Can a WordPress theme be used as your brand?

WordPress LogoI received an interesting question recently.

I’m using the 2010 theme.  I have not found any other that I like better. Now, I’m advised that I should have the same theme running through ALL of my social media. Is it possible to use the 2010 theme for my LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

The short answer is, “No.” (In some forums, other people might embellish it with more colorful phrases.)

I could leave it at that, walk away and be totally justified. But I think exploring what could be the motivation behind the question adds value.

The second definition at Dictionary.com puts it this way:

Theme, n., a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art.

Let’s contrast that by borrowing a few phrases from WordPress’ use of the word Theme:

Fundamentally, the WordPress Theme system is a way to “skin” your weblog. Yet, it is more than just a “skin.” WordPress Themes… provide much more control over the look and presentation of the material on your website.

A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.

Your social media presence, much like your presence in the greater marketing world, should have a common theme (the dictionary version) running through them. Some might call it a brand. This could include a logo, colors, typeface, tagline, or more. Some social media services allow you to make some customizations (Twitter and Facebook both let you do this to an extent).

Can a WordPress theme become your brand?

If a theme inspires or guides you, I think that’s great. You might borrow some colors from it, or take a hint in typography selection.

However, unless your theme was created specifically for you, it probably won’t work very well as a brand, especially if it is a popular one from the theme repository or one of the major theme companies.

In this case, the Twenty Ten theme is hardly distinctive. It is used on thousands of websites around the globe. Aside from the header image (which many people will change), there is little that would make it stand out. The colors are simply black and white, the fonts are nearly ubiquitous, and, at least out of the box, there is no logo that says “This is my website!”

If your website or blog is new, don’t waste time agonizing over your theme or your brand. Just make sure your theme is clean and the text is readable.

If you want to build  your site, concentrate on adding content. Search engines don’t care whether your words are set in Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. More importantly, people can’t read the words that aren’t there.

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Bluehost (Hosting) vs. WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com

I received a question today via email from someone I met at WordCamp Detroit 2011. First, go to these things. The next WordCamp  Detroit is October 6, 2012. They are great educational events. And if you know a few things and are pleasant to people, they will remember (and recommend!) you.

Second, the question reminded me just how much ignorance and confusion still exists about WordPress.

Here’s the question:

I was wondering what the difference is between BlueHost and WordPress.org when it comes to hosting my site (or blog). When I spoke with Blue Hosts’s tech support last night, they told me that there was no difference between Blue Host and WordPress.org—and that I would be getting the exact same thing, but there’s quite a price difference between Blue Host ($142) and wordpress.org ($13 a year with my domain already purchased elsewhere). Is there any truth to this?

Well, yes, there is some truth to this, but the question is also like comparing apples and paring knives (yes, lunch is overdue as I write this): You need both to serve a delicious snack, but they are very different things.

First, let’s make a distinction between WordPress and hosting.

  • WordPress is free (the meaning of free could fill another blog post) publishing software. It runs on a web server and manages and publishes website and blog information.
  • Hosting is a service where a computer with special software is connected to the internet to share web pages, manage email accounts, store files, etc.

WordPress, which is  free software, runs on a server, which costs money.

Server hardware, configuration, internet connections, etc. get very technical very quickly, and is best left to professionals. Enter companies like Bluehost, HostGator, and hundreds of others. They sell something call shared hosting, where they lease space (hard drive storage, RAM, and processor time) on their computers to various people in such a way that one computer may have dozens (or hundreds) of websites. Many of these companies make it very simple for anyone to install the free WordPress (.org) software on a shared hosting account.
That’s part of the equation. The inquiry hinted at another piece of the puzzle, but didn’t spell it out. Where does the $13/year come in?
We need another distinction, this time between WordPress dot com and WordPress dot org.
WordPress.com is a free (no cost, with upsells available, which is where the $13/year figure comes in) hosting service that runs a highly-tweaked version of the same free (no cost) WordPress software available for download from the dot-org site.
Confusing, isn’t it?
The free service available WordPress.com is very valuable. It’s fast, reliable, secure, and well maintained. In exchange for this, they impose some restrictions on what you can do: No advertising, limited ability to customize themes, and no ability to add extra plugins.
Hosting your first site on WordPress.com is a great place to begin. It’s like your first apartment after college. Eventually you will outgrow it, and you will want a house. When that happens, ask me about my hosting and webmaster service.
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The American Internet Should Remain Free

Do you think the internet is important?

