I recently alluded to some potential changes to the Fire Ant Gazette, said changes to be made in response to a black hat hack of a number of files that permitted the bad guys to install phishing software. This was a Very Bad Thing, and resulted in the suspension of my website hosting account until the malware could be removed. It was also nothing I could control or fix on my own; I had to rely on the website hosting company to make the needed adjustments. It was a frustrating situation, and I seriously wondered if the end result might be completely shuttering the blog. After an investment of 19 years of my time and effort, this was a disheartening outcome to contemplate.
However, my website host suggested that I consider moving the blog from its current platform -- an ancient (in internet terms) package called Movable Type -- to another platform that would be more secure.
I've used Movable Type for almost the entire time the Gazette has been in existence (I briefly flirted in the beginning with a platform with the creative name of "Blogger" but quickly decided it wasn't up to the task). I did realize that MT was growing long in the tooth (unlike me, of course) and that my webhost's installation wasn't being updated, but it was working and I'm [generally] a firm believer that if something isn't broken, it doesn't need fixing. This could also be called "ignorance is bliss."
So, what I've decided to do is transition the Gazette over to what is arguably -- or, perhaps, undeniably -- the most commonly used blogging platform in the world: WordPress. This decision was made considerably easier when I learned that MT had moved from a free version to a subscription-based model at the low, low price of only $499/year. That's an investment I'm not willing to make to continue a non-revenue generating hobby like the Gazette, even if you, dear reader, are like a pearl of great price.
Now, WordPress is actually more than just a blogging platform. It can be used as a full-fledged Content Management System (CMS). Because it's an open-source software package, anyone with the right skills can create add-ons or extensions (known as plug-ins) to enhance the capabilities of WP. I built a couple of websites for clients using WP, back in my freelance days, and one of the strengths of such a site is that it allows the site owner to update it without knowing anything about web-related coding.
The bloggers in the audience will undoubtedly be familiar with WordPress, and many of the other blogs you might be visiting could well be running on WordPress. I considered shifting to WordPress years ago and decided it would be too much trouble. That argument is now off the table; trouble or no, this is a change I need to make.
I apologize for the long and boring background. What I'm leading up to is that at some point in the future -- it won't be really soon but I hope within the next month or so -- the Gazette will look significantly different. I'm going to use a very simple template, and the site is therefore going to resemble in layout many other blogs. Some of the current features -- such as the category archives, for example -- may disappear (unless I can find a plugin to replicate them). But, really, it should be obvious that my focus with the Gazette has never been how it looks, only what it contains.
The upside will be that the site will be more mobile-device friendly, less susceptible to hacks like I just experienced, more search engine friendly, and potentially more readable/legible (not that the writing will be any better; WP can do only so much). The commenting capability will also be much improved.
I'm now in the process of updating the template to display some of the more important elements of the current layout. And I'm going to take the possibly ill-advised step of allowing you to check in on my progress as the transition unfolds. The new layout can be viewed at this URL:
I assure you that there will be very little of interest going on there as I slog through the coding, but knowing that someone else could be looking over my shoulder will help to keep me motivated to get the job finished. And you should feel free to leave comments encouraging or heckling me.
Even as I'm working on the transition, the "official" Gazette will remain as is, where is, and nothing about the current site will change. At some point, the posts will be duplicated in both places, but I'll make an official announcement once the old layout is ready to be decommissioned in favor of the new, and I hope, improved one.