WordPress not ready to share with Google+

Google+This morning I at last got into the new Google+, and I have been playing around with it. You can find my profile through this shortened URL, courtesy of gplus.to which is offering what Google+ itself should surely have offered.

So far I am not exactly overwhelmed with Google+. It looks rather like a tidied up version of Facebook, not cluttered with all the extra features which have crept into Facebook over the years. But of course that means it can’t do all those extra things, a few of which are useful. Of course they may be added in later, but that could spoil the uncluttered look. The only useful looking new feature is having separate circles of friends, but I haven’t yet worked out quite how that works.

I tried to find out how to link Google+ to Gentle Wisdom. But this was a frustrating experience. First of all, Google’s search engine seems unable to distinguish between “google”, “google+” and “google +1″, and in fact corrects “google+” (including quotes) to “google”. Fail! WordPress.org search replaces “google+” (including quotes) with “google “. I found a lot about how to put a +1 button on a WordPress blog (which I already did several weeks ago), and a theme which allegedly looks like Google+, but nothing about how to link with Google+.

What I want to do is to add Google+ to Sharedaddy, the “+ Share” button at the bottom of each post, but I have not found a way to do so, or even a plugin which mimics it. This would put a link to my post on my Google+ stream, similar to sharing a link on my Facebook wall. I was able to do this manually. This is not the same thing as adding the Google +1 button, which is more like the Facebook “like”.

Of course this may be because Google has not made it possible. After all, they are reportedly about to replace Blogger, currently the main rival of WordPress, with a new blogging platform integrated with Google+. But Google will never be able to conquer the Facebook and WordPress worlds if it cuts itself off from them, and certainly not by making it hard to share links on its wall.

So will Google+ kill Facebook? At the moment I don’t think it has what it takes. But it could well acquire it in the future, as new features are rolled out. Its biggest challenge is of course the sheer size of the Facebook user base. But, as MySpace discovered, large numbers do not guarantee lasting success. So we will just have to wait and see – and in the meantime make sure our blogs are prepared for it, by offering the same features for Google+ that we do for Facebook.

WordPress Twenty Eleven, here we are

Gentle Wisdom is now running with the new Twenty Eleven theme on self-hosted WordPress 3.2. Well, not precisely. In fact it is using the Twenty Eleven Child with Sidebar Support theme which Chris Aprea kindly released, in response to my comment (which he deleted) on a previous post on his blog. This child theme has almost entirely overcome the issues I had with Twenty Eleven, which I posted about yesterday. I have also customised the header image, and copied across the widgets from the old Twenty Ten, with a few minor changes.

WordPress Twenty Eleven theme demo

The changes Chris made only in the child theme affected the 1000+ posts on this blog, not the pages. I have had to edit my pages manually to select the sidebar theme. But as there are only 18 pages here that has not been a big task.

Thank you, Chris.

One other small issue: in Twenty Eleven borders appear around all my images. I would prefer no borders, unless I specify them. It doesn’t work to include “border=”0″” as an the HTML img attribute. I would also prefer less white space at the top. I guess these would be easy CSS changes. Also at some stage I would like to put the words “Gentle Wisdom thoughts on life from Peter Kirk, a follower of Jesus” on top of the image rather than in a large white space above it, but that would probably be a more difficult change.

If anyone finds a problem with this site as newly set up with Twenty Eleven, please let me know, in a comment or through the contact form.

Meanwhile, as Brian LePort reports, Google is preparing to discontinue its Blogger blogging platform. And about time too, I would say. Most Google products are really good, but Blogger has always been an exception. I moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress in 2007 and have never regretted it. What Google really needs to do is replace Blogger with a high quality product of its own – which it could base on the WordPress open source code. In the article Brian links to the news is in fact only that Google is going to rename Blogger and link it to its new Google+ social network. But there is a link to older news of a major overhaul of Blogger. That would be good, but I am not expecting to move back to any new Google platform in the near future.

 

WordPress Twenty Eleven: give us back our sidebar!

Last night I upgraded my self-hosted WordPress installation to version 3.2, which was officially released yesterday. I like the look of the new version, at least as far as I can tell so far. If anyone notices any strange or different behaviour on this blog which might be caused by this upgrade, or for that matter if it might not, please let me know in a comment or via the contact form.

For anyone who would like to join me in self-hosted WordPress blogging, I can recommend Jeremy Myers’ current series Start Blogging in 5 Simple Steps.

Twenty Eleven theme screenshotI like the look of the Twenty Eleven theme, which is the new default in WordPress 3.2. I would like to update Gentle Wisdom to use it, instead of my current Twenty Ten theme. I would customise the header to keep my current image, but in a rather deeper format so I could use more of the original.

But I discovered a fatal flaw in the Twenty Eleven theme which makes it quite unusable for me: it does not show the sidebar on single posts and pages, but only on the front page.

I repeat: THERE IS NO SIDEBAR ON SINGLE POSTS AND PAGES.

