Telegraph publishes first WordPress plugin

The Telegraph Media Group began embracing WordPress two and a half years ago: first its blogs were migrated over, then its My Telegraph community. They then began embracing WordPress people, hiring BuddyPress core developer Paul Gibbs, and hosting London WordPress meetups.

Now they’ve gone a stage further: releasing a WordPress plugin in the company name. Expire User Passwords has obvious applications in a more corporate environment: it’s a zero-configuration plugin which you simply install and forget about. Until you reach the 30-day expiry point, when you’re prompted to renew your password.

It’s available from the WordPress repository, where it’s owned by Paul and a new Telegraph user account. Or alternatively, they’ve just started making use of a Telegraph Github account which they seem to have registered two years ago.

Well done, Team Tele. Great to see a large corporate giving back to the WordPress community. I’d love to know how they got over the inevitable concerns about plugin support, liability and so on.

BBC ‘news jockey’ experiment

By Steve Herrmann, writing on the BBC News Editors blog yesterday:

During the past few years the “live page” format has become a regular feature of our coverage around big breaking stories. The format has been a big success in terms of usage, so we’re thinking about what more we could do with it. We think the pages are not necessarily just about breaking news – they are also a real-time showcase of the best of what we (and others) are doing.

By me, writing in July 2007:

A ‘breaking news blog’, in my book, should look and feel more like Twitter. Activate it when a huge story breaks – maybe only a couple of times a year, maybe a couple of times a month. Short snaps of maybe only a couple of lines, written in an informal tone. Pretend you’re MSN-ing a friend. Be prepared to be vague – read between the lines if necessary, and don’t be shy about getting it wrong. Stream of consciousness, if you like, and proud of it. I haven’t yet seen any news organisation doing this systematically… but if they have any business in breaking news, then they should be.

I’ve also got an early idea for a ‘news jockey’ role, writing a running commentary on the day’s news blog-style. The USA Today thing is probably the closest comparison, but I’m thinking of something slightly different. It calls for a certain style of writing, and a certain style of writer, but I think it could be a winner.

Public image

I use Flickr quite a lot – but almost exclusively for family stuff. The main attraction was the ability to send automated email notifications to family members who spend more reasonable amounts of time than myself in front of computer monitors. And since Flickr connectivity is built into any self-respecting mobile device nowadays (including some cameras), there’s no real reason to try and put something together myself in WordPress – although I do occasionally muse on how I might do it. (I’ve already come pretty close to it on a recent project for the Dept of Health.)

Anyway – one of the very few non-personal photos on my account is this one: a hastily-snapped shot of a news-stand outside Russell Square tube station, captured on nothing more advanced than a Nokia E65 phone. The Evening Standard’s report of a declaration of war seemed laughably over-the-top; and I was delighted to have captured the news-seller on his mobile phone, thus completing the trinity of media past, present and (not too distant) future.

Bill Gates War On Google

Anyway (again) – I discovered at the weekend that it had been lifted by a journalist at the Economist to illustrate an insightful piece on old media’s woes. No qualms there: I’d put a CC Attribution license on it, so I was more than happy for them to use it. And on some level, the story behind the picture makes it even more appropriate.

Guardian launches WordPress syndication plugin

On the very day that the Times puts up its paywall, the Guardian goes the complete opposite direction – and unveils a WordPress plugin intended to gets its content out there, on as many other people’s sites as possible, free of charge.

Once you’ve installed the plugin, and signed up for an API key, you get effectively a subeditor’s view of the Guardian’s archives. If you find a story you like, and want to republish, you save it down to your own WordPress installation, then edit and publish it as normal. It even checks stories for updates. Much neater than a DIY solution based on something like the FeedWordPress plugin, and without the potential for licensing headaches… as long as you’re happy enough to leave the credits and adverts in place.

The blogger (or whoever) gets free, simplified access to the Guardian’s content, without licensing worries; the Guardian gets additional attention for its material, a wider spread of advertising impressions, and a PR victory over its Murdoch rivals.

If it sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can download it from WordPress.org.

Update: worth noting Public Strategist’s problems with the plugin: ‘Nowhere in those extensive conditions does it state that the Guardian claims the right to extend that control to the host blog.

