Blog redesign – better than a spa day!

I’ve had the same basic WordPress K2 theme since I started this blog. It always felt basic, but I was fine with that. In contrast, Tatvam, designed by uber-designer George, was beautiful and elegant.

For the past few months though I started wanting a new, fresh look. I looked at the WordPress themes that were out there, but none of them really grabbed me. Then one day I saw a really unique illustration done by someone called MayG (Mahjabeen Umar). I dug a little deeper and found that MayG designs websites and has just started styling blogs.

MayG and I got to work. She asked me a whole bunch of questions to figure out who I was, what mattered to me and what kind of design aesthetic I wanted. She then cranked away and about four days later sprung what I consider an incredible illustration on me. It’s the multi-handed image that you see on the top left of the new blog design and it was love at first sight. The concept was cool and she did such a great job on the execution (in the process making my online avatar look better than reality!) And it really felt like even if I had a most basic theme, this illustration would set it apart.

But she was just getting started. Far from producing a basic theme, she designed something elegant and unique with style elements that are uncommon in blogs. At the same time she stuck to my requests for classy, elegant, clean and non-cutesy.

And voila! We have here Shripriya’s Post-It theme. It’s a theme that can change with me and morph as my life does. It makes me smile.

As MayG promised me early in the process – a blog redesign, when done right, can be better than a spa day. The past few weeks have been incredibly rough on the personal front and I need not just a spa day, but a full spa month! In fact, I actively sought distractions to help me get through things. Well this little redesign was definitely a step in the right direction.

I can’t say enough good things about working with MayG. She has the right balance of her own creativity and giving the client what she wants. She is incredibly talented and very responsive. She’s up on all the latest design trends and has informed opinions on what works and what doesn’t. And she hits the timelines she promises.

If you are thinking of redesigning your blog or just want a new avatar, MayG is your gal. I could not recommend her more highly.

In addition to having a new blog, I also have a new friend. What could be better?

Lifestream data and plugins

As I tried to collect my “lifestream” data for my In The Moment tab, I first investigated the incredible land of WordPress plugins. This is one of the core reasons I use WordPress – the open platform means that there’s probably a plugin for pretty much anything you can think of.

There are several plugins that promise to collect all  your data from around the web. The primary issue with these is that they are just RSS feeds themselves. That means none of the data is duplicated onto your database. That’s fine if all you want to do is showcase the latest, but I actually wanted to duplicate it and have a copy myself.

1. Lifestream seems like the oldest one out there. But the plugin seemed complex and would require me to write a class file etc. Er… right. Also, given the date it was created, I wasn’t sure it would work with WP 2.6. Gave it a pass.

2. SimpleLife is display only, no archive. I understand why some people want display only. I just want more.

3. Lifestream (yes, another with the same name) is the newest and seems to work for a lot of people. When I tried it, the formatting was very messed up and I couldn’t figure out where to change it. And it still had the issue of not being in my db.

Twitter Import

4. WP-o-matic is a plugin that pulls RSS feeds from anywhere and imports it into the database. This seemed perfect and I use it for other things on this blog, but it has two issues. One, it is highly temperamental and second, it populates the header and the body with the same content. So the content of a tweet would be the header and the body. Ugh-ly. I guess I could have figured out a way to change the template of a post based on whether it was in the category “In The Moment”, but it felt like complex code and I didn’t venture there.

5. Twitter Tools by Alex King does do a database import. However, it only works for Twitter and it also had the “tweet as header and body” issue.

Besides these plugins there are others that do the same thing including MyBlogLog’s “new with me” feature and the Profilactic WP plugin. I looked at them, but seeing they are all just RSS feeds, I skipped them for the same reason.

If you are looking for a plugin that will display the last 20 tweets or last couple of days of activity, one of these plugins is sure to meet your needs.

Since I was looking for database import (and backup of my dispered data), and a reasonably good presentation of the results, none of the plugins I could find met my needs. I gave up and decided to use Tumblr instead. More to come on the pros and cons of that decision.

To move to Tumblr…

It seems like the whole world is blogging. But that’s hardly the case1. When blogs first started, only the technically equipped could blog. Blogger changed that. But the interface was limited and once Google bought it, innovation on that platform slowed down for a long time. WordPress2 offered people who were slightly technical flexibility. The fact that it is open source meant that user needs quickly drove feature development by the army of users. The power of WordPress and the open source platform is truly brilliant and is something I’ve noted before. But many (me included) are finding that maintenance is a fair amount of work. And the complexity ratchets up with every plugin that’s installed.

