What makes for a great wordpress theme?

A recent post at performancing is asking bloggers what they consider essential ingredients for a good wordpress theme. I’m going to go a step further and not only list some ingredients for a good wordpress theme, but some of the features that I look for when trying to find a great theme for wordpress sites.

The first thing I look for when trying to find a theme is the overall color scheme and how the sidebars are laid out. Some of my associates who use wordpress want cartoony fun themes, but a majority of my clients want something that is professional to a degree, so finding a basic, business like color scheme is important most of the time.

Sidebar layouts are my next consideration, and overall navigation are issues. This has changed a bit now that wordpress allows for quick end user modification of sidebar ordering with the widgets, so dynamic sidebar is considered a necessity – and is available on every theme I’ve seen for a while. Even with dynamic sidebars, sometimes a web site only needs one sidebar, so depending on the deployment, I will often skip themes that have 2 sidebars.

Validation and looks that work in firefox and multiple versions of IE are essential. I’ve found a few themes that include CSS hacks to make them look right in different versions of popular browsers, and I really appreciate that! It could be embarrassing to have a good tlooking theme only to have it break when you are showing it off and your client or friend is using an old IE browser or something.

Changeable header graphics – good themes allow the end user to change the colors of the header and upload and crop a custom image. If the theme has a default header and no way for the end user to upload and crop, then I am disappointed. No big deal for me to create graphics and ftp them to change header images, but there are a lot of users out there who want or need to upload through the browser. This also saves some of us administrators from having to ftp when clients change their minds.

What makes a theme great?

Changing color schemes within theme options is a great option. I have found a few themes that allow for total change of the color scheme with a simple click, this is great when you find a layout that you approve of and need a different overall look. Sometimes a them has this option, but you do not see those options when surfing theme thumbnails, and that’s a huge loss for everyone when a good theme is missed because the default color schemes is all you see, when there are other color options built in. The furry family theme being used on Nashville pet watch has some great color scheme options, even the default graphics change to match the various color options. You can’t see that by looking at the default thumbnail that shows at wordpress.org, but it’s one of the things that makes the theme great!

Navigation is important, I lean toward themes that have pages navigation in the top header area, and this is especially true if the theme designer would make it possible to widgetize that somehow, so the end user could go into widgets area and exclude pages from the navigation. Some themes have these options in theme options area – very nice. Of course I can go in and manually hack the code to only show which pages we need, but having the pages navigation at the top is a big bonus. If the pages have css button highlighted for rollover of the pages then that definitely attracts me to it more. Added bonuses for options top “back to the top of page” buttons as the fusion theme we are currently using has. One of my recent favorite themes has three widgets in the footer that are changeable – and that allows for the end user to add further navigation at the bottom of a blog, and that makes for a better surfer experience and encourages reading to stay on site reading more. I love that.

If the sidebars have place holders for advertising graphics that is a big bonus. For some selling ad space is a necessity, some themes have them options that allow you to select the graphics and corresponding url for the ads to click to. Having an option to rel-nofollow those links would be icing on the cake. Having the option to set the ads to be 125 x125 or 125 x 250 would be great, and if there was a standard google adsense ad size setup for the sidebar would be awesome. Ad graphics in the sidebar can add some professional blog to a blog that may appear as just another personal wordpress blog without those graphics.

I like matching graphics for column headers in the sidebar. If a theme has just text, that is plain and boring, sure we can change the style some with css if it has special classes for them and not simply an h-two class for example, but having graphical headers or at least css button styling for sidebar widgets gives a theme extra professionalism. The top notch themes we use also have matching graphics created for other options like rss feed, and feedburner email signups, etc.

Custom pages. When a theme comes with a few unique page layouts, I get all fuzzy inside. It’s such an added touch of professionalism to have a few custom page options that incorporate matching theme graphics for a 3 picture layout for example, one with a nice layout for picture gallery, another for a video perhaps, and maybe one with buttons for email / contact / register, stuff like that.

It is so much easier for a theme designer to crank out a few matching buttons while they have photoshop open, then it is for blog owners to try to re-create the wheel one color picking match up at a time. I have customized one theme for use simply because it came with a big matching “register now” button for the sidebar. It gave the wordpress site the look of a professional web site, looking nothing like a blog, mainly because of the one matching custom graphic that came with it.

