What is Your WordPress Experience Level?

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[polldaddy poll=2641979]The most successful marketers have one thing in common — they know their audience. Unfortunately, I’ve taken my site in so many directions over the years that my audience has consistently changed, rather than consistently grown. So that’s mistake #1 that I made.

Mistake #2 is that since I’ve decided on the general goal of this site — that is, to make Develop Daly accessible to customers and to provide rich information on WordPress and web design — I haven’t really addressed who I’m writing to.

Now, whomever my audience is won’t dictate the exact content of the site, but it will help me determine whether or not posts like “Is @font-face Safe to Use Yet?” needs more or less explanation of the general topic of web fonts. With that said, leave your vote on the poll.

WordPress Tips 2010

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WordPress Tips 2010

For the past two years I’ve give ten tips on how to better use WordPress so I wanted to continue the tradition. This time, however, I’m taking a bigger picture look at the WordPress horizon. These “tips” are less tangible than adding a snippet of code to a template or installing a new plugin. Still, you’ll surely find them helpful for understanding WordPress more as well as keeping up with the always evolving software.

Also, there’s many posts out there featuring tips for WordPress. Honestly, I don’t have much more to add at this point. That said, after the 3.0 launch in April 2010 there will be much more to discuss.

Theme Frameworks

My prediction is that before long the majority of new themes will be child themes. That is, once the WordPress theme repository supports child themes I think they will catch on quickly with developers and gradually gain users. The reason is simple. Child themes are easier to make, maintain, and switch between than traditional themes.

The parent/child theme relationship is already possible with any theme, but frameworks built for the sole purpose of being said framework are so robust and well thought out that they’ll pioneer the themeing frontier for the next couple of years.

WordPress = BuddyPress + WordPress MU + bbPress

So this equation has long been one of frustration.

  • If you wanted to use BuddyPress with WordPress you needed WordPress MU.
  • If you wanted to use bbPress with WordPress it needed it’s own install.
  • If you wanted to use bbPress integrated with WordPress you got a headache.
  • If you wanted to use WordPress MU with all of the features of its standalone counterpart then you had to wait.

This year will be dominated with consolidation. All of these separate projects are already in the works to become seamless. WordPress MU will simply become WordPress. BuddyPress will work in WordPress. bbPress will become a plugin that will fit right into WordPress.

This has to be one of the most exciting things for developers. Suddenly managing these different properties will reside under one roof. Nuff said.

Community

The driving force behind WordPress’ success is community. 2010 seeks to make the community more accessible. Ideas are floating around about how to revamp WordPress.org to be more community-centric, giving everyone a voice and making ideas actionable.

On top of this, the WP user base is so large now that feuds pop up about the differences in how WordPress should be run. While its not ever a good thing to quarrel, it is nice to know that people care enough about this project to put their feelings into it.

And then on the flip side, the user base is so diluted with every type of person out there that wrangling the community is harder than ever. So it may not be long before large groups begin to move away from WP to find their new, upcoming project. There’s nothing wrong with that — its how WordPress grew to be so successful. Don’t fret though, WordPress is here to stay for a long, long time.

Pro, Premium, Core Plugins

I’m not differentiating between these three categories of plugins. They all share the same idea of being well-developed and supported plugins. In other words, its taking more and more to be considered a worthwhile plugin these days. Its the nature of capitalism at work and its been great for producing some high quality projects so far. The downside, of course, is that competing with the “big boys” is becoming harder.

But, an experiment is upon us and officially supported plugins (those that WordPress will put a stamp of approval on) are nearing. The debate is back and forth over whether having “official” plugins is good or not, but it should at least prove to be a move in the right direction for those wanting a bit more stability and longevity out of their sites.

Re-Dedication to Perfection

Matt and the WordPress committers have always been keen on keeping the code clean and bug-free. Nothing can be perfect, of course, but there seems to be a renewed spirit of making sure the best quality code gets into the core. Beyond that, there’s a promise for more stringent testing phases to ensure that bugs are caught and fixed before major releases. This comes from keeping the development cycle more organized and also from a simple spirit of making 3.0 the best WordPress ever.

I’m Thankful For WordPress

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There’s a lot of things I’m thankful for: my family, my dog, a freelancer’s freedom, Christ. But as it pertains to my livelihood I’m particularly thankful for WordPress.

Not only was WordPress my kick-start into standards-based web design, but it has since served as my primary CMS of choice. I don’t need to go into features that make WordPress great. They are and if you don’t believe me I can prove it to you elsewhere.

The WordPress feature-set is nice, but I’m most thankful for everything surrounding WordPress. Community: IRC, forums, thousands of WP-centered blogs with great info, WordCamps, passion.

I’d like to touch on that last note: passion. I’ve seen some passionate people around the WordPress-o-sphere for a while, but I’ve recently just really noticed it. I’ve always felt passionate about WordPress, but of course the fire grows.