I blogged privately on Blogger for years before I decided to switch to WordPress and blog publicly. I chose WordPress because of the flexibility, the ability to host it on my own url and because it was completely free. But over time, it has become a pain to manage the various plugins and the upgrades. In addition, something as simple as a template change is real work because things break. So I’ve stuck with what I have even if I don’t love it.

Tumblr is the new face of simplicity and elegance and is a great platform for blogging. It is quick, it is easy, it is clean and the UI – both for the poster and for the reader – is a sheer joy to work with. It has no sidebar and no plugins (that I know of). The blogger can change templates and colors on a daily basis if she wants – it is a much better alternative to the population that would otherwise choose Blogger.

The lack of thousands of widgets – really, the lack of choice and therefore the lack of complexity – is what makes Tumblr great. It forces you to be simple and focus on the content.

Let’s say that I am sold. Let’s even say that I am willing to give up plugins I like (such as Subscribe To Comments) in order to make my life easier. Can I switch to Tumblr?

The answer is a resounding NO. For one big reason – I cannot migrate my content to Tumblr.

I want my blog to contain all my posts – the content and the comments. This would require the ability to “import” my WordPress blog into tumblr, something almost every other blogging platform allows. Should it be doable? Yes. Is it doable? No. Or not yet. I have no idea whether this is on the roadmap or not, but until it is, I, and others like me who desperately want to, can’t move to Tumblr even though we want to.

Tumblr is late to the game in terms of blogging software. And while they may get a large percentage of those who are just starting3,  a lot of people have blogs already. A few will be willing to cut over in order to avoid the hassle, but most, even those with little traffic, will want all their posts and comments moved over. Tumblr should bring their “easy, clean, and beautiful” approach to this problem and solve it. I am sure it will have a big impact on adoption. I’ll be the first in line.

  1. In fact, just this week, I told three very smart eBay colleagues that they should be blogging 

  2. I’m ignoring TypePad in this discussion since it won’t affect the discussion 

  3. I recommended that all three folks use Tumblr 

Change colors in the K2 theme

I wanted to play around with the colors of my WordPress K2 theme (the presentation layout that you currently see). Stuff that should be easy – the header colors, the background of the overall page (currently grayish), the white body background, the color of the text, the links etc.

The only way to do this, however (at least as far as I can figure out), is by getting into the CSS file and manually tweaking each element. And the basic file is very long and has tons of elements.  But I tried for a while. I made the header blue, the background black, the body background dark gray and the text white. But wait… I noticed that the header colors for each post was a bit too dark. The blockquote background was wrong. The link colors needed changing. Okay. I went in and fixed each of those by searching through the CSS file. Then I noticed more elements where the colors were off. At that point I gave up and reverted back to my old CSS file (which I had fortunately saved).

This should be a lot easier. There needs to be a WYSIWYG editor to tweak your theme. Each element (let’s say there are 25 or 30) should be listed with the option of changing the color by entering whatever hex code you want. At the bottom of that page, there needs to be a sample post where each change is reflected.

Sounds pretty straightforward to me. A plugin could do this easily I would think. Why doesn’t this exist? Of if it does, where do I find it? If I could code, I would build this myself!

Tumbling on WordPress

Tumblr has an incredibly easy user interface. Right from the signup process on, things are very simple . In addition to working great, it looks wonderful – clean and elegant. And there are a number of cool features that make re-blogging something very easy.

For example, the “Share on Tumblr” bookmarklet allows you to quickly share a photo, a quote, a link, chat or a video. And all from the page you are on, without having to log in to your blog at all.

This is a big deal for me. I often see something I’d like to share quickly with a comment attached, but the thought of having to log into my blog, compose, copy and paste the link etc. makes the bar too high for a quick post.

I could move to a Tumblr blog to get this feature, but I really like a lot of the WordPress plugins that I use (and want to keep). So I did a quick search for Tumblr and WordPress and what do I find? A plugin that does the exact same thing as the “Share on” bookmarklet.  Called QuickPost, the plugin looks and works great.

Another reason I love WordPress.