption, description and alt tag values in the image editor when I uploaded my image.  A title tag was automatically filled in for me.  But when viewing my post in a browser window, no tooltip on hover!

So, I went to text mode in my post and added the title tag “by hand.”  This time on hover I got an entire paragraph of text with embedded HTML markup.  So that didn’t work.  On close examination of my markup I could not see what was wrong.  So I found this helpful article by WPBeginner.

WordPress post editor, showing image selected
WordPress image editor, showing an image selected, pointing out the edit button

It explained the purpose of alt and title tags, and even explained that the “title” setting WordPress uses when the image is first uploaded, is NOT the title tag that shows as a tooltip.  The article’s directions said that, in my WordPress visual post editor, click on the image then click the edit button that appears.

Look in the “advanced” section to find a field you can fill in with the value of the title tag.

I had to hunt a while to find the “advanced” section, as it was out of view within the popup box.   But finally, “success!”Editing image title attribute - screenshot

I have figured out how to add the title tag in two ways now: if nothing special is going on with captions or other shortcodes, you can simply add a title attribute to the image in question in the post editor’s text mode; or you can use the image editor, scroll down to “advanced” settings and fill in the tag there.

By the way, in adding those last two images, I was reminded of how easy it is in WordPress to display a CAPTION for the image: you just fill in the caption field within the image source.  In Joomla how the caption is used depends entirely on the template, and it requires tricky CSS overrides on the web developer’s part, and perhaps CSS knowledge on the editor’s part, to make it look good.

Also, I accidentally selected two images and found BOTH were inserted into my article.  Does anyone have a good use for such a feature?

How can Let’s Encrypt provide SSL certificate without an IP address?

SiteGround tech support recently introduced a new feature to me when I asked the cost for an SSL certificate for a client’s website.  She said I can set up an SSL certificate for free using a new feature available at their web hosting cPanel called “Let’s Encrypt.”

I tried it out and it seems to work!  I’ve coded this link with http protocol.  Click it to see that the server redirects you to a page that uses the https protocol.  Does it work for you?  Or does your browser display some SSL certificate error messages?

For a long time I’ve provided SSL encryption only when necessary (e.g. e-commerce sites, sites that collect visitor’s private info) because it’s extra cost (lately about $80/year) and requires tech support’s help.  I looked into how SSL could work without needing a dedicated IP address:

I found a thread that explains why no dedicated IP address needed for the SSL certificate.  It says that if your web server’s SSL library supports “server name indication” (SNI), which all modern libraries do, there’s no longer a need for a dedicated IP address for each SSL certificate.

The difference is that if the browser supports SNI, it can send the host name unencrypted, so the server can properly match the virtual host without needing to decrypt the request first.  It also says that for older versions of IE browser running on Windows XP, these browsers don’t support SNI.  It doesn’t say how web servers would handle such requests from these browsers

…   but this next article gives an example of extra work a web server has to do to figure out which website to go to if it gets a request from IE browser with host name encrypted: if it can’t figure out which website to go to, it returns a certificate error.

Joomla global configuration screenshotJoomla has a setting that lets you direct the website to USE the SSL certificate once the certificate is installed on the web server.  That’s how I finished the SSL setup for the example Joomla website above.

For a future topic, once I learn how to set up SSL for a WordPress website I’ll make a new post here.

This just in (9/26): WPBeginner has an article all about how to set up an SSL certificate at SiteGround and DreamHost then what’s required once the certificate is installed, to use it in your WordPress site.  I have not yet read the article, but I’m open to comments from others who have and tried it out.

A quick online search just now shows that only SiteGround and DreamHost offer integration with Let’s Encrypt.  I am looking for my 2nd-favorite web hosting company, InMotion Hosting, to support Let’s Encrypt, but it seems as of Dec 2015 they have no plans to add it.

A Post in Two Categories

What will its permalink be?

WordPress says its this: http://wp.elizahost.com/blogging/a-post-in-two-categories/ and that the higher numbered category (slug=wordpress) won’t be used.  Yet the following two links lead to this article as well:

  • http://wp.elizahost.com/posts/a-post-in-two-categories/
  • http://wp.elizahost.com/foobar/a-post-in-two-categories/

Note I have set a custom permalink style: /%category%/%postname%/ .

Shortlink to previous post.

Reminder: A link to all posts in the category “Posts.”

About Categories and Tags

The main purpose of categories and tags is to improve the usability of your site, by letting a visitor browse through your content by topic rather than browsing chronologically (which is how blogs were initially set up).

A secondary purpose is to help your post be found by search engines, when someone wants information but has no idea who you are or that you’ve posted exactly the answer they are looking for.

A tag cloud: several words of different sizes

Categories are meant for broad grouping of your posts, like a table of contents.  Categories can have sub-categories — they are hierarchical.

