Oct 20th, 2010
A good friend recommended me for a “need a website developer” post on the The Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) list. The poster was Joyce Cordi, a management and business consultant based in San Jose, California. Joyce is passionate about politics and ran for Congress in 2008. An outspoken advocate for sense in government, she had started her Reimagine America blog on WordPress.com but wanted to move past the limitations of the free hosting service. She also wanted a customized front page that pulled in content from her about and bio pages along with selected posts on various topics.
Even though I gave her my standard disclaimer that I am an information architect, not a graphics designer, she gave me full reign on changing any design elements. “Just don’t make me look at a bunch of themes!” was her only requirement.
“That’s fine.” I replied. “you’re already using the MistyLook theme which I like so much that I’ve used it on my own site.” All that was needed design-wise was a change from MistyLook’s muted grays and greens to patriotic reds, whites and blues.
The big unknown in estimating the time and cost of this project was podcasting. The vast majority of Joyce’s posts consist of transcripts following an audio player control. Joyce complained about the difficulty she and her producer, Wayne, had in getting each podcast attached to a WordPress.com post. I hadn’t done much work with podcasts so I couldn’t tell if the problems stemmed from her methodology or from a problem with WordPress.com itself. The only way to find out was to copy one of her audio files and try to setup podcasting on my development site. I started with PodPress, one of the more popular podcasting plugins. It worked like a charm.
Building a replacement WordPress site is not as straight forward as it might seem. A WordPress installation internalizes its URL. By that I mean the site’s full URL is stored in the database in several places and this complicates creating a new WordPress instance on any address other than the final production URL. There are two ways around this problem, both of which present difficulties.
- Build the site on a temporary URL and convert to the production URL at launch time.
- Modify the local DNS on a development machine in order to install the site on the production URL.
The first approach is easier up to the conversion point. The conversion requires dumping the database, running it through a filter to change the internal URLs and reloading. It’s kind of scary since it essentially means killing and resurrecting the site, then waiting a few nail-biting hours for the DNS change to propagate across the Internet before you know if the conversion was successful or not.
The second approach is safer but has the downside that the new site cannot be seen by the client unless she also has a spare machine on which she can modify her local DNS. Even if that’s the case, modifying your local DNS is not trivial, especially on a Windows PC where, if you don’t do it right, you can screw up your entire Internet access.
Still, whenever possible, I use the second approach and send emails with screenshots when I need the client’s input. I did this with Reimagine America but, instead of email, Joyce and I communicated using Skype, taking advantage of its screen sharing and file transfers capabilities to work together on the design and layout.
For Reimagine America’s front page, I imported the showposts shortcode function I used on Oradell.com. This allowed Joyce to choose which topics (WordPress categories) to feature, how many posts to show in each topic and whether to show just the title or the title and excerpt.
As a bonus, I also copied the “Show All Articles” page that I developed for Profoto-USA extending it with the ability to sort by category as well as by date and title. I find having a page with the full index of all post titles an important addition to any blog. Click on the screen shot to the right to see the page in action.