Aug 7

This blog gets about 3000 spam comments each day. Akismet, the commonly recommended spam filter for WordPress, used to deal effectively with all spam but I’ve found that since about May this year, up to 15 spam comments are getting past Akismet each day. At first sight, many of these might seem genuine but I’ve written before how you can decide if they’re spam. Typically, they are just general comments about the blog rather than a specific comment on that particular post. If you google the comment, you will probably find it posted pretty much word for word on other blogs. Here’s a typical one:

I like the valuable info you provide in your articles.
I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly.

I am quite certain I will learn lots of new stuff right here!
Best of luck for the next!

Commenter names or URLs linking to sites about weight loss, coupon codes, grey hair cures, etc., are also a giveaway. Every comment that gets through Akismet is emailed to me so I can moderate it and mark it as spam if necessary. But of course that doesn’t stop the spammers so I had to find a way to cut out these comments without having to waste time reading them. I don’t want to have to use a captcha unless I really have to as it may discourage genuine commenters.

Well I came across a blog with a similar problem but it was the comments that interested me. One commenter Ryan Hellyer recommended his plugin Spam Destroyer as an effective way to eliminate  spam. The blogger tried it and it seemed to work well. Apparently it works along with Akismet, so I tried installing it and after 3 days, no spam is getting through to the comments at all! I’ve also beefed up my comment policy message above the comment submission button as you can read below.

So I’ll see how this goes and thanks to Ryan for his great plugin. If spam starts to come through later, I’ll disable the URL field and I may have to resort to a captcha but so far, so good. How do you deal with comment spam? Drop a (genuine!) comment below.


Jul 19

I’ve already blogged about backing up your WordPress database and files to your hard drive and external drive but how do you keep your backups up to date quickly?

Automatic Backup of Blog Database

The database contains your posts, comments, etc. The best way to keep this up to date is to use a plugin like WP-DB-Backup and automatically email database backups to yourself daily. You can then back this up to your external drive or to the cloud. An automatic backup is as quick as you can get and needs no planning so that’s that covered.

Backup Only WordPress Files that Have Changed or Been Added

So you’ve already backed up your wp-content folder, with your uploads, themes, plugins, etc to your hard drive. Fine, but then you add a post or two. What files do you need to back up to keep everything up to date? The problem I’ve found is that if you use an FTP client (I use CoffeeCup Free FTP) to copy your updated wp-content folder from your webhost to your hard drive, it may just copy everything again rather than sync only the changed or new files, and that takes time. I have almost 250 posts on this blog now and the wp-content folder has a total of almost 4000 files reaching over 200MB. That seems a pointless waste of precious bandwidth when just a few files are added with each new post. We only want to back up those new files.

Here’s the thing. When you add a new post and don’t change any settings in your theme and you don’t update any plugins, the only folder that’s changed is your uploads folder containing the images added for the new post, and of course the database. So after adding a new post and changing nothing else, really all you have to backup is the uploads (images) for the current month. For me, that’s at public_html/wp-content/uploads/current year/. So just fire up your FTP client and download the images for the current month to the appropriate folder on your hard drive and make sure those new files are also backed up to your external drive.

Free FTP

Of course, if you’ve updated your plugins, copy public_html/wp-content/plugins and if you updated your theme, download public_html/wp-content/themes/current theme. And that should save you some time and bandwidth.  Until I have to do a blog restore, I personally haven’t checked this. But when I asked what files have changed since the last post on the forum at WordPress.org, the reply I got was ‘the DB would have changed and any media files added should be backed up also’. No one else commented to contradict this, so I assume it’s correct. If you know differently, please let me know!


Apr 9

Digg Digg

Many blogs I visit these days seem to be using the Digg Digg social sharing plugin. Having read a good recommendation for Digg Digg on WPMU.org, one of my favourite WordPress sites, I decided to give it a try on my site. Which brings me to my first point. WPMU blogged about it and actually use the plugin. There’s been many occasions where I’ve read a blog post recommending a WordPress plugin, but they don’t actually use that plugin on their site! I can’t take those recommendations seriously.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know it’s not really about jumping on tech news and reblogging it but more about passing on tips and tricks using your PC, useful websites I’ve come across, and browser extensions and WordPress plugins I can recommend because I use them. I always try and use software, apps, browser extensions and WordPress plugins before I blog about them and I try and pass on tips that I’ve learned when using them.  I’ve also received really useful feedback in some blog comments about certain features I’ve missed or misunderstood so that’s a bonus.

