Fall in love with WordPress again with WordPress 4.0

Hello!

So as I said, hello! I wanted to make an entrance, since it has been 7 weeks since I wrote an article!

I also wanted to show off how brilliant WordPress 4.0 is, by adding a YouTube video. I literally just added the URL to the post and voilà, the video appears then and there in WordPress as I am writing this article. No need to preview the post or wait for it to go live, I add the URL and the video is there straight away!

Why that video though? Well I am back, and WordPress has just been given a bit of rejig with the release of 4.0 – named Benny.

So, we are going to save the world and their will be a good dose of cool cars, gadgets and weapons, mixed with a bit of humour along the way.

Alright, this is quite tenuous, maybe I just wanted to put the video in because I could. I did because I could.

It’s all well and good being serious with this blogging malarkey, but one needs to let ones hair down once in a while, and a funky friendly post is a good way to do that. Probably.

WordPress is fantastic. In my humble opinion, no other blogging platform comes close, let alone another free, open source one!

This is a bit of a non-post of ramblings, but trust me, there is better stuff to come.

You are still reading anyway, aren’t you?

Don’t underestimate Jetpack

Jetpack is a WordPress plugin that lets you access many of the features which come inbuilt with a WordPress.com site, on a WordPress.org installation. Historically plugins have just one function, however Jetpack is a combination of plugins which can perform a huge range of actions.

Plugins on Steroids

Jetpack by WordPress.comOne way of describing Jetpack is plugins on steroids. Jetpack makes it really easy to access loads of the great features available through WordPress, all in one simple package.

Jetpack creates its own area in WordPress Admin (wp-admin) where you can learn about, configure and activate/deactivate different elements of the plugin.

You don’t have to activate all of Jetpacks elements, you can use as many or few elements as you choose. Like with every plugin, every extra function of Jetpack you activate will have a small affect on your blog’s speed, so only use the ones that work for you.

The Future of Plugins

The way Jetpack sets out all the different plugins and makes it so easy for users to configure them is a great leap forward for WordPress. Currently the wp-admin plugins page is quite boring, and it can be hard to find the plugin you want fast. I feel that a Jetpack style interface could significantly improve usability, and generally make plugins more fun.

A screenshot of Jetpack's plugins

A screenshot of the different plugins and settings Jetpack includes.

Could a future version of the CMS use a Jetpack like style to display plugins? Maybe.

Features

Here are some of the many features that Jetpack includes:

  • WordPress.com Stats – On-site analytics for your site. Personally I feel server side analytics and more detailed external statistic managers (like Google Analytics) are better than Jetpack’s version, however nonetheless many people find it is an easier, free alternative.
  • Publicise – This enables you to post your articles to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tubmlr. The great thing about Publicise is that it only publishes when your articles go live – so it works on scheduled posts too :-)
  • Spelling and Grammar – Simple yet advanced spell checking for content. I use Firefox’s default spell checking software, and Jetpacks version is slightly annoying, so this is disabled on Technology Bloggers!
  • WP.me Shortlinks – An easy inbuilt URL shortener. Using the WP.me URL shortener helps to keep short URLs tidy, as having too many from too many different sites can look messy.
  • Infinite Scroll – This is a feature that I personally dislike – a lot! It enables you to have a bottomless page, so once uses get to the bottom, it loads more articles. This can effectively put your entire blog on one page. I don’t like bottomless pages, they drive me mad, so if you want me to visit your site, keep this option off ;-)
  • Sharing – Technology Bloggers uses the Sharing feature to power the share buttons at the bottom of each article. I have removed the standard buttons and replaced them with more minimal, stylish buttons. The sharing feature is truly great, and is a lightweight way of combining many network sharing plugins.
  • Omnisearch – A fantastic and really simple way to search wp-admin.
Technology Bloggers share buttons

Technology Bloggers new share buttons – found at the bottom of every article.

