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January 13, 2009
Web Design Evolution: Use WordPress to Create, Build and Launch Your Own Blog
It never occurred to me that I would limit my Dreamweaver usage to that of an unimaginative FTP client. After all, I only just upgraded the package. Instead I have discovered a whole, new world, enlivened and intrigued with the unfaltering speed of new web development and all of the technological prowess one can gain from its social networking domination. I have found new vigor in the likes of WordPress, a powerful blogging tool. I mean, after all, are you really anyone today without your very own blog?
For us designers, “WordPress is a state-of-the-art publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability.” Nothing in that description about dreaded code or, worse “view source.” Although, it does help if you know CSS, but more on that later. CSS, by the way, stands for Cascading Style Sheets which have thankfully replaced <table> </table> formatting mark up. You can do your own research or buy the particularly useful to me, “The Ultimate CSS Reference” by Tommy Olsson and Paul O’Brien.
One of the things that make WordPress so powerful (and sustainable) is that it runs within the web browser. My preference is the Firefox browser. However, before you can begin, it needs to be downloaded (wordpress.org) and installed onto your server. There are minimum requirements; PHP and MySQL, but chances are, your web hosting company should already have these installed with your package (if you are keeping up, I wrote about choosing a good web hosting company in my last article). For the sake of space, I won’t go into setting up your user name (usually admin) and password (it is automatically assigned to you by your web host following the installation of WordPress -- see how easy that was?).
Now here is where the great fireball of wonder unfolds; there are hundreds of breathtaking, free WordPress themes to help you get started (wordpress.org/extend/themes/). Sometimes, these benevolent designers will provide the (gasp) native Photoshop files (.psds) for you as well. And, as any designer knows, without the precious psd, well we’re just between a rock and a hard place and may as well be using some other tragic, bitmapping software like the clunky PaintShopPro.
Now, assuming you have changed the psds to suit your theme, you will need to FTP them (you can use Dreamweaver for that!), onto your server (obviously using the same name so it automatically replaces the original file).
Okie dokie, so we have a theme we customized and just love and we need to begin writing our blog. Once you are logged into WordPress you can begin posting new articles and uploading photos all within the browser. Your interface will vary depending on the theme and which plugins you have installed... what? You have no plugins installed? Oh my dear, humble designer, the plugins are what makes this fireball of wonder burn with delight and make your blog a bright shining star among the countless millions.
There are hundreds of plugins from which to choose... and most of them are free. I’ve installed the Google Analytics plugin which lets me track visitors, then there is the brilliant CformsII plugin which takes the mystery out of creating a working form so visitors may contact you. Lots of others, including social networking ones for uploading your articles to Facebook, submitting to Digg and automatically posting your Tweets on Twitter... a whole site designed simply around “what are you doing?” See sidebar.
So there you have it (sort of), it does not really matter that you’ve been living in a cave, a beautifully decorated one notwithstanding, getting up-to-speed with WordPress should enlighten not frighten. And once you have a blog, you might become the next Perez Hilton. Sort of.
The Spaceship is Coming:
Be a Leader with Twitter. Followers Guaranteed.
You would be surprised at how many people would like to know what you are doing. What makes this statement even more fascinating, is that most of these people will be complete and total strangers. All they know about you is what you choose to tell them and what you opt to show them. Sounds familiar? It should. You see, Twitter is a social networking service, but unlike Facebook and MySpace (does anyone still use MySpace?), it is based on blogging, except there’s a 140-character limit and posts are read in real-time using a mobile phone (or the computer).
Twitter allows users to send and read other users’ posts. It’s like one big free for all where people have “followers” that will read (sometimes) what you are doing (tweets). Followers come and go, no one notices, really and your importance is based on how many followers you have, presumably. Although, I prefer to base my Tweeps on how useful the posts are; currently I only get one person’s tweets on my cell phone, and that’s solely for generating potential, new business.
There are numerous benefits to using Twitter. Say, you want to announce an upcoming, or a happening now event (e.g.: you are a small gallery or newspaper). You can use Twitter to send a quick “tweet” announcing the event, with an included link (even a photo) instantly, to the people who choose to follow you. It is one thousand times more effective than sending a cumbersome email with a gigantic attachment since most people now read their emails on their cell phones.
There are other ancillary services. One that I like and use, allows you to convert long URLs to shorter strings, so that they fit the Twitter limit (and look better). You can also track who and from where is clicking.
If you are not on Twitter, you should at least look into it. Follow me, I implore you, at www.twitter.com/stefanpinto.

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Stefan Pinto relies on his 12 years of experience and realistic judgment to design and construct usable websites. His corporate design solutions include intranets for Merck, Merrill Lynch and AT&T.  Recently he designed RandomSource.com an online office supply catalog and Upstage, a social networking site for actors. Stefan Pinto also writes a fitness and weight loss column and works as a television actor. Visit him at http://www.pintofactory.com.

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