Any sort of product, service, company, etc. with a following there will have turmoil at some point. WordPress licensing debates have gone on forever, but within the past year they’ve really blown up. The same sort of fiery issues come up every once in a while (i.e. commercial plugins, duplicating premium themes, wp.org progress, MU, etc.). Those on both sides of an issue dig their trenches and seemingly burrow deeper and deeper as the argument continues.

Of course fighting for your stance tooth and nail isn’t anything new. But what amazes me is that WordPress can cause it. For starters, WordPress is six years old. In part, its infancy is probably a cause of some of the issues. Nevertheless, it hasn’t be around long and already there are enough users divided amongst themselves. It’s not a good thing, but it is cool to see so many people making their cases because they care.

No one would waste their time arguing about WordPress if they didn’t care — almost no one, that is. Sure, there’s some people that argue because they just like to disagree with people. Others do so selfishly and care not what is best for WordPress but for themselves. For the most part, though, people want to see WordPress succeed (beyond what it’s incredibly achieved so far).

So we argue debate because we care.

Sometimes we just need a reminder of what we’re thankful for. Keep that in mind if you’re amongst those of us who spend time (too much?) trying to figure out where WordPress is, where it should go and how to get there.

Happy Thanksgiving.

WordPress for Project Management

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This is a call to all those interested in using WordPress as a project management tool. I’m certainly not alone in desiring similar functionality that existing project management tools offer, namely Basecamp.

There’s been some attempts that are full on plugins, but they don’t quite fit the bill, and more importantly they’re out of date and mostly unsupported.

Before I tell you my plans, let’s make the case for WordPress Project Management.

Why Would You Want to Use WordPress for Project Management?

1. Because you can
This is usually a terrible reason for doing something, but WordPress is an extensible platform that’s obviously proven it’s worth so why not add to it some really great new functionality? WordPress developers have no doubt that it can be done, but it hasn’t been thoroughly tackled yet.

2. Cost
Basecamp and other PM solutions out there are reasonably priced, but we’ve been spoiled with open-source software, so we need our “free” fix. The cost does start to get steep when you’re managing lots of projects though.

3. De-fragmentation
If I could centralize all of the web-related things I do then I’d be much happier. I’d prefer that my project management and in-development sites be more closely tied together so that my clients can more easily stay in tune.

4. Control
We “WP self-hosters” love control. I’d prefer to control my brand, my data, features…you name it.

What Does Project Management Really Include?

  • User accounts
  • Multiple projects
  • To-do lists
  • Collaboration

At its core PM generally offers those. Let’s take a look at how WordPress can handle those. We’ll also introduce WordPress MU, since it has quite a bit to offer in our case.

  • User accounts –> Done.
  • Multiple projects –> Done. You can use each child blog as a project.
  • To-do lists –> I think 2.9′s introduction of custom post types could find a use here. There still needs to be some customization.
  • Collaboration –> Done. Posts and comments.

What Else Do We Need?

So if you wanted to use WP for PM today you could do it, but it’s not ideal.

I think WP should handle PM in the front-end for the most part. This way we can control the user-interface more easily, and only provide the user’s with what is necessary. This means we need a theme.

A Theme

Really you could use any theme you wanted and using posts and comments you’d have a fairly organized setup. Of course, they wouldn’t be ideal. A step in the right direction is the P2 theme. Most importantly it allows you to post directly from the front-end. Secondly, it presents posts and comments in a more digestible fashion than the traditional blog post UI.

Most people love the Basecamp interface, so we should really look to it for inspiration. In fact, it’s so nice that I decided to clone it.

I’ve created a new theme called Basechamp. Before you freak out, I know it’s a complete rip-off. I’ve intentionally just copied it while I experiment with the PM idea. It won’t be released to the public until its got its own skin. Also know that it’s a very incomplete piece of work.

So there’s a ray of hope that achieving a project manager can mostly be achieved with a simple theme.

What’s Lacking

What this theme doesn’t yet account for is the administrator. If you’re using WPMU to set this up you can assign a theme to all of the child blogs (each its own separate project). If you’re the admin though you may want to see an overview of all projects, so we’d need to add a template that called data from all projects.

What if someone other than the administrator is assigned to multiple projects, they need an overview page as well. I need to figure out how to best implement this.

All project updates need some sort of email subscription management (subscribe to new posts and comments, daily/weekly summaries, choose to notify certain users of the new post or comment).

To-list lists and milestones need an extensive calendar system.

So, My Plans?

As you can tell, I’ve got something in the works that I plan to release at some point. I’ve already got some support behind this, but I’m interested to know who else may be interested in using this and who might want to help finish it up. Also, the theme will be a child theme for Hybrid and Justin Tadlock has already shown some interest in the project.