Anyway, back to Digg Digg. As you can see on the left, I’ve set it up as a floating bar rather than the normal display at the top or bottom of the post. In the settings for the Floating Display, you can rearrange the buttons on the bar by changing the weight – higher numbers bring buttons to the top, lower numbers to the bottom. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the Facebook Like and Facebook Share buttons to work so I’ve dropped them. Maybe I’ll get them working with time. But there is a working Facebook Share button in the Socialize bar at the bottom of the post if you want to use that.

So please use the plugin to share this post or others, and tell me what you think in the comments. Is it distracting when you’re reading the post? Are there too many sharing choices? Is there any option you’d like to see which I hadn’t set up initially?

And if you’re reading this post in the future and I’ve moved on to another sharing plugin, my apologies. I promise, Digg Digg was here but is either no longer available or I’m using a better option! I’ll try and update this post if that happens.


Sep 12

Iomega external hard drive

Just a cautionary tale today. Until recently I was only partially backing up this WordPress blog. I didn’t realise this and thankfully I never had to restore the blog from backups otherwise I would have learned my mistake too late – and it’s just not enough to rely on your blog host to come up with the backups when there’s a problem. Some are better than others but they can’t be relied upon.

So where was I going wrong? Well to put it simply, there are two important things you should be considering in a WordPress backup – your blog database AND your files. I had read enough posts about WordPress backup plugins and I installed one (WP-DB-Backup) very early in my blogging history to backup the database of posts. But that’s actually not enough. If you’re not backing up your files then really important stuff like all the image uploads for each post, your plugins, and your themes (including css and php files) aren’t being backed up and you’ll need these to completely restore your blog quickly in the event of a disaster or your blog being hacked.

Backing up your WordPress blog database

There are different ways to do this but I’ve always used WP-DB-Backup and use the option to download the backup to my hard drive although you can also have it emailed to you. On my PC, I’ve created a new folder called My Sites for my blogs as I already have My Documents, My Pictures, etc and this continues a consistent folder naming policy. I then created the folders Techandlife/Database Backups in this folder. I also backup this database backup regularly to an external backup hard drive so I have a second copy.

Backing up your WordPress blog files

Again there are different ways to do this but I use an FTP client to download the WordPress files to my hard drive and again also backing this up to an external hard drive. The important files on your WordPress blog are all in the directory public_html/wp-content. Again this goes into my My Sites/Techandlife folder. I must admit I don’t back up regularly enough but I try and do it once a month, so at worst I’ve lost just the last month of posts. The FTP client I use, Ipswitch WS FTP LE is a classic freeware product and still works fine under Windows 7. You could also use FileZilla for your file backups.

Another way to backup your files is with the WordPress Backup plugin.

Backup everything at once

I haven’t tried this but understand that EZPZ One Click Backup will backup (and restore) both the database and files but I note on the download page that quite a few people have problems getting it to work. Everything mentioned so far are free solutions but there are also paid solutions like WP Dolly Pro and monthly subscription services like blogVault.

Backup Windows Live Writer

If you compose your posts in Windows Live Writer, you can back up your settings, recent posts, drafts and plugins with Windows Live Writer Backup.

I’ve never had to restore my blog from backup yet so I’d love to hear your experiences with backing up and particularly restoring your WordPress blog. Did it work for you? What did you learn? Which backup plugins do you use if any? We all want to be fully prepared for this disaster waiting to happen and know that we’re in good shape to get going again as quickly as possible. Drop a comment below with your experiences, good and bad.


Jul 8

closed comments

In the past, you’ve probably come across an interesting blog post and wanted to make a comment only to find that comments are closed, probably because a month or two has passed since the date of the post. Is closing comments a good idea? Why would you want to close comments anyway?

Well some people feel that it’s hard to deal with comment spam if all posts are left open but really, a good WordPress plugin like Akismet should deal with that. It may also be worth closing comments on posts which are no longer relevant, for example, old outdated tech news, or a post about a website or web service which is no longer available, or a contest which has finished.

