The London WordPress October Meetup

This last Thursday I was lucky enough to attend the London WordPress Meetup. I say lucky enough, I do mean that as it was held at an amazing venue, had 2 great talks and I felt very welcome even though quite the out of Towner.

The venue was the Telegraph which is a jaw dropping example of modernity. The outside has light panels that change colour in an architecture nod to a lava lamp. The entrance hall and subsequent buildings an homage to clean, crispness. Mix in with that the experience of a real news paper main floor and you’ve got a jaw dropping venue for a WordPress Meetup.

The actual talks were held in a conference room that would have suited political announcements, overlooking the active main floor.  The talks themselves were not overshadowed by the venue either and were very much worth the train journey giving a sense of a mini conference rather than just a Meetup.

Publishing with WordPress by Paul Gibbs

Paul Gibbs kicked off the evening talking with his talk ‘Publishing with WordPress’. Paul works at the Telegraph as their WordPress / BuddyPress developer and is also a BuddyPress core contributor. The talk covered the ins and outs of exactly what was run WordPress wise at the Telegraph along with some mind-blowing stats: over 90,000 user accounts, 4,000+ blogs.  They run 2 sites with WordPress – Blogs for the journalists and their community site ‘My Telegraph’.

It was interesting to discover BuddyPress and a few other plugins scaled without any issues, however some still needed significant modification to get working on such a demanding environment. Perhaps telling as to how a lot of developers don’t consider scaling in their plugins. Another point I found interesting was the old ‘how secure is WordPress’ question that reared its head in the question time after the talk. Telegraph use Disqus which blocks yet another hole in the security and as Paul rightly said the less streams or external libraries the less security risk.

WordPress and Web Accessibility by Graham Armfield

The other talk was given by Graham Armfield and covered ‘WordPress and web accessibility’. Graham’s knowledge about usability certainly was vast and his insights came across in this informative talk. It was interesting to be shown the various technologies and cover the range of people the word ‘accessibility covers’. I found it a good reminder to consider not just the traditional view of ‘disabled’ but look at cognitive and also the older generations to be included in that mix.

Graham gave a nudge reminder to us all how whilst technologies like HTML5 may be exciting we shouldn’t lose sight of accessibility. I don’t think the ‘take home’ for me was don’t use modern tech if you want to be accessible it was more ‘remember accessible’ whilst getting into new things. A point all of us should remember. Graham has shared his slides here.

Worth the train fare

I don’t live in London so it was a little trek on the train for me, however I can really recommend even if you don’t live in London you consider this event. There was discussion that it may be held at the Telegraph again – I really hope that happens as it really was a great venue and added to the event. I would like to thank everyone that made me welcome and look forward to hopefully attending some more in the future.

Socialstream meet article – redesigning my blog

This blog has had many faces, many designs and many content variations over time.  At the heart however of all the changes has been my belief that this should be my playground where I experiment with formats and designs. The latest incarnation is very much about this. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the range of places I interact socially and wanted this to be the one central point for all my interactions. As a result I started looking at the concept of lifestreaming and from that socialstreaming.

The term lifestream was coined by Eric Freeman and David Gelernter at Yale University in the mid-1990s to describe “…a time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary of your electronic life; every document you create and every document other people send you is stored in your lifestream. The tail of your stream contains documents from the past (starting with your electronic birth certificate). Moving away from the tail and toward the present, your stream contains more recent documents — papers in progress or new electronic mail; other documents (pictures, correspondence, bills, movies, voice mail, software) are stored in between. Moving beyond the present and into the future, the stream contains documents you will need: reminders, calendar items, to-do lists.  Lifestreams are also referred to as social activity streams or social streams.” – Wikipedia

Blogging in different lengths

Over time it’s become clear to me that I have 3 types of blogging I do on a regular basis:

  • Short form (Twitter, Tumblr)
  • Announcment posts (What I’m doing)
  • Long form (Essays and articles)

I was doing these in a variety of places from Twitter and Tumblr through to writing on other blogs rather than my own. My own actually was becoming seriously neglected and whilst I did Twitter posts I was doing on other blogs I certainly wasn’t linking from my own.

A while ago I started again with my content on this blog with the aim of reposting some articles I had written with my current take on them.  In the current blog format there was no method of featuring these which was going to be something I wanted to do.

One thing was clear, I knew I didn’t want to give up Tumblr or Twitter. For me, both of these have their merits and whilst some may point to the data loss or the fragmentation I don’t think if there is a filter this becomes a problem. That was the very thing I was missing though – the filter. This wasn’t going to require a one stop solution, it was going to require more of a filtering point.