Themes get extra greatness in my mind if they have buttons for the blog reader to make the text bigger.

a few caveats – them options are great – but too many cause problems – it’s not good to be confused by theme options – when they are needed, explanation of how they work is essential. Having so many options that it slows down the blog displaying on readers’ screens is a problem. I was blown away by the options available for the Atahualpa theme, impressive programming, but slowing down page loads is a bad idea, especially considering most bloggers are using shared hosts that can slow down enough on their own.

What is with the search graphics that disappear from some themes when you go dynamic with widgets. I use a great theme on tow blog sites that have great matching search graphics until the sidebar is widgetized, then the graphics disappear and it becomes a blank box.

This post was inspired by the contest for premium themes club membership that I found at performancing. After writing this post I took a look around their site and I must say that I am quite impressed at how modern they appear to be. I can’t wait to look into their themes further, and I may have to sign up for their affiliate program to promote the premium theme site.

New Nashville Web Sites 03-2009

A couple of new – or relaunched web sites from the Tn area, mainly Nashville. We love working with new web site clients, although it is quite challenging to teach people at first what they need to consider, once the new site is up and running it’s great to see concept become a reality.

Nashville pet watch and pet sitting is a new web site for people who need their animals watched when going out of town. It’s a new web site, but it’s coming together quickly and shows how a wordpress powered site can look more like a web site and less like a blog.

Another wordpress powered site for a Tennessee group is the shift the lines talk show podcast being launched on break it down radio dot com.

Both of these sites are harnessing the power of wordpress as a multi-user CMS, and they employ some basic template modifications that make them look like a professional web site rather than an out of the box blog.

New sites – welcome to the web

There are a few new web sites that we’d like to welcome to the web. We have been impressed with the new web sites being created with the open source blogging software from wordpress. With the various theme options and settings now available such as static front page and such, there are some great web sites being creating that look nothing like the standard default wordpress blog.

New sites like the TBS blog and Danny writes are coming together quickly, from people that just got their web sites started this year. With the themes and customization options available along with a plethora of plugins, people are making great fully functioning web sites with a simple server side script.

We have also been consulting with some web sites using the wordpress backend for multiple blog hosting and are really excited about the social network plugins that are being released for wordpress mu, upcoming social network sites massage groups and others will be pioneering a new generation of easy use, self hosted social networks. We are looking forward to the data portability possibilities and hope that these sites are hugely successful.

We will begin consulting with new clients who want to launch their own hosted social networks as soon as testing and upgrades are completely with our current projects. Look for custom profile and other buddypress themes to be made available from us in the near future as well. Looks like 2009 will be a great new year!

WordPress as social network backbone suggestions

Social networks and the software that runs them will continue to grow and evolve, and people like you sharing your comments about ways to improve will constantly make it better.

As Louis James points out in another of the comments there, flickr is already very social,

From the RSS feeds, we found a post from Matt linking to an article about one person’s suggestions for making wordpress.com more of a social network.

My comment on this post about wordpress fixes to make it more of a social network, from Rashmi.

There have been several wordpress MU sites that incorporate similar features, as dr mike pointed out in an earlier comment. There have even been a couple sets of plugins specifically made to turn a wordpress installation into more myspace like look.

I think there are a few single instance wordpresses running with multiple authors and contributors registered, that share similar pages to the ones you described aren’t there?

I do look forward to more unique blends of wordpress to shine across the internet for a while to come, it is constantly improving and there are many people using it in many different ways. I can’t wait to see what the community creates over the next couple of years, and I am sure you will see many more social networks using wordpress as a core. We are currently testing an MU based social network (or two 😉

I appreciate your points and suggestions for ways to make it function more like a facebook-like social network, I believe your ideas are valid.

The comments there have made me think what it would be like to create a custom page theme template (for the about page) that would add the author information into the top of the about page. This would be a simple easy way to get the author info shown, now to just get everyone to fill it all in.

As open Id and data portability continue to grow as well, I hope that it becomes easier for internet authors to fill in their info quickly, accurately, and with choice of which information to propagate and share.

Social networks and the software that runs them will continue to grow and evolve, and people like you sharing your comments about ways to improve will constantly make it better.

