WP – an expansion

Following the comments on my last post, and because I have thought some more about the subject, rather than post a lengthy comment, I’ll write it here instead.

SQL dumps.
Yes, inside those dumps would be passwords to a login, along with the admin name, and posts that may have been written but hidden from general view. Do I want that info in particular ? No, not at all. I have absolutely no interest in that.
I have lost count of the number of cpanels / ftp accounts and SSH info that I have been given when installing WP for people, trouble-shooting their install, installing plugins, changing CSS. I generally keep any such information in the ftp program for a couple of days, then I get rid of it – I dislike clutter in such things. There probably is connection information in some gmails, but I’ll not use it – I have no reason to.
I would set up a testblog on my machine – so it’s not available to anyone else, import the SQL, and see if it worked when I ran the blog. If it did – great. Note the details, and delete not only the database, but also the SQL dump file. No big deal. If it didn’t, and I could not, no matter what I tried, get an import to work, then I could pass that information on to people like Matt, Carthik so that they at least knew – they know more than me on this, a lot more. The SQL dump would not be passed on – it’s not mine to do that.

Is there a real need to do this ? No, and yes. No in that I have not seen it requested, and I know not of any problems. But yes in that not all WP users are comfortable with this side of WP, so a guide could be useful. A guide is only useful when you need it, and this sort of thing in some circumstances may not be foreseeable. All it would take is for one of these ‘free hosting’ sites to close and send their users their SQL dump and files and the forums would be hit with people saying “How ?”. It would be nice for some work to have been done in that direction, and for at least a bare bones guide to have been done that is WP specific. That said, like I said in the previous post, work is underway from the devs, and it could well render what I would like to do irrelevant.

CSS
Right now, the ISP site has the following stats: Unique: 4,315 + Reloads: 11,781 = Total: 16,096
Bear in mind that those stats have only been gathered for 4 (?) weeks. The last information that I know of had an installed WP userbase of just less than 20,000. If that figure is correct, then 20% of WP users have, in the last month, hit that site looking for CSS information1. The guides themselves have been up for much longer, and the counter there has a figure (of unique hits, no reloads) that currently stands at 11,821.

But CSS, as simple as it is, is also a complex subject. It falls into 2 broad areas – layout and styling.
My knowledge of layout issues is poor. I’m learning slowly by playing on a testblog, but on the forums, Root takes most of these questions. These are by far and away the hardest issues to deal with, especially through the medium of a forum.
The ‘Human Condition’ template. It’s been fixed numerous times on the forum – wouldn’t it be nice to have a fixed template to offer as a download ?
It’s not about being elitist, or trying to compete with other online CSS resource sites. It’s about being able to point people to a location where they can download and use a predictable template. The issue is wider than this though, as it involves the default ‘index.php’ and it’s behaviour too. To integrate changes, that file does need altering – but if a template is to be offered, then so would the right directions on integrating it to a design / site.

The thing is, we all want our site, our little corner of the net, to look good, to be styled as we want. We want those people responsible for our blogging programs to have taken the care to be sure it works properly and does not harm our work. We want our hosting company to do a good job and keep our sites online, respond to support tickets quickly. But do you also want to rely totally on someone else when you want to change the way your page looks ?
It’s your site, so you should be prepared to invest the same amount of time learning about how it works as you do in deciding what to write. It’s not difficult.

I happen to think that the forums should offer all help that is relevant to WordPress. Not just pagination, or how to get drop down categories which show the number of posts, or how to change user levels, but also CSS. As far as I know, WP is the first blogging tool that really does separate out content and design2. WP does the content, CSS does the design. There has to be a limit though, and that limit comes about in a couple of ways;

  • Forums answerers get fed up, and stop helping out. Like I said earlier, fixing a broken layout can take a long time.
  • The blog owner decides to take the time to learn some CSS to help themselves.
  • They give up, and just use tables.
  • They cobble together some incredible mess that somehow still manages to function to a point in a browser but which then causes them problems, they post to the forums asking for help, they get told they need to fix their page from the top tag down, and they quit using WP or bad mouth the product / forums not realising that it was nothing to do with WP or the CSS.

Anything apart from #2 is less than good.

Odd isn’t it …. there are more questions about CSS in the forums than PHP (probably), yet some people still think you need to know PHP to be able to use WP.

There just is not an easy answer to this that suits all parties.

The sensible thing for people to do is set up a testblog, use their existing CSS, and try things. See what works, see what makes it break. There is no such thing as error-free learning when doing webpages – some of my best learning has come from making mistakes3 – but some people seem incapable of realising this.

Recognition
Yes it’s nice to have any contribution to any project recognised, but I don’t think you can measure that in any way, especially with an online project. The help that one person gives another and which takes 20 forum posts can’t really be compared to another person’s help which takes only 10.
Case in point – Login /Password problems. I know I ran into this and did the hash thing with phpmyadmin, but I didn’t figure the (then) problem with wp-login, or rewrite wp-login, or suggest the cookies solution. All I actually did was collect the solutions and drop them into the same place. Did I do this to help people ? Yes, of course I did. Did I also do it so we all had a single post to point people at ? Yes, because it saves work for the answerers. See ? It’s not as altruistic as it sounds, and any thanks due from that post are due to each person who contributed a solution.

I help simply because I have the time (yea, okay, and the inclination) but I think I’m right in saying that I have more time to spend helping out than the devs, and probably the majority of users. That’s just circumstance. And it’s important to remember that with any forum, you don’t have to help. Those of you reading this have no idea of the number of times I have looked at a post, realised that this will be the start of a long ‘correspondence’ and have not answered it. Or just closed the browser and done something else.
If you set yourself up to do something and get recognition, then go do something original. Go create something newsworthy, or that will make lots of money / save lots of money / cure a disease – don’t help out on a forum !
If all of a sudden I got a package in the mail, and it was a whole bunch of stuff from the WP devs saying “Thanks” etc, but it also said that no-one would ever say Thanks on the forums again, I’d return it, or stop doing what I do. If someone posts back to the forums and expresses their gratitude for help received (from me or anyone) then that is wonderful. I have had comments here, or had emails from people saying Thanks, and that is what matters – they are pleased, and because they take the time to say Thanks, I get to smile.
It’s smiles that make the world go round, not prizes.
“Karma man, just remember Karma. Treat things nice and nice things happen to you.”

1 Apologies if the figues are incorrect.
2 I could be wrong. It was thought I was wrong once in 1987, but it was never proven.
3 Except in the area of colour choices. I’m still appalling at that.

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