Give It A Go

I didn’t think I would like Jetpack, and at first I didn’t. After reading a bit about its features and how good it can be, I thought I would give it a go. I now love it!

I love the flexibility that it offers, in that you can have as many or few elements active as you choose. Technology Bloggers only uses 4 of the 27 functions, and that works fine for us. On my personal philosophy blog, I also use Jetpack and have 8 of the 27 elements active; it is a different blog which benefits from different plugins.

Do you use Jetpack?

Your thoughts are welcome as always :-)

Is a lazy website key to online success?

Speed matters. Once upon a time, if a business had a website, it was revolutionary. Now in many cases if a business doesn’t have a website, it will usually suffer as a result.

When the internet was in its infancy, speed wasn’t really on the agenda. If your site loaded super fast (remember we are still in the days of 56kbps/dial-up internet access here) great. If it didn’t, people would be prepared to wait.

Nowadays there are so many different websites offering such similar information, if your site is slow, your traffic (or as I prefer to call it visitor numbers, or even better: people) will suffer as a result. There are countless studies into this, almost all of which conclude that the slower a site is, the fewer visitors it has.

Furthermore, speed is starting to become an evermore important search engine ranking factor – if your site is slow, you are less likely to rank at the top.

Okay, you get the point: today speed matters.

The problem with many websites is that they have so much to load. When you load our homepage, it isn’t just a few lines of HTML that your browser requests from our server, it also fetches a handful of local CSS, JavaScript and PHP files, in addition to bunch of images and some large chunks of external code, which are used to generate social media buttons.

This all takes time, and every extra byte and file that is requested will slow down the page load time.

Slim Down

One way to reduce the size of the page is to reduce the amount of files – and the size of those files – that are fetched. We make every effort to ensure that our locally loaded scripts are as condensed as possible, so your browser doesn’t have to request dozens of files, just one or two.

We have also combined several images into one file (a CSS sprite), again, so your browser has to fetch fewer files. Take a look at the image below for an example.

CSS sprite social media

Technology Bloggers social icons CSS sprite.

The trouble is, we only have control over internal files. I can’t go and reduce the Tweet button script and add it to one of our existing files, as it is controlled by Twitter, and served via their servers.

Lazy Loading Images

Sometimes slimming down isn’t enough, so one way to prevent the initial load becoming verbose is to delay the loading of images not in view. We use a WordPress plugin called Lazy Load, which only loads images just before they come into view. So if the page has five megabytes of images to load, and four are below the fold, then when the page loads, you will only have to wait for one megabytes worth of images to load; if you don’t scroll down, the other four never get loaded.

Lazy loading images can significantly help improve page load time, as images are usually the biggest files that a website loads, so only loading the vital ones really speeds things up!

Lazy Loading Social Buttons

As I mentioned above, one of the biggest strains on loading is external code, specifically social buttons and sharing buttons.

For a long time now, the ability to offer you the potential to share content and follow us via social media has come at a high price – in terms of loading time. However after a lot of coding and hours of tweaking, our social buttons are now just a tiny (in size) image.

If you take a look at our sidebar, the social buttons sill look very similar to before – Facebook like, Twitter follow and Google Plus recommend all still there – however they now only load the external scripts if you mouse over them. This removes a huge delay when you first load a page, and means we can provide these buttons on every page of the site, with a much smaller speed loss.

At the top of articles, the social buttons there now also load lazily, and only fetch code from the networks when you mouse over the button images.

Lazy loading sharing buttons.

Technology Bloggers delayed loading social buttons.

Lazy loading social media buttons has dramatically improved the speed of Technology Bloggers, and still enables you to share content when and how you choose.

%CODETWEETTB6%

What is your view on delayed loading?

My First Year as a Technology Blogger

Last week was my blogger birthday, on Friday I was one year old. Once I had decided to start writing I had to look for a place to publish. As always I started with Google.

I wanted to write about innovation and technology but from the particular point of view of ethics and responsibility, so I chose my list of search terms. Technology had to be in there, as did blog or blogger, maybe science too, so in they all went.

