Alphagov blog open for business

If you've visited Alphagov HQ, you'll appreciate the image crop... 😉

The countdown to next week’s public unveiling of Alphagov has begun in earnest, with the team’s blog now open for business. And at Puffbox, we’ve been happy to help them on their way with it: a few weeks back, we were sent an early cut of some page code, and asked to turn it into a WordPress theme. How could we refuse?
Rapid development was the top priority – so it’s a fairly straightforward two-column theme, with a widgetised sidebar, and a custom menu along the top. In fact, it’s the first ‘blog’ I’ve built in what feels like a-g-e-s. But there are a couple of (potentially) interesting extras to note:

  • Normally, I’d have done the ‘Media Coverage’ links as an RSS feed from a Delicious account. But with the uncertainty over Delicious’s future, and to test out an idea, we’re powering this via WordPress’s own built-in links (or historically, ‘blogroll’) manager. The links themselves are being pulled out by a custom ‘Recent Links’ widget, with a filter allowing you to select only a particular category of links.
  • The list of @alphagov tweets is, in fact, the standard Twitter profile widget… with liberal use of CSS !important declarations, and a few other tricks, to override the out-of-the-box presentation.
  • Each blog post has an author’s biography at the bottom, showing the contents of their profile’s ‘Biographical Info’ box. But we’ve also added a pseudo-plugin within the theme’s functions, to ask each registered user for his/her Twitter ID. If available, this is used to display their picture, plus a link to their Twitter profile – as this post by Tom Loosemore demonstrates. Just a nice little humanising touch, with an added dash of interactivity and transparency.

It’s being hosted at Amazon, and we’re managing the code via Subversion, for simplicity and security. I’m really falling in love with Subversion as a deployment method, particularly the way it’s handled within Coda (my code editor of choice these days). It does mean we effectively disable things like one-click updating and plugin installation; but the pros definitely outweigh the cons on a corporate project like this.
My thanks – as ever – to Mr Wheatley for the setup; and to James, Jamie and Paul over at Alphagov for their assistance.