2015: Personal Technology Review

How did my use of technology change during 2015? The short answer is that it increased. For example, I just deposited a check using my phone, and that’s something I never did in previous years.

That phone is a Droid Maxx, made by Motorola for Verizon. My iPhone turned in to a brick earlier this year. From among the phones available from or for Verizon Wireless, the Maxx seemed to me the best deal. This may be due to the particular wireless plan I was already in. The iPhones were by comparison overpriced.

I was happy with my new phone until, after a few months, it went into spiral of frantic uselessness, in which it would do nothing but restart until it ran out of power. Staff at the Verizon store agreed that it should be replaced, and replaced it was.

My second Maxx is behaving well so far. I like multiple things about it, especially the size of the screen. I’m not missing my iPhone. But I haven’t abandoned Apple: the two iPads in the house are in frequent use by the kids and by me. Continue reading “2015: Personal Technology Review”

Custom CSS Grandfathered… or Overlooked?

For years, I’ve used two of the paid upgrades offered at WordPress.com: domain mapping and custom CSS. Domain mapping is the reason this is changingway.org, as well as changingway.wordpress.com. Custom CSS is the reason you see the date under the post title in small type, rather than large type, and the reason that the category names in the sidebar aren’t separated from each other by lines.

Those two upgrades came up fore renewal a few days ago. I renewed domain mapping, but not custom CSS. The main reason I didn’t renew custom CSS is that it no longer exists. It is part of the custom design upgrade, which also includes custom fonts, and is twice the price that custom CSS used to be.

I regret the passing of custom CSS, but there are a couple of reasons why the regret isn’t strong. One is that I understand that Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com, seem to be moving toward a simpler and more profitable menu of upgrades. The other is that my custom CSS is still in effect as of now. Perhaps it’ll stay in place as long as I don’t try to make further CSS changes. If so, I’m not sure whether that is by accident or design. Either way, I’ll take it for as long as it lasts, but may seek another (clean) theme if it goes away.

WordPress.com Custom Design: A Logical Price Rise?

WordPress.com has long provided a Custom CSS upgrade. I’ve been using Custom CSS here at ChangingWay.org ever since the blog has lived at WordPress.com and used the Simpla theme.

Custom CSS is now part of the Custom Design upgrade. Custom Design costs $30 per blog per year, twice what Custom CSS used to cost. So what else does the extra $15 buy? Well, you get more help with CSS from WordPress.com now. Back in the Custom CSS days, you paid to be able to edit CSS, and WordPress.com was explicit that it didn’t provide support to you in getting the CSS right.

But the main difference between Custom Design and Custom CSS is: Custom Fonts. In fact:

  • Custom Design = Custom CSS + Custom Fonts + Support.

Custom Fonts refers to the use of Typekit. CSS and Typekit go logically together, as I noted when I first tried Typekit. That was two years ago, before Typekit became available at WordPress.com. It would have made sense to me had Typekit been available as part of Custom CSS. After all, CSS allows you to specify fonts (among many other things), while Typekit lengthens the list of fonts you can use.

Instead, when WordPress.com first made Typekit available, it opened the Typekit door to all users, at no charge, while providing minimal support. I played around with Typekit at this blog, used it elsewhere, and responded to some questions about Typekit in the WordPress.com forums. But ChangingWay.org currently uses CSS, rather than Typekit, to specify fonts.

WordPress.com announced the Custom Design upgrade earlier this year. To recap, this means that for $30 per blog per year, you can get the combination of Custom CSS and Custom Fonts, with support for both. The combination is a logical one and, at less than $1 a week, seems reasonably priced – to WordPress.com, and probably to many of its bloggers.

But, to other WordPress.com bloggers, the bundling of CSS and Fonts into a single $30 package represents an unwelcome change. One blogger recently complained in the forums that he cannot use Typekit for free anymore (but follow the link to the thread for a way in which bloggers already using Typekit can continue to use it at no charge).

To me, Custom Design represents a doubling of the price I pay for using Custom CSS at this blog. I don’t need Typekit, and I don’t need CSS support. The price change is an input into my annual question: should I continue to pay for WordPress.com upgrades, or should I move to another WordPress host?

