Today saw the launch of Liberal Democrat member of the London assembly, Mike Tuffrey‘s campaign to secure the party’s nomination for 2012’s Mayoral contest. Puffbox has been working with Mike for the last couple of weeks to put together a digital package that’s fairly modest for now, but with scope for expansion depending on how the party membership votes in August.
There isn’t much to say about the technical side of the new website: it’s a fairly straightforward WordPress custom theme, with posts for timely content, pages for background, and a custom homepage template. There’s an automated photo gallery, where you can access the full-size versions of any images uploaded to the site, but that’s about as clever as it gets. But it does everything it should, and all hangs together nicely.
The design is a bit of a departure, though: bigger, bolder and more vertical than usual, influenced to a significant extent by iPad apps. I’ve been particularly keen to experiment with presenting the text in columns, using a custom plugin which reclaims the WordPress ‘more’ button (which nobody ever uses). With the initial tranche of content, there aren’t too many examples of this, but you’ll have to trust me; it’s there.
Of course there are issues with columns on the web: they only really work when there’s ‘the right amount’ of text per page, with the column height fitting the (likely) screen resolution. Of course, this is where the iPad, and indeed the Kindle, benefit: you know exactly what screen size you’ll be dealing with. On the web, there’s no such luxury, so we can only base it on assumptions. But my instinct is that the benefit to readability makes it worth the risk.
Supporting the website, we’ve sorted out Google Apps accounts for the campaign team; and there’s a Mailchimp-based mailing list, only doing RSS-powered alerts for now, but with scope for specially-written mailshots in due course. Thinking ahead, we’re asking people to indicate where they live in London, which will allow us to run geo-targeted campaigns further down the line.
Now… thus far, Puffbox has a 100% record with political candidates: everyone we’ve built a site for has been successful in the electoral campaign they were fighting. Mike faces competition for the LibDem candidacy from Lembit Opik, with rumours of one or two others throwing their hats into the ring before nominations close at the end of the week. Of course, if Mike wins this initial contest, you wouldn’t perhaps be too confident about us preserving our perfect record against both Boris and Ken. But Mike’s keen to make full use of online in his campaigning; and his position as the inevitable underdog might give us scope to have some fun with it.
The result of the candidate selection is (currently) due to be announced on 12 August. Will it be glorious?
Tickets have just gone on sale for this summer’s UK WordCamp, to be hosted by the University of Portsmouth in mid-July. If you fancy coming along for two jam-packed days of chat, code and creativity, and you fancy saving yourself a few quid, head over to the site and buy your tickets before 3 June – the price goes up by a tenner after that.
We’re delighted to confirm that Puffbox is continuing its sponsorship of the event; we’re the only sponsor to have been there since the very beginning.
I discovered something rather disturbing in my website referrer data this afternoon; according to the otherwise reputable Wikio, puffbox.com is now ranked in the top 50 of UK technology blogs, and has been since last November. In fact, it’s been as high as no31 in previous months.
This either means the site is much more popular than I ever realised; or Wikio’s algorithm needs work. For now, I’m assuming the latter.
I’m almost certainly going to regret this in due course: but here’s the Wikio widget, proudly declaring the site’s current position:
Currently listening to: Phil Lynott’s Yellow Pearl, unquestionably the best TOTP theme tune. (Discuss.)
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.
Late last year, Puffbox helped Defra move its main corporate website over to WordPress. One of the grand concepts underpinning the project was the use of WordPress’s multisite (formerly MU) functionality, allowing us to run multiple websites using the same installation. We launched with only one child site, for News – probably the easiest one, at that. But straight away, we began making much more ambitious plans.
Like everywhere around Whitehall, the start of a new tax year was to bring various contractual and organisational changes at Defra: and it was set as our deadline for the next phase of work, spinning off many more child sites. The good news is, all went well, and they’re now managing 20 distinct sites through the same WordPress installation – some carrying their own identities, some nested deep (and hopefully seamlessly) within the Defra design.
The first task was to rebuild the output themes from scratch – yes, already. For the initial launch, we had simply dropped WordPress code into Defra’s existing Dreamweaver-based output templates, and grafted some additional CSS on to their existing stylesheets, which were already in need of a good clear-out. They were never going to be able to support a platform consisting of literally dozens of child sites.
We now render the pages using something akin to a multi-level theme framework:
- Every site is built on the ‘base’ theme, which defines the layout, and the bulk of the functionality, but has no imagery or colours attached to it. This theme is effectively hidden on the platform, and will never be used directly.
- There’s then a corporate (‘root’) theme, a child theme of ‘base’ in WP terms, which adds the departmental colour scheme and logo. This theme is used by the top-level site, which contains most of the corporate information. It adds a custom template for the top-level homepage, but that’s about it.
- We then have a number of further Defra-branded child themes, defined as children of the ‘base’ theme, but also referencing the ‘root’ stylesheet for colour and branding. Depending on functionality, there may be additional templates or functions: so for example, the News theme/site has its own homepage, and the theme used by the Publications and Statistics sites has its own approach to presenting attached files.