Several blogs came out, Technology Blogs being the first, followed by Technology Bloggers, a relatively new website in those days. I had a look at the content and the rules of engagement and decided that I should try with them.

And here was my first lesson. I found this blog because of its name. I had never even been on a blog let alone post a comment, so Tech Crunch, Technocrati and the others were not in my vocabulary, nor my search terms. If you want people to find your blog you should choose the name well.

Author Jonny Hankins

Here I am (without make-up)

As I said I was new to the business, I had never used WordPress and never posted anything. Although I had published on the net I had never done it myself, the Foundation that employs me has a Webmaster so I was never allowed to touch the controls myself.

This factor was not a problem in my first posts. I managed to get the body of the text uploaded and Christopher from Admin did the rest. After a couple of months the very same Christopher asked me if I would like to apply for author status. What this means to the uninitiated is you get your hands on the controls.

It took several attempts I might add to get a grasp of them. One problem is the language, norms and technicalities. Tags, links in the piece, correctly titled and opening in new windows, pictures with the right links, excerpts and categories to decide and formulate.

Fortunately Christopher is a patient and gallant man, so one error at a time and over a period of a couple of months I made less and less mistakes, and now I can do it myself.

I really enjoyed my first posts, I started with the problems created by improvements in prosthetic limb technology, they might actually be better than the natural version.

A rather ironic post followed about US immigration and then I got down to some serious and regular writing.

4 months after my first post Christopher suggested the possibility of writing a series, so I opted for a 6 week long series about the health of the planet. At this point I began to triangulate my blog writing with my work and include links to several articles that were posted on my work site. I also produced an Issuu booklet using both my work and the Technology Bloggers logos.

I have continued to link my different communication forms together as it seems advantageous to all concerned. My work website benefits from readers that follow the links here and likewise in reverse. I have also written a few articles for an innovation blog called Innovation Excellence, and although the topics are different they are related enough to allow links to the other portals, and again all benefit.

The series took a lot of work, but once it was finished I did not want to fall out of the weekly routine so I continued to write every week. My posts have in general got shorter, partly through necessity but also through choice. I can cover a lot of different subject matter and ask questions in a few hundred words that I would have wound into much more complex pieces a few months ago.

Comments are the thing that make blogging so interesting a pastime. I always try to reply to as many as possible. Sometimes though I write something that receives very few comments and this disappoints me. They are often posts that refer to complex debates however and not easy to comment on, given the format of the comment system.

This is my 39th article for technology Bloggers, a fair body of work if put together and an enjoyable project. If anyone reading this is thinking or has ever thought about writing I would personally urge you on. It is very satisfying when someone takes the time to read your production and comment upon it.

Roll on another year and thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and comment, and to Christopher for the patience, encouragement and expertise.

Let it snow!

There are just 15 days to go before Christmas now, and I am a little behind on the old Christmas shopping – this one seems to have crept up rather quickly!

Trees in Lapland covered in snowTo get in the festive spirit, Technology Bloggers is now experiencing snow showers! Its winter (in the northern hemisphere at least) and in winter, it snows, therefore I thought it appropriate to let it snow on Technology Bloggers.

To create the snow, I am using a very clever little plugin called: Let it snow!


Let is snow! is a really easy to use and customise plugin. Just install the plugin via WordPress (or download it and then upload it to your site) and then click ‘Activate’. You then get snow on your blog, and it is that easy!

The plugin also creates a useful and really easy to use settings tab. Just look down the left hand side of your WordPress menu and find Let It Snow! There you can customise things like whether the snow follows the mouse, sticks to the bottom of the screen, how much snow their is, etc.

Why not give it a go on your own blog, its easy to do, and doesn’t actually appear to affect the performance of your site very much at all!

If anyone is experiencing lag (I am not) please don’t hesitate to contact me :-)

Merry Christmas everyone, stick with us for a fantastic future :-)