Content and Connection Revisited, Again

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.

WordPress Winning By Being Free as in…

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?

WordPress Beginner Course: Design Plan

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).

WordPress Plugins: Abundance and Curation

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.

Whither Movable Type?

There are several comparisons of WordPress and Drupal here at Changing Way, the most recent being 5 months ago. What about other social publishing platforms? Well, I posted about a Smashing comparison of WordPress and Joomla at around the same time.

And what about Movable Type? That’s the question posed in a recent comment on the WordPress and Drupal post. It’s a good question, particularly in the light of recent news about MT’s parent company. I refer to Six Apart dropping Vox, and then being acquired by VideoEgg. (I didn’t post about the acquisition, but former Six Apart evangelist Anil Dash did.)

The most recent post on the official MT blog is a promise that MT is safe: “of course we will continue development and support of this platform that now has a decade of history behind it.” The same post stresses that MT is open source. In that, it is similar to WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. Unlike those other platforms, it was not born free/open.

Many of the key points at the MT overview page will be familiar to those made about the other open/free social publishing platforms. MT isn’t just for blogging, it can be used as a more general tool to create websites. It can be used to build community, as well as to publish content.

Movable Type is not 6A’s only product, or even its only platform. There’s also TypePad, “Six Apart’s premier hosted blogging service… [with its] easy to use interface.”

So, that’s my shot at mixing Movable Type into the comparison. It may be more about 6A than about MT, but that seems appropriate at the moment. Comments are welcome, on 6A, on more technical aspects of MT, or on pretty much anything else.

Windows Live to Roll Over to WordPress.com

Web services close down all the time. TechCrunch, among the sources I subscribe to, is the most zealous at documenting such shutdowns. It usually uses the term Deadpool.

But it just passed up on the opportunity for headlines such as “Windows Live Spaces to the Deadpool.” Instead, Jason Kincaid’s post has the title Windows Live Outsources Blogging, Migrating 30 Million Users To WordPress.com. Now, this seems to be less abrupt than many closedowns.

Users will be migrated through a process that preserves all of their content, and will automatically redirect visitors who head to their existing Microsoft Live Spaces sites… Microsoft is going to be killing off the existing Spaces product in six months.

So it’s killing off without a deadpool? I’m not sure why it takes TechCrunch most of the article to use a word of death. It’s not usually that delicate, or squeamish.

Anyway, this is big for WordPress.com, where Paul Kim welcomes the new arrivals.

WordCamp Mid-Atlantic

I spent Saturday at WordCamp Mid-Atlantic in Baltimore. It was my first WordCamp, the one in Boston having taken place just after I moved down to Maryland.

I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to make it to the event, was on the waitlist, but managed to leapfrog the list by responding to a call for volunteers. I spent some time at reception (but most of the checking-in was done by others), directed people to sources of coffee, listened to complaints about the directions, etc., but was mainly free to roam.

Most of the online discussion of the event is to be found at Twitter (#wcma), rather than on WordPress blogs. A micro-sign of the times, perhaps.

It won’t be my last WordCamp. I hope to be at (and have offered to help with) WCMA next year.

PressRow on Death Row

The selection of themes at WordPress.com no longer includes Cutline. Why not? Here’s how staffer Themeshaper explained in the support forum.

When we first added the Cutline theme to WordPress.com it was free software. That means the users of that theme had the freedom to use, share, and modify that theme as they wished—as long as they passed those freedoms on when they shared it. That freedom let us bring the Cutline theme here to WordPress.com and it’s the same freedom that’s made WordPress so popular…

Cutline was sold a few years ago and had a more restrictive license placed on it. The original author of the Cutline theme has gone on to produce other themes with more restrictive licenses. Using Cutline has been seen as a promotion of that work and that’s not something we want to do

Posting on the replacement of Cutline with Coraline, I closed with a thought on another theme.

If I were using PressRow at WordPress.com, I’d be wondering how much longer I’d have it for, and what might replace it.

One comment on the post provides confirmation that PressRow is on death row. Another identifies PressRow as the theme of choice if you want Cutline and can no longer use it. That’s not surprising, since the two themes share a designer (Chris Pearson) and hence a certain look and feel.

I hope that WordPress.com will handle the endgame for PressRow more gracefully than it handled the Cutline cutoff. In other words, I hope that PressRow users won’t suddenly find that they are using a different theme.

I fear a worse than that case scenario, in which:

  • Most, or many, PressRow users get no advance warning.
  • They are switched to a theme they didn’t choose, had never heard of, and, in many cases, dislike.
  • They find their widgets, as well as their theme, gone.
  • They just switched to PressRow, and did so when Cutline went away.

All except the last of these happened during the Cutline cut. The last could happen, especially given the similarity of PressRow to Cutline, and the fact that PressRow is a prominent theme at WordPress.com: if you sort themes on popularity, PressRow is on the front page.

The number of PressRow blogs at WordPress.com may well be in six figures. I arrive at that noting that it is the 14th most popular theme, and that WordPress.com hosts millions of blogs.

I’d like to see a retirement plan for PressRow, stating things like how to forwarn every PressRow user, how much notice to give, etc. I’d like to see the plan itself posted, so that the community can comment on it.

If PressRow/death row isn’t handled better than Cutline/cut, we may see one of WordPress.com’s competitors advancing the proposition: come to us, we won’t cut your theme or put it on death row. That said, the most recent and aggressive attempt to get migrants from WordPress came from Posterous, which has more recently had downtime woes. The most likely migration destination from WordPress.com is still self-hosted WordPress.

Coraline: The WordPress Theme

CoralineCoraline is the story of a girl who finds herself in a different reality. I like the original Neil Gaiman novel, and the movie (and this photo, by origami_potato, of a Coraline doll).

Another Coraline story concerns WordPress.com users who find themselves with a different theme. Coraline is a new theme at WordPress.com, where it has replaced Cutline. I think that this is the first time that WordPress.com has removed a theme and switched all sites from that theme to another, without prior warning.

Is it surprising that this particular theme – Cutline – has been retired from WordPress.com? Yes and no. Yes, since Cutline was one of the most popular themes at WordPress.com. No, given the recent controversy involving Cutline designer Chris Pearson.

I’m not the only person who thought that Cutline might have been retired because of its designer. This thought is expressed in one of the many forum threads protesting the abrupt replacement of Cutline with Coraline. Other such posts include: YOU changed my theme without my knowledge; Cutline is Gone!?@(!(!(; WordPress deleted my theme w/out notification.

I note that there is another popular WordPress.com theme designed by Chris Pearson: PressRow. If I were using PressRow at WordPress.com, I’d be wondering how much longer I’d have it for, and what might replace it.