Tag: Wordpress (page 1 of 3)

How to ensure your blog posts last forever.

TL;DR version: Register your own domain name, find some server space and install Open Source software. It’s harder than using someone else’s shiny service, but you’re in control. It’s worth it.

I found out today (via Drew Buddie) that Posterous is shutting down at the end of April. While this is a sad state of affairs – I used it with students in the classroom and found it a great email-based blogging platform – it was hardly unexpected. The co-founders moved to Twitter last year and the assumption was that they would close Posterous at some point.

John Johnston, who used Posterous extensively (not least for podcasting) has written about why it was such a great platform. In an update to that post he points towards Posthaven, effectively a subscription-based clone of Posterous started by a couple of other co-founders. It promises to be the ‘safe place for all your posts forever’. Yeah, right.

The only way you can ensure that the stuff you produce online stays online is by owning your own data. It’s as simple as that. So when you’re looking for a blogging platform, by all means have a look at the sexy options like Tumblr and the like, but the most important thing is how easy it is to get your data in and out of the platform. That’s why I like WordPress (both the hosted and self-hosted versions) so much.

Knowing how to own your own data and keep it available online fits right onto the Web Literacies framework I’ve been developing at Mozilla. But it’s not rocket science. It takes effectively three steps:

  1. Buy a domain name (I use 123-reg)
  2. Find some web hosting (I use Hippie Hosting)
  3. Install an Open Source platform (I use WordPress via a one-click CPanel installation process)

The reason the last of these is important is that it’s extremely difficult – if not impossible – to completely shut down an Open Source project. Once the code is out there, it’s out there and anyone can contribute or ‘fork’ the project.

Thankfully, like many people, I could see the writing on the wall with Posterous and moved the blogs I had there (a now-defunct ‘Ideas Garden’, my conference blog, and my FAQ) to WordPress blogs hosted on subfolders of dougbelshaw.com.

This stuff isn’t hard. Trust me. And you’re always better off in control of your own data.

So, be in control of your own domain. Find out how to control the blogging platform you use. And use Open Source software. You’ll thank me for it in the long term! 🙂

Blog redesign: October 2012 edition

(Email and RSS subscribers will need to click through to see the change)

I’ve felt for a while that I should make this blog better suited to mobile interfaces and, in particular, touchscreen devices. This is known as responsive web design and I’ve been particularly impressed with Microsoft’s ‘Metro’ design language leading to a tiled approach on Windows smartphones. To my eyes it seems streets ahead of Apple’s skeuomorphism.

Yesterday, when I was browsing architecture blogs and came across the Contemporist site, it reminded me of that clean, touchscreen-friendly approach:

Contemporist blog

I did something I always do when I see blog themes I like: right-clicked to ‘View Source’ as you can tell which blog theme is being used. Judging by the CSS it’s a custom job, meaning I couldn’t simply download the same theme.

That was a shame, but it spurred me on to look for Metro-inspired blog themes. I was looking for something with a tiled, fairly squarish look but that didn’t scream Microsoft. Beautiful though it is, the Subway WordPress theme (from €39) was out of the question. I’d have looked like a Microsoft fanboi:

Subway Metro theme for WordPress

I also found the MetroStyle theme ($45), which I rejected for having too many boxes at the top:

MetroStyle WordPress theme

I downloaded and installed the WP Metro theme (£FREE), but I had trouble making it look decent with my content:

WP Metro theme for WordPress

In the end, after considering signing up to a course to get the Anaximander theme, I decided to pay $35 for a WordPress theme entitled Metro:

Metro theme for WordPress

Like many premium themes it comes with an extremely easy-to-use configuration dashboard in addition to the usual WordPress options. Nevertheless, old habits die hard and I delved into the CSS to tinker about a bit!

I hope you like what you see, and if you want to see the ‘responsiveness’ in action, either resize your browser window or visit this site on a mobile device. It’s only my first attempt – I’ll be tinkering around making improvements here and there over the next few weeks.

Any feedback is gratefully received!


HOWTO: Issue #openbadges in 5 steps using WordPress + WPBadger

Image slideshow not showing? Click here!

Good news! Dave Lester has created a plugin for WordPress that makes issuing Open Badges fairly straightforward.
Follow the instructions below to get started.

1. Install WordPress*

Install WordPress

2. Install the WPBadger plugin

Install the WPBadger plugin

3. Follow the instructions at the plugin’s Installation page, specifically:

Configure the plugin by navigating to Settings -> WPBadger Config in the WordPress admin. On this form, fill out some basic information including Agent Name, organization, and contact email address. The award email text is optional.

