Blog Tips 2: Choosing and Adapting to Your Blog Platform

When you start blogging, you may feel like you have to stand on your head to get the software to do what you want.  (Photo from eblingroup.com)

When you start blogging, you may feel like you have to stand on your head to get the software to do what you want. (Photo from eblingroup.com)

This is the second of a four-part series on blogging. It’s the whiniest one, but I’ve decided that’s okay because I want to help you avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve experienced.  It tends to portray blogging as a pain (which it can be) without describing the joy it brings.  For that you’ll need to reference other blogs in the series:

  1. Why Blog about your Fulbright Experiences?
  2. Choosing and Adapting to your Blog Platform
  3. Finding your Blogging Niche
  4. Publicizing your Fulbright Blog

Choosing a good blogging platform is very important. I can’t really tell you which platform is best (I’m an n of one as we statistics geeks say).   Although I don’t have broad experience in selecting blogs, I have had all too much experience adapting myself to the blog template (Motion) and platform (WordPress) I selected back in August.

Other blogs, such as App Storm, can help you compare popular platforms.

Overall, I wish I had tested a few different blog platforms and templates before I committed to one.  I jumped into using WordPress, and I have to admit: it’s okay. Very good, in fact, for something you’re getting for free.

Fortunately, some of the WordPress features I don’t like have improved with recent updates.  I am starting to feel more satisfied with the product.

Hopefully the things I’ve found will ease your own transition into blogging:

Upgrades — Although I love the look of the (free) template I chose, it has a couple of goofy features that I’m unable to change.  And even though I paid to upgrade to the Pro package, I’ve found I can’t modify the goofy elements while retaining the basic template design.  (I’d have to change the template all together.)  Of all the upgrade features I purchased, only the specialized domain name seems worth the cost in retrospect.

Generating Text — I enjoy the ability to start drafts, save them, and return to them later.  I have many partially complete files waiting.  On days I’m too busy to write, I can pick one of those up, brush it off, and use it to keep my audience engaged.  As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, typical blog readers expect frequent updates and they loose interest when a blog looses its zip.  I try to keep my blog zippy by keeping the entries short and always including images.

Blogging platforms. (Image from App Storm.)

Blogging platforms. (Image from App Storm.)

Regarding text, I could really use reliable spell and grammar check features within the online blog window.  If there’s a way to enable these in WordPress, I hope someone will let me know how.  I also haven’t figured out how to compose the text in Word and then copy it over without loosing the paragraph formatting.

So I compose in the WordPress window and, before hitting “publish,” I try to remember to copy the text into Word, locate errors, and manually correct them in the WordPress window.  I frequently forget this step, though, and discover annoying errors after I’ve disseminated the article.  Then I have to go back in and change them in the on-line version.  Unfortunately, the people who received them via email end up seeing the mistakes.

And, YES, I could edit more thoroughly.  But I only have so much free time available for blogging.  To keep my real work flowing, I find I have to accept more typographical errors in my blog than I allow myself in other venues.  Most of my readers are forgiving on this point.

Graphic Layout — Other than the spelling/grammar check issue, today’s WordPress is more user-friendly and has better graphic tools than when I started blogging in August 2012.  But if you’re a stickler for graphic composition as I am, you may still find yourself disappointed with various layout features.  I have trouble placing photos where I want them, but I find I get better results by writing the text first and then inserting the photos into the text.  I make a practice of previewing each draft multiple times to see what layout decisions are getting lost in translation.

Lately I’ve taken to using WordPress’s (new) gallery feature to insert photos.  It’s much improved over past versions.  Organizing, editing, and inserting photos is much easier these days!

My software sometimes makes me bend over backwards to get the results I want.

I feel like this when I’m trying to achieve pleasing layouts.  (Thank God for yoga!)

Capturing Photos — Photos add a lot to a blog.  My readers say they enjoy them.  Although I have a very nice camera, it’s cumbersome to lug around and it takes me a lot of time to download the cards.  Moreover, pulling out a professional camera tends to alter the tone of events.  People continue on more naturally when I use my tiny, unassuming iPhone camera.  That’s important when I’m part of the event I’m recording, and not just an observer.

Overall, my iPhone does a fabulous job for its size!  It also lets me include myself in photographs without much fuss.

Using the iPhone I can email the images directly from the “camera” to my laptop.  I size them down (to about 700k each) for the blog before I hit “send.”  The photos are good enough that I frequently upload them to WordPress without further editing.

Video — The iPhone also captures video well.  Unfortunately, I find that I must shrink the video files down for the blog (though perhaps they’ve upgraded this feature, too?).  Shrinking requires me to use extra software, and I have to send them back to the States, where my husband has appropriate software.  I haven’t taken to editing my video clips, and the ones I’ve posted haven’t gotten many views.  (I’ve heard people claim that posts with photos get more views than those with just text, and that those with video get far more.  But that hasn’t been the case with my blog — probably because my videos aren’t polished.)  If I were to start over, I wouldn’t pay extra for the capacity to post videos (although I would still pay extra for the unique domain name).  I’d simply upload the videos to a different (free) site, like YouTube, and link my blog to that URL.

Blogging Devices — I haven’t been successful at blogging directly from my iPhone or iPad as I’d anticipated doing.  The features have been too limited for my liking (architects are so darned particular!).  I believe that the iPad editing features have improved recently and may be well worth re-investigating.

Last Words — All this being said, I do enjoy blogging, reflecting, recording, and connecting with others.  I think I may keep blogging even when my Fulbright is finished and I no longer see blogging as part of my job.

I’ve been back home for Christmas vacation (for 2.5 weeks now) and I have to say that it’s been fun catching up with friends and family and answering questions they have about stories I’ve posted on the blog.

It always surprises me when I meet people in Dublin who know what I’ve been posting.  My readership there isn’t too far behind my readership in the States.

8 Comments

  1. I think it’s fair to say that I have a love/hate relationship with WordPress. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent wrestling with what seem like tiny details, but in the end I’ve found that it makes blogging and web site management much more sustainable. Despite its quirks, I still recommend WordPress without hesitation to my students and to anyone else who is thinking about blogging. It’s the world’s most widely used blogging/CMS platform (by a clear margin), so what one learns while writing one’s own blog is very likely to come in useful for other work down the road. Also, the excellent free service provided by wordpress.com makes it really easy to jump in and give it a test drive.

    By the way, when I’m using the WordPress editor, Firefox spell checks everything as I type. Perhaps you can enable something similar in your browser?

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    Reply

      1. Certainly, I’d be delighted. I doubt you’ll need to switch browsers though – I’m sure it’s possible to enable similar spell checking in Safari. For example, see here.

        By the way, if you’re still battling with the theme customisations you mentioned, I can take a look if you like. No guarantees of course – I’m sure you’ve already tried the obvious things and I wouldn’t describe myself as an expert, but my wife maintains a few WordPress web sites with custom themes, so as tech support I’ve had quite a bit of practice tweaking layouts / themes / formats etc.

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      2. I should try to customize. I get lots of compliments on the template, but my sister-in-law pointed out that it makes reading the text more difficult. I suppose I’ll have to tackle that. But first for some real work….

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