Diagnosis for WordPress

Well Lorelle has got me writing again, with her article about admin plugins for WordPress. There were a few in there I liked the look of, so I’m going to work through them and see how I get on. The first is Diagnosis, which is a simple but very useful addition that tells you quite a lot about how your blog is set up. Installing it just adds a link on the dashboard, which then shows you information such as the versions of MySQL, PHP and WordPress you are running, which ports are being used for various things, what modules are installed in PHP, and so on.

If your command line skills are sometimes lacking, it is very useful for getting a lot of knowledge about these backroom things very quickly, and gives you a handy place to check such things when you are debugging issues with your blog. I’ll put this on any blog I install in future, particularly if I was installing on someone elses hosting, as it would tell me a lot about the setup there without having to dig to much.

Testing my blog’s development

I’m picking up on the post from Lorelle on her Lorelle on WordPress blog about testing your blogs development. She lists a set of links you can test your blog on, and see what sort of results are returned. So without further ado:
Live Google PageRankResults
An average pagerank of 2.7, which considering that when I started the blog a few months back, pagerank was essentially 0, is not bad going. Pagerank is one measure I would like to test on again in 6 months time and see where I stand then.

Visual PageRankResults
This is a good tool, shows the pagerank of every single link on a page. I note that I don’t seem to be quoting many major sites in terms of links in a post generally, if I was wanting to live by pagerank alone, I should have more links, and to higher ranking sites. I know that is by no means the only path to improving pagerank, but this tool does highlight the relative merit of your links.

Google Cache Tool
This checks to see what internal links have been cached by google, having read through the front page of the blog. According to this, 3 out of 7 have. Not sure if I would need to get the rest cached, but it is caching the main url of the site, which is what I would want.

Spider ViewResults
Okay, as a topic I’ve discussed several times on here, I checked Ubuntu as a keyword on the site. This showed that I’ve mentioned it 18 times on the front page as it stands.

3 results here. I’ve found personally that Alexa is a bit sniffy in some senses, as they profess to only be interested in the top 100,000 websites, rather than providing information beyond this. Also, their ratings depend in part on users installing spyware, which isn’t really the ideal way forwards.

Search Position CheckerResults
I know from a little while ago that one of my most successful posts on this blog was a simple little explanation of how to install realplayer on Ubuntu. I was getting at one point 20 hits a day direct from google for the post. So I used this tool to search for the keywords ubuntu realplay edgy, and see where I am ranked. It shows no results for google, which suggests it may be a bit borked, as a manual search shows I am #2 for that search on google. It does show me as 5th on MSN and 11th on Excite.

Link Popularity CheckerResults
Important to remember here that I am only searching on graemehunter.co.uk, not www.graemehunter.co.uk, which does get very different results. Note that google shows no results at all for the www version. I use google sitemaps to submit the version without the www, but have been meaning for a while to sort out with www. This underlines it needs doing, and that each can be treated very differently by search engines. At least 3 search engines there see over 100 results with the www.

Keyword Analysis ToolResults
This shows the frequency of words throughout a page. So for the front page of here, as I had guessed previously, Ubuntu was the most regular, followed by WordPress and product. Again, if I was targeting a particular audience, I would want to up this count in certain areas.

Google Webmasters Site Status Test
This confirms that I am included in the Google index, and that I was last indexed on the 9th February. I can get a lot more detail once I log into the Google webmaster tools, and I may well do this as a seperate exercise to blog on here soon, going through the results and seeing what they show.

So there are a good range of tools here to check how search engines view your site. Do note by the way that the results I have referred to will change once I publish this post.

I killed my WordPress blog, and lived to fight another day

So it was late. It was the wrong time of night to be playing with those sorts of options. And I compounded my error with the classic mistake of “oh, it’s a little change, I won’t need a backup”. Let both of those mistakes be lessons I learn.

So what happened? Well, I have a couple of other blogs with the WordPress theme K2 on them (this is a skinned version of K2 here), and I noticed that on my main personal blog I didn’t have the same options for the sidebar. After some experimentation, I removed a conflicting plugin, then chose to upgrade the theme. I followed the instructions carefully (well apart from backing up of course), disabled the theme, and then…

Nothing. Nothing at all. The whole site was blank. No posts, no admin, no error messages, just a blank screen for every URL. Really not good at all. So what did I do? Panicked of course.