Note the following:

  • After you install the WPBadger plugin you get two new menu items – Badges and Awards
  • Badges is to do with the creation of badges and Awards is to do with the awarding of badges (either individually or en masse)

Configure WPBadger

4. Follow the instructions on the Other Notes page to create your badge.

Things that may help:

  • Click on Badges in the left-hand menu then Add New
  • Fill in the Enter title here box (this is the name of the badge as it will show up in Badge Backpacks)
  • Enter some text in the main field about the badge itself and what it’s awarded for (this is what will show up at the badge’s Criteria URL)
  • Under Badge version on the right-hand side enter a number such as 1.0
  • Under Badge image on the right-hand side click on Set featured image
  • Once you’ve uploaded the badge image (a PNG file) you need to scroll down in the pop-up box to click the option to Use as featured image and then close the pop-up (you don’t need to insert it into the post)

Create your badge

5. Follow the instructions on the Other Notes page to award your badge.

Things that may help:

  • Click on Awards then Add New to award a badge to a single individual
  • Use the drop-down menu under Choose Badge on the right-hand side to select the badge to award
  • Enter the individual’s Email Address in the box on the right-hand side (try your own email address first if testing!)
  • In the main box fill out the reason why the individual has been awarded the badge (this is what will show up at the badge’s Evidence URL)
  • Press Publish

Award badge

The individual you entered in Step 5 should now receive an email telling them they’ve received a badge. When they click on the URL they can accept or reject that badge. If they accept it then it will be pushed to their Badge Backpack.

Badge in Open Badges Backpack

*How to do this is outside of the scope of this tutorial, I’m afraid.

Project Reclaim: consolidating my blogs.

I’m ill at the moment: I can’t seem to shake ‘flu-like symptoms that struck last Wednesday. On the plus side, not being able to do ‘productive’ work means I’ve got done some stuff I haven’t been in a position to prioritise for a while.

Black Heart Inertia

Posterous, a blogging solution I’ve really enjoyed using and have advocated widely, was bought by Twitter recently. It was a talent acquisition, meaning that the future of the service is in doubt. Yesterday, I spent some time moving my Conference and FAQ blogs (previously hosted on Posterous) to subfolders of dougbelshaw.com.

The next step is to find a way to transfer Thought Shrapnel, my Tumblr-powered blog, in a satisfactory way. Truth is, Tumblr is an excellent (although painfully proprietary) platform with some really nice features. I like the defined post types and the way you can queue-up blog posts to go live.

Another thing I’d like to do is move both this blog and my e-books space from separate installations to my new WordPress ‘multisite’ installation running on the site root.

Finally, I’ve discontinued blogging at literaci.es (transferring the posts here) and moved my Ideas Garden to a public Evernote workbook.

You can find all of these spaces linked to from my profile at dougbelshaw.com.

Image CC BY-SA Fey Ilyas

In addition, you may want to check out both Martin Waller and James Michie who have also been consolidating their online presence.

Blogging: 5 things I’ve learned in 5 years.

5 Years

I realised at the weekend that it’s been about 5 years since I started blogging properly, having got into my groove sometime in November 2005. Back then, as a classroom teacher, I wrote at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk about education and educational technology. What got me started was reading and commenting on the high-quality blogs of a small number of international educators, the dilution of which I lamented a few years later.

In the past 5 years I’ve gone from History teacher to E-Learning Staff Tutor to Director of E-Learning to working at JISC infoNet. I’ve also cultivated increasing amounts of stubble, as this video of me as a 24 year-old demonstrates! Hopefully, as I’ve read, learned and understood more about the world, my style of writing has improved. Well, one can hope.

The following are the things that I think anyone with a blog would do well to heed. I’d be interested in your take. 😀

1. Comment count != quality

The quality of a blog post has almost nothing to do with the number of comments you get – and everything to do with the zeitgeist, the way you phrase questions and how you structure your blog.

2. How to get more readers

To get more people visiting your blog, go and comment on other people’s and autotweet your blog posts via Twitter. This works up to a point, after which you can either keep it real or become a cynical marketing machine. I prefer content over style. Most of the time. 😉

3. WordPress and Bluehost rock

I’ve tried lots of different blogging platforms and webhosts, but have found WordPress to consistently do what I want of it and Bluehost [affiliate link] to be cheap, feature-filled and rock-solid.