- Finally, there’s a ‘custom’ theme for use by sites within the extended Defra family. This uses the same ‘base’ theme for layout; but includes additional WordPress functionality – mostly built-in, if you know where to look – to customise the branding and colour palette via the admin interface. Upload a logo, choose two colours, and bingo – a unique child site, which still retains the basic house style, maintains its connections to the wider Defra network, but whose management can be devolved to an arms-length business unit. Everyone’s a winner.
Needless to say, there are countless custom functions behind the scenes to stitch it all together – simple things like forcing a particular sitewide tab to be highlighted, to make a child site seem like it’s within a particular branch of the corporate site. (Although actually, that one wasn’t simple at all.)
And there are one or two new custom plugins which add pretty significant functionality, including one to implement a site-wide shared taxonomy. This has the potential to automatically surface related items across the network, and is pretty exciting – although we won’t see its benefits for some time.
As you can imagine, moving such a large quantity of material into such a radically different publishing model has frequently been challenging. We’re still finding our feet in certain areas, and it goes without saying, we’re pushing WordPress harder than ever. A few glitches here and there are inevitable; but we’ve had nothing too catastrophic. With a proper staging environment now in place, all our code being managed through Subversion, and a WordPress-based bug tracker to log any issues, it’s all gone relatively smoothly.
I can’t say enough about the contributions from Simon Wheatley and Team Defra; my front-end work was completed pretty early on, and I’ve really just been a spectator whilst the serious lifting and shifting has been happening. But once again, the Defra guys have been an absolute pleasure to work with, giving us more room to experiment and innovate than we’d ever dare ask for. Thanks guys.
A month or two ago, to be perfectly honest, I would have struggled to find Djibouti on a map. But for the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a project to launch one man’s campaign to become its President: and the site went live this week.
Djibouti is a former French colony, located on the Horn of Africa, slightly larger than Wales, population well under a million. It’s a key port for the region. It also shares a border with Somalia, sits across the water from Yemen, and is home to large French and American military bases. And it’s having a Presidential election next year. The current incumbent won a second term in 2005, with a mere 100% majority; and this year, they changed the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term.
Djiboutian businessman Abdourahman Boreh has now declared himself an opposition candidate for next April’s election; he is being represented by a London-based PR consultancy, MHP Communications, who brought me in to build a website for the campaign: not voter-facing as such, more as a resource to help establish his credentials internationally.
The site is built on WordPress: primarily pages rather than posts, at this early stage anyway. But significantly, it’s in two languages – English and French, with a long-term possibility of adding Arabic. It soon became clear that fudging the multilingual functionality wouldn’t work: so it’s the first time I’ve used WPML, the leading WordPress plugin for content in more than one language.
To be perfectly frank, WPML has been a bit hit-and-miss. When it works, it’s absolutely brilliant: but some things just haven’t worked at all. I’ve had to deploy various workarounds, sometimes going as far as coding whole new plugins or widgets. And some features, even relatively run-of-the-mill things, I’ve simply had to drop. It’s a great solution for multilingual content; but be prepared for some unpleasant side-effects.
The feature I’m most proud of is also language-related; but is something I’ve coded myself. We’re inviting people to leave comments on most pages; and we’re using a WPML meta-plugin to merge the comment threads between translations. In other words, if you leave a comment on the English version, it’ll also appear at the bottom of the French version. But what if you don’t speak the other language?
Thanks to Google’s translation API, and a bit of jQuery, you can click on a link under each comment to translate it – instantly, and in place – into English or French. Oh, and Arabic if you fancy that too. Try it on this page… but don’t use up my entire API usage limit, please. Obviously we’re in Google’s hands as regards the translations’ quality: the French is certainly pretty accurate, and the Arabic… well, it looks about right anyway.
I’m also quite pleased with the ‘world time’ thing in the top corner: not only is it useful as a clock – but by placing dots on the map, it’s a subtle way of reminding people where Djibouti actually is; and it underlines the strategic connections with France and the US (plus, by extension, the UN). The times are generated based on proper timezone data, and hence should remain accurate all year.
This time round, I’ve done all the design and coding myself. But I’ve had help with the configuration of the WordPress platform, from none other than Mike Little, the man who co-founded WordPress. Mike knows far more about server setups than I (hopefully!) ever will; he’s done a great job tweaking things just that little bit more than normal: so whilst it’s hardly military-level secure, it’s certainly more robust than your average WordPress site – with very little compromising on usability.
It’s been a challenging project, taking me into new territory in several respects, and all the more enjoyable for it. It’s only by doing projects like these, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, that you really improve as a designer / developer / producer.
