This site started life in the early 2000s as a pure blog powered by the Serendipity blogging engine and hosted on free shared hosting provided by MiNDS>, the IT society of Maynooth University, where I was a researcher in the Computer Science department at the time. The first big change came in the summer of 2006 when I moved the blog from MiNDS> to this domain. As well as moving the blog, I also moved my personal website, though the two remained separate entities which I had to mange separately. While moving the blog I took the opportunity to change blogging engines from Serendipity to WordPress. This was an early version of WordPress, so its evolution from blogging engine to content management system (or CMS) still had a long way to go (arguably it still does). As WordPress’s pages feature evolved, I eventually did away with the standalone site, adding just a handful of pages into WordPress. At that point WordPress became my entire website. It was a viable solution because I really just needed a few simple ‘about the stuff I do’ pages, and the blog.

This month, while preparing for the release of the new version of my XKPasswd open source library, I realised that I needed more from this site. While the blog is still important, and will continue to contain most of the information hosted on the site, it won’t be the view though which most of that information will be accessed. A reverse-chronological list of all posts on all topics is not actually an optimal way of presenting content! This site serves as the anchor of my online presence simple because this is the URL I give out when ever I’m asked where people can find me online. I sometimes wonder if podcast listeners aren’t starting to think that Busschots is just my middle name, and that from is actually my surname! This site has not been a particularly good home page, not because there isn’t useful content, but because it’s been ineffectively presented.

So, the problem to be solved was that this site was not properly managing or presenting the content it contained. The solution I settled on was to stop thinking of the site like a blog, and start using WordPress as a proper CMS (content management system). The changes I’ve made have involved the creation of very little new content, instead, I’ve spent the past few weeks re-designing how the content is presented. Some of the changes are very visible, some are completely invisible.

A CMS cannot manage content devoid of metadata, so, at the heart of all the changes was a complete re-think of the site’s taxonomy. The blog categories were old and out of date, and my use of tagging was erratic at best. While I was tagging content internally within WordPress, the theme was not showing the tags to visitors, and my use of tags was anything but logical or consistent. I spent literally days re-organising the categories, deleting, renaming and creating tags, and finally re-tagging and re-categorising hundreds if not thousands of blog posts. There are now tags to capture broad content types, as well as narrower subject matters. All reviews, regardless of whether they are of hardware or software, or related to computers or photography are now tagged with the keyword review. Similarly, all blog posts announcing the release of new software of any kind (by me) are now tagged with the keyword software release.

This kind of tagging makes it possible to automatically harvest the blog for content which can then be included in pages. For example, the new Software page includes a list of my most recent software releases, the XKPasswd page contains a link to all blog posts relating to that software library, be they announcements or tutorials. The Taming the Terminal series now has its own page with an ordered list of all the instalments, making it much easier for visitors to enjoy the series.

As well as revising the taxonomy, I also made the decision to incorporate at least some of my social media activities into the site. Specifically, I’ve begun to integrate my Flickr stream into the site. For now that integration is just on the home page, but expect to see more widespread integration in the future.

I also took the opportunity of all these changes to make two other big changes. Firstly, this site is now all HTTPS all the time, and secondly, the URL scheme has been changed. The base URL has been changed from /blog/ to the shorter /s/. (I like to keep WordPress self-contained in a top-level folder, so it’s easier to update, and, so I can still host other content on the domain without interfering with WordPress). Secondly, I’ve enabled permalinks in WordPress for the first time, so no more ?id= rubbish in your address bars 🙂

Since WordPress now describes itself as a CMS rather than a blogging platform, I had expected to find all the tools I needed for this re-design built in, but I was disappointed. While the APIs provide all the needed functionality to theme developers, there is very little CMS-style functionally presented through the web interface. Trivially simple things like the inclusion of posts or pages matching a given criteria into a post or page are just not there out of the box. I have a custom theme, and I’m not afraid of writing code, so I could have made all my changes by editing the code of my theme, but I wanted to do as much as possible in a theme-agnostic way. This current theme has served me well, but it’s not responsive, and realistically, it needs to be changed soon. Thankfully a lot can be achieved with just a few plugins, so most of the changes I’ve made are not theme-dependent. (see my review of those plugins here)

Anyhow, in theory, it has just become a lot easier to find the content you want on this site. The updated site map and blog categories should make it easier to drill down to the content you care about, and the addition of tags should make it easier to find content of a particularly type, or relating to a specific OS or programming language. The new home page now gives a much better overview, showing my more recently shared photos, listing recent blog posts, and showing a big tag cloud which shows the range of topics covered in a very compact way. This is still very much a work in progress, and I’m always open to feedback and suggestions from visitors.