After a good five minutes of quality panic, I decided to have a look at my database. It was there for starters, which was a very good thing. Then it struck me, there must be an options table for WordPress. And there is, wp_options by default. In there is an entry for theme. So as a last chance, I altered it back to K2 from default. And it worked, I could see the blog once more, and could sort out things from there.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend altering tables like this by hand. It was a qualified guess, but I got lucky. I didn’t deserve to after my other acts of stupidity, but I did. It was a handy thing to learn a bit about in case of that sort of disaster, but in this case it should never have happened, if I had backed up it would have been a lot easier to fix.

Fate also dictates that the morning after, I notice Lorelle’s great post on fixing a broken theme.

Geshi-based syntax highlighter for WordPress

This is my second test of a code syntax highlighter, in this case the Geshi-based syntax highlighter plugin.

Geshibased Syntax highlighterThis isn’t very successful either. The problem is with multiline cut and paste, certainly in Firefox. Doesn’t behave how you would hope. I’ve manually added the line returns to the CSS example, and that behaves fine, but the CSS still isn’t working.

Choosing Software – What if you’re wrong?

During an onerous task today, I think I learnt a valuable lesson in choosing an appropriate software package. We’re moving from a Blosjom-based blog to a WordPress one. Now I’m happy with this change, seeing as this past year I’ve spent so much of my own time using WordPress. The issue we had was moving the content. WordPress supports importing from a lot of different blogging platforms. Blosjom is not directly supported, however WordPress does offer import from an RSS feed, so we were able to import the posts in the main.

However, the comments were unavailable in feed form. So it fell to me to sort this out, and after thinking through some options, the low volume of comments meant that the best way to do this was to just re-enter them into WordPress, and then edit the post dates for accuracy. This was straightforward, but took some times still.

And this was where I starting pondering. We used Blosjom for a year or so, and whilst it was the right choice for us at the time, did we consider what might happen if we wanted to migrate from it? A year on, it still doesn’t have a large user base (to be fair, being Java-based, it wasn’t likely to compete with the PHP/MySQL-style platforms, and being Java-based was one of our requirements at the time). Would we have chosen it if we had considered how easy it would be to leave it?

It happens all the time, with software, with websites, with hardware. Your requirements change, better competitors come along, brand new technology launches. In an ideal world you make your choice and stick with it, but sometimes you are wrong, and other times you are right  until a better thing comes along. Something worth bearing in mind as you chose in the first place is what might happen if you wish to leave. Do the competitors for your database of choice support conversion to their software? Can you import your e-mail contacts from the webmail you want to use into Yahoo Mail, should they suddenly become the bees knees? Is your forum software built on the same base as the majority of its competition, or is it using something obscure? Obviously it is hard to consider every variation, but migration away is well worth considering when you make a choice.

Modern Blogger is Rubbish

Blogger has gone to seed. I was doing some coding work last night on a little project in both Blogger and WordPress, and the differences were very noticeable. For one, the Blogger servers were being just rubbish, and sometimes I couldn’t log in. I was told at one point I had JavaScript disabled, and then a quick refresh proved I didn’t.

These sorts of problems are not frequent really, but happen every month or two. And do seem to be down to volume. Google just don’t seem to be expanding the service at all.

And that goes for technical development as well. Have a look at WordPress sometime. Categories for posts. A much clearer interface for editing your template, rather than one huge single text file. Plugins. A sidebar widget that is being developed at the moment, to make editing this important area of blogging real-estate much easier.

Then come back to Blogger, and realise that you are not only missing these, but that there is nothing that has been added for well over a year. Just stagnation. Oh alright, we got a few new templates, but that was it. I want all the above things, and more, I want a WYSIWYG template editor, made in lovely swishy AJAX, I want lots of integration with the other Google services. Show the public events on my Google calendar? Yes please. Lots of potential there, but it just isn’t being realised. I’d even pay for it, I’d have a pro account if it meant I got better service and features. However I just don’t see any progress coming at the moment, so I am probably moving this to WordPress in the next few months.