Back to Blogging (or, Jetpack Isn’t So Bad, After All)

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Despite all of the sensationalist chatter that blogging is dead, the fact is that a large percentage of the projects that I work on include some sort of blogging component. Some of these are true blogs for the company or cause, and some are simply press releases or other sorts of articles, but, at the end of the day, many sites that I work with include a blog of some type. Because blogging is at the core of WordPress’ DNA, it’s the go-to content management system for the serious blogger. There are simply so many critical components of blogging that it handles out of the box that make it the logical choice.

As much of a mainstay as blogging is, though, I rarely handle a site that is only a blog.

Blogging History 101

I would accept the argument that there are fewer personal bloggers engaging in the medium as we know it. What I mean by that is that many writers who kept long-form blogs made a natural transition to micro-blogging platforms, such as Twitter or Tumblr, as the technology progressed. Still, there are some devoted bloggers out there who maintain sites that are primarily, and only, blogs, either separate from their primary site, or because their only interest is blogging.

That was me. The start of my digital career was in content, and, as for any other writer, a blog was a necessity. I started a blog for a niche audience nearly a decade ago, and I’ve kept it going since. Like most bloggers, its sort of a labor of love for me, and, also like most bloggers, I started out using a free, cloud-hosted solution. In my case, it was Blogger.

That was five years ago, but, as I became more serious about my personal writing projects, and as I began to specialize my development career in WordPress, I quickly outgrew what Blogger could offer and recognized how much better the user experience is in WordPress. So, a few weeks ago, I launched into the extremely, ridiculously overdue project of migrating the blog into my own WordPress install.

And that is the first time I’ve developed a site that’s only and primarily a blog for…well, for a very long time.

The Starting Point

While this was a project that I wanted to handle correctly, I also wanted to be as expedient about it as possible. I knew that I didn’t want to design something completely custom for this, but wanted a minimalist theme that placed the focus on the writing with very little visual clutter. I settled on the Syntax theme by Automattic. So, I was now building a site that was only a blog, using a theme that I hadn’t developed from scratch. These are two unusual scenarios for me.

The Process

The import process from Blogger to WordPress is actually incredibly smooth. If you find yourself embarking on such a project, the Blogger plugin (available under Tools > Import in your WordPress dashboard) handles the actual transfer of content, comments, and images. This was flawless for me. I also used the Categories and Tags Converter plugin (also available under Tools > Import) to convert Blogger’s categories to tags for the new site. This entire process took under an hour.

There were some visual and layout changes that I wanted to make to the site, so I developed a child theme. I spent maybe five hours on this, mostly adding some custom styles, but also adjusting about four template files for layout reasons and doing some content filtering for a custom field that I wanted to use in my posts. I now had a fully-populated blog that was where I wanted it visually. All that was left were some widgets, sharing, and comments and subscriptions functionality.

Enter Jetpack. Yes, I Know…Jetpack

Like most WordPress developers, I have a love-hate relationship with Jetpack. I avoid using it in 98% of my projects unless the client is already invested in it, because its heavy and most clients don’t use it correctly (resulting in performance hits), or don’t use enough of its modules to justify the plugin. That said, since BruteProtect merged with Jetpack, I’ve sort of been moving to a place of acceptance that developers will see fewer options than to include this suite in new sites.

I don’t believe in ruling anything out, and have always said that, if a project presented itself in which Jetpack was the right tool, then it should be used. Oddly, I found myself in exactly that position here.

I needed four widgets on my site, not including search: my Twitter timeline, the blog’s Facebook page, my Goodreads timeline, and an RSS link. Jetpack includes all of these in one module. I needed easy email and comment subscriptions, sharing, spell-checking, and BruteProtect’s functionality (which I always include in my WordPress sites). Jetpack provided all of these options, out of the box. Because I was working with a theme that I hadn’t built, Jetpack gave me a quick and simple channel to add a favicon via the WordPress dashboard. Add site monitoring, and this was beginning to look attractive.

The important factor to consider here was…and this is key…I was using very few plugins for this project, only five others, to be exact. Because the site was that lightweight, I was less hesitant to try Jetpack. I’ll say, too, that, once installed, the features that I needed in Jetpack worked smoothly and streamlined the time that I spent on the project a great deal.

After that, all that was left was the time-consuming work of re-directs from the old site, and I had a spiffy new blog ready for the world.

Conclusion

I still would be very hesitant to use Jetpack on most sites, because I still think that it’s heavy and bloated. I hold out hope that some of its features, like JSON API endpoints, will be baked into core one day (I also really wish that post and comment email subscriptions would be included in core, as well). In most cases, though, a small number of other plugins, or functionality that I build from scratch, is a better alternative.

However, for a simple blog that required a specific and basic feature set, and needed to be turned around quickly, I found Jetpack to be very worthwhile. The amount of development time that it saved me on this project was huge, and it allowed me to focus on other important aspects of the project.

You can check out the finished product here.

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