It has always seemed unnecessarily complicated to me. But there it is, there are two of them. They do different things and it helps to understand what those are, especially if you want to set up your own site using WordPress.
You are at a computer (or phone or laptop or smart TV) and you are looking at a website – this one, for example.
How are you seeing that website? It is being delivered to you by an internet service provider, which in South Africa could be Telkom or MWeb, for example, or a cellphone company, either over actual cables, or via wireless technology.
But where is the website? It is lives on the big computers of a hosting company, which provides a space for the site’s files and makes sure it is viewable on the web.
Got all that? Back to WordPress.
WordPress.com gives you the ability to have a website/blog without worrying about the hosting part of things. They do the hosting. Your URL (web address) might look like this though: www.craftgroup.wordpress.co.za. That’s good for your family genealogy site, or your craft group, or your church youth group. You can do this yourself because setting up a site on WordPress.com happens on the site, in a step-by-step process.
If you are running a business, though, you might want something more professional: a URL that says www.yourbusiness.co.za. To get that you’re going to have to register your URL and find a hosting company, and then find a way to get your blog/site into the innards of that company. The software from WordPress.org that runs your site will sit with whatever host you have chosen. It is usually easier to pay a professional to sort this out for you.
What happens then?
Whether you have your site on WordPress.com, or on hosted by another company, you will use the WordPress publishing program to make changes to your website.
If you are a non-technical person this is probably already more information that you need. In that case, start here:
Do you want a simple blog for personal use, and are happy for the web address to have the word WordPress in it? Then head to WordPress .com.
Do you want a website for a business or any other professional purpose? Then head to WordPress.org – or hire someone who can help you through this process.
Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media) – or if you would like a little WordPress coaching.
A long time ago I did a four-day project management course at the Graduate School of Business in Cape Town. At the time I was on the staff at a large news website, and working with technical teams in various aspects of changing or launching websites. Project management was happening all around me.
These days, I am project managing the production of a book for a local publisher, and glad of the skills I have gained over the years.
Some projects are obviously much more complicated than others: the construction of an office block is a lot more work than the construction of a small garden shed. But the same principles underpin all of them.
Project management is a big field, and I absolutely do not pretend to be an expert. However, there are some fundamentals that might be a useful starting point for anyone who is about to take on project management for the first time
1. There are three key strands in any project: time, money and scope (the size of the project, and how many features it has). They all add up to quality (or lack of it). A project manager needs to keep an eye on all three elements, and understand which of them takes priority in any given project. If it doesn’t matter when the garden shed is finished and ready for occupation by the wheelbarrows, then you can take a relaxed view when the client decides they want the garden shed to be a double-storey. If budget is the most important factor, then you must keep the scope rigidly in check so as not to increase the cost. Project management is essentially a balancing act aimed at an end result that is a quality-driven as possible.
2. Relationships are key. Conflict or poor communication can derail a project faster than any other factor, so the project manager needs to make sure that all parties are equally respected, valued and kept informed of all the things that affect them. The person who is expected to lay the foundation for the garden shed needs to know what day it must happen – and should feel that they are an integral part of creating the whole.
3. Keeping track of all the elements is next on the list. Whether it’s a complex spreadsheet or a battered notebook, there must be one central place where all the strands are held together, and a calendar (physical or digital) with all the milestones noted. All this documentation needs to be maintained and changed as things go along.
4. Understand that something will go wrong. Add in time to allow for things going wrong. If you think it will take two weeks, assume that it will actually take three weeks. Seriously – there is no getting around this. Unexpected things will happen, and your plan will change.
People who work on newspapers or on news websites speak often of “the system”. Sometimes they mean it in a general sense (the way in which the world is run, or how their company works) – but mostly they mean the computer program that they use to write or edit their articles. These staffers sometimes don’t know that the system (which is often hated) has another, longer name: it is actually a content management system, or CMS.
The CMSes used to make newspapers or big news websites are complex affairs because they allow many people to work on various pieces of content at the same time. That multi-user setup requires various levels of access to the system, and the ability to move pieces of content to different departments, where people will do different things to each piece of content. An article may be written, then edited, then illustrated by different sets of people.
Today – August 8, 2018 – there’s a poll on the News24 website on the topic of breastfeeding. It asks:
Is breastfeeding in public scandalous?
Yes, it’s something that should be done in private
No, but cover yourself
No, it’s natural and breasts aren’t just for men’s sexual pleasure
The results of the News24 poll.