As Louis James points out in another of the comments there, flickr is already very social, I in fact recommended it in an email to an old friend just the other day, and sent her my flickr address. Flickr is an easy sell to people with it’s free photo sharing and the ability to mark some pictures just for friends and some pictures just for family. Of course you can also have some set for public, and you do have somewhat of a profile with flickr. Hadn’t quite looked at the profile that way, but it does have a lot of info there. neat observation Louis.

Finding a mentor via online social communities

Finding a mentor via online social communities
from yahoo news / Reuters

By Kate Holton Thu Feb 21, 3:44 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) – “Lavenderblu” was a young girl when she got her first taste of domestic violence. After suffering at the hands of her father and witnessing repeated attacks on her mother, she ended up in a violent relationship of her own before finally managing to leave and find refuge with a women’s support group.

Now, at age 40, she is one of many mentors on the new social network Horsesmouth (www.horsesmouth.co.uk) which has been set up to connect mentors with those who are looking for advice.

Launched only about a month ago, the site already has over 20,000 users and offers up mentors to discuss a wide variety of topics, form how to set up a business to how it feels to wear the Muslim hijab for the first time.

In launching the service, the site’s creator, MT Rainey, set out to bring a sense of public purpose to the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon, which allows users to contribute their own content to the Internet.

“No one was creating a social network for a public benefit or for the public good,” she told Reuters in an interview. “I wanted to create somewhere that was safe and somewhere that was fit for purpose, for meaningful interchanges online.

“If you’ve accomplished something, if you’ve been through something and if you’ve got over something, then you have wisdom,” added Rainey, who previously worked in advertising.

She said that people going through a difficult process need to talk, often to someone familiar with the situation, who has been in their shoes before.

“I found that people wanted to give something back,” Rainey said. “You don’t have to be middle-aged or retired to feel that way.”

The Horsesmouth is one of many mentoring sites to spring up recently and the phenomenon could become more important as once-powerful traditional bodies such as the church or unions start to lose their sway in certain countries.

“Physical geographic communities are breaking down and people through the Web are creating communities of interest,” Rainey said.

A HELPING HAND

In the creative industries such as music, advertising, media and the arts, many are turning to the new social network set up by The Hospital Club group.

The private club opened in 2003 in a former London hospital and was based on the vision of musician Dave Stewart, who wanted a “creative melting pot” in the centre of the British capital where members could give something back to the industry.

Five years on, it has also launched a social network at thehospitalclub.com, where users from those industries can post ideas, blogs and their work to communicate with others on the site.

“The key was to create a low pressure environment where people could interact with one another based on their own expertise … and where it is acceptable to approach people to ask for assistance,” said David Marrinan-Hayes, the club’s online manager.

He said the site would allow those entering the industry to post profiles and examples of their work online, meaning the potential mentor would be able to make a qualified decision on whether to provide advice or not.

“Also, we often find that people … need different pieces of advice from a number of different people,” he said.

“For a musician, they could need production advice or legal advice or marketing advice, and that very often doesn’t come from the same person. So three or four people could work together and we’re trying to create a space to manage that whole process.”

There is no charge for using Horsesmouth and TheHospitalClub, but some other mentoring sites like Imantri (www.imantri.com) offer a choice as to whether you pay for the mentor or not.

Other sites offering mentors or advice include American-based score.org, micromentor.org and the business network linkedin.com.

Like Horsesmouth, Marrinan-Hayes said people were happy to help and impart their knowledge. And it can be rewarding for both sides.

“It just makes them feel good,” he said. “They feel like they have something to contribute.”

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Gunna Dickson)

Google to sell display ads in Web videos

Google to sell display ads in Web videos

found via yahoo news / Reuters

Thu Feb 21, 1:35 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Web search leader Google Inc plans to start selling ads to appear in Web videos and has signed up 20 customers, as it aims to do for videos what it has done for text.

Partners include YuMe, an online video advertising network, Brightcove, an Internet TV platform, and comedy site MyDamnChannel.

Brightcove, whose customers include CBS Corp, Time Warner Inc and Discovery Communications Inc, will begin offering the technology to its clients.