So far, Puffbox has a 100% record with political candidates: every one we’ve ever worked for has been successful. We’ll see if this hot streak is maintained next April.
|simond||Right, I think everything is sorted for tomorrow’s #WordUpWhitehall event. Now, I must go and count my unhatched chickens.||Tue 19:06:58|
|nickmhalliday||RT @simond: Right, I think everything is sorted for tomorrow’s #WordUpWhitehall event. Now, I must go and count my unhatched chickens.> good||Tue 19:11:26|
|johnthegeo||On my way to the Caledonian Sleeper on the way to #WordUpWhitehall. 5 hours ahead of @martinjohnyoung but on same train as @contactsimon.||Tue 21:37:50|
|lesteph||Suitcase half-unpacked, doing late night slides for my session with @treepixie on http://www.bis.gov.uk/growth for #WordUpWhitehall||Tue 22:15:05|
|simond||@neillyneil So far it’s been #wordupwhitehall in full. Long but accurate.||Wed 07:14:19|
|simond||The #WordUpWhitehall donuts have arrived. Be punctual or accept leftovers.||Wed 07:17:43|
|mikelittlezed1||On my way to #WordUpWhitehall, just rehearsed my presentation and it came in at 14 mins. Yeah right! Like that’s gonna happen.||Wed 07:26:48|
|westi||I hope everyone has a great time at #WordUpWhitehall today – sad that I’ve gone down with an illness at completely the wrong time||Wed 07:32:41|
|neillyneil||@simond @rphosking I’m in Kingsgate House, 3rd floor. Shout me when you get here. At your service. #wordupwhitehall||Wed 07:51:04|
|simoneverest||Looking forward to attending #WordUpWhitehall – presenting at same, less so!||Wed 07:51:57|
|davemee||@simond #wordupwhitehall ? Waah! No-one tells me about these things. Hope it goes well.||Wed 07:52:47|
|neillyneil||@simoneverest glad you are, though. Crowd on your side! #wordupwhitehall||Wed 07:54:14|
|neillyneil||Warning anyone coming to #wordupwhitehall – I’ve got new Moo mini business cards and am not afraid to use them.||Wed 07:55:58|
|simond||Note to #WordUpWhitehall attendees: please dress to match your Twitter icon, to aid recognition.||Wed 07:56:01|
|ingridk||RT @simond: Note to #WordUpWhitehall attendees: please dress to match your Twitter icon, to aid recognition.||Wed 07:57:46|
|simoneverest||Just added nice comments about BIS/DIUS/BERR to my #wordupwhitehall pres (@neillyneil @lesteph 😉 )||Wed 08:09:15|
|contactsimon||@simond Damn…I left my curly-hair wig at home. It’s ok, I’ll print out a pic of Mick Hucknall and stick it to my face #WordUpWhitehall||Wed 08:21:35|
|neillyneil||@simond @rphosking Sorted – Reception will call my Bberry when folk arrive for #wordupwhitehall (or they can tweet me) and I’ll collect ’em||Wed 08:40:35|
|scrumph||Am suffering greatly from “more haste; less speed” this morning. On my way to #wordup but i’m not going to be early… :/ see you soonish||Wed 09:16:10|
|karentriggs||LSC digital manager @alicecilsmith has left the building and is en route to #wordupwhitehall||Wed 09:34:36|
|jonworth||@Simond opening #wordup Whitehall, joking about whether Matt Mullenweg or Mike Little started #Wordpress||Wed 09:40:03|
|lesteph||That @simond, who’s done more than most for WordPress in govt, kicking off #wordupwhitehall with the history of WP||Wed 09:41:31|
|lesteph||8.5% of web runs WordPress, says @simond #wordupwhitehall #madeupstats http://yfrog.com/47pw1j||Wed 09:45:57|
|nickmhalliday||RT @lesteph: 8.5% of web runs WordPress, says @simond #wordupwhitehall #madeupstats http://yfrog.com/47pw1j > allegedly||Wed 09:49:33|
|davecoveney||Settling in at #wordup Whitehall. Simon Dickson is introducing the day’s proceedings.||Wed 09:49:49|
|psychemedia||Looks like a good tag for today could be #WordUpWhitehall http://bit.ly/cDtPno||Wed 09:54:51|
|cyberdoyle||RT @psychemedia: Looks like a good tag for today could be #WordUpWhitehall http://bit.ly/cDtPno||Wed 09:57:25|
|PBAge||Looks like a good tag for today could be #WordUpWhitehall http://bit.ly/cDtPno /via @psychemedia||Wed 09:57:44|
|nickmhalliday||@lesteph talking about magic of #wordpress #wordup||Wed 10:07:43|
|neillyneil||#wordupwhitehall @lesteph unveiling the super-flexible Commentariat2 theme – limitless layout options for non coders. See readandcomment.com||Wed 10:10:41|
|jkerrstevens||RT @lesteph: 8.5% of web runs WordPress, says @simond #wordupwhitehall #madeupstats http://yfrog.com/47pw1j||Wed 10:10:55|
|b3rn||RT @neillyneil: #wordupwhitehall @lesteph unveiling the super-flexible Commentariat2 theme – limitless layout options for non coders. See readandcomment.com||Wed 10:11:10|
|simoneverest||@lesteph’s Commentariat 2 #WordPress theme is a thing of beauty #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:11:27|
|nickmhalliday||#wordupwhitehall now using correct handle, either way good stuff||Wed 10:14:37|
|neillyneil||@treepixie says she is the bridge between digital and policy wonks -this is so true, every team should have one #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:16:27|
|neillyneil||Readandcomment.com sites can be deployed within half an hour -and that’s often what govt needs #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:19:23|