4. Have an ‘ideas garden’

I’ve blatantly appropriated this term from someone who used it in conversation with me a while ago. Sorry if that was you – I try to credit the sources of ideas I share as well as images I use. An ideas garden is simply a collection of draft blog posts that you come back to, adding pictures, further ideas, etc. until they form whole posts. It can also stop you ranting when you’re in a bad mood. :-p

5. Digital footprint

I used to have a link to my curriculum vitae on my blog but, in fact, the whole thing is a digital portfolio, with my last three positions secured to a great extent because of my online presence. SEO is important, as is attempting to control the first page of Google search results (so that they’re all positive): my digital footprint is more important to me than my credit score. Fact.

Image CC BY Michael Ruiz

Weeknote #14

This week I have been mostly…


It was time for the annual pilgrimage to the inlaws who live in Devon. We fly the rest of the time (Newcastle –> Exeter) but once a year we go down for a bit longer with the car. This time, instead of doing the 6 hours or so in one day, we stopped off in Doncaster and then again at a National Trust property. It made for an enjoyable journey!


Whilst there was nothing particularly wrong with my portfolio page at dougbelshaw.com when I came across this free ‘personal branding’ WordPress theme I couldn’t resist updating. I like the result. 🙂


I’ve decided that listening to music mainly by album on Spotify is slightly anachronistic. So I’ve been reorganizing my playlists into ‘Running’, ‘Train’, ‘Deadline’, ‘Working’, etc. I’ve kept the album-focused playlists for the moment, but situational playlists seem to be the way forward!

Considering the future

Whilst I’m only four months into my new job (and greatly enjoying it) I’ve got to think about the future. I’ve got a two-year contract with JISC infoNet. Specifically I’ve been considering:

  • What (if anything) do I want to do with my Ed.D. when I finish it?
  • Is Northumberland where should we bring up Ben and his sister (when she’s born)?
  • Do I want to stay in the FE/HE sector, move back into schools or do something entirely different?

I haven’t made any decisions and, if past experience is any guide, things tend to come out of the blue when you least expect them… :-p

A life in my technological day.


This post is prompted by 3 things:

  • Re-discovering Stammy’s Why I’m more productive on a Mac post from 2006.
  • Reading Cory Doctorow’s post What I Do where he outlines the hardware and software he uses (and why).
  • A discussion at EdTechRoundUp on Sunday night where I was asked to explain why the iPhone 4 is ‘better’ than the Dell Streak.

Read more →

How to find your ‘productive song’.

I can remember last year reading a post by Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress, about the way he works. In it he mentioned how he gets ‘into the zone’ whilst coding by listening to the same song over and over and over again:

Music is my muse and I listen to it all day. There’s a lot of jazz — Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins — but I’m also a big fan of Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Method Man… When you’re coding you really have to be in the zone so I’ll listen to a single song over and over on repeat, hundreds of times. It helps me focus.

(my emphasis)

Music can have a massive effect on your productivity and it’s really important to find music that puts you in the zone that Matt talks about. I can only speak of what works for me, and what is currently my ‘productive song’, but I don’t think you’ll got too far wrong if you follow the suggestions below! :-p

1. Long

The track needs to be fairly long. Not your 3 minute pop song. You’ll get sick of that very quickly.

2. Repetitive

It needs to have a steady beat that’s not too fast and not too slow. I can’t tell you how fast that is (I think it probably varies between people). It’s probably about 100-120bpm for most of us, though.

3. Minimal lyrics

If you’re doing anything that involves writing words then you want as few lyrics as possible. Some lyrics are OK so long as it’s easy not to focus on them. 🙂

In addition, I’d suggest that even if one of your favourite songs of all time meets the above criteria that you don’t use it as your ‘productive song’. Why? The association it will carry will displace the original reason you liked it…

You may find that you wear out your productive song after a while and my need to find another one. What’s my ‘productive song’ at the moment? Slightly randomly it’s a track by Apparat called Arcadia (Telefon Tel Aviv Remix) <–Spotify link. Don’t ask how I came across it – serendipity! 😉

Image CC BY skippyjon

How I organize my Ed.D. thesis

Sticky notes


I’ve been studying towards my Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) qualification for almost 6 years now. My PGCE (teacher training qualification) at Durham University was the equivalent of the first year of an MA in Education. I thought it a waste not to continue with that on a part-time basis whilst I was teaching.

When it came to write the dissertation for my MA it wasn’t the greatest period in my life. I was told by my MA supervisor that I had the grades required to transfer to the Ed.D. if I wanted. At first I couldn’t see her logic; if I wasn’t in a position to complete my MA how would I be in a position to move up to a doctorate? But then she explained. If I transferred, I’d be able to take higher-level modules the next academic year rather than having to churn out a dissertation that academic year. I’d always had at the back of my mind that I’d like to do a PhD and so this made sense!