I’ve kept comments open on all posts and I’m delighted to see that people are still commenting on older posts. Of course not everyone reading my posts subscribes to the blog so I don’t expect comments straight away or even in the first 2 weeks after posting. Many people are obviously reaching the posts from keyword search results at a later date and dropping comments when they have something to offer. Many of my posts are tips or things I’ve learned while working with my PC and software so if someone has a tip to improve on my tip or make me more productive then I’d really like to hear about it. I have updated posts in the past with tips in the comments. Also if readers find a post helpful I love to hear that too.

You can actually follow all comments on this blog in your RSS reader by subscribing to the comments feed. Just copy and paste that link into your RSS reader.

Do you close blog comments after a set time or leave them open indefinitely?


Dec 1

Headline2

It doesn’t matter whether your article title is being seen on an RSS reader, on Twitter, Facebook or Delicious,  those few words in your headline are vitally important. They’re the difference between attracting a potential reader to click and find out more or pass over to another article. So you have to get it right first time.

I work in list view in Google Reader so when I’m browsing new posts, all I see is the article title and perhaps part of the first sentence so I know how important the first impression of the title is. Here’s some points to consider when composing your title.
Read the rest of this entry »


May 10

Since I started blogging, I’ve always been interested in what WordPress plugins other bloggers recommend. So over the last couple of years I’ve bookmarked 63 favorite/essential/recommended/must have WordPress plugins type posts that I’ve come across. I thought it would be useful to get an idea which were the most recommended plugins in these posts so I keyed all 300+ recommended plugin names into MS OneNote and totalled the recommendations (or votes) for each plugin. I imported everything into Excel then sorted on the vote column, excluded plugins with less than 5 votes and plotted a graph in Excel. I’ve only listed plugins with more than 5 recommendations (or votes) so as to pull out the most popular 36 from the 300+ recommended WordPress plugins.

You can probably guess which would be in the top picks but anyway here’s what I found

Top WordPress Plugins

I’ll briefly run though the top 15 recommended plugins. Out in front were Google XML Sitemaps (39 votes), All in One SEO Pack (36 votes), Akismet (33 votes) and WP Super Cache (21 votes) which I guess everyone should have on their blog.

Google XML Sitemaps (39 votes): Generates a sitemap which helps search engines crawl your website content. Additionally it notifies all major search engines every time you create a new post.

All in One SEO Pack (36 votes): You can override any title and set any META description and any META keywords you want. Automatically optimizes your titles for search engines. Easy for beginners to set up.

Akismet (33 votes): Blocks the majority of spam comments. Checks your blog comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not and lets you review the spam it catches under your blog’s “Comments” admin screen.

WP Super Cache (21 votes): Generates static html files from your dynamic WordPress blog. After an html file is generated, your web server will serve that file instead of processing the comparatively heavier and more expensive WordPress PHP scripts. Your server won’t be as busy as before. This plugin will help your server cope with a front page appearance on digg.com or other social networking sites.

Contact Form 7 (15 votes): Plugin to place a contact form on your Contact page.

Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP) (14 votes): Gives you a list of posts and/or pages related to the current entry, introducing the reader to other relevant content on your site.

Subscribe to Comments (14 votes): Enables commenters to sign up for e-mail notification of subsequent comments.

Sociable (14 votes): Automatically add links to your favourite social bookmarking sites on your posts, pages and in your RSS feed. You can choose from 99 different social bookmarking sites.

Broken Link Checker (13 votes): Monitors your blog for broken links and lets you know if any are found.

NextGEN Gallery (12 votes): A fully integrated Image Gallery plugin for WordPress with a Flash slideshow option.

FeedBurner Feedsmith (11 votes): Will detect all ways to access your feed (e.g. http://www.yoursite.com/feed/ or http://www.yoursite.com/wp-rss2.php, etc.), and redirect them to your FeedBurner feed so you can track every possible subscriber. It will forward for your main posts feed and optionally, your main comments feed as well.

WP-PageNavi (10 votes): Improves your website page navigation including the ability to jump several pages and links to jump to the start or end.

WordPress.com Stats (10 votes): Focuses on just the most popular metrics a blogger wants to track and provides them in a clear and concise interface. Collects information about your pageviews, which posts and pages are the most popular, where your traffic is coming from, and what people click on when they leave.