What are your thoughts on the Custom Design upgrade and its pricing?

WordAds: WordPress.com Bloggers Will Be Able to Advertise

Making Money From Your WordPress.com Blog is one of the most-visited posts on this WordPress.com blog. “Can I run ads?” is one of the questions most often asked on the WordPress.com forums. The short answer to that question has always been “No.” The longer answer involved an exception for certain high-traffic VIP blogs.

Enter WordAds, which exists to provide advertising representation to WordPress.com bloggers. It is a partnership between WordPress.com/Automattic and Federated Media. It is optional for bloggers. It is also optional for WordPress.com, in that bloggers need to apply. In order to do so, they must have custom domains (as this blog does). Even so, not all applications will be accepted.

The post announcing WordAds is rather curiously worded.

We’ve resisted advertising so far because most of it we had seen wasn’t terribly tasteful, and it seemed like Google’s AdSense was the state-of-the-art, which was sad. You pour a lot of time and effort into your blog and you deserve better than AdSense.

I find this curious, because WordPress.com has for years run AdSense on blogs it hosts. The quote seems like acknowledgement of a criticism I’ve often seemed leveled at WordPress.com: that it makes money by marring its bloggers’ content with ads that aren’t, well, terribly tasteful.” It also seems like an unnecessary swipe at Google.

The advent of WordAds raises several questions. Update, two days later: Jon Burke of Automattic/WordPress.com was kind enough to answer my questions via email; hence the italics following each question. See also Matt’s reply to my comment on the announcement post.

  1. What will the terms be? In particular, how much of the ad revenue will go to the blogger? It varies.
  2. Will WordAds replace AdSense on WordPress.com? In other words, if a blogger signs up for neither WordAds nor the No-Ads upgrade, WordPress.com may run ads on the blog: but will it use WordAds or AdSense to do so? AdWords is only for blogs accepted into the AdWords program.
  3. Will there be a plugin to allow self-hosted WordPress blogs to run WordAds? Not in the immediate future.
  4. Will it be possible to run WordAds on non-WordPress sites? No plans for this.

I am fairly confident that the answer to the plugin question (#3) will be “yes,” and rather less sure about answers to the other questions. (Turns out I was wrong, certainly about timing, and possibly about the plugin itself.) If you have answers, guesses, further questions, or other remarks about WordAds, please leave a comment.

Too Many Blogs: But Andrew dot WordPress.com Survives

I have too many blogs. To put it more broadly, I have too many websites. To put it more narrowly, I have too many WordPress blogs; I even have too many WordPress.com blogs. Hence the tag toomanyblogs, and the exercise of culling some of them.

One site that will survive the cull is andrew.wordpress.com. It was my first wordpress.com site, way back in 2005. If I hadn’t scored an invite (thanks, Matt), I wouldn’t have got to wordpress.com early enough to have got such an obvious site address. It also has some interesting content, as I’ve just boasted about in my first post there in years.

WordPress.com Themes

Last week, WordPress.com theme wrangler Lance asked on the forums: If you could change one thing about your theme, what would it be? I was the second person to reply.

I didn’t hold my breath waiting for my request to be implemented, since Simpla is not among the newest or the most popular themes available at WordPress.com. But, if you look at a single post on this blog, you’ll see links to the next and previous posts. In other words, my request was implemented within days. I’m impressed, even factoring in the fact that next/previous links aren’t complex things, and that some believe that they should be part of the post layout of every theme.

I’m hoping that the Theme Team will write a summary of Project One Thing. In fact, I’ll head over to their recent post at the WP.com blog to suggest it.

Hot Off the (Word)Presses

Three news items about WordPress together seem to justify a post, especially given my intention to increase the quantity (and yes, quality) of posts here in 2011.

The first is about WordPress.com, which hosts this and millions of other blogs. The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys emailed me a summary of 2010 at Changing Way. They did the same for many others. Michael at TechCrunch and Constantine at Collateral Damage each hit the handy “Post this summary to my blog” button.

