When new features are introduced into WordPress.com, some of the people with WordPress blogs hosted elsewhere ask when and how the features will be available to them. The new Jetpack plugin makes a bunch of WordPress.com features available for self-hosted blogs.

Jetpack has its own site, Jetpack.me, and of course its own blog. In the blastoff post, Matt announced that some of the largest hosts have made Jetpack part of the WordPress install. There is coverage elsewhere (e.g., TechCrunch), but not as much I’d have expected.

Jetpack 1.1 (I’m not sure how it differs from 1.0) bundles eight features, including the shortcodes available at WordPress.com. It will make it easier to migrate from .com to another WordPress host. The Intense Debate comment management system/plugin in not part of Jetpack 1.1. I’m not sure whether it will be included in a future release.

I’ll probably try out Jetpack next time I do some admin on one of my excessive number of self-hosted WordPress blogs.

Blogs were once the outlet of choice for people who wanted to express themselves online. But with the rise of sites like Facebook and Twitter, they are losing their allure for many people — particularly the younger generation.

So says the NYT, based on a Pew report.

Former bloggers said they were too busy to write lengthy posts and were uninspired by a lack of readers. Others said they had no interest in creating a blog because social networking did a good enough job keeping them in touch with friends and family.

I saw the article via a blog post, albeit one so short that it wouldn’t have been out of place on Facebook or Twitter. The post was by Toni, CEO of Automattic, the firm that runs WordPress.com (among other things).

The guy who put the Matt in Automattic responded to the article at a more traditional blog post length. He pointed out the big picture: “people of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable publishing online.” He also described the various tools publishing as complementary.

Tumblr is a particularly interesting publishing tool in this context, so it was good that an interview with Tumblr founder David Karp went online today (at TechCrunch). He admires WordPress as a tool for “long-form publishing.” David founded Tumblr for people whose dislike of writing presents a barrier to blogging.

But don’t Twitter and Facebook lower those barriers even further? They do, but they lack a strong expressive identity, argues Karp… Tumblr, in contrast, is built to be a place you can be proud to call your online home. It’s very design-oriented and you can customize your Tumblr to reflect your personality.

I think that’s a pretty good characterization of Tumblr, or at least a good motive for founding it and for using it. Meanwhile, I’m posting this on WordPress, which will automatically tell my Twitter followers about it. Hey Twitter types, and others, thank you for reading this opus.

After the good news about themes at WordPress.com comes some bad news about themes for self-hosted WordPress sites. Siobhan Ambrose at WPMU.org wondered what she’d find if she Googled “Free WordPress Themes.” She examined themes from each of the top 10 hits for that search.

The result? Only one of the 10 theme sites was “safe.” Another was “iffy.” For the other 8, Siobhan’s advice is “avoid,” on the basis that some of the themes use Base64 encoding in order to sneak spammy links into the theme. Base64 can also be used to include malware.

The safe site is the WordPress.org themes directory. Since it currently includes well over a thousand themes, there seems little danger of a free theme shortage. Each of the themes there is under the GPL, and so is free as in freedom and well as free as in beer. In other words, you are free to modify the code of those themes.

This doesn’t mean that every source of free themes other than the official WordPress.com directory is bad. What it does mean is that, just as social media attracts spam, social media tools attract spam-producing components. It also means that some of the people who make those components also study the dark side of SEO.

WordPress.com Themes

January 12, 2011

Last week, WordPress.com theme wrangler Lance asked on the forums: If you could change one thing about your theme, what would it be? I was the second person to reply.

I didn’t hold my breath waiting for my request to be implemented, since Simpla is not among the newest or the most popular themes available at WordPress.com. But, if you look at a single post on this blog, you’ll see links to the next and previous posts. In other words, my request was implemented within days. I’m impressed, even factoring in the fact that next/previous links aren’t complex things, and that some believe that they should be part of the post layout of every theme.

I’m hoping that the Theme Team will write a summary of Project One Thing. In fact, I’ll head over to their recent post at the WP.com blog to suggest it.

Hot Off the (Word)Presses

January 3, 2011

Three news items about WordPress together seem to justify a post, especially given my intention to increase the quantity (and yes, quality) of posts here in 2011.

