I tried building a WordPress site on WordPress.com about a year ago. I liked the themes and how easy it was to build a site, but then got really lost when trying to customize the page. I wasn’t satisfied using a template that thousands of others were using. Tweaking it to look the way I wanted was a challenge, and I gave up trying.
A few days ago, I decided to tackle the job of creating a blog. I’ve been writing content in hopes of posting it someday, but without a blog, it was getting dusty. I pulled up my old account at WordPress.com and was pleasantly surprised to see these little ‘widgets’ that were actually very useful. And the coolest thing was, they were draggable and could be put where I wanted them. I have to admit I do like the challenge of searching Google for ideas and tips on customization, then hunting through pages of code to find the line I need to modify, download files, edit the code, upload the file using Windows Explorer FTP, waiting, messing up, repeating. But the hours spent staring at code until 2 in the morning, learning by trial and error, and having only Google to ask for advice, that wears thin after a while.
Being able to now drag the WordPress widgets where I wanted seemed too perfect, and refreshing my blog page and seeing quick results surpassed the moments of accomplishment that I felt after I had made a piece of code work by doing it the manual way. But then, I reached a limit. I started creating my blog from WordPress themes at around 9:30, and I remember thinking to myself, “wow, it’s only 9:30. You’ll have plenty of time to get a template laid out and be able to watch and episode of Ironside before bed.”
Widgets didn’t appear where they were supposed to. Some widgets would be on the list, then disappear. I wanted a photo gallery and had to research which one to use from a list of so many that I didn’t even make it past the third page. I found one that I thought would work and utilized Flickr. Thinking I already had a Flickr account, I headed there to upload photos, but I was wrong and was thinking of Photobucket instead. I spent another hour creating an account, uploading about 20 photos of First Friday in Las Vegas, and figuring out how to integrate it into the WordPress site.
By 11 p.m., I was trying to customize the header photo. It was hard finding a photo that would crop down to the wide and narrow dimensions needed to fit the template, but I was successful. I went back to make several sizes and tried them on different templates. I was really starting to make the site look like my own until I hit an obstacle that i was unable to solve: the title text.
It suddenly all came back to me about the problem I had encountered when I set up my first WordPress.com blog last year. The title text sat on top of the header image and the only option was to change the color or position. I tried every trick I could find on Google to get the text to not show.
I tackle site problems like this as a challenge, and when I find posts that say something can’t be done, I don’t believe it and keep searching for someone who figured it out, or until I believe it is no longer worth even pursuing. I had no luck removing the text on the header of my first blog, but I did find a workaround.
I determined where the text would fall on the image, then chose an image that would complement the text by leaving a natural spot for it to fall in to. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it worked fine and I liked the result. Unfortunately, I never pursued that project and the page sits neglected and unattended.
Remembering that lengthy process last night, I tried everything I could to do fresh research on removing the header text, but to no avail. Not only could I not find a way to do it, I found a few message boards that verified that it could not be done unless the theme specifically allowed for that. The design I envisioned was no good with text stretched across the narrow header photo I chose, so at 1 a.m. I gave up and decided to try again the next day.
Today, Thursday, April 22, it is 9:15 p.m. One of the things I read while scouring message boards last night was that there is a difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The .com site lets you choose templates and layouts and create pretty cool site designs, but for trying to customize the look and really make it unique, the site has its limitations.
The .org site seems to be for developers who want to install the templates and have the capability to customize nearly all aspects of the site. My only gripe so far is the lack of help I’m finding as I’m searching forums for a solution to problems. I’m finding many forums with questions that are unanswered, many that are several months old. I am relieved to find that others have the same problems that I do (so it’s not just me!), and I thank each blogger who took the time to post their solution and help the rest of us out.
After ditching WordPress.com, I worked on my new WordPress.org page on and off for about 8 hours. I tried this current theme, iDream, a few times and came back to it because it seemed to have more widgets available than the others. I had initially thought that all themes had the same widgets to add, but unless I’m missing something, that was not the case.
I got bogged down the longest with trying to install a photo viewer. I had found a template I loved that didn’t have a lot of widgets, but did have a brilliantly designed photo slideshow that acted as a sort of header. Featured Content Gallery had a handy install feature through WordPress so I didn’t have to download, unzip and upload. It also had some pretty straight forward instructions on how to add a custom field to each post that would grab the photo and automatically use it in the slide show.
I followed the steps, but I couldn’t get the darn thing to work. The afternoon passed and I tried every tip I could find on other blogs. I distracted myself with a hailstorm and McDonald’s for the kids, but even a pretty fantastic (and strong) margarita at sunset didn’t clear my head enough to figure out why the gallery wasn’t working. The slideshow never found my pictures and all that was at the top of my page was a dark gray box where the photos should be.
The eDegree site that I was using the gallery with looked very sleek and stylish, was available through the WordPress.net themes and was easy to install. But without the gallery working, it was useless to me.
My Red Humpy blog is now up and running using a theme with no header photo, which is the first thing that has made my blog experience a bit easier. In a last ditch effort at a photo gallery, I made an attempt to install Cincopa, but it involved new signups and accounts with the company. The mini Flickr I found seemed to be great, and I tried another Flickr plugin also, but unlike on WordPress.com where I could drag the Flickr widget onto a sidebar, I could not find how to do that on my page. It appears under Settings on my Dashboard, but doesn’t show up in the widget section. I searched a few posts to see what others are doing with it, but didn’t find the documentation I needed.
I decided to put my energy into writing a few posts for my site so I can see how the tags and comments and pages work. I’ll make another attempt at a photo gallery in few days.
The final thing I did tweak, though was being able to have only an excerpt of each post show on the main page, rather than the entire post, which had always annoyed me about other WordPress sites. I found a setting that appeared to address the problem. Under Settings and Reading, there is a place to choose how many posts to show, and whether to display the Full Text or a Summary. I have the setting on Summary but it doesn’t make a difference on my posts.
I did some research and found a way to edit the code to manually post only the excerpts, which my home page now shows. The only negative to this is that I lost the photos that I posted along with the words. The photos really added interest to the page and if I can’t have them there, then I really do need a nice photo viewer.
I’ll work on that tomorrow.