Tool choice: wiki

All of a sudden, then, I was a doctoral student. I didn’t quite fall into it, but even so it was going to take a step-change in attitude and organization. Going to get my Durham University student card replaced I laughed at it’s new expiration date: July 2012. That seemed a very long way off!

Up until starting my Ed.D. I’d had a fairly ad-hoc way of organizing my academic work. After all, although I’d written 20,000 words for my MA in Modern History in 2003, I’d organized my notes chiefly on paper – using my chunky (although at the time, stylish) laptop merely to write. I could see that this approach was going to change. Thankfully, when in 2006 I wanted to change programme, blogs, wikis and podcasts had just become all the rage.

I’ve used a wiki and a blog with my Ed.D. from the start. After toying with various wikis courtesy of the comparison at wikimatrix.org I decided it was important that I owned my own data. In effect, I sacrificed a little bit of ease-of-use and prettiness for speed, functionality and full control of my data. Whilst services such as Wikispaces, PBwiki and Wetpaint would have done the job admirably, they didn’t quite fit the bill.

I came across TiddlyWiki via Lifehacker. It’s an extremely lightweight wiki designed primarily for personal use. There’s a learning curve in terms of the syntax used to create, for example, things in bold and italics but once you’ve got used to this it’s second-nature. The standard version of Tiddlywiki is merely an HTML file. The massive advantage of this is that you can put it anywhere and it ‘just works’. Put it on a USB flash drive and you can work on it from any machine; put it on your website and you can read it from anywhere.

Although you could download the HTML file, work on it, and then re-upload it, I found this a little clunky in practice. After all, I wasn’t always in a position to fire up an FTP client to do so. On top of that, sometimes I would forget and/or have multiple versions of my wiki. Looking around, I came across ccTiddly, a server-side implementation of TiddlyWiki. In layman’s terms this meant that, upon installing it on my webhost’s server, I could not only access it from anywhere, but edit it from anywhere. In addition, clicking on a link means I can take it all offline quickly-and-easily when I want to. 🙂

Tool choice: blog

It’s amazing how quickly things change. At one time, the obvious choice for anyone creating an education-focused blog was Eduspaces. This aimed – and succeeded, to a degree – in creating a ‘community’ feel to blogs surrounding educational practice and research. You can still see the original blog I created there at eduspaces.net/dougbelshaw/weblog although when the owners announced it was shutting down, I transferred the posts first to teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk and ultimately to here, dougbelshaw.com/blog.

I enjoy the amount of control that WordPress, my blogging software of choice, gives me over what I do with my thesis. More recently, I decided that having a separate category for my thesis-related posts here wasn’t enough; I went ahead and created another blog at dougbelshaw.com/thesis. WordPress is easy to extend and customise through the use of themes and plugins. One extremely useful plugin is digress.it (formerly CommentPress) which allows commenters to easily comment on particular paragraphs in addition to the whole post. 😀

Tool choice: mindmap

After doing a great deal of reading on the ‘literacy’ aspect of digital literacy (the construct which I’m analysing in my thesis) I realised that I had no real idea how to start to put it all together. I needed a visual way to represent what I’d learned and to plan out what I was going to say. I looked at various options for mindmaps but found the online ones (such as Bubbl.us) a little clunky and the offline ones inflexible.

I was delighted, therefore, when I came across XMind. The beauty of XMind is that not only is it free and Open Source, but the offline program allows you to put your mindmap online in an embeddable, zoomable way. Perfect! You can view the mindmap I created for that digital literacy overview here.


My studying, then, tends to go something like this:

  1. Skim-read article or chapter in book. Attempt to the main arguments to myself.
  2. Go back through article or chapter with sticky notes, adding them at quotable/important parts.
  3. Add relevant sections (highlighted with sticky notes) to my Ed.D. wiki, commenting on them as I go.
  4. Come up with idea for synthesis/analysis of what I’ve been studying.
  5. Create mindmap.
  6. Write section/blog post.

It seems to work fairly well for me, but I’m always looking to improve! Recently, I’ve stuck a pinboard to the wall next to my desk. It allows me to keep those important, but sometimes fleeting, ideas buzzing around.

How do you organise YOUR studies? :-p

(Image CC BY Tom Coates)

A quick way to add a ‘sparkline’ to your blog.

See that little graph thing at the bottom of this blog? It’s called a sparkline and shows the number of visitor over the last month. Here’s how to add one to your own blog, courtesy of Google Analytics and a WordPress plugin!

The only slightly tricky bit is replacing:




It shows you how to do it here, but it over-complicates things and is slightly out-of-date.

If you want to brush up on your HTML, you could do worse than this guide! 😀