Now why on earth should a theme do that? Well, I suppose some people want a really clean view when they view a single post or page. But most of us bloggers, and that includes anyone wanting to make money from advertising, are using our sidebars to show all kinds of important or interesting things. Currently I have 22 widgets in mine. And we want, or need, these to be visible to all our readers, not just to the minority who read our front page.

Now admittedly some of these widgets could be put in the footer area, which is always displayed. Perhaps I should do that with some of my current widgets. But with many of them there are good reasons for not putting them in the footer. Advertisements and some other material need to be prominent, not at the bottom of the page where they are often not seen.

I read somewhere that it is in fact very easy to modify the Twenty Eleven theme (but presumably only on self-hosted WordPress, not on a WordPress.com hosted blog) to make that sidebar reappear. The problem with that is that, as Twenty Eleven is part of a WordPress 3.2 installation, any modifications will be automatically overwritten whenever WordPress is updated. Anyway, I don’t want to get into editing PHP as I don’t know the language well.

It would be very easy for Matt Mullenweg and his team to upgrade Twenty Eleven with a simple option to retain or remove the sidebar from single posts and pages. It would probably be quite easy for someone with the right skills to write a simple plugin to add this option. With that small addition the Twenty Eleven theme would be so much better. So give us back our sidebar, as an option. Please!

Amazon Affiliate links should now be localised

I have installed the Amazon Affiliate Link Localizer plugin for this WordPress installation. This means that links from Gentle Wisdom to Amazon products should be automatically redirected to each reader’s local Amazon store – but only where the same product is available there.

The popups are still mostly for Amazon.co.uk and so sterling prices will be shown. To see your local product and currency please click the link in the main text. The Gentle Wisdom UK and US stores are unaffected.

I hope this works correctly for each of you my readers. I can’t check it properly without travelling to your countries. Please let me know of any problems.

This should make it easier for you to order your Amazon products through Gentle Wisdom.

Post 1000: musings on a milestone

1000 signWith this post I mark 1000 posts here at Gentle Wisdom, including those originally published at its predecessor Speaker of Truth, some of which were first published with the dreadful Blogger and later imported into WordPress. In addition to these posts there are currently 16 pages on this site, accessible from the menu below the header picture, and more than 10,000 comments. By the way, the numbers in the post and page URLs are misleading: they are not post numbers.

I have reached this landmark nearly six years since my first post introducing myself, and nearly five years after I started blogging regularly in June 2006. I have also posted 131 times at Better Bibles Blog, starting in July 2005, also a few times at qaya thoughts, at TNIV Truth and at the now closed Complegalitarian.

I was interested to re-read my very first blog post, at BBB in 2005, in which I rejected the advice not to marry in the 1984 NIV’s version of 1 Corinthians 7:1. At the time that rejection was only in theory; it was only in October 2009 that I decisively went against this advice. For that matter, so did the NIV translation team: they much improved their wording at this point in their 2011 update.

This milestone seems an appropriate opportunity to offer some musings about my blogging experience. As my regular readers will know, this has been a rather on and off matter. From June 2010 to February 2011 I posted only eight times, and I was thinking what no doubt some of my readers were thinking, that this blog had run out of steam and would soon expire completely.

Then in March this year, as I announced rather tentatively at the time, I effectively relaunched Gentle Wisdom, with the intention to build “more of a resource site” and to “make some money for my efforts”.

Well, I have done quite well in attracting readers, especially to my post on David Wilkerson’s earthquake prophecy.

I have made some money from Google Adsense, but not as much as I had hoped. Indeed I have not yet received any because I am still a little short of the £60 total required for a first payment.

And I haven’t got very far yet with the resource site project. I wrote my first few pages in my Follow Jesus section, but still have a list of several more to write. And so far I have managed only one post in the Life Today section, We British need not have bad teeth: The American way.

The problem is that I am not disciplined enough as a writer. I am far too easily distracted by various pressing things around me. Most of my blog posts are reactions to current events, or to what I read on other blogs and on Facebook, Twitter etc. That may not be a bad thing, but it does make me look like a fun blogger. Yesterday Christian author Frank Viola tweeted:

I find blogging to be fun. But writing books is bleeding.

Indeed. Writing serious content for this site is also “bleeding”, or as I would put it, “draining”. But I do want to do it. So watch this space to see how well I succeed.

Blogger glitches

My apologies for a small problem on this blog yesterday. For several hours the layout of the blog was broken, although the material was all accessible I think.

This problem was reported to me by several readers. But when I first looked at it, when I was home briefly between two trips out, I thought it had fixed itself – but apparently it was only fixed in my open Firefox window. When I got back home late in the evening I discovered that the problem was still there. I tracked it down to a problem with the WordPress plugin W3 Total Cache, which (if any of you are interested in the technical details) was apparently trying to “minify” and cache my CSS but was redirecting users to a non-existent CSS file. Neither clearing all caches nor an upgrade to the latest version of W3 Total Cache fixed the problem. Disabling the “minify” feature did.