|cyberdoyle||RT @neillyneil: Readandcomment.com sites can be deployed within half an hour -and that’s often what govt needs #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:20:29|
|nickmhalliday||RT @simoneverest: @lesteph’s Commentariat 2 #WordPress theme is a thing of beauty #wordupwhitehall > yup||Wed 10:20:57|
|paul_clarke||@neillyneil does that mean a greater potential to act without thinking things through? 😉 #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:21:15|
|cyberdoyle||RT @neillyneil: #wordupwhitehall @lesteph unveiling the super-flexible Commentariat2 theme – limitless layout options for non coders. See readandcomment.com||Wed 10:23:56|
|lesteph||RT @neillyneil: @treepixie is the bridge between digital and policy wonks – this is so true, every team should have one #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:26:02|
|neillyneil||@simoncollister talking about @wearesocial work for NHS #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:34:58|
|lesteph||Interesting to hear @wearesocial’s Reach, Engagement, Visibility scoring for online influencers from @simoncollister #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:37:08|
|simoneverest||Work-relevant conferences shouldn’t be this cool #wordupwhitehall – hearing about insight tools from @wearesocial @simoncolister||Wed 10:39:20|
|nickmhalliday||RT @simoneverest: Work-relevant conferences shouldn’t be this cool #wordupwhitehall – insight tools from @wearesocial @simoncolister > fab||Wed 10:40:02|
|neillyneil||Marmarati, Tesco fashion and now this. I’m increasingly wowed by @wearesocial’s approach #wordupwhitehall @simoncollister||Wed 10:42:46|
|lesteph||Now, @marxculture on using WordPress to publish #opendata http://www.transparency.culture.gov.uk #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:49:51|
|contactsimon||This is what I’ve wanted for ages, the digital engagement equivalent of a media database…@simoncollister can we talk? #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:50:24|
|nickmhalliday||RT @neillyneil: Marmarati, Tesco fashion and now this. I’m increasingly wowed by @wearesocial’s approach #wordupwhitehall @simoncollister >||Wed 10:51:26|
|smithsam||@lesteph where is #wordupwhitehall ? May be able to stop by for a bit later and say hi||Wed 10:53:11|
|neillyneil||@marxculture is using WordPress as quick fix to overcome shortcomings of 60 partners’ legacy CMSs & suppliers for #opendata #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:55:12|
|neillyneil||Always fun to watch a non Mac user click the red cross in the corner of a window and expect it to close the app #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:56:52|
|simoncollister||@ContactSimon hey Simon. That was our thought initially too! Love to chat over lunch. #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:57:30|
|simonwheatley||Department of Culture Media & Sport have just launched their transparency data on WordPress, as demoed by CIO @marxculture #wordupwhitehall||Wed 10:59:02|
|Treepixie||love DoH/ Simon Collister’s evaluation methods, can I steal? #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:05:42|
|lesteph||Every open source tool considered shd be at least as secure as the equiv Microsoft offering’ – @marxculture on gov OSS #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:13:00|
|davidpidsley||RT @lesteph: ‘Every open source tool considered shd be at least as secure as the equiv Microsoft offering’ – @marxculture on gov OSS #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:13:54|
|simoneverest||RT @lesteph: ‘Every open source tool considered shd be at least as secure as the equiv Microsoft offering’ – @marxculture on gov OSS #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:20:03|
|simoneverest||RT @Treepixie: love DoH/ Simon Collister’s evaluation methods, can I steal? #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:20:28|
|Treepixie||more than 10% of this audience is called Simon, it’s nickname time! #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:20:29|
|neillyneil||Top prize goes to @davecoveney for whizziest slide transitions #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:22:49|
|simonwheatley||Passionate presentation from @davecoveney on the evolution of a site from quiet traffic blog to CEO blog. #wordup http://yfrog.com/n0arkhj||Wed 11:29:50|
|lesteph||Nice story from @davecoveney about how a no-cost WP.com internal blog evolved to become a primary communication #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:31:05|
|nickmhalliday||RT @lesteph: Nice story from @davecoveney how a no-cost WP.com internal blog evolved to become a primary communication #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:32:20|
|lesteph||Link to that @davecoveney example of a blogging council chief exec for urban regeneration: http://janbritton.org/ #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:33:52|
|wwdmartin||@johnthegeo has kindly given me 3g wifi – some great stuff going on at #wordupwhitehall and I’m still awake! 🙂||Wed 11:35:10|
|neillyneil||Er… Is that really a hit counter on http://janbritton.org/ ? #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:35:34|