YuMe, a Redwood City, California-based start-up, said on Thursday, it will serve InVideo overlay adverts as part of Google’s AdSense for video beta advertising program.

Google has traditionally used AdSense for text-only advertising but said the video program extends its offer to targeted, contextually relevant video graphical ads and text overlays.

Google has been working on ways of developing advertising revenue for online video since it bought YouTube, the video-sharing site, in November 2006.

As Internet access speeds become faster around the world more television and Hollywood-produced video content is moving to the Web on sites like Hulu.com, owned by News Corp and NBC Universal, and Fancast.com, owned by Comcast Corp.

YuMe said Google is one of the third-party feeds accepted by YuMe’s Adaptive Campaign Engine, which helps Web publishers in its network match each video ad impression with the best money-making ad placement in realtime.

(Reporting by Yinka Adegoke and Kenneth Li; editing by Greg Mahlich, Richard Chang)

Marketing Strategies with Social Networking Sites

Performaincing publishes an article explaining some of the benefits, and various ways to use social networking for marketing. An excerpt:twiiter logo

Unfortunately, the fact is that being “social” is becoming an absolute necessity for online success for web workers, including pro bloggers. (Business Week has an extensive article on how social media will change your business, whether or not you’re using blogs. A lot of this article is an assessment of how certain large corporations or even formerly offline consultants/ marketers are faring using various types of social media.)

Still, there’s only so much time in the day to get all the other work done. Where do you draw the line? Personally, I believe it’s better to hire an SMM (Social Media Marketer) who can focus on the promotions side

Read the entire article for more info and informative related links at performancing.

Facebook and MySpace is not necessarily private space

More people need to be talking about these issues. We’ve brought them up, and often try to educate people we meet everyday.
I always ask people about their kids online and video game usage, and ask if they are aware of these issues, and more. It amazes me how many people are just not aware of these issues.

from the Tennessean Newspaper

MySpace isn’t private space
Teens’ personal thoughts exposed to all eyes

By VIVI HOANG • Staff Writer • February 17, 2008

Franklin mom May-Ling Weitzman faked a Facebook page, creating an online alter ego with a different age, name and graduation date. Then she searched for her teen daughter’s page.

Her daughter wasn’t fooled by the subterfuge and spotted Weitzman, 48, from a mile off with great amusement. But mom made her point: Web privacy is, essentially, a myth.
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Kids these days can, with a touch of a finger, instantly post their thoughts online for all to see. But mix that with youthful impetuousness and the belief that only their friends can see their musings, and it’s a recipe for trouble and very real consequences, from embarrassment to more serious fallout such as failed friendship and missed job opportunities.

Parents can head off that problem by, like Weitzman, seeing what their kids are doing online — stressing that these virtual spaces are extensions of themselves, and to behave accordingly.

“I try to always tell my kids that being online, just because you’re sitting in your living room, it’s not private,” she said. “It’s as if you were in middle of a big city, in the middle of a large square.”

Then there’s the problem of other people’s kids. Coping with a snide comment, rumor-laden blog post or less-than-tasteful photos presents a parental challenge unheard of even 10 years ago.

Solving the problem may be as simple as sitting your teen down for a frank talk.

“They’re young and not realizing any repercussions in the future,” said Melissa Wert, technology integration specialist at Harpeth Hall. “These kids don’t even understand the power they have in their hands to destroy somebody or do harmless, fun, entertaining things.”
What kids are doing online

For the wired generation, pursuing real-world relationships into the cyber-realm by blogging, leaving comments and posting photos and videos comes as natural as breathing.

According to a December report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 64 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 who are online are crafting things to go on it.

But teens often treat their personal spaces online as if they’re playgrounds only their friends can enter. Up go their thoughts, their gripes, their photos from that last wild party.

A few years ago when Tammy Nash, a counselor at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School, heard that a student had posted a suicide note online, she checked out the youth’s site. Nash was able to help the teen but remembers being taken aback by some of the sexually provocative passages the student had published in such a public space.

“It’s like a diary,” Nash said. “Some of them are just getting into the shock-jock thing.”

Harpeth Hall sophomore Chelsea Stessel has seen spats flare up over something as innocuous as a boy leaving a flattering comment on a girl’s photo.