BloggerBut my problems have been nothing compared to those of fellow bloggers who have stayed in the dark ages, which I left four years ago, and continue to blog with Blogger. Despite the best efforts of Google, its owner, Blogger still has serious problems. And it has now been out of service for something like twelve hours, and many posts which my dark age blogging friends had published have disappeared. The Blogger team is promising to restore them, but nothing has happened yet. One of those blogging friends, Philip Ritchie, has referred in a tweet to

The great Blogger crisis of 2011.

Last time there was a major glitch with Blogger, for about 25 minutes on 17th March, the team admitted that

The problem was caused by human error. … we will try harder to make Blogger a more reliable service.

Well, Google certainly need to do better with Blogger if they expect the public to have any confidence in their recently announced Chrome laptops, which will depend completely for their operation on online services rather like Blogger.

Gentle Wisdom Mobile

I have set up a mobile version of this Gentle Wisdom site, courtesy of Wapple Architect Mobile Plugin for WordPress. If you read this blog on a mobile device you should be automatically directed to the mobile version. I haven’t been able to set this up quite as I like because of bugs, or unwanted features, in the plugin. But I hope it is good enough for you to use.

If you have any issues with the mobile site, please report them through my contact page.

WordPress Jetpack and stats disaster

Automattic, the company behind WordPress, has announced a wonderful new plugin for self-hosted WordPress.org blogs. Matt Mullenweg, the inventor of WordPress, has enthused about it, calling it

what’s been a dream of mine for several years now … the vision I had for WordPress when I first founded Automattic five years ago finally coming to fruition.

This wonder is called Jetpack, promoted as:

Jetpack supercharges your self‑hosted WordPress site with the awesome cloud power of WordPress.com.

In other words, Jetpack allows bloggers like me who self-host our blogs access to some extra features previously available only for those who host their blogs at WordPress.com. Details of Jetpack can also be found at the WordPress plugins directory.

Hold on – where has Jetpack been announced? There is nothing about this on the WordPress News blog, where I would expect to see a mention of a significant advance like this one. It is not mentioned in the “plugins” box on my dashboard, as it is currently neither the newest nor the most popular plugin, and there is no link there to a broader plugin search page.

The only announcement I can find is on the WordPress.com users’ blog, in a post Boost your self-hosted WordPress with Jetpack. Not surprisingly this announcement confused many of its intended readers, bloggers who do not self-host their blogs but prefer to host them at WordPress.com, as this plugin is not useful and not available for them.

So how did I find out about this? Recently I had been making good use of the WordPress.com Stats plugin, also from Automattic, to track the now again growing number of visitors to this site. This morning that plugin suddenly stopped working. After a complex search of support forums I found that I needed to disable WordPress.com Stats and install Jetpack.

This process quite quickly restored the stats I was looking for, although the Incoming Links box is broken – it now shows only .links from 2009 pointing to an old address for this blog. I also gained some other nice looking functionality, including the Share button now on each post and page (click to share on Facebook or Twitter, or by e-mail, or to print the post). So I am not complaining about Jetpack as a product, only about how it was introduced.

What had happened? It seems that the stats plugin had been deliberately disabled because users were expected to switch over to Jetpack. The Jetpack FAQ notes that

As we upgrade each of our individual plugins to be a part of Jetpack, we’ll prompt you to switch over to the new, Jetpack-powered version.

Fair enough. But I was not prompted to switch over. Also the old, disabled, WordPress.com Stats plugin is not only still available with no warning message, but also one of the six featured plugins on the plugins directory home page!

What’s going on? Is there some kind of power struggle here between a WordPress.com group anxious to get their nice new features into self-hosted blogs, and a WordPress.org group who don’t want their boat rocked? Is one group deliberately sabotaging the other, by disabling the other’s stats, in order to get its way? Or is this simply a case of a company of techies not having a clue about marketing?

Sorry, WordPress and Automattic, but your Jetpack “blast-off” looks to be something of a disaster, at least in terms of public relations. You need to sort out this mess right away, by clearly announcing Jetpack to your self-hosted users and properly explaining the necessary upgrade paths. If not you will find your Jetpack powering WordPress straight back into the ground.

An e-mail from hell?

I was surprised to receive this evening an e-mail whose sender is listed as “Satan”. I was even more surprised to discover it appeared to have been written by ElShaddai Edwards, who is certainly not an alter ego of the devil.

In fact the message was a pingback for my post on Satan in Job, generated by ElShaddai’s post Satan, Job and Goethe which quotes and links to my post. The confusion arose because my WordPress installation generated an e-mail for the pingback with the From: address “Satan, Job and Goethe « He is Sufficient <wordpress@qaya.org>”; my mail program Thunderbird parsed this as two senders’ addresses separated by a comma, and only displayed the first sender’s name.

This seems to be a small bug in my WordPress installation, still version 2.3.3 at the moment, in that it is generating sender’s address display names with commas in them. These are not permitted in display names except in quote marks; that is, they are permitted in quoted-strings, but not in atoms, as specified here. There is a further bug, or undesirable feature, in these display names in that they include visible HTML entities like “&raquo;” and “&#8217;”.

Perhaps they have fixed these bugs in the new WordPress 2.5, but in the light of some other bloggers’ comments I am not going to rush into an upgrade.