I’m wondering if every stats summary sent out showed reported that “The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.” Each of the links in the previous paragraph leads to a “Wow.” That doesn’t surprise me about TC or about CD, but it does surprise me about CW. I note that two of my five most viewed posts were about Lala, although only one of them was posted in 2010.

The other two items are about self-hosted WordPress. Version 3.1, Release Candidate 2, has just been, well, released. I should install it at one of my many blogs (how many do I have? I don’t know, but probably should) even though the new features seem more worthy than exciting.

Finally, if you’re running WordPress 3.0, you should install 3.0.4, a critical security release. Hey, that means I should go and do that very thing right now…

Windows Live to Roll Over to WordPress.com

Web services close down all the time. TechCrunch, among the sources I subscribe to, is the most zealous at documenting such shutdowns. It usually uses the term Deadpool.

But it just passed up on the opportunity for headlines such as “Windows Live Spaces to the Deadpool.” Instead, Jason Kincaid’s post has the title Windows Live Outsources Blogging, Migrating 30 Million Users To WordPress.com. Now, this seems to be less abrupt than many closedowns.

Users will be migrated through a process that preserves all of their content, and will automatically redirect visitors who head to their existing Microsoft Live Spaces sites… Microsoft is going to be killing off the existing Spaces product in six months.

So it’s killing off without a deadpool? I’m not sure why it takes TechCrunch most of the article to use a word of death. It’s not usually that delicate, or squeamish.

Anyway, this is big for WordPress.com, where Paul Kim welcomes the new arrivals.

PressRow on Death Row

The selection of themes at WordPress.com no longer includes Cutline. Why not? Here’s how staffer Themeshaper explained in the support forum.

When we first added the Cutline theme to WordPress.com it was free software. That means the users of that theme had the freedom to use, share, and modify that theme as they wished—as long as they passed those freedoms on when they shared it. That freedom let us bring the Cutline theme here to WordPress.com and it’s the same freedom that’s made WordPress so popular…

Cutline was sold a few years ago and had a more restrictive license placed on it. The original author of the Cutline theme has gone on to produce other themes with more restrictive licenses. Using Cutline has been seen as a promotion of that work and that’s not something we want to do

Posting on the replacement of Cutline with Coraline, I closed with a thought on another theme.

If I were using PressRow at WordPress.com, I’d be wondering how much longer I’d have it for, and what might replace it.

One comment on the post provides confirmation that PressRow is on death row. Another identifies PressRow as the theme of choice if you want Cutline and can no longer use it. That’s not surprising, since the two themes share a designer (Chris Pearson) and hence a certain look and feel.

I hope that WordPress.com will handle the endgame for PressRow more gracefully than it handled the Cutline cutoff. In other words, I hope that PressRow users won’t suddenly find that they are using a different theme.

I fear a worse than that case scenario, in which:

  • Most, or many, PressRow users get no advance warning.
  • They are switched to a theme they didn’t choose, had never heard of, and, in many cases, dislike.
  • They find their widgets, as well as their theme, gone.
  • They just switched to PressRow, and did so when Cutline went away.

All except the last of these happened during the Cutline cut. The last could happen, especially given the similarity of PressRow to Cutline, and the fact that PressRow is a prominent theme at WordPress.com: if you sort themes on popularity, PressRow is on the front page.

The number of PressRow blogs at WordPress.com may well be in six figures. I arrive at that noting that it is the 14th most popular theme, and that WordPress.com hosts millions of blogs.

I’d like to see a retirement plan for PressRow, stating things like how to forwarn every PressRow user, how much notice to give, etc. I’d like to see the plan itself posted, so that the community can comment on it.

If PressRow/death row isn’t handled better than Cutline/cut, we may see one of WordPress.com’s competitors advancing the proposition: come to us, we won’t cut your theme or put it on death row. That said, the most recent and aggressive attempt to get migrants from WordPress came from Posterous, which has more recently had downtime woes. The most likely migration destination from WordPress.com is still self-hosted WordPress.