"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris

Top Blog Tool: WordPress

Posted: March 20th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

WordPress Logo

Blogs are a part of our daily landscape now. Almost everyone I know reads them regularly, even if they don’t know it, and a good chunk of my friends blog. For a while now I’ve been using Blogger, one of the earliest and most popular online blog tools that lets you log in to their site, write a post, and either have it published to your web host or hosted directly on their “BlogSpot” site. MovableType was another early popular favorite, and it offered something Blogger didn’t – the ability to host their open source software on your server – so you could hack/improve/integrate the code any way you wanted. A more recent arrival on the scene is WordPress, not that recent mind, but late enough that the team behind it got to look at the landscape and cherry pick the best from what was there, and cherry pick they did.

WordPress, like MovableType, offers two ways to run your blog with their software – you can either host it on their site (WordPress.com) or download their free, open source software (from WordPress.org) and host it on your own server. Both approaches offer their own advantages, but where WordPress really wins out is when you host it yourself. The beauty and simplicity of the code’s design has made it easy for a fanatical base of developers to create any number of plug ins, that quickly and easily extend the power of the basic WordPress blog. You can change your site into a PhotoBlog, plug in support for third party tools like the ubiquitous gallery software, or even create an eCommerce site (although those plugins are less full featured than focussed software right now). The choice is yours. Can’t find what you need? Then write your own plugin, and if you feel like it – share it with everyone else.

Plugins are only one part of WordPress’ genius. The admin interface is simple to use and cleanly designed. A range of beautiful templates are provided out of the box and many more can be downloaded, many for free. Search Engine Optimization is provided out of the box – with human readable URLs. The admin interface easily lets you create pages outside of the central blog and with a simple plugin you have something akin to more ‘powerful’ content management systems. Oh, and if you want to create a multi-user blogging environment, they even offer a multi-user version – the same as they use to run their commercial site (and soon expect official support for a user written plugin that makes the whole install an out of the box social network). Phew.

There is so much there to recommend this software, and the best part is it’s free and just keeps on getting better. So without hesitation – WordPress is my current recommendation should you want to create a blog or even if you want to just create a simple, dynamic website.

First iPhone Experience

Posted: July 28th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Yesterday I got my first chance to play with Apple’s new iPhone at their 5th Avenue Store. First impressions, it’s cute, feels great in the hand, has many genius ideas but some annoying niggles still came up even in a short time.

The first thing that strikes you is the quality and clarity of the display – the background is a really dark black, and the icons really pop out. The glass in front of the screen also feels very smooth and cool to the touch, and even with my greasy, sweaty fingers it didn’t seem to pick up any fingerprints – that alone is an amazing development that I wish all of my handheld devices had. The iPhone is a comfortable size in the hand, and surprisingly thing – akin to the latest generation of iPod but with rounded edges on the front.

Using the iPhone is relatively intuitive. The icons are obvious, bold & easily clickable – plus they have small text descriptions below to guide you. Though small, the text descriptions are incredibly clear and easy to read, another facet of the excellent display. There is a slight learning curve when you read a web page, using two fingers slide apart or together to either zoom in or out of the page, then using a single finger to drag the screen apart (as opposed to the MacBook’s two finger drag). Reading or viewing anything is aided by the in-built orientation sensor, that tells at what angle you have the screen and rotates the display accordingly, although in youTube mode it sensibly forces you into landscape orientation for best viewing. Yes, youTube is a front menu option, it’s just a shame that the download times are a little slow over the phone network, but not so slow that they are unusable.

Zooming in and out of web pages to read is not as easy as I’d thought it could be. My website rendered correctly, unsurprisingly given the Safari engine embedded in the iPhone, but having to zoom in/out to get posts to the correct scale to read was a bit frustrating. Once you’re at the best zoom level scrolling with your fingers is easy and fun. I wonder how many sites have already started iPhone optimisation looking at the iPhone’s user agent in the header?

For entering text Apple has plumped for an onscreen keyboard, as opposed to the defunct Newton’s ‘written’ text. The keys are much smaller than the average finger tip, but Apple has developed a method that works out which key you meant to press by looking at the center of your finger. This works pretty well, except at the edges of the keypad. I found myself pressing ‘P’ instead of ‘O’ regularly. Like most touch keypads it is most likely something you learn to do better with time, but that initial usage was mildly frustrating. I wonder if offering a larger button keypad as well would help, time will tell.

There are many other interesting features to look through, I didn’t get a chance to make an actual phone call for example! Nice little touches such as a one click, highly visible airplane mode, are present all through the device. That said I’m not convinced enough to splash out $500 for the cheapest model, with only 4Gig of unexpandable (what!) memory and a lock in to an AT&T contract. Roll on iPhone v2 – I’m sure that will be even more perfect.

Footnote: Originally I had hoped to do this blog post from the iPhone, spelling mistakes and all, but for some reason I could not log into Blogger. I’m sure that was just something I’d have to work out, but given it also took me a good three minutes to even get my username & password entered it was a task left for another day.