A modern look and feel

Following on from yesterday’s post about the new logo, today, a bit of background about the template, and some behind-the-scenes stuff. If you have a blog, or are thinking of starting one, read on… I’ll share some important lessons that I learned, to help you to avoid making the same mistakes I did.

Lesson 1: get the right tool for the job

The WordPress dashboardWhatever tool you feel comfortable with is probably the right one for you, so I wouldn’t say that this is a very important lesson, but it’s the first one because it enabled everything that follows. I used Blogger for yonks, ‘coz I thought I only needed something that would take my posts and turn them into a blog, and that’s what it did. Using my own design was possible but cumbersome, which made me put off the redesign for a long time.

When I started building GeekReads using WordPress though, it was like trying new food in a new country – I didn’t know what I was missing out on until I’d experienced it. The self-hosted version of WordPress, which is available as a 1-click install process from most hosting providers, allows you much greater levels of customisation in an interface that is extremely well polished and easy to use. It also has a feature to import posts and comments from Blogger, which made the decision to migrate a complete no-brainer.

For the record, I also had a play around with Drupal while I was trying to build a new site for my father-in-law’s guitar business. I admit, it’s a very powerful Web platform but you almost need a degree to be able to use it.

Lesson 2: pick a template that suits you

cyberseraphic - Crosses at Golgotha splash bannerThe “version 2” design, featuring the Crosses at Golgotha image, was launched not long after I moved from Adelaide to Sydney, having finally left home to make my own way in the world. The choice of image and the relatively dark palette of the theme may be a clue as to my state of mind at the time.

I like to think of myself as a much more mature person now, with a greater understanding of how the spiritual and intellectual parts of me are integrated, and I wanted that to show through in the visual aspect of the thoughts that I shared with you in this blog.

When I first thought of updating cyberseraphic, I envisaged mucking around with Photoshop and HTML like I’d done since way back when I first coded a Web site, but the technology moved on and I hadn’t; ever since CSS became standard many years ago, people stopped using HTML tables for layouts. Why didn’t I just use a stock template? Because I couldn’t find one that was “me” enough, and what is a blog of not an expression of one’s individuality.

In the end, I sorta got lucky. Smashing Magazine ran a competition on creating typography-based templates, and the results were offered free. The 3rd runner up, Experimental by Rodrigo Galindez, stuck out for me because of its clean design and simple structure. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fully developed WordPress template yet, so I settled for its younger brother, Modern Clix.

The template still has a few niggles, namely in that it doesn’t support the default way in which WordPress handles images and captions, and has limited support for sidebar widgets, but overall I’m happy with it and very much look forward to the finished version of Experimental.

Lesson 3: free hosting sucks

Until recently, cyberseraphic was always hosted on various free servers: f2o, 000webhost, byethost, etc. of which the only one I’d have recommended would be f2o except they’re no longer around.

000webhost did a massive dodgy where they broke peoples’ sites under the guise of “migrating” from old servers to a new ones, a project which they claim to have told everybody about in an e-mail a year ago, but nobody can find any evidence of this. Some people lost a lot of work as a result, but luckily for me I was still using Blogger at the time, so I was able to simply republish my posts from there. Any attempt to fix the problem (including trying to delete my account) resulted in a recommendation to upgrade to their paid hosting services. It’s a really underhanded way of converting customers from free to paid accounts, and I wanted nothing more to do with them.

I moved to Byethost, who have a very slick operation, but the problem with them is that your Web site would sometimes get randomly redirected to another (spam) Web site. No thanks.

So why did I persist with free hosts when everybody knows there’s no free lunch? Because it enabled me to host my own domain (this is important in ways that I don’t really have the time or energy to explain in this post, but if interested leave a comment), which the free Web space from my ISP doesn’t let me do; and the amounts of storage and bandwidth provided by most hosting plans was overkill.

It was through the Whirlpool forums that I discovered the Cove value hosting plans – you can’t really argue with a couple of bucks a month! So now I have the reassurance of knowing that my data is routinely backed up (even more important now that I’m self-hosting with WordPress), and that the service is not likely to disappear unexpectedly tomorrow.

Wow. That was a long post. If you’re still here, thanks for sticking with me. Don’t worry, I’m not planning on doing too many more posts like this, ‘coz I don’t particularly want to turn cyberseraphic into one of those “meta” blogs that blog about blogging. But if you’ve got any questions about my redesign process, drop me a note in the comments.

Luckily for me I was using Blogger, so I was able to recover my posts; others lost years of work.