|Treepixie||@davecoveney talking about using WordPress to sidestep bureaucracy, definitely our experience too #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:37:04|
|neillyneil||RT @Treepixie: @davecoveney talking about using WordPress to sidestep bureaucracy, definitely our experience too #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:37:57|
|wwdmartin||@davecoveney showing great example of strategic corporate blogging. Need to twist some arms… #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:38:48|
|wwdmartin||personal highlight is DCMS transparency site, all built in WP and easy to replicate – hope to steal some ideas #wordupwhitehall||Wed 11:41:16|
|qwghlm||At #wordupwhitehall (@ Kingsgate House) http://4sq.com/9W4vcB||Wed 12:04:09|
|davidthep||Wishing everyone all the best from afar for #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:06:41|
|Luke_Oatham||RT @neillyneil Er… Is that really a hit counter on http://janbritton.org/ ? #wordupwhitehall < Bless!||Wed 12:12:54|
|wordcampuk||A big hello from #wordcampuk to everyone at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:28:41|
|lesteph||Wowed by @simoneverest on Defra’s use of WordPress for serious corporate use: http://bit.ly/9sIdDh and http://bit.ly/cwR6pN #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:31:57|
|Treepixie||RT @wordcampuk: A big hello from #wordcampuk to everyone at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:33:27|
|neillyneil||Nice coinage by @simoneverest – “stratical” or “tactegic” #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:33:45|
|nickmhalliday||Simon Everest new word #stratical cross tactical and strategy @simoneverest #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:34:27|
|Treepixie||@simoneverest hilarious tongue in cheek use of David Brent-esque words ‘stractical or tactegic’ #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:36:17|
|draml||RT @neillyneil: Nice coinage by @simoneverest – “stratical” or “tactegic” #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:36:50|
|nickmhalliday||Stunning presentation by @simoneverest very polished, funny and powerful #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:41:46|
|lesteph||Comments don’t have to be published’ – @simoneverest on using WP comments as a private feedback channel. Brilliant. #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:43:45|
|wwdmartin||Comments as private feedback = genius. @simoneverest on fast moving WP implementation at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:48:29|
|tonys||RT @wordcampuk: A big hello from #wordcampuk to everyone at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:52:22|
|lesteph||The sound of a whole room leaning forward as @simonwheatley talks about scaling WordPress sites for high loads #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:53:50|
|nickmhalliday||#icannotbelieveitsfree big thanks to all organisers, presenters of #wordupwhitehall actually priceless info, background, knowledge – cheers!||Wed 12:54:14|
|neillyneil||I want to know what mac software @qwghlm is using to take notes. Full screen, simple, very cool. #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:55:07|
|neillyneil||RT @lesteph: The sound of a whole room leaning forward as @simonwheatley talks about scaling WordPress sites for high loads #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:55:52|
|mrchrisadams||Great to see WordPress being adopted and used so well on UK.gov sites. http://bit.ly/9sIdDh & http://bit.ly/cwR6pN #wordupwhitehall||Wed 12:57:20|
|nickmhalliday||RT @lesteph: ‘Comments don’t have to be published’ – @simoneverest using WP comments as private feedback channel. Brilliant #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:05:39|
|wwdmartin||@simonwheatley just delivered best explanation of WP backend and server side workings I’ve ever heard at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:09:52|
|Treepixie||RT @lesteph: The sound of a whole room leaning forward as @simonwheatley talks about scaling WordPress sites for high loads #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:10:38|
|1jh||The Twitter feed from #wordupwhitehall is very interesting. Hope it’s going well. Great job @simond!||Wed 13:11:04|
|simonwheatley||Totally overran my time to talk about scaling WordPress websites for high levels of traffic. Good fun, thanks for listening #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:27:15|
|nickmhalliday||Wrong room syndrome #tootechnicalforme #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:32:50|
|simoneverest||RT @wwdmartin: @simonwheatley just delivered best explanation of WP backend and server side workings I’ve ever heard at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:33:31|
|CarolynWillitts||RT @wwdmartin: @simonwheatley just delivered best explanation of WP backend and server side workings I’ve ever heard at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:33:55|
|CarolynWillitts||RT @lesteph: The sound of a whole room leaning forward as @simonwheatley talks about scaling WordPress sites for high loads #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:34:05|