The poll is just one way of asking a question about a burning issue – using what I think of as the “putting words in people’s mouths” option.
On the same day, MSN South Africa is using the same option for the poll choices:
Could SA become the next Zimbabwe?
Yes, we are well on our way
No, people are afraid of change
It’s already too late for us
Things will never ‘get that bad’
I’m ready to emigrate
The results of the MSN South Africa poll
W24 has the other kind of poll, the one where the vote options are narrowed down simple yes/no choices – it is asking:
Are you attending the #TotalShutdown march?
The results of the Woman24 poll.
All three are framed in a multiple choice format, and you don’t see the results of the poll until you have voted.
None of these polls will yield a scientific result, of course – they are really just little bits of Internet fluff, designed to draw readers’ attention to an issue, or drive them to read a story, or perhaps just to generate a few more clicks.
Yet they are all over the Internet, and if they are part of the furniture, then why not do them well?
I have a seat-of-the-pants set of guidelines to making polls. Here they are*:
The options should be clear and easy for readers to understand. And broadly applicable. I’d argue that the third option in the News24 poll doesn’t reflect a broad consensus. Lots of people probably think breast-feeding is natural – but it’s unclear how many of those would venture the opinion “breasts aren’t just for men’s sexual pleasure”. The option is harder to choose when so narrowly framed – so No, it’s natural would probably have done the job.
The options should not overlap – they should be different enough that a genuine choice has to be made. In the MSN poll the options are not clearly different from each other. Yes, we are well on our way, and It’s already too late for us are options on the same continuum. People are afraid of change is hard to understand and people might be ready to emigrate for reasons other than a fear that South Africa is likely to become like Zimbabwe. My options as potential answers might have been a simple Yes/No/Maybe. And if I had to put words in people’s mouths I might have done it like this:
Could SA become the next Zimbabwe?
It’s a distinct possibility
No, we are a great country
We are already the next Zimbabwe!
To get nuance right, run your poll past someone else – if they look blank, or bored, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
Above all, put yourself in the reader’s shoes: run the question and options through in your mind as if you were seeing them for the first time. Do they make sense? Do they represent the sort of choices that most people might pick?
* I am doing some critique of the three polls I used as examples – not to show the particular sites up, but rather in a spirit of constructive criticism. I have made many flawed polls in my time!
Writing in Russian cyrillic script with a fountain pen. Picture: Petar Milošević, Wikimedia Commons
Is writing for the web different from any other kind of writing?
The short answer is not really.
Writing on any platform should follow the same basic rules: good sense, good grammar and spelling, good reasoning. Clarity and conciseness. Lack of jargon. No padding… and so on.
That said, there are some things that need special attention on the web – and those are largely to do with the fact that the reader is not looking a text on a page. Let’s break this down.
When you are reading text on a page:
* You can see the text in a large context – if it’s in a newspaper or magazine, you can see the article in one glance along with its pictures and headlines and pull quotes and so on.
* You are likely to be spending a little time with text – with a book or a newspaper, there’s a built-in expectation that the reader has sat down metaphorically with a cup of tea or coffee and is going to read and inwardly digest as the saying goes.
When you are reading text on a screen:
* You don’t necessarily see all the related content at once – you have to scroll in one way or another to get to the pictures and other illustrations.
* You might be looking at a phone or a tablet in very small bits of time – quickly in a queue, or while sitting at a traffic light.
Studies suggest that people scan screens in particular ways – there is a whole field of research called eyetracking with keeps tabs on this, and the latest research suggests that people scan a page in a F-Shaped pattern. There’s a lot of detail on that but the takeaway for the purposes of this articles is making an assumption that people start at the top of an article and read to the bottom is not useful. Research also shows that when people encounter text which is not formatted for the web, they are likely to lose interest and click away:
“the vast majority of the web users would rather finish their tasks as fast as possible with the minimum amount of effort; they visit a page because they want to find a quick answer rather than read a dissertation on the topic and educate themselves.”
So the way in which text is formatted can be very important in keeping people reading. Vital elements of formatting for the web (or the smartphone) include:
Bolding important words
Bulleted lists (like this one!)
Headings and subheadings
Making sure the important information is easy to find
Visually grouping related content
Including pictures, maps and graphics
In other words, break the text up. Long screens on text simply don’t cut it!