The first is about WordPress.com, which hosts this and millions of other blogs. The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys emailed me a summary of 2010 at Changing Way. They did the same for many others. Michael at TechCrunch and Constantine at Collateral Damage each hit the handy “Post this summary to my blog” button.

I’m wondering if every stats summary sent out showed reported that “The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.” Each of the links in the previous paragraph leads to a “Wow.” That doesn’t surprise me about TC or about CD, but it does surprise me about CW. I note that two of my five most viewed posts were about Lala, although only one of them was posted in 2010.

The other two items are about self-hosted WordPress. Version 3.1, Release Candidate 2, has just been, well, released. I should install it at one of my many blogs (how many do I have? I don’t know, but probably should) even though the new features seem more worthy than exciting.

Finally, if you’re running WordPress 3.0, you should install 3.0.4, a critical security release. Hey, that means I should go and do that very thing right now…

Twitter Blackbird Pie is a method of displaying tweets as rich full content rather than as just simple URLs or images. I would include an example in this post, were Twitter not down at the moment.

Twitter Blackbird Pie is a plugin for WordPress. It’s also a feature of WordPress.com, a service with rather more uptime than Twitter.

Mashable Ben’s recent op-ed on Facebook, Twitter and The Two Branches of Social Media prompted me to ask two of my favorite questions. How does this fit in with what I’ve posted? How does WordPress fit in?

Ben’s two branches are social networks and information networks. They correspond respectively to connection and content. The correspondence isn’t exact: for example, I see connection and content as two elements of that mix in different ways in different social media tools, rather than as separate branches. I agree with Ben that the distinction between social networks (which emphasize connection) and information networks (which emphasize content) illustrates a fundamental difference between Facebook and Twitter.

WordPress is more about content than about connection in that it’s more for building information networks than for building social networks. But of course, WordPress is a platform on which you can build pretty much what you want, and social networking has already been built on top of it, in the form of BuddyPress.

In the future of blogging, “the winner will be WordPress.” That’s the way it seems to Philip Leigh, writing at MediaPost (via WordPress Publisher Blog). Philip goes on to imply that blogging will be an important factor in the future of media.

He identifies two reasons for the success of WordPress: it’s free, and it’s free. He uses open source rather than free, or free as in speech, or GPL’d, to describe the second cause of success. The first cause is free as in beer, gratis, cost of zero, etc.

I refer to the MediaPost article, not just to quote it – it’s been fairly widely quoted already – but to remark on some of the questions it implicitly raises. In particular, consider the following.

WordPress is not merely a blogging tool. It’s a platform that can lead to an explosion of new media properties capable of text, video, audio, music, animation, interactivity, online merchandising, podcasting, and even social networking.

WordPress isn’t the only such platform. It isn’t the only such platform that’s both free and free. Drupal and Joomla spring to mind. So what is it about WordPress that will make it the winner? Is it the trajectory from simple blogging tool to rich publishing platform?

I’ve recently been developing some WordPress training. This in partly in order to offer and deliver such training in the Washington DC/southern Maryland area – and beyond. It’s partly because I’m taking classes in Instructional Systems Design at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Here’s my Design Plan for a WordPress Beginner Course (pdf).

One of the main plots in the story of the web is the replacement of scarcity by abundance. For example, you want to find restaurant reviews? Go ahead, knock yourself out, but try to finish with the reviews before the restaurants close for the night. As that example shows, abundance is itself a problem.

Abundance isn’t just a problem for consumers of web content. It’s also a problem for content creators. For example, what plugins should you use for your WordPress site?

The official plugin directory currently lists over 10,000. You can search by keyword, but that doesn’t solve the abundance problem. Searching for the keyword analytics yields 270 plugins.

So we need selection, or ordering, or, to use a currently fashionable term, curation. The plugin directory does this by sorting; you get to choose the criterion (Relevance, Highest Rated, Newest, Recently Updated, or Most Popular).

Weblog Tools Collection recently asked “WordPress Genuises” for the top 5 plugins they use in every site they set up, and published the results. I’ve been guided by those results in setting up the PTA website I’m working on.

I’m interesting in approaching plugin curation from another direction. There are several value-added WordPress hosts, such as page.ly and WP Engine. They use plugins. I’m interesting in their selection of plugins, since it provides a sort of implicit curation of plugins. I’ll contact them, and see what I can come up with.

Meanwhile, any comments on plugins and how to select among the abundance are welcome.

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