|simonwheatley||RT @wordcampuk: A big hello from #wordcampuk to everyone at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:35:58|
|simonwheatley||RT @lesteph: ‘Every open source tool considered shd be at least as secure as the equiv Microsoft offering’ – @marxculture on gov OSS #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:38:38|
|neillyneil||Starting to yearn for some balance. What isn’t WordPress perfect for? What are the downsides? #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:41:58|
|simoneverest||@simonwheatley suspect any overrunning was down to me? #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:45:38|
|lesteph||@neillyneil Let’s brainstorm some. Workflow, masses of content, many multiple languages, sites with tonnes of comments? #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:49:08|
|wwdmartin||About to present at #wordupwhitehall – be kind||Wed 13:50:23|
|lesteph||A nice thing about #wordupwhitehall is that most of the presenters seem to spend more of their days coding than presenting||Wed 13:56:12|
|paul_clarke||RT @lesteph: A nice thing about #wordupwhitehall is that most of the presenters seem to spend more of their days coding than presenting||Wed 13:57:45|
|rphosking||#wordupwhitehall yum! http://yfrog.com/my38vbj||Wed 13:58:57|
|contactsimon||@wwdmartin reprazents for @DFID_UK http://twitpic.com/2x9qf3 #wordupwhitehall||Wed 13:59:37|
|simonwheatley||A rather belated Twitter list for #wordupwhitehall @simonwheatley/wordup-whitehall||Wed 14:03:13|
|lesteph||Listening to @johnthegeo on WP at DFID for an internal discussion platform on IT, staff ideas and senior blogged #wordupwhitehall||Wed 14:04:23|
|neillyneil||RT @simonwheatley: A rather belated Twitter list for #wordupwhitehall @simonwheatley/wordup-whitehall||Wed 14:05:52|
|simoneverest||Having numerous eureka/hallelujah moments at DFID intranet WordPress pres #wordupwhitehall||Wed 14:09:18|
|neillyneil||Very encouraged by @johnthegeo sorting out authentication to use WordPress internally #wordupwhitehall||Wed 14:27:35|
|nickmhalliday||RT @simoneverest: Having numerous eureka/hallelujah moments at DFID intranet WordPress pres #wordupwhitehall > yes revelatory||Wed 14:35:13|
|contactsimon||RT @simoneverest: Having numerous eureka moments at DFID intranet WordPress pres #wordupwhitehall < Well done @johnthegeo @wwdmartin||Wed 14:41:32|
|neillyneil||Too much balance! I’ve caused a rumpus at #wordupwhitehall||Wed 15:06:42|
|lesteph||Conflicting views around room on whether holes in security are a #wordpress or scripting language issue #wordupwhitehall||Wed 15:11:11|
|johngoode||RT @neillyneil: Always fun to watch a non Mac user click the red cross in the corner of a window and expect it to close the app #wordupwhitehall||Wed 15:15:59|
|neillyneil||@simond should be very proud of how #wordupwhitehall has gone – should I say “first #wordupwhitehall”? Think it’s got legs.||Wed 15:26:53|
|johnthegeo||Lots of interesting ideas at #wordupwhitehall to scale and manage enterprise scale #wordpress instances.||Wed 15:26:53|
|davecoveney||Interesting bit from @mikelittlezed1 on a staging architecture. Not how we do it, but one we’ll be checking out. #wordupwhitehall||Wed 15:27:03|
|simoneverest||Interesting from @mikelittlezed1 about staging/test configuration potential with WordPress #wordupwhitehall||Wed 15:29:13|
|lesteph||RT @neillyneil: @simond should be very proud of how #wordupwhitehall has gone – should I say “first #wordupwhitehall”? Think it’s got legs.||Wed 15:38:06|
|hmshale||Really enjoyed #WordUpWhitehall. Listening to people talking about the brilliant things they’ve done is good.||Wed 15:58:25|
|simoneverest||RT @neillyneil: @simond should be very proud of how #wordupwhitehall has gone – should I say “first #wordupwhitehall”? Think it’s got legs.||Wed 16:00:35|
|draml||RT @neillyneil: @simond should be very proud of how #wordupwhitehall has gone – should I say “first #wordupwhitehall”? Think it’s got legs.||Wed 16:16:29|
|draml||Fascinating, enjoyable & v useful day at #wordupwhitehall, congrats & thanks to @simond and all involved. Nice to put faces to online names!||Wed 16:18:32|
|simoneverest||At pub with remains of #wordupwhitehall – appears 100% male: a WordPress issue or a pub one? (Adam & Eve on Petty France)||Wed 16:29:25|
|cyberdoyle||@simoneverest boys will be boys. #wordupwhitehall||Wed 16:39:10|
|ShaneMcC||Nicely done by @simond on #wordupwhitehall – thx to @neillyneil and BIS for hosting – next time we need more people not called Simon||Wed 18:08:58|
|scrumph||RT @ShaneMcC: Nicely done by @simond on #wordupwhitehall – thx to @neillyneil and BIS for hosting – next time we need more people not called Simon||Wed 18:32:43|
|scrumph||Really enjoyed #wordupwhitehall useful hearing experiences, issues and optimism of others. Didn’t tweet much as others beat me to comments.||Wed 18:36:31|
|draml||The iPhone battery lasted right thru #wordupwhitehall till I got on the train at Waterloo. Sadly music/podcastless journey home tho.||Wed 18:39:03|
