So, you’ve decided you want to build a website. Or you want to start blogging. Or you want to setup an online store to go along with your physical store. Now what?
Typically, you go find someone to do the work for you. But, what if *you* are that person? Then you actually have to do all the hard work and figure out how to build that website, blog or web store.
My day job is as a software developer. Websites are what I work on all the time. But, I build custom code that is tailor made for a specific purpose. I don’t work on generic web sites….. I considered starting from scratch, and writing something up in the language I know best, Java. Then the scope of the problem became evident. And trying to figure out how to style the output, and build something that would be easy to add content to….wow, that was NOT something I wanted to tackle from scratch. So I sat down and talked to my wife and tried to figure out what she had in mind in terms of content types, navigation, styling and anything else I could get her to explain! Then I hit Google and started searching.
It was pretty obvious I needed some kind of CMS (content management system). There were lots of wheels out there, so I did not have to invent a new one myself. But, *which* wheel to pick? Did I want fancy chrome? LED lights? Did it need tire pressure sensors? Ok, so maybe this analogy is getting over used, but you get the idea. Any search will end up showing you that there are really 3 big, open source (important point, I wanted something *free* as in beer, so platforms like SharePoint were out) CMS platforms. In terms of capabilities/extensibility, Drupal is probably king of the hill. You can really do just about anything you want with Drupal. So when I started (and after hearing all the requirements!), I went down the Drupal path.
Fast-forward a couple of months, and I have my first demo/prototype to show the CEO (aka, the boss, my wife!). I managed to get a handful of the features she wanted, and very little of the styling…or at least, very little that didn’t require me to spend hours fine-tuning CSS (and getting to learn all about LESS/SASS and grunt and a bunch of other tools). Progress was slow. It’s not like there wasn’t help out there, but it seemed like a chore to either search and find answers, or to try to find someone to help.
So, more time goes by….and we decided to rethink exactly what we want to do. I got to spend some time on my mobile app (check it out @ https://www.jackedalope.com/workout) We decide that our original idea of a curated news feed, with ads thrown about really won’t work. There isn’t much value *we* would be adding and was looking to be way to much work. So what about blogging? Well, that had possibilities! And look, if we have products that we buy and like and want to recommend to others, then there is a whole world of affiliate programs. So, we settled on a new course of action.
And I took a step back and took a look Drupal again. And did some more research…. And thought, well, what about WordPress? And I thought sure! I got it installed on a new VM and took it for a test drive. And wow…everything just seemed easier. I will admit, our requirements did change, and were greatly simplified, but using WordPress was nice. And then we found a local WordPress user group and Facebook page. And started talking to others that use it all the time. We went to a couple of meetings and it was nice. Everyone was helpful. Then the Rochester Wordcamp came around and we went. And we found that there is a whole community around WordPress. And they are friendly and helpful.
There was one other thing I found out about WordPress. There are plugins. I mean, there are like 5000 plugins for any problem you want to solve. Actually, there are over 46,000 plugins listed on the WordPress site. And probably just as many more commercial plugins out there on various markets. Themes. Oh yea, there are even MORE themes available than plugins. There are basic themes, and theme frameworks, and commercial themes and oh my. How does one choose? I’ll admit it, the easiest solution is to look at what every one else is doing and copy! But, that isn’t just because everyone is doing it….but because you know that if you have questions, someone has probably already run into the same problem before you. (And can hopefully help. Did I mention that WordPress people are friendly?)
Enter Divi. This is one of the top themes, produced over by the folks at Elegant Themes (link is an affiliate link, I may get some money if you buy something). I have to say, making pages and posts look pretty was never simpler. Something that would take me hours of coding in PHP, to get the right layout, fiddle with the CSS to make it look good (and fit in with the rest of the pages), could be done in minutes with Divi. I was hooked. It is a premium theme, which means you have to spend some money, but the time *I* saved by spending a few $ was priceless. After a couple of months of working with it (and taking advantage of a nice Black Friday Sale!), we decided to spend a little more and get the lifetime subscription. I still have no regrets about that.
I will point out one drawback of Divi. If you decide you want to move all your content to a different theme, it will not be easy. Actually, it will probably be more complicated than moving between other themes, mostly because of the way Divi manages your content. They provide a great tool set. And they don’t muck with the internal structure of pages and posts in WordPress. What they do is wrap everything up in shortcodes. Shortcodes are the short hand notation of choice for WordPress. You can embed complicated items with a word or 2. So Divi wraps all your content in these shortcodes, making it a little more difficult to extract *just* the stuff you wrote. But the way I look at it, how often are you *really* going to change themes? And once you decide to do it….you didn’t think it was going to happen overnight by itself, right?
Well, I think I’ve rambled enough for this first blog post. The plan is to add more on a regular basis. If *you* have a specific question about anything WordPress, or Divi, or software, or other IT related, then join us, post a comment, send an email or find me in person and let me know. I’ll do my best to get an answer and blog about it!
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*disclaimer: I bought the Drupal book and it is good! I didn’t actually buy any book on WordPress.