Stessel, 16, has staked out cyber real estate since she was in grade school, starting with the kid-centric Neopets and moving on to Xanga, MySpace and finally, Facebook. She’s so aware of the Internet’s influence she’s even joined her school’s chapter of Teenangels, a division of WiredSafety.org that educates parents and youth about online safety and privacy.

“I make sure I don’t post anything anyone would see and get offended by,” she said. “If I have a problem with someone, I deal with it in person or a call.”
Follow the Golden Rule

If everyone played by the rules, or at least the Golden Rule, this would be less of a problem.

Anya Weitzman, 18-year-old daughter of May-Ling Weitzman and a University School of Nashville senior, knows this is wishful thinking: A friend of hers in college skipped a big football game that everyone on her floor went to watch so she could study for an exam.

Schoolmates heckled the friend viciously online for the affront.

“You say a word, and it’s ephemeral, it’s gone,” Anya said, pointing out that conversely, what’s done online can become virtually permanent, easily saved and duplicated.

As far back as 2002, there was the Star Wars Kid, a hapless Quebec teen whose awkward light-saber slashings got leaked to the Internet and viewed by millions. It spawned several mocking remixes, including Matrix and Lord of the Rings versions. So extensive was the humiliation, the 10th grader dropped out of school and finished the semester at a children’s psychiatric ward.

Glencliff High teacher Philip Davis has had numerous conversations with students about how they carry themselves online. He uses analogies like, “Your room is not made of glass — why would you post things online for everyone to see?”

Sites such as Facebook and MySpace allow users to choose how private their profiles are, but teens sometimes aren’t aware or haven’t taken the time to do it, so their profiles remain public by default.

Chris Johnson, 17, a Glencliff senior, had his MySpace page set up by a friend, and didn’t realize he could configure the page to limit who could view it. But he’s savvy enough to censor what goes up on his profile. A photo he might consider harmless fun with his friends might produce far less humorous interpretations from others.

His page is a reflection of who he is, and Johnson wants it to be a positive one.

“These days, parents know how to get on,” he said. “And you don’t want younger kids to see. You want to set an example for them. They follow what you do.”
Many eyes are watching

But in the foggy bliss of youth, sometimes repercussions seem nebulous and far-off.

“They think people aren’t going to see that,” said Michael LoJacono, 17, a USN senior. “There are teachers who have Facebooks. There are a lot of chances for things to happen.”

And people are paying attention.

When Mike Saint, 58, asked while in the car with his 15-year-old daughter Molly, a Harpeth Hall sophomore, whether he should get a Facebook account, she nearly drove off the road.

“She was incredulous,” said Saint, who runs a management consultant firm. “But after a while, she thought it was kind of cool. She helped me set it up.”

He uses his access to Facebook for work but he also finds it is an easy, quick way of keeping up-to-date on what his daughter has going on.

“I used to say there’s nothing meaner in the world than a seventh-grade girl to another seventh-grade girl, whether it’s in person, over the phone, instant messaging or on Facebook,” Saint said. “You hope your children socialize with children whose parents are teaching them right from wrong and good from bad in dealing with other people.”

Molly, also a Teenangel, advises parents to work on an open relationship with children. “Know what your kids are doing. Most kids will let their parents see their Facebook.”

Not just friends and parents are paying attention, but teachers, college admissions counselors and employers. At the Career and Employment Center at Middle Tennessee State University, students are told employers can, and do, access social networking sites to check on prospective employees.

“We have a PowerPoint presentation that actually . . . has four pictures that were gotten off Facebook or MySpace and show students being students — just not very professional,” said center director Bill Fletcher. “What if an employer saw this? Would they want to hire you?”
Parents have options

If you discover inappropriate content related to your child online, you’ve got a few options.

First, if it was your own kid that posted it, use the circumstances as a teaching moment, said Anastasia Goodstein, author of Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online.

There are paid services like Reputation Defender that search out what information about your family can be found online and then endeavor to remove what’s inaccurate or slanderous.

“But if it is something that goes viral — say, it’s a topless photo of their daughter that was taken without the daughter realizing it was going to be spread around — you can’t do anything,” said Goodstein. “You have to soldier through it.”

Vivi Hoang can be reached at 259-8067 or vhoang@tennessean.com.