|scrumph||Thanks @simond for organising the first #wordupwhitehall. Where would be a good virtual space to carry on the conversation?||Wed 18:39:32|
|TommyBaines||Enjoyed #wordupwhitehall 2day, great presentations & knowledge sharing. Big thanks to @simond for organising & @bisgovuk for hosting.||Wed 19:21:25|
|johnthegeo||RT @ShaneMcC: Nicely done by @simond on #wordupwhitehall – thx to @neillyneil and BIS for hosting – next time we need more people not called Simon||Wed 20:06:40|
|johnthegeo||Really pleased with the response to our presentation at #wordupwhitehall. Thanks @wwdmartin. Great to meet others with similar challenges.||Wed 20:09:52|
|simond||Table for one at Nando’s on the way home from #wordupwhitehall. If that went half as well as it seemed to go, I’m a happy host.||Wed 20:30:18|
|simond||Stephen Fry, Kylie Minogue, me. That @simonwheatley knows how to start a presentation. #wordupwhitehall||Wed 20:31:58|
|johnthegeo||@simond You should be a happy host indeed. #wordupwhitehall||Wed 20:34:04|
|juliac2||Published small set of photos from #wordupwhitehall event – last 4 in this set http://bit.ly/Zwp5r lots of great wordpress ideas on show||Wed 22:28:01|
|harrym||An excellent day: #wordupwhitehall (props to @simond) followed by dinner with @williamheath and friends, with fabulous food by @mikelib||Wed 22:41:11|
|juliac2||RT @draml: Fascinating, enjoyable & v useful day at #wordupwhitehall, congrats & thanks to @simond and all involved. Nice to put faces to online names!||Wed 22:43:34|
|simoneverest||RT @TommyBaines: Enjoyed #wordupwhitehall 2day, great presentations & knowledge sharing. Big thanks to @simond for organising & @bisgovuk for hosting.||Wed 23:04:50|
|wwdmartin||RT @contactsimon: @wwdmartin reprazents for @DFID_UK http://twitpic.com/2x9qf3 #wordupwhitehall||Wed 23:34:51|
Big day today: it’s Word Up Whitehall, the mini-WordCamp for UK central government people, which I’ve been putting together over the last month or two. I thought it might generate some interest, but I never imagined it would ‘sell out’ in just over 24 hours… and I’m nervously hearing people already talking about ‘the next one’. Gulp.
Why hold such an event? Initially, my reasoning was that there was so much stuff in the 3.0 release of WordPress which wouldn’t be immediately obvious to those who weren’t already fairly deep into the code. Features like custom post types and taxonomies have amazing potential, but many people – even those who would consider themselves ‘power users’, comfortable with themes and plugins – simply wouldn’t see it. An event like this was a chance to demo this stuff, and spark some ideas.
It was also an opportunity to build some WordPress-based connections around government, and between civil servants and government-focussed suppliers. Community is at the heart of the WordPress ethos, and it felt natural to try and foster some of that same community spirit around Whitehall… even to the extent of inviting (notional) business rivals along.
Plus, if I’m honest, I fancied having a go at curating an event like this. I’ve never done it before, and I’ve actually really enjoyed the responsibility of drawing up my own dream running order. (No pressure, guys.)
Why now? Two reasons really. One is the government spending review: it’s no coincidence that we’re doing this a week before George Osborne wields his axe. We need departments to understand that they don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands, or millions, on websites – when the WordPress-based approach will deliver equally good sites, and arguabl better, for a fraction of the price, and in a fraction of the time. Departments need to find savings, and we’re raising our hand to help.
The other is the growing interest of established agencies and The Big Consultancies in WordPress. I’ve had too many bad experiences lately, with people claiming to have WordPress expertise – based on little more than ‘well, how hard can it be?’. The fact is, to get the best from WordPress, you need a thorough knowledge of how it works. Yes, the Famous Five-Minute Install will get your personal blog up and running… but it won’t be industry-strength. The professionals I’ve gathered for the event know this, and we know what to do about it. Frankly, this event is us marking our territory.
The running order features everyone I could have hoped to get along – including Peter Westwood, one of the five WordPress lead developers, and Mike Little, who basically started it all. If anything, I’m wondering if the schedule is too good: each speaker gets just half an hour each, although we’ve got the option for them to ‘get a room!’ if there’s enough interest to extend a particular discussion.
We should have enough bloggers and twitterers in the room to ensure the best bits get thoroughly reported, for those unable to come along, or too slow to bag a ticket. Watch out for tweets with the hashtag #WordUpWhitehall during the day; and I’ll try to collate a list of blog posts after the event.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to cue up some Finnish oompah music, and put my name on a donut.