In the meantime, we’ll call this Project Basechamp. Give your ideas for a new name when it’s launched.

What am I looking for?

  • A new design for the theme that takes inspiration from Basecamp
  • To-do list implementation
  • Calendar support for to-do lists and milestones
  • Robust email functionality
  • General help and ideas

How to get involved

Leave your comments. Also, join the forum. Serious developers will get access to the code.

Share your Basechamp feature ideas.

Child Theme Inclusion in the WordPress Directory

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Before you get too excited, child themes aren’t yet in the theme directory. That’s what this post is aimed at achieving though.

For those unfamiliar with child themes, just take a look at this explanation of why and how to use them.

Just this week I released two child themes for Hybrid. Obviously this is my motivation for promoting the inclusion of child themes in the official WordPress theme directory. Though, I think this idea can greatly benefit the entire community. Today you won’t find any child themes in the directory because it doesn’t support theme yet.

Back in April, Justin Tadlock wrote a similar post that proposed several changes to the directory. Joseph Scott took some time to reply and address some of the issues facing his proposed upgrades.

Child themes pose an interesting challenge. In part because they can, at their own option, replace portions of the parent theme which makes automated testing harder. But perhaps the most difficult part to that puzzle is providing an easy experience for end users when they want to use a child theme. A number of people find it challenging to install a regular theme, adding another layer of issues for them to be aware of isn’t likely to help.

I’d like to expound on the problems and propose some specific solutions.

Problem: Testing and Approval

One of the problems brought up is that automated testing of child themes would be harder. I can’t really speak to this specifically since I’m not familiar with the automated testing that goes on behind the scenes, but here’s what I know is included in the automated testing:

  • Verification of certain style sheet requirements (i.e. theme name, version, tags)
  • Checks for the existence of a screen shot
  • Checks for the uniqueness of the theme name and directory name

Perhaps it checks for the existence of certain templates, but in the case of a child theme the automated checker could ignore that rule.

Other than that, I can’t come up with anything more that might be included in the automated testing. From my limited knowledge, those wouldn’t present any problems in the automated testing. The rest of the theme development checklist includes things that would need to be manually checked.

So, with a couple of minor tweaks (checking if the style sheet signifies a parent theme and possibly ignoring the existence of certain templates) I think the automated testing could easily be achieved.

Manual Approval

After a theme makes it through the automated process it moves onto manual approval. This process wouldn’t be any different than the existing process. In fact, child themes would probably present fewer problems than standard themes because they would likely adhere to most of the templates established by their parent.

Problem: User Experience

“perhaps the most difficult part to that puzzle is providing an easy experience for end users when they want to use a child theme”
–Joseph Scott

Indeed, this is a hard part. Especially since another point Joesph made was that lots of users still have a hard enough time understanding how to use themes in general. So let’s keep that in mind while I present some options to integrate child themes into the directory.

Redesigning the Theme Page

We’ll start with the parent theme and we’ll use Hybrid as an example. Essentially, we need to make Hybrid the primary theme and avoid the child themes dominating any of the UI. Since the theme pages already use tabs I figured we could add a “Child Themes” tab if any child themes exist.

Parent Theme
Hybrid Theme Page

Clicking on the theme title or the screen shot would take you to the child theme’s unique page.

I think child themes should have their own pages. They would need their own page because they too would have their own “Stats” tab, ratings, and what “others are saying” section.

Child Theme
WP Full Site Theme Page

Of course a reference to the parent theme is necessary so a simple information box should suffice.

This is where the user experience complications begin.

Notice the “Download” button has a note that the parent theme will be included in the download. This prevents anyone from downloading a child theme, uploading it and being confused as it why it doesn’t work. There’s one foreseeable dilemma here. If someone downloads a child theme, uploads the child and the contained parent theme and unknowingly overwrites an older version of the parent theme there may be compatibility issues. I don’t see any way around this, but I wouldn’t say its a deal breaker. More on this in the next section…

Automatic Installer

Installing from within WordPress presents another issue. The installer would need to check if the parent theme exists. That should be easy enough. If the theme exists then skip installing it, however, what do we do if an older version exists? Do you prompt the user with an option to upgrade the parent?

Problems:

  • User installs the child, upgrades the parent, but the child theme isn’t compatible with the current parent version
  • User installs the child, skips upgrading the parent, but the child theme is dependent upon the latest version

I’m actually stumped on this one. I could really use some ideas here.

Summing it Up

The inclusion of child themes in the official WordPress Themes directory is good idea because it gives themes greater flexibility and makes theme management easier for users. There’s a few problems to overcome before allowing child theme submissions into the directory, but nothing a little more brainstorming can’t resolve. I think with enough support from the community we could get this implemented rather quickly (who can even know what that means though?).

Update: Vote for this idea on WordPress.org