It has given me much over the last several years. I have made new friends, educated myself, found fun things to do and share, and been amazed at just how crazy/sad/caring our society can be. My future career and the very livelihood of millions of people depends on the infrastructure, technology, and freedom of the internet.

I don’t generally jump on bandwagons and I’m rarely vocal about causes. For this I will make an exception.

There are some crazy ideas being tossed about in Congress and the Senate right now. These have a huge potential to be poorly interpreted, cripple freedom of speech on the internet, and set our society back in time. While I understand the desire for large corporations to “protect” their “intellectual property,” I value individual freedom more.

What can you do?

First, watch this video.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Next, take a few minutes to contact your legislators and express your view about the laws being considered.

Let’s keep the internet free.

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WordCamp Chicago 2011

I was lucky enough to share the stage with some cool people at WordCamp Chicago in July 2011. The slides from my presentation are available for download at http://maxim650.com/wcchi-2011. If/when the video from the presentation becomes available this will be updated with a link.

The before and after sites from the presentation are also available.

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Web Hosting: Are You Ready for a VPS?

For the uninformed, A VPS has hidden dangers

You have a successful website (or blog).

Congratulations!

You installed WordPress, and found a cool theme.

You figured out plugins and widgets.

Best of all, you figured out how to bring traffic.

Take a bow and pat yourself on the back. I raise my drink to you, Rock Star of the Internet! But excess can bring a hangover…

Your site is so successful that your traffic is slowing other sites on your shared server. Your hosting company has suggested you switch to a Virtual Private Server (VPS).

You might think, “I got this far. I’ll save a few bucks and manage the VPS myself.” If you are truly a tech ninja this is fine, but there are hidden dangers with managing a VPS yourself.

PC users might appreciate an analogy.

Warning for Mac Users

Skip the bullet points ahead (you won’t believe them anyway).
Just put your dominant hand in a blender. It will be faster and will hurt less.

  • Imagine that you have a program that requires MS Access and a special framework to handle the network interface.
  • Your program won’t work with the plain vanilla version of those, it needs some add-on modules installed.
  • You have to manually install and configure the software and add-on modules.
  • In Iambic Pentameter. From a DOS prompt.
  • It’s all keyboard. No mouse. No drag-and-drop.
  • Undaunted, you search Google, but the only documentation you can find is at least 2 years old.
  • Oh, there’s no Undo button, either.
  • What about security? Or will you just leave the door to your house open with your wallet on the dining room table?

THAT is a Debian Linux VPS. I love the idea of open source software, and Linux is an incredibly powerful and adaptable system. But it’s also extremely complex and requires a lot of care and feeding, especially in the harsh environment of the Internet.

I’m new to the world of VPS, but I have a few questions I would ask before diving into it.

  1. Is your site or business bringing in enough revenue to support the higher server costs?
  2. Will they provide support (managed service), or do you do the heavy lifting yourself (unmanaged service)?
  3. Is it included with your monthly subscription, or is it by the hour?
  4. What flavor(s) of Linux do they provide?
  5. Can you find documentation for it?
  6. Do they have experience with the requirements of your platform or CMS  (Joomla!, Drupal, WordPress)?
  7. Do you have the knowledge to maintain a secure environment?
  8. Is it really worth your time (and sanity) to try administering your own server? (A: No.)

Share your experiences and other questions in the comments. I would love to learn what your experience has been.

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