BuddyPress comes into focus

My work with BuddyPress threw a different light on this problem. What if the activity stream in BuddyPress became my filter specifically for my announcement, other site posts and own posts? What if I create a profile page on my own blog? As I looked into this it became clear to me this was going to be the right solution. Whilst it also was perhaps in many respects a kitchen sink one it would give me room to develop which was also something I wanted to have.

So, I set about exploring how I wanted the front page to be. I wanted to keep the distinct areas of my socialstream that was important to me. I wanted though to create featuring methods and also to transfer announcements into activity status posts from BuddyPress. It just seemed a logical translation to me and very early on became apparent I was using them.

Designing my own conversation

I really want to write another post about how I came up and worked with this design, but I can’t really do an announcement post without touching on some of the design process.  My priority was to create something that wasn’t really ‘smells like BuddyPress’.  I was going to be using elements of it so that to me is what my design should have.  I wanted some very clear design motifs like the speech bubbles and was firm with myself about a responsive design.  In the end I do see the design as something that will evolve over time, I think it had to be a more fluid approach to give me room to not just redesign but refine.  That way I can really grow into the design.

A work in progress is always the case

Lets face it as a designer you’re never quite done with your own work and I’m up front admitting that with this version. I want to build on the front page and also the profile page over time. But, I wanted to also get this out there and start using it because that truly will be the test of this social streaming experiment.

I don’t consider this truly a social stream yet but it’s my take on it. This is about making blogging work for me again and so far it’s doing exactly that.  I invite you to explore the new front page and the profile page and join me in this next phase of blogging.

WordCamp UK 2011 reflections

This weekend saw my WordCamp virginity broken with WordCamp UK. I’m still trying to sift through the awesome and filter the amazing conversations I had. The first thoughts though I’m having are really of a warm fuzzy kind at being part of such a community.

Before I go much further I will add in to me WordPress is also about BuddyPress which is where my heart is community wise also along with WordPress. My soft spot for BuddyPress has done nothing but grow thanks to WordCamp UK and I’ll write more about that at some other time soon.

WordPress is about community

It’s a simple and bit of a no-brainer statement right? How often though in day to day work with WordPress have I and probably many others forgotten this? A design carries you away, a client drains you and a project engulfs you. You get so wrapped up without a thought for the community that when is all said and done puts food on your table.

What would you be without WordPress?

After the social fun (I now know how many WordPressers it takes to get a stereo to not play Christmas tunes which probably aren’t the best party music in July) of Saturday night I found myself far too awake for 1am and my thoughts turned to what if this community and WordPress didn’t exist? Sure I’d be a designer still… But doing what? Another community? Another blogging platform? A CMS? What if no open source existed it was all from a paid platform?

No matter which way I looked at it my life, work and experience was better because of WordPress. The bottom line thought though was what am I doing to ensure that not only do I get to experience this great community and platform but that also future others get to do the same?

Every drop counts

I’ve had the feeling before of how can I make a difference. It’s a daunting thing to get involved in WordPress no matter how much those in the community say that first step even if a first forum post, first trac, first theme review… it’s still the first and that’s a big step. Thing is it’s also easy to forget that every step after counts just as much. Every single thing you do towards the community counts no matter how small or big.

Making time and finding gaps

The major thing I’ve left WordCamp feeling is that no matter what the small ways I give back to the community through a few tickets, forum posts and theme reviews – that has to continue and if I can increase it even better. I’ve found so many times if you look for a gap one comes up with WordPress and BuddyPress so I’m sure I can always find some way to give back.

Community karma is the way to say thank you

I’m fully aware that thanks isn’t about just saying it and that I guess is my main point. All those that arranged WordCamp UK and all those I met and broke verbal and literal bread with… I thank you and will continue to thank you hopefully by my actions in the community this year. If community is about the people in it then surely WordPress is stronger than an ox and perhaps we need to remember that all year around.

Responsive web design just makes sense

The other day I read a tweet denouncing responsive web design. Whilst I get that everyone has an opinion and right to feel whatever they do this negativity threw me. You see I just cant see why you would think responsive design was bad or to that matter why users would either.

I’m a simple girl and as such I really go with things that work. Your new fangled method of rotating some CSS element and making it into a magic paperclip better be useful otherwise you’ll just get a ‘that’s pretty’ and I’ll move on. Frivolity aside, my point is I’m far from the bandwagon jumper. However when it comes to responsive design I’m pretty much at the point of tshirt, hat, sticker and possibly tramp stamp.