Redirection (10 votes): Manages 301 redirections, keeps track of 404 errors, and generally tidies up any loose ends your site may have. This is particularly useful if you are migrating pages from an old website, or are changing the directory of your WordPress installation.

Google Analytics for WordPress (10 votes): If you are using Google Analytics then it makes sense to add this plugin. It automatically tracks and segments all outbound links from within posts, comment author links, links within comments, blogroll links and downloads.

I actually use 6 of the top 15 plugins on my blog and during the course of preparing this post I’ve spotted a few in the list which I should consider. But at the same time, I don’t want to overload my blog with plugins and slow it down given Google’s stance on page load speed.

So if you’re just starting out blogging with WordPress, or if you’re looking to add some plugins recommended across the blogosphere, have a look through these.

Are there any WordPress plugins you can’t do without which aren’t on this list? Drop a comment below.

The top recommended WordPress plugins is a post from Tech and Life. If you’re reading it in full elsewhere, it’s been copied without consent. Please go to Tech and Life to read the original post and many others in the archive.


Jan 23

With the ever-expanding smartphone market these days, it’s important that your blog is mobile ready, meaning for example, that it can be rendered nice and clearly without having to scroll around too much on your phone. If you have a WordPress blog, there are a number of plugins which will remove the sidebars for example and convert the blog to a nice clean format for viewing on a cellphone. But which WordPress plugin to choose? Here’s a quick run through of how I narrowed the field down.

I went through my Diigo bookmarks and found I had bookmarked blogs discussing quite a few plugins: WordPress Mobile Pack, WPTouch, MobilePress, WordPress Mobile Edition, and Wapple Architect Mobile to name just a few. But what I really wanted to get hold of was a comparison to see what people thought was the best mobile plugin.

Comparisons of WordPress mobile plugins

I found it hard to track down any blog which had reviewed and compared mobile plugins. In fact, if anyone’s interested and has access to a range of cellphones, there’s an opportunity for a really useful blog post here. WPFeed compared a number of plugins and chose WordPress Mobile Plugin (but when you click the link now you’re directed to WordPress Mobile Pack), and the only other site I came across was Alpha2beta which I had Google translate from Chinese. They also compared a few and chose WordPress Mobile Pack.

I know that WPTouch is being quite well received, particularly for iPhone and Android platforms. Technically Personal uses the WPTouch plugin. In a reply to me in the comments there, Raju said he had tried quite a few plugins and found problems with them all. Wapple was a disaster he said.

Narrowing the choice down

On Mahalo Answers, I asked ‘What’s the best WordPress plugin to make my blog mobile friendly?’ I received three answers recommending WPTouch, Wapple Architect and WordPress Mobile Pack. I was getting the feeling now that it was between these three. I liked the Wapple recommendation:

Wapple

Finally, I tried a search on Twitter for wordpress AND mobile. Jumped into an interesting lead:

@dannybrown Did you test other WP mobile plugins before you settled on Wapple Architect? I’m finding it hard to pick one for my blog

@techandlife I did. Tried WordPress Mobile, WP Touch (good for iPhone, not so great others). Wapple best one I found

@techandlife And Rich Gubby of Wapple is just awesome 😉 http://bit.ly/7z2qwx

I checked back on my own bookmarks and Wapple Architect sounded really promising even though it doesn’t work for some. So I thought I’d try it first.

Installing Wapple Architect

Wasn’t just a case of downloading and installing the Wapple plugin. Had to register to receive the Developer Key, click a link in an email to complete registration, then received a Developer Key which was required to set up the plugin. Didn’t take too long though. During set up, you can upload an image to use for your mobile header and which would be automatically resized. Didn’t work for me on this occasion but I’ll try that again later. Incidentally, 2 days after registering, I received an email from Rich Gubby the Lead Developer at Wapple offering to help with the mobile styling – that’s a nice touch.

Testing Wapple Architect

I found a testing tool online to check mobile-readiness at mobiReady. My blog checked out okay.

mobiReady

At mobiReady, you can also check how your blog renders on a Nokia N70, Samsung Z105, Sony Ericsson k750i, Motorola v3i and Sharp GX-10.

I don’t have a smartphone but I fired up the browser on my LG Cookie and had a look at my blog:

LG Cookie and techandlife

Finally, at the top of the sidebar on the desktop version of this blog, I’ve also tried to indicate that it’s now mobile ready.

