Back to WordPress 3.01

I’ve been away from WordPress for a little over three years, when I moved to Expression Engine (EE) on a dedicated virtual server. Well…I’m baaaack!

Good Reasons

The reason I moved to EE in the first place was that I thought I was about to outgrow WordPress to graduate into a more comprehensive Content Management System (CMS). The features I thought I needed:

  • The ability to manage users for digital subscription services
  • The ability to have an open forum and wiki area
  • The need to manage multiple websites under one system
  • The ability to charge money for website design by basing my services on a well-known commercial offering

The first three items on that list were related to the grand plans I had in my head (and have written about here) for taking what I was doing with the various Printable CEO forms. I was enjoying the community aspects of what was happening, and thought that the next “responsible” thing to do would be to grow into some kind of community site.

Three years later, and what I’ve learned is the opposite of what I had dreamed I needed. It turns out I do NOT want to manage a community site; I’d rather be writing, reading, or making things that turn into things I post about. I also do NOT want to be offering professional website development; I’d much rather do SIMPLE website development. So the very things that make EE great actually end up not being useful to me.

Technical Reasons

So why even move from Expression Engine, after spending hundreds of hours customizing it to my needs? I just find I like WordPress better as a platform, and when faced with the task of converting from Expression Engine 1.6.x to 2.0.1, I figured I might as well jump ship entirely. Don’t get me wrong: EE is a fine system, and the new version is built on top of their well-regarded CodeIgniter framework (which I use on my design website) which means that it’s even more powerful than before. But it’s power that I don’t need, and it comes with additional overhead that I don’t have time for. I feel like I can drive WordPress like a dune buggy if I wanted to.

Here’s what I really like on WordPress:

  • Theming is way more immediate. You can not just “swap themes” on Expression Engine like you can on WordPress, which I find to be something of a downer when I want play blog dress-up.
  • I like the way themes work on WordPress. The templating system for Expression Engine is very powerful and designer-friendly, but I’d rather write straight PHP now.
  • Admin control panel is geared toward managing a CMS, not writing a blog. Things like auto-save, categories management, comment management, etc are not streamlined to the writer’s workflow. You can customize all that stuff by recoding it, but I don’t have the time.
  • Plugins are much easier to write. The number of hooks available within EE were (at the time I looked) pretty limited. There are also a lot more of them available, of course, for WordPress.
  • More efficient page-level caching is available on WordPress. EE actually has very capable fine-grained caching mechanisms for application developers, which worked almost as well but still stressed my server.
  • Auto Update is Awesome. Updating around an existing custom installation like mine required very careful coordination of saving/uploading files, so much so that I actually wrote a script to do it for me. Now, I just press a button.
  • Auto Save is Awesome. No more fretting about accidentally closing the browser window and losing all my work, so I’m more relaxed.
  • Much better integration into the “blogosphere” through the various notification mechanisms. They never quite worked for me with Expression Engine. Do people still do trackbacks?

Net result? I feel more like blogging. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to pull up the WordPress back-end and feel like it’s working with me, not against me.

What I’m not looking forward to is increased spam. EE did a phenomenal job of blocking most spam until maybe a couple of months ago, when I started to see a lot more hand-entered stuff. However, I also noticed that I saw a lot FEWER comments. I’d assumed that this was because my writing wasn’t capturing the imagination of readers, but it may be due to overaggressive anti-spam measures. I’ve read similar things about some of the WordPress security plugins, and of course there have been a lot of WordPress exploits reported in the past year.

Design Changes

The new blog theme is a simplification of the old theme. For posterity here’s the recent progression from SeahTwo (left) to Seah2010 (right) via TwentyTen (center):

SeahTwo ThemeDefault TwentyTen ThemeSeah2010 Theme

TwentyTen is pretty good-looking out of the box. Seah2010 is a “child theme”, which means it’s essentially TwentyTen customized with my own header and typography. The nice thing about making a child theme is that when the parent theme is updated with new features, they will automatically carry across (in most cases) to my child theme. I’ll probably have to modify some of my template files, but the vast majority of files I will not have to touch.

I’m missing some features on SeahTwo, most notably the sidebar elements from the old theme and the prominent header placement of the Printable CEO and Compact Calendar, but I’m sure they will come. I have the large task now of retagging and cleaning up the 1500+ articles I have into some coherent, browsable form. The content here has always been a giant mess, and I’m just about ready to wade in and clean house.

Return to More than WordPress

The change back to WordPress is also symbolic: I think I’ve come to terms with what I want to do, which is to just keep writing about what catches my eye and sharing what I learn. I don’t need to be constrained to a niche, role, or easy-to-understand package. I can MAKE those things, but I think I do best when I’m allowed to freely go from topic to topic. What counts, I am finding, is that something happens and something is made. These become the connection points for random Googlers and blog readers around the world, and from these connections a pattern forms. I’m not interested in occupying a niche and defending it. I want to be in the niches that I find interesting, and I think the people I most like to be with are the same way. The eclectic, multi-faceted, creatively-minded and easily-fascinated people like me will find what I’m up to interesting and useful. That’s the market!

We’ll see how it goes :-)