Before we go on I feel I have to back track into history a little as the roots of web design are those that flow through all us old webbies and cause banner waving over responsive design. You see we’ve lived through a time of hacks, multiple stylesheets, scripts by the bucket load all to get sites working across browsers. We’ve lived through the first wave if mobile omg you did what to my design… Through the an app for everything and one mobile interface. Quite frankly and I think I speak for many here, we’re old, tired and fed up having our designs tied by the whim of device manufacturers and marketing.

Then along comes responsive design. It’s not a magic pill we never said it was, but it certainly opens up a world to us. Now the control is back in the designers hands. Rightly or wrongly in some cases, but we should have it. From there it is a case of education and use, of discovery as to how things can be done and eventually best practices.

Alternatives to responsive see scripts and other methods of alternative loading. To me this is not really an opposition argument. You are both adapting your work (a core foundation of responsive design) or keeping us stuck in the dark ages tied down with scripts and a default UI. A sweeping generalism it may be but I have yet to see something as an true alternative that either isn’t restrictive or proving the point of responsive design yet claiming opposite.

Now the more tricky point of users. Ultimately I’m a web designer and my interpretation of the debate will be tainted. However it doesn’t take me that far a leap to realise as near to a seamless device experience is good for users. Yes, the art is learning some things simply won’t work in different ones but clue in name really by it being called responsive design. A truly responsive design will adapt and adjust for the device yet keep the same overall feel and design.

One final point I’ve seen raised and felt myself is a somewhat cookie cutter less is responsive approach to the responsive designs. Just like with any discipline responsive web design can and will be done badly. These responsive by number designs will lack depth and personality, they are though just bad not an indication of bad responsive design. Responsive or not they are bad.

My final point is a word of caution. I’ve seen a bit of a trend to seeing responsive as something you do to a design. Like a browser check or validation, it is almost a before release process in some minds. This is thinking we need to make sure doesn’t take root. It’s rotten and flawed in it’s notion. As designers the responsiveness of the design should be from the start. It also should be something if you code your work all designers should be doing not to be farmed out to have icing on the top. Trust me taking time to learn it will benefit as it’s not going anywhere fast and will I am sure benefit you and your designs to learn.

It’s not you it’s me Google+

I remember a time when the mere mention of a beta got me all a frenzied up. The sniff of a community emerging online would prick my ears and like Pavlov’s dog I’d be hunting the invite biscuit. Times change we all change to. Fast forward to present day and the emergence of Google+. I’m left a it head scratching really as to what use or part this would play in my online life.

I would like to clarify that I do not fundamentally see a problem with Google+ itself I truly think this is a personal perspective. I’m grateful to be invited don’t get me wrong its not and the UI Just for the circles was a pleasure to behold. At some point though shiny and new will fade and it has to serve for me a purpose.

Why a purpose? A while ago I reached maximum input of sorts online. I was in this community, that groups, the other forum.. I blogged here, there and everywhere.. I tweeted, I interacted on so many levels it became a chore. So I started filtering out the noise and a weird thing happened, I started enjoying the online world far more.

Before I go on I will also state to me Facebook never fitted so maybe this is also why Google+ just doesn’t meld into my life.  I long since gave up trying to work out why Facebook never took off with me, it just didn’t.  I never fell for Farmville or people sending me gifs of cup cakes (sweet though they are) and trust me several years of World of Warcraft playing in the past certainly show I can be an addictive gamer (for the horde *cough).  Facebook and all it is never got me hooked though and I never was one for liking being poked…..

It’s been a few days and my thoughts still are.. and what use would this be? I do like the groups and there is some sweet UI going on that is taking the designer in me to a happy place. It does bring me to a conclusion that for me community is on a smaller scale. I also think it has to serve a purpose for me to get involved rather than just being the new.

I’d love to be proved wrong and to months down the line amend this to say I ‘heart’ Google+… I just can’t see it.  For now I think I’ll just chalk it down to enforcing for me that the key are focused communities and BuddyPress enables me to do that.  Maybe I’m a minority here and that’s fine really it is.  Maybe though I get the feeling I am not and people will not find such a spot for it as Google hopes.  Perhaps it’s not even for people and will be for brands… time will tell.  Until then all I know is I haven’t visited it in a while and don’t feel any draw to use it.