Another national newspaper goes WordPress

Just to note that the Independent has switched its blogs from Livejournal to WordPress. Why? According to online editor Martin King, there was a simple reason for the move: ‘to make them better.’ Clearly a man after my own heart.

He writes: ‘We are demonstrating that globally standard programs can free mainstream journalism from the complex bespoke set-ups of the past.’ And his colleague Jack Riley tells Journalism.co.uk: ‘WordPress is infinitely more customisable, which means that we can adapt it all as we go along. By bringing it all in-house it also means our development and editorial teams can work closely on getting the features that readers and bloggers want live as quickly as possible.’

I must admit, I always had my suspicions that the Independent’s former arrangement with LiveJournal was driven primarily by the personalities involved, former Downing St colleagues Ben Wegg Prosser and Jimmy Leach (now back in Whitehall, of course).

Worth mentioning too that the Telegraph has gone deeper into WordPress just recently, with the migration of its My Telegraph user community. Its blogs.telegraph.co.uk site, for journalists and commentators, moved over to WP about a year ago.

Code your own BBC News homepage

The BBC has announced plans to switch off its low-graphic websites:

The low graphics version of the site was designed as a low bandwidth alternative to the full website at a time when most users of the site were using slow dial-up connections. Now, most of our users are on much faster broadband connections and as a result, the percentage of users of this service has steadily declined to a current level around 2%.

Fair enough I suppose. Except that I was one of those 2% of users. Why? – because I had it set to load in a Firefox sidebar. With one click of a browser button, I got my instant news fix. I use it constantly throughout the day.

For obvious reasons, the full-size homepage doesn’t render especially well in a 200px-wide space; but the low-graphics version did pretty well. Not perfect, but pretty good.

For a few days now, I’ve tried following the BBC’s advice, by switching to the mobile interface. But it just didn’t do it for me. So I’ve taken matters into my own hands, and spent the last half hour ‘coding my own’. (And most of that time was just making look a little prettier.)

It’s a fairly simple PHP/RSS thing, with a dash of jQuery thrown in. I fetch the BBC’s homepage RSS feed via SimplePie, dress it up all pretty, then run a very quick jQuery routine to ‘zebra stripe’ the stories for easier reading. For each story, I give myself the headline, timestamp, summary – and the thumbnail image, something the low-graphic version couldn’t give (beyond the top three items).

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s a perfect case study for the ‘raw data now’ concept. The BBC supplies the data, I bang out a hasty rendering routine based on free code… and I’ve got the service I want, regardless of what they want to do themselves.

It’s running in my development web space; I’ve got no intention of making it public. But if you really think it would be useful for you, let me know, and I’ll maybe share the address details.

BBC sounds death-knell for left-hand nav

There’s a fascinating (and lengthy) post on the BBC’s internet blog, setting the scene for a forthcoming ‘post-2.0’ redesign of its web presence. It’s a design geek’s paradise – global visual languages, grid systems, typography and colour palettes.

Intriguingly, they start their potted history of the BBC website with a screenshot from December 1997. My own memories go further back, to the days when the BBC’s URL was bbcnc.org.uk – and one particular landmark in page design. White with a dark blue left-hand column; some kind of HTML table magic. Groundbreaking in its own small way.

Pretty soon, all websites looked like that – many, no doubt, deliberately doing so because if it was good enough for the BBC, it was good enough for them. So it’s a pretty big deal when they now announce that they’re ‘moving away from left hand navigation to consistently placed, horizontal navigation across the site.’

I haven’t designed many sites lately which used any kind of conventional left-hand nav; but I have built a few sites which integrated into existing ‘look and feel’ which did still have left-hand nav – and it felt very strange. Blogs and the ‘tab’ metaphor have effectively killed it off.

Another interesting trend from the Beeb’s work-in-progress is the overlaying of big headline text on imagery. For an organisation which produces so much imagery, it’s a fairly obvious thing to do: and it may ‘raise the bar’ for other sites with pretensions to similar scale. Pages without pictures are going to look pretty dull in comparison.

And it looks like we’re going to see a conscious effort to underline the real-time aspects: I note the various mockups marked ‘ADDED 3 MINS [ago]’. Again, if you’re running a large website and you aren’t demonstrably keeping your core content similarly up-to-date, you’re going to look bad – and risk losing trust.

If you want to know what your website will look like in a year or two, have a peek. Do I like it? Yes, yes I do.

