Where this site is going design-wise?

I last had a site when I really wanted to get my head around doing all the web technologies the right way, and I hand-coded a CMS with feature-parity with the big systems, barring glitzy admin panels. I suffered my sister’s scorn at being a blogger, agreed it was a bit sad, and stopped. On the other hand, I still reckon that as a model for communicating it works well, even more so now as increasingly I find myself getting information from blogs, from technical problem solving, news, and comment to learning. Given the rather technical and especially web-technology heavy focus of the site, it is rather important to think through the design and coding of this site.

I thought I would be sensible this time and settle for Wordpress to actually do some blogging this time and not code a useless site. The other rationale was that I needed to get seriously to grips with a CMS so I could make sure Hope Church had something that would not leave them in the lurch if I became indisposed. For a few days at the start of the holidays, I wrote a few plugins, a couple of themes, and got things ready to use, during which I read more and more of the code. By now, I have had a peek at most of the files, and read the interesting ones.

Unfortunately, I am only convinced that Wordpress is not what I want for my personal site. I can put forward some thoughts why that is, then recommend you to an amusing thought from ‘Kroc’ Camen.

Wordpress is unpredictable.

All the way through the processor, there is regular expression after regular expression being pounded out on your code. The output is often good, and works well for typical input. However, some wrong mixture of HTML and XHTML is not genuinely parseable in this way. Regular expressions have a huge expressive power, but not enough. Just by experimentation, I found that were a few obvious strings you can put in the comment box below that will be accepted but still do naughty things (hint: try seeing whether escape characters are counted properly or not). Filing a bug report or two misses the point, in that WP is just not designed to be strict or correct. So, I can never be sure it will not mangle the data in my posts as it tries to format the paragraphs and so on. In fact (with apologies for laboriously developing this), I could disable wpautop and do my paragraphs manually, but that misses the point. The data-flow processing model is fundamentally inadequate and not under my control, and I do not trust it to love my markup and maintain it.

Wordpress is bloated.

It has too much I do not want, nor use, and so fear. It is irrational, but putting a fudge in my theme file to tack on category scanning in a place where it is left out, and not using it in the places where it is, all because the WP designers did not read my fussy mind, leaves me again very dissatisfied. There is so much stuff in there, when two or three thousand lines cover my needs. Most of all however:–

Wordpress is not fun.

That is my way of putting it; Camen persistently emphasises beauty, but the idea is the same. I have a site because I want to communicate, but I want to do it well, and not just in layout and style but also in the attitude that the structure and way it is done is significant too.

I take pride in doing things nicely. I am pleased that the full-text search of sermons on the old church website worked gorgeously, even if it had half a dozen hits last year. It has been discontinued in the new design, to be used soon, as I could not justify spending the time on maintaining it with Google, but I am pleased that I did it. It felt right to be thorough. There is a saying that so much time is senselessly invested in something, we are ‘doing it for ourselves’. I would like to turn the paradigm on its head though and make a comment on the way beauty motivates work. I suppose that, in the end, I can’t have been doing it for myself. The argument from aesthetics I would advance even applies to web design.

Whither then?

So, my ambition for the technical side of the site is to eventually abandon pre-built disempowering software of the Wordpress variety. I fully expect to keep working on it and improving it continually, removing the bloat and making gorgeous pages.

It will stay as a playground though, particularly as I will need to monkey around with Drupal and some HTML5 technologies quite soon.