What3Words Global Addressing

May 14, 2017 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Internet, Online services, Software, Technology, Web Apps | Leave a comment
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You may be familiar with the domain name system for the Internet. By using domain name servers, the human-friendly domain name is converted into the actual numerical IP address of the web server. For example, you can type Google.com into your browser and it will look up the real address of the server, then load the site. This is much easier than remembering something like 216.58.194.78. And this is even more true of the coming IPv6 that will have much longer numbers.

This issue is greater still for mapping the world. Street addressing is somewhat random and in older cities like London or Tokyo, is rather a maze. And what of meeting someone in a large space like a stadium parking lot or a busy monument? And what about all the places that don’t have an address, like a park or forest?

The US Air Force developed the space-based Navstar Global Positioning System (now just called GPS) in 1973. It was fully rolled out by 1995 but only low level resolution was available to the public then. It has been progressively upgraded since and other overlapping systems have been added by other governments. With a GPS receiver, we can locate ourselves quite specifically on the earth. Most modern cell phones include one.

But once again, we have the same issue as with a server IP address. How human-friendly is a latitude & longitude like 49.303371, -123.136826? What about telling someone to meet you at marching.commented.priced instead?

Huh?

This is where What3Words (w3w) comes in. This is a tool that converts the GPS of a 3 sq meter (about 9′ square) space into 3 random words. 57 trillion human-relatable spaces on the globe and each can be addressed with 3 simple dictionary words. The words are randomized to avoid confusing similar words nearby. Thus, unlike street addresses or postal codes that are usually sequential, w3w is not.

Youtube

Where are you now? You can do a search, then drag the map to place the pointer at your exact location. Simple.

You can search by street address or by w3w address. If searching by street address, be careful with mapping accuracy. Google Maps addressing isn’t perfect. I’ve reported errors to them a few times.

In the free smartphone w3w app, Compass will tell you where you are. Its accuracy depends on if you have GPS turned on in your phone. With it off, my cell phone had a 21m radius of accuracy. Surprisingly close but not precise. With GPS on, it dropped to 7-12m – a big improvement but not the 3m accuracy of the grid. To give an exact address, you can drag the marker to the precise location first. And that depends on the quality of the map – w3w does offer several map options.

The key is giving an accurate reference point to the recipient, then it’s easy for them to find it.

There is no intuitive way of cross-checking accuracy if the map is vague or your GPS is imprecise. Also, the location entirely depends on their system as there is no real-world reference points for w3w, like an address on a building. But I can certainly see the advantages for sharing a point when there isn’t good street address references. Or you want someone to come to a side or back door. The above ‘marching.commented.priced‘ example is on a trail in a large park in western Canada. Want to go to Beaver Lake?

As the technology in use gets more refined, this will automatically become more precise.

w3w is an interesting idea that is evidently being used by transport and delivery companies in parts of the world where addressing has been an issue. If you have trouble getting people to the right place, it may be useful for you too.
David

Web Bias

November 14, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Web Apps | 1 Comment
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As people shift more and more to getting news and information from the web, there’s an important detail we might overlook. While we may know a paper is conservative or a station is alternative, the web behaves differently. Many of the larger sites automatically filter content to favour our apparent interests. For example, you’ve probably noticed that if you watch a cat video on YouTube, it will automatically “recommend” more of the same. Many large sites do much the same.

While this may be convenient and help keep us on the site (and seeing ads), it narrows our view of the world by creating a bubble of information. A few years back, I posted a TED talk on the subject.

The recent US election has brought the subject to the fore, along with issues of “fake” news. Facebook is denying it’s news feed had an influence on the election. But the Wall Street Journal has done an interesting mock-up that illustrates the issue in action. You can see how very different the 2 feeds are for a subject. Keep in mind this is not just true of Facebook.

Friends have tested search engines similarly. Test the same search on 2 different computers – one in the financial district and the other in a poor part of town. Completely different results. Multiply this across many sites and it can affect your sense of the world.

The key – diversify your sources and pay attention to reputable international news sites that bring an out-of-country perspective. You can also use a tool like DuckDuckGo to search Google while reducing some of the tracking.

To take this further, what we see of the world will reinforce Cognitive Bias. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a summary of 12 types. And Facebook has their own page on “Managing Bias“.
David

On-line Editors

September 20, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Books, Internet, Online services, Software, Web Apps | 10 Comments
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Writing a book or other long form project isn’t just the writing. It’s also the editing, the publishing and the marketing. Few who start a book project ever produce a complete manuscript. And fewer of those get through the next hurdles. There’s a good reason why many never get it out there.

In these days of self-publishing and ebooks, many more have the chance to get their works published in some form. But without a publisher, too many are skipping some of the steps. Too many titles have gotten into distribution channels without decent editing. That brings down the whole market.

While word processing software has spell and grammar checking built in, this is not “editing”. It only handles some basic kinds of typos.

Traditional publishers will take a manuscript through 4 or more rounds of editing specialists. But you at least want a Substantive Editor to look at the structure, flow, and the coherence of the work and a Copy Editor