Tags are meant to describe specific details of your posts.  They are like a post’s keywords (not in the SEO sense of the word) that you can use to loosely relate your posts – like in the tag cloud or site search.  Tags form the index of your website as though it were a book.

Every post must have a category, even “uncategorized,” whereas tagging a post is optional.

Tips:

  • Authors often rename the uncategorized category to something like Other, Ramblings, Misc. etc.
  • Blogs evolve: there is no way you can come up with all the right categories from the start.  Still, imagine your site after being up and running for several months: what posts does it have?  How will visitors find the content they want?  Choose five generic catgories to start with and add more as your blog evolves.
  • This author suggests starting with top categories that have generic, future-proof meanings, then use tags to identify specific topics that may fall in and out of favor over time.
  • Use the Redirection plugin if your category renaming will affect existing posts’s URL’s.
  • If you find you often want to assign your posts to more than one category, consider restructuring your categories.
  • Categories should distribute your posts well.  If a single category holds 90% of your posts, you probably need new or different categories.
  • Choose categories that highlight the content you want to promote.  In my case, I hope to help others to learn WordPress, so I’ve chosen (sub) categories based on my ideas of the aspects of website development using WordPress.
  • A good rule of thumb is assign no more than 10 tags to each post unless you have a good reason.
  • WordPress will automatically list a post’s category and tags in the post’s byline.  The category name and tag names are linked to browse similarly categorized and tagged posts.
  • The Tag Cloud widget shows your most popular tags sorted alphabetically and sized in proportion to their usage.  I like this use of visual cues.  This post’s image shows this website’s tag cloud just before I added this post.

Remember your purpose in choosing categories and keywords is usability: to organize your website content to help your visitor find the information she seeks.

Resources:

My WordPress book, WordPress, the Missing Manual, has an excellent description on how to choose good categories on p. 109.

Using categories and tags to organize your content.  This author, Syed Balkhi, has an easy-to-understand writing style, seems to keep his content up to date and I like the level of detail provided.  Each article includes links to his other related articles.  I found his articles when I searched for answers to my questions.

Even going back to what appears to be his parent article, Beginner’s Guide for WordPress, in case that’s where you want to start, the content is not an introduction to WordPress but his latest WordPress articles.  It’s as though he has read my mind, as March 29th’s article is “How to Create a Contact Form in WordPress (Step by Step).”  Of course I want to know how to do that … from my experience creating non-WordPress websites.

He loses credibility in my eyes though, with his footer ad “WPBeginner users Get a Free Domain and 50% off Bluehost Web Hosting.” Don’t get me started.

Twenty Sixteen Theme

I am trying out the Twenty Sixteen Theme at my second WordPress practice site, wp.elizapro.com. I changed the background color and created a child theme.

Website home page with header imageMy child theme differs from the parent theme only in that there’s a custom CSS file.  More about Twenty Sixteen Theme:

  • Introduction
  • Download (this page includes a download button)
  • Features (it took me a while to find this page. Why?)
    • The “Features” are NOT described in the sidebar list entitled “Features.” Each of those links shows you a selection of WordPress themes that let you customize that feature … as far as I can tell
    • I can’t find further details on this theme’s features. I thought there was more than the custom colors and header described somewhere. In the meantime, as with any Theme, to see its theme-specific customizations go to your WP dashboard -> Appearance -> Themes, find your theme and hit Customize.

How Did my WordPress get Automatically Updated?

I got an email the other day saying my site was automatically updated to WordPress 4.3.2. How did that happen? I’m self-hosting this website, and I’d not logged in for a couple of months.

It turns out whenever your site requests a page, that is, someone visits your website, this page load will trigger a check for updates.

The update runs in the background via wp-cron. wp_cron checks whether there are any scheduled events in the database. If yes it calls spawn_cron(), which starts another PHP process to do all the actual work.

Lots of processes in WordPress are handled by the cron system: scheduled post publishing, processing pings, update checks, etc.

The automatic update only happens when wordpress.org releases a new minor or security update. Otherwise (for a “major” release like WP 4.3 to 4.4) you must do the update manually by logging in to the back end.

I got this information from http://wordpress.stackexchange.com/questions/131334/how-exactly-do-automatic-updates-work. Thanks to “DisgruntledGoat” for asking and others for answering and explaning.

The Path to Blogging Success

Tips From my WordPress Book

Book cover: WordPress - the missing manual
WordPress – The Missing Manual, by Matthew MacDonald

A good post title clearly announces what you are going to discuss (p. 95)

Make sure your content is worth reading (p. 105) e.g. interesting or useful

Add new content regularly –“avoid stale content.”  But an observation, what’s wrong with that? — posts are dated.  Maybe it depends on the topic.

Keep your content organized.  “A good blog is ruthlessly arranged using categories and tags,” since browsing through monthly archives or searching for keywords in a post are not that convenient.