I’d love to hear how this blog renders on your mobile. Any annoyances you’ve noticed or any improvements you think I can make? If you do comment, let us know what mobile you’re using.


Oct 3

yes2

As a native English speaker I’m really very fortunate. In the western world, English is the dominant language used for publishing even though globally only about 720 million out of about 6.8 billion people speak English, about 11% of the world population according to WolframAlpha. Every blog I’ve subscribed to publishes in English even though in many cases the bloggers are not native speakers but do a great job nonetheless.

But what about those many millions globally for whom English is not their native language, indeed many of whom can’t speak English at all. Are we reaching them with our blogs or could we do more? Yes I know there are online translation sites such as Jollo which can be used to translate text but should we all be providing an automated translation service on our blogs to help? After all, the net is global and so is our readership.

There are WordPress plugins like the Global Translator WordPress Plugin, widgets like the new Google Translation Widget, Microsoft Translator and others but are they really effective? Surely automated translation will never be as good as a human translation so are they worth it? I’ve always shied away from using one because I just can’t judge how good they are – I only speak English and minor conversational French.

Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration goes into some of the difficulties behind language translation plugins in terms of storing translation results in the blog database and more recently looks at Google Translate.

So I’d really like to know from my readers just what you think of automated translation plugins on blogs. Have you used them to translate blogs into your native language? Do you find any useful and if so which? Is the tech field with its specialized vocabulary just too much for these plugins? Do you prefer to do your own translation into your language? Please add your thoughts below and from the responses I’ll judge whether it’s worth adding this service on this site.


Aug 5

wordpress

I hadn’t experienced any problems upgrading WordPress in the past …until yesterday. Tried the automatic upgrade from version 2.8.1 to 2.8.3 and got a memory php error along the lines:

Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 33554432 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 228968 bytes)

The upgrade then terminated without installing. Tried googling this error and came up with a reasonable suggestion to change the memory limit on line 13 of wp-settings.php to 64M from 32M. After doing this, I retried the automatic upgrade and got an error along the lines:

Fatal error: Class ‘Translations’ not found in /home1/techandl/public_html/wp-includes/l10n.php on line 407

This time the situation was more serious. If I tried to access this website or my WordPress dashboard, I got this error message on a white screen with no way to access my website. I’m sure others trying to access the website got the same greeting. Thankfully, I had run the WordPress Database Backup plugin and saved my posts to my hard drive just before attempting the upgrade so I had my content safe.

‘So what next?’ I thought. Well I tried changing the memory limit back to 32M in wp-settings.php but this didn’t work. I then googled the phrase “Class ‘Translations’ not found in” and found that quite a few others had experienced the same problem when upgrading. Tried several suggestions before concluding that the best route was probably to downgrade WordPress back to version 2.8.1. This was a little daunting because, having not experienced any problems since the initial WordPress install last year, I was a little hazy on how to proceed. There isn’t an easy downgrade route, so I had to treat the whole thing as relearning the WordPress install.

Thankfully, there’s a reasonably good tutorial on the WordPress website. I only had to go to step 8 in the tutorial to downgrade the installation. Briefly:

  1. I backed up the complete website to my hard drive in case I messed up and had to retrieve some important deleted files.
  2. I downloaded WordPress version 2.8.1 from the Release Archive, then extracted the zip file to my hard drive.
  3. I deleted all the files in the root of the /public_html directory online (not the subfolders) except for .htaccess, wp-config.php and sitemap.xml and uploaded the equivalent files from the extracted zip file.
  4. I deleted the wp-admin folder online and uploaded the complete wp-admin folder from the extracted zip.

I then tried accessing this website and thankfully everything was now okay – I could see all my posts and the plugins were still activated.

So what have I learned here? Well, I now have a complete backup of my site on my hard drive which should help in downgrading a failed WordPress upgrade in future. But I shouldn’t have to downgrade a failed upgrade. The automatic upgrade should work and if it doesn’t, there should be an easier way to restore a previous version. I do have the WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin installed which I used until WordPress included this feature. Perhaps I’ll go back to using that but I don’t know if it works with WordPress version 2.8.

Hope this will be useful to anyone in a similar situation. Have you had any problems with the WordPress automatic upgrade? Let me know in the comments.


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