The Wales Office was where the whole WordPress-in-Whitehall thing started, back in late 2007. As a relatively tiny department whose communications were almost exclusively news-based, a blog-style website was ideal for them. But I still remember nervously going into our first meeting, conscious that we were proposing something quite radical.
It all went remarkably well; ongoing support amounted to barely one phone call every 3-6 months, seeking advice or a quick template tweak. And of course, it sparked interest in WordPress as a platform which government could build on: you can draw a line from the Wales Office, to 10 Downing Street, to BIS, to Defra, to… well, who knows.
Two and a half years on, the list of Things We Really Ought To Do At Some Point was beginning to grow. And with the election leading to a change of government, it was high time we made some of those changes. We pushed the rebuilt sites live yesterday, for Puffbox’s second Whitehall department ‘relaunch’ in two days (after this one). Surely some kind of record?
The templates, originally designed to fit 800×600 screens, have been rebuilt from scratch – but hopefully, very few people will even notice. Once again, the brief has been to keep it looking almost exactly as-was… understandably, in the current conditions.
The main new function is an automated Photo Library, exploiting WordPress 3.0’s image handling. The Wales Office team have always been very good at adding photos to their press notices; but thus far, they were manually resizing them for on-page display. Now they can upload the highest resolution available, and let WordPress resize accordingly. And we can present a set of paginated search results listing all uploaded images, linking to those high-res versions, for media to re-use if they so desire.
It all lives in a WordPress 3.0 multisite (and multi-language) setup, including my first step into theme and plugin internationalisation: the same theme creates both the Welsh and English sites, with WordPress dropping in any Welsh translations from a .PO file. We’re using the somewhat outdated Welsh language pack available from automattic.com; late in the day, I discovered a new translation based on WP3.0, but integrating it (and undo’ing my workarounds) was too much to take on by that point.
And because we’re in multisite mode, it’s an easy job to move all the material from the previous government into an explicit archive site – keeping it all searchable, unlike the National Archives copy.
It’s been interesting to revisit what was my first major WordPress project: a milestone by which to measure both my own development, and WordPress’s. Some of my more, ahem, ingenious workarounds can now hand over to proper, core WP functions; but with features like the Photo Library, I feel we’ve pushed things just a little further again.
A hearty ‘diolch’ to Dean at Eduserv for the server-side stuff; and to the Wales Office team, who keep letting me play with their material.
This morning saw the launch of a new website for Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It looks remarkably like their old one, which was placed in suspended animation after the election. Almost identical, in fact. But behind the scenes, it’s a completely different story.
Thus far, Defra’s website has largely been managed manually, one page at a time, using Dreamweaver. They started using WordPress two years ago: first a blog, then a Commentariat-based commentable document. Puffbox got involved about 12 months ago, helping develop a couple of microsites. And internally, they’ve been running a few pilots, notably with their press office. It’s all been building up to this morning’s unveiling of a new corporate website structure built on a WordPress 3.0-based multisite install.
The ‘top level’ consists entirely of pages (rather than posts) – a fairly modest number to start with, but all thoroughly reviewed and re-edited. Beneath this will be a collection of subsites, of which only one is in place so far, but it’s probably the most significant one – News. There’s a parent theme plus one child theme; most of the presentational elements are defined either in the parent theme, or the ‘top level’ site’s settings. But of course, the subsites also feed content up to the top in some places, such as the News area of the top-level homepage.
It feels like we’ve pushed WordPress to its limits on this one, or certainly closer to its limits than we’ve ever gone before. Files and images are uploaded and managed through WP’s interface, allowing us (for example) to generate and summon thumbnails of multiple sizes for the homepage, whilst storing the highest-resolution images for unspecified future use. 😉 We’re making heavy use of WP3.0’s new ‘custom menus’. We do intend to use comment functionality, although not for ‘conventional’ commenting. And of course, the whole concept is based on WP3.0’s multisite function: I wouldn’t have been comfortable building this on pre-3.0 MU.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we have multiple load-balanced servers, and all sorts of WordPress caching magic – which, although it doesn’t sound exciting or glamorous, is what really lifts this project into the realms of serious web serving. Hopefully by now, you won’t be in any doubt that WordPress can do plenty – but the question often arises, can it do it at scale? Yes it can – but it’s much, much more involved than simply installing a plugin or two. (And sadly, I’ve seen too many instances lately where developers without much WP experience haven’t appreciated that.)
There’s so many other little things I could mention: a quick custom plugin to do X, a little widget to display Y, a dash of jQuery to do Z. And then there’s the other things we’ve built, but haven’t used or activated quite yet. In fact, to be honest, it’s a little frustrating that so much ‘cutting edge’ stuff is concealed behind a year-old front-end.
Mere words are not enough to express my gratitude to Simon Wheatley, whose genius was only exceeded by his dedication on this one. The Defra gang have been fantastic too: they’ve done great work over a long period to reach this point. And they gave us more freedom than we would be entitled to expect, to do it ‘our way’. Thanks, everyone.