WordPress powers Scotland’s new national newspaper

A hearty congratulations to Stewart Kirkpatrick whose project to launch a new online national newspaper for Scotland got off the ground at the weekend. It’s called the Caledonian Mercury, and its rather ambitious mission statement is ‘to revive Scottish journalism by using the internet rather than railing against it.’

If you remember the days when, inexplicably, The Scotsman was one of the best online news sources on the planet – that was Stewart. I met him when I spoke at a conference in Edinburgh; he had moved into a small online startup, but was clearly still a news man. And looking back over his blogging in the last year or so, you can see how he’s reached this point: one track extolling the virtues of WordPress (well, usually), the other seeing an opportunity to reinvent the news business.

So here it is then, the CalMerc. A fairly straightforward WordPress build, using an off-the-shelf news-y theme – with a bit of customisation, and a healthy dose of plugins. I can see a few rough edges to be smoothed out, and it’s all fairly modest in design terms: but as they told one critical tweeter, ‘behaviour first, design second’. Couldn’t agree more.

So Stewart – all the best, big man. If anyone can do it, I’m pretty sure you can.

PS: Other WordPress-powered newspapers are available – Bristol 24-7 springs to mind as a similar online startup; the Express & Star came to WP after 120-odd years in print. There may be much more to come if the Press Association has its way.

WordPress to power new Press Assoc network?

The Press Association is the engine which powers the UK news machine. In effect it’s a cooperative owned by the UK’s regional and national newspapers. It has noticed that, as funds get tighter, its members have stopped reporting on local democracy – council meetings and the like. And it’s working on a proposal to fill that gap in the information provision market by providing the content itself, free of charge online… if the public purse cares to pay them £15-18 million to do so.

It’s a very interesting notion, and – considering the potential public benefit – a not inconceivable price-tag. But the line in Robert Andrews’s piece at PaidContent which really caught my eye was this:

It will probably be delivered initially through a WordPress (blog) site, but it will be delivered with RSS feeds spinning off it and not as a primary site of interest.” Johnston showed a mock-up of PA content in a blog wearing an out-of-the-box default WordPress theme.

In fact, it’s a concept I’ve proven myself. A couple of years ago, I did some work with a small business information consultancy to move their (relatively tiny-scale) news publishing mechanism over to WordPress. Stories were being written in an existing workflow management app: but when it came to distributing these stories, we simply dropped them into a WordPress build – and let WP’s remarkably flexible RSS functionality do the rest. Stories were tagged according to subject area and clients; feeds were generated; and content got syndicated to wherever it needed to be, in an easily-republishable format. There was no front-end website at all: just the feeds coming off it.

So yes, I can heartily endorse this proposal. If it’s an open-access site, requiring easy authoring and easy syndication, WordPress should be perfect. And since it already does all the feed stuff, out-of-the-box, the project could be up and running as quickly as the reporters can be recruited.

But still, it’s a startling moment to be receiving the endorsement from the biggest player in UK news distribution. And it’s yet another reason, as if we needed it, for anyone working in news to look at what WordPress could do for them. If we could get every government press office on WordPress, for a start…

Telegraph moves its blogs to WordPress

It’s a sign of how far WordPress has come, that I find myself noting the Telegraph’s transfer of its blogging platform to WordPress purely because I feel I should… and not because it’s especially exciting. I mean, if you were going to set up a large-scale public blogging community, why on earth wouldn’t you use the world-leading, zero-price tag product?

The newspaper media group’s new blogs editor, Damian Thompson is buzzing with excitement at the potential which this move opens up. Among the ‘immediate benefits’ he highlights: faster operation, easier commenting, better integration with the wider site, even a Twitter element. (I’d add a few others myself, all available instantly with a bit of URL hacking.) But he’s right to recognise that the switch won’t be immediately popular – and guess what, the majority of the 200+ comments on his introduction post aren’t positive. Yeah, we’ve all been there.

Most of the work, I understand, was done by the Telegraph’s in-house team, with some assistance from my fellow WordCampers (and technically, I suppose, competitors) InterconnectIT. The firm’s director, Dave Coveney says they’re already working with another newspaper group and a magazine publisher. He’s clearly seeing the same momentum I am; there’s certainly no shortage of interest in WordPress just now.