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DIY or hire?

When I started out blogging, I just got a designer to add a WordPress.org blog to my previous website (The difference is that, while all WordPress blogs are 'free' to use, WordPress.com blogs are 'totally' free, if you will, whereas you have to pay for your domain name and web hosting independently to use a WordPress.org blog: something like this, anyway). It cost $150 for the designer to do it, and he did all the basic designing, leaving many of the plugin options to me, which now I think about it was a bit crap. Actually, I didn't even know what WordPress was when I asked him to add the blog!

Once I decided to change domain names from the name of my first book to my author name (probably sensible), however, I realized that I needed a new domain package as well. The initial set up is easy and cheap enough: buying the domain name of your choosing shouldn't cost more than $20 a year often less, and a basic package with more than enough space shouldn't cost more than $150 often less.

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The benefits of this are immediately obvious and compelling: instead of myoldname.wordpress.com, I now have mynewname.com at only a negligible cost, but more than many bloggers are willing to invest in for some reason: perhaps they just want to try it out for a while and then just end up staying with what they know for ages. It could also be that there are some real advantages to being with WordPress.com and bloggers don't want to give them up; I have noticed a few things myself, such as the twitter and facebook comment form they released earlier this year. Anyway

DIY or pay a designer?

I then thought I should ask my designer how much it would cost to install a wordpress blog, and he said $300! This was double what it was eight months earlier; his only excuse was that it is supposedly more difficult to start it from scratch, whatever that means: actually, it turns out that it means nothing at all except that he wanted to cheat me, either that or it was a subtle message to get lost because he didn't want my crappy little job. Anyway, this tipped me over the edge to giving it a go myself. I was also angry and wanted to be able to say, "@#$% you!"

Initially, I was impressed by the ease with which you can install it: without familiarity with cpanel anyone can easily install the wordpress application, and then you're half-way there or are you? Downloading the theme is quite easy as well; the options are fairly clear and you get guided to a list of themes that provide plenty of interesting alternatives. I decided to go with the latest version of my old theme Atahualpa whatever that means. I quite liked the layout, and it reminds me of my old blog, so I was happy initially.

Styling the blog

The problem then is working out how to style your blog. For some reason a lot of the experts and people making suggestions seem to direct people towards the CSS style sheets for just about everything. This is all code, and confusing code at that. People literally seem to submit to this approach and dive into learning the code and how to manipulate it. Most of the suggestions I've come across for making changes are all focused around this.

I didn't want to believe that it was that hard and code based, so I decided to examined the theme options area instead. What I found was that all of the things that people we're saying can be changed using CSS could more easily and intuitively be changed in the options area where everything is clearly labeled for all the different elements of the blog and can be readily manipulate. This, of course, may not be true for everything, just everything that I've wanted to do so far.

Encountering the inevitable problems: CSS style sheets or theme options?

A case in point is the problem that I encountered with my contact form plugin. I wanted to use contact form 7 because it's simple and easy to use for me and visitors and it's also aesthetically appealing and low-key. Also, it was on my old blog and I was familiar with it my designer activated it though which leads me to my problem. My font is white on the blog, evidently. This meant that in the contact form field it was white on white. What I didn't realize at the time was that this was also the case for my comment form, but I hadn't tried that out yet. I looked at the plugin info and it had no options about changing the font colour so, naturally, but through ignorance, I did a google search for a solution. This got me into severe trouble. All the suggestions we're confused, conflicting and provided a range of CSS solutions. I tried some of them and none worked; well, I couldn't get any to work.

Finally, I gave up and tried to find another contact form plugin: my hypothesis at the time was that the problem was with the plugin itself this was wrong, it turned out. After searching for and playing with various plugins with no success, I eventually came across a sensible form called contactme. This is a fairly good one because it's simple and intuitive and solved my text colour form immediately the only problem with it is that you have limited functions on it and also advertising unless you pay $4 a month admittedly that is rather negligible if you get a decent contact form out of it. I wasnt entirely happy with it, though, because it didn't integrate into the site as well as contact form 7 as it's just a square box that looks pasted on top of the site rather than integrated into it. Anyway, four hours work after discovering the text colour problem, it was solved. Apart from pissing me off, this is quite odd. Why would it take so long just to get the text colour right? Do I really have to have such technical knowledge to be able to solve these things in five minutes or less? I can't tell you the frustration involved, particularly when you start out with the wrongheaded view that font colour options should be immediately available on the screen to select from as they are in word etc. A completely different reality, it seems.

Randomly generated solution to the intractable problem

The following day, I was fiddling with another plugin and discovered that the comment form had the same problem: white on white. I immediately understood my error and went straight to the theme options area and selected style form fields. At the top of this page is the information about the colour and dimensions of the form fields the first is the font colour (written as colour; #FFFFFF;). Unbelievable! So I changed it to black (#000000) and pressed save. Voil! Realizing that it probably includes the form field in contact form7, I reapplied it and checked. Sure enough, in contrary to all the advice, there it was: black on white. Beautiful!

Have you had any difficulties with your blog, be it WordPress.org, WordPress.com or another one? Do you want to start a WordPress.org blog after reading this?

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Honourable Mentions

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Posted in Web Design Post Date 01/02/2017






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