lgSHOUT!

lgSHOUT!

lgSHOUT! is another little service I have put together for local government, following on from LGSearch, which went a little way to fixing the problem of getting relevant search results. lgSHOUT! tries to do something about communication.

The idea behind it is that it’s a Twitter for local government types. People can easily sign up and then post short messages to the rest of the community using a box on the home page, so no need to mess about with complicated blog editors and the like. People can respond to others by directly commenting on a shout, or by posting a shout of their own. Everyone can have an avatar and at the moment that’s handled by Gravatar.

So what sort of things might people want to use this service for?

  • Posting interesting links they’ve seen on the web
  • Yelling for help on something
  • Sharing good practice
  • Having a bit of a chat

It’s built on WordPress and the Prologue theme, and as such took about an hour to put together. The biggest problem was getting URLs that were pasted into the box to be parsed into clickable links – in the end I found this plugin. Bits of work to do include:

  • Trying to get it to work with TinyURL like what Twitter does
  • Giving the option of hosting avatars at lgSHOUT! as well as using Gravatar
  • Tidying up the design a bit

So, I hope it’s useful to local gov folk. If you’ve got any queries about it, or fancy having something similar for another sector, just let me know!

Twitter – awesome source of blog traffic

It was interesting to see the results of the little poll I have been running in my sidebar recently regarding how people read posts on this blog. Out of the 25 votes cast, only four people responded that they read posts via the links that appear on Twitter. The thing is, my blog’s stats show that the largest referrer of traffic to this site every single day is Twitter.

My blog automatically pings my Twitter account with a short message telling everyone that follows me that a new post is up on DavePress, and the title, so they know what it is about. There is a link there, so all people have to do is click that and they’re here. Magic – and much quicker than RSS. This is all done with the plugin TwitterTools by Alex King, and you can download it here.

Well worth it for anyone with a self-hosted WordPress blog.

BuddyPress

This looks very exciting.

Thanks to Nick for the tip off.

Edit: More via TechCrunch:

It is easy to dismiss this as completely unnecessary given the abundance of social networks already out there, as well as application development platforms like OpenSocial. But an open-source social network does present some intriguing possibilities. New apps and features could be added simply by creating new plugins. And there would be no lock-in to any proprietary code or development environment.

DavePress WP Plugin-orama

WordPress is the best, we all know this. As well as the amazing free themes that are available, there are also tonnes of plugins which make your blog do interesting and cool stuff that it can’t do out of the box.

The other great thing about WP plugins is that they are so easy to install – just FTP the files into the right spot on your server, then hit the ‘activate’ link in the plugin screen of the admin panel. Even I rarely get this wrong, it’s so simple!

Here’s a list of the plugins I use here. Anybody got any suggestions for stuff I really ought to be using?

1. Akismet

Akismet is spam blocking par excellence. There isn’t anything to touch it, in my opinion.

2. Google Analytics

Make setting your blog up on Google analytics a breeze with this plugin. All you have to do is supply it with your Analytics code and it places it in the best spot on your blog for you.

3. Democracy

A cool way of putting little polls into your sidebar, and even on individual pages. You can also create an archives page of past polls too!

4. Feedburner Feedsmith

Pipes all your RSS traffic to FeedBurner. This means you can use FB’s feed tracking stats, which isn’t currently available with other WordPress stats systems.

5. All in one SEO pack

Gives your site and everyone of your posts accurate meta-data, from tags and categories. Watch your blog shoot up in the rankings once this plugin starts to work its magic.

6. Subscribe to comments

Mega useful for both you and your readers, this lets folk get email updates when people respond to their comments on your blog. You can also examine the stats, see who is subscribed to what and who is subscribed to the most posts.

7. MyBlogLog

More of a sidebar widget than a proper plugin, this enables you to display who the recent visitors were to your site with an avatar. Nice to see who’s reading your blog.

8. Easytube

WordPress isn’t great at handling embed code, even in HTML view editing. This plugin takes the pain out of posting YouTube videos.

9. Google XML sitemaps

Creates a sitemap for your blog that meets the Google standards, making it more search engine friendly.

10. Sphere

Allows you to present a link next to your posts which readers can click to find content on similar lines elsewhere. I haven’t yet added this to my new template on DavePress, but keep your eyes peeled…

11. Twitter tools

This is a cool plugin that does a number of things: posts to Twitter when you publish a new blog post; add your latest tweets to your sidebar, post tweets from your admin panel; and post a daily log of your tweets. You can turn on different bits of functionality as you please. Great stuff.

12. Slideshare

See EasyTube, this does the same for Slideshare embeds.

13. WordPress.com stats

My favouritest plugin ever. I am addicted to this. It gives the same stats as WordPress.com users get: how many visits you get, which posts are most popular, what people are searching on Google to find you, which links people are using to get away from your blog.

14. ShareThis

Another great one, this provides a handy javascript pop up thing allowing people to bookmark your posts on a number of services, like Digg, Reddit and del.icio.us to name just three. Like Sphere, I haven’t worked this into my template yet, but will be here soon!

Polling day

DavePress pollEvery day, WordPress and the community around it manages to surprise and delight me more. I have mentioned how it can be used to consult before, specifically by using the amazing CommentPress theme. But you can also create small polls to run on your site too, whether on a page of their own or by running in the sidebar.

This is done using the Democracy plugin, which is really easy to set up and deploy. It allows you to set the options, or give voters the ability to add their own. IP addresses can be logged to stop multiple votes, and you can store an archive of polls on a page.

I am running a quick example on this site asking readers how they access the content on this blog. OK, so it probably isn’t very scientific, but it’s fun, and another great example of the flexibility, and sheer genius, that is WordPress and the people that use it.

WordPress is a platform

WordPressSimon Dickson points to a new theme that turns WordPress into a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. This confirms to me something that I have been thinking for a while that WordPress is no longer a blogging system, nor a content management system, but actually a platform upon which applications can be built.

Let’s take the evidence:

  • CommentPress turns WordPress into a super consultation platform by allowing readers to comment paragraph by paragraph on documents presented as posts on the blog
  • Prologue turns WordPress into a Twitter clone, allowing users to post very short messages as a cool way of keeping people in touch with one another. If you want to engage with Twitter-lke technology then this is a great way of being able to do it on your own terms
  • Now WPContactManager, as I mentioned above, turns WordPress into a CRM.

This is the advantage of open source software, of course, that because people have access to the innards of the system, they can understand how it works and put it to innovative uses. Of course, the flexibility of WordPress certainly helps, with themes and plugins being used to achieve much of these innovations.

It will be interesting to see what other applications based on WP start to emerge.

Redesigning DavePress

I have been wanting to give this blog a redesign almost ever since I started it. For some reason I just haven’t taken to the Mandigo theme I was using – a bit dark, maybe? I do think that darker themes are less forgiving of some of the clutter that we bloggers like to fill our sidebars with.

So, I have settled on PopBlue, by Bob, which is a much lighter theme and hopefully the single sidebar will focus attention on the content rather than the widgets and other crud. I ‘designed’ a quick logo, using an icon from the free Crystal Clear set and a bit of text.

Couple of jobs to get done though, including:

  • Β Sorting out the CSS for images so that text floats nicelyΒ  around them in posts (any help gratefully received…)
  • Making blockquotes stand out a bit more
  • Replacing the standard search bar with my Google CSE one

So, there is plenty to be done…

New Wales Office Website

Thanks to Simon Dickson, the Welsh Wales Office website has had a real facelift. It looks really good, nice and clean layout and a smart news layout. Simon covers it all in more detail on his blog.

And the best bit? It’s running on WordPress. Great work, Simon!

(And if any other government departments would like a WordPress site of their own, you know where I am πŸ˜‰ )

Prologue – WordPress based distributed Twitter

prologue Matt Mullenweg has announced over on the WordPress.com blog that Automattic, the company behind WP.com, Akismet and the driving force behind WordPress development, have created a new theme for WordPress. Whoopie-do, you might be thinking. But this theme is more than just a look and feel for your WordPress blog. This theme clones Twitter. To quote the post:

Basically how it works is when someone has the ability to post to a blog they see a short form at the top of the home page with a post box and tags. There they can post short messages about what they’re doing.

Below the posting box is a list of everyone’s latest tweet or message, with their Gravatar next to it. You can click on an author to see all their messages, or a tag to see all of the messages in a given tag (which we use for projects). There are RSS feeds for everything: the entire prologue, each author, each tag, and even combination or searches can be subscribed to in your RSS reader.

How incredibly excellent. I’ve been after a clone of Twitter for a while, and to be able to combine it with my beloved WordPress is just awesome. I’m already putting something together to make use of this!

10 Cool WordPress themes

WordPress

One of the many reasons why WordPress is such a super publishing platform are the many themes which are freely available to give your site a professional look and feel.

1. Envy – WPDesigner.com

Envy theme

Envy is a bold and bright theme with plenty of different elements to help you personalise it.

2. Insense – BloggingPro.com

Insense

Insense is a really classy, professional looking theme, which is just as useful for putting together a WP powered static site as it is a blog.

3. PhotoPress – Performancing

Photopress

Perfect for photo or video based blogs.

4. Elite – WPZone.net

Elite

Smart, darker theme. Sometimes themes with a black background can cause problems when inserting images – especially those with a transparent background. But Elite is still pretty smart looking.

5. Illacrimo – LifeSpy.com

Illacrimo

Again, very professional looking, and the one I’ve used a few times in the past.

6. Bluvision – lucianmarin.com

Bluvision

A bit like Envy, in that it has lots of space for you to personalise your site’s appearance.

7. Simpla – Ifelse.org

Simpla

Nice, clean look – perfect for a personal blog.

8. Glossyblue – NDesign Studio

Glossyblue-1-2-screen

Glossyblue is a theme I used to use on LGNewMedia. It’s really rather lovely. I notice Tim Davies uses it for his Drupal-based blog.

9. Gridlock – Hyalineskies.com

Gridlock

Gridlock is a perfect theme for non-blog WordPress sites.

10. MistyBlue – Romow

Mistyblue

The theme I used for FEconnect, and I stil have a soft spot for it πŸ˜‰