Exploring the Chicago Cultural Center

Our final project in class is a group blog where we are Exploring the Chicago Cultural Center. There are several posts up now and we’ll be adding content frequently over the next two weeks. We’ll be pre-viewing and reviewing events in the space and looking at the history and structure of the place itself. Please do take a look and leave a comment or two.

A Small Collection of Blogging Advice

Teaching a class like this has, of course, made me analyze the blogs I read and follow. The blogs I’ve followed the longest all combine information with a very specific and personal voice. Or as  John Gruber of Daring Fireball and Merlin Mann of, at the time 43 Folders say: Obsession + Topic + Voice. That’s from their talk at SxSW Interactive in 2009 with a rather hyperbolic title: HOWTO: 149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog With Credibility!

John also did an interview on Glenn Fleishman’s The New Disruptors podcast—Episode 14: No Kind of Work for a Grown Man with John Gruber—where they cover how John went from having a part-time blog to blogging full-time, and the various monetization models he explored along the way.

43 Folders is an interesting example for our class. Merlin Mann hit some success with his blog about personal productivity and was making good money from advertising, but then he realized that in order to keep that level of advertising, he would in fact be distracting his audience from their own productivity—churning out quantity over quality and he basically just stopped. Unless the goal of your blog is simply to have the blog, its important to keep an eye on your real goal and make sure that the blog is serving that goal, rather than the other way around.

An interesting video to watch is Justin Hall at this year’s XOXO festival. Justin was on the web from nearly the very beginning and was the original oversharer. (That’s someone else’s phrase and now I can’t find it to attribute it.) It’s funny and sweet and a great talk from a blog pioneer.

Migrating Your Blog, Part 2

OK, so you’ve got a backup of your blog, so now where are you going to put it? The good and bad news is that there are a thousand choices.

Another WordPress Installation

If you are comfortable with WordPress as we’ve been using it in class, the simplest transition would be to get a hosting service where you can install WordPress and you can just transition directly over. Most hosting services provide easy ways to install WordPress (usually called a “1-click install”) or, for a little more, they’ll maintain your WordPress backend for you. Barbara and I have used Bluehost and Dreamhost as hosting services. Both have a variety of hosting levels, but you can usually get started for $75-100 a year.

WordPress.com

If you like WordPress, but really don’t want to maintain, your best bet is WordPress.com, a service provided by Automattic, the main developers of the free WordPress.org software. They have a free level, whose main limitation is that your domain will include wordpress.com (e.g awesomesite.wordpress.com) and that they might show ads on your site. Their paid level starts at $99 a year and includes a custom domain name.

Other Blogging Software, Self-Hosted

If you’re hosting your own site with a general purpose host like Bluehost or Dreamhost, then you could also install a variety of other blogging platforms like Drupal or Joomla. If you ask yourself “why would I want to do that?”, then you don’t.

Other Blogging Platforms, Hosted

There are also a ton of options out there of blogging platforms that, like WordPress.com, take care of all the backend work for you. Blogger is one of the oldest such platforms and has a lot of flexibility. Tumblr is designed to be incredibly simple to use. SquareSpace is not free, but a good reputation for being a good balance between powerful and easy to use (they also sponsor a lot of podcasts, so it’s easy to find coupon codes for a discount).

Migrating Your Blog, Part 1

If you’re going to maintain your blog after class, you’re going to need to move it to a different host, because the IAM department won’t maintain these blogs for too long. And even after that you might find yourself moving your blog between hosting services for a variety of reasons like cost, performance, features of some new blogging software, etc.

This first part of the process is about backing up your WordPress site, so you have a copy to import somewhere else. Exactly how you need to back it up depends a little on what kind of host you’re moving to, but it never hurts to back up in multiple ways to have options in the future.

Method 1: Built-in Export

By default, WordPress has a simple export built-in. In the dashboard, under Tools there’s the option Export. There are hardly any options, just leave All Content selected and click “Download Export File”. Your browser will download a small XML file to your default download folder. “All Content” doesn’t mean what you might think it does—it includes all your posts, pages, comments, custom fields, terms, navigation menus and custom posts, but not images, themes, plugins, etc.

The file is small and easily backed up—you can even just email it to yourself, Also, this is the format you’ll need if you’re switching switching from WordPress to some other blogging platform. You can use an SFTP client like Filezilla or Cyberduck to log into your students.iam.colum.edu account and download the public_html/wordpress/wp-content/uploads folder in order to backup all your images.

Method 2: Backup Plugins

There are a huge variety of plugins for WordPress that let you backup to local storage, for download, or to Cloud storage services like DropBox or GoogleDrive.

I installed a plugin called “BackUpWordPress”. It added a Backups item to my Tools menu. I went into the Settings link there and changed the Backup selection from “Database Only” to “Database and Files”. I saved those settings and then clicked Run Now. It only took a few moments for the backup to run and then it was available to download via a link. This zip file contains everything needed to restore your whole blog to another WordPress installation, including posts, images, plugins, themes, and so on.

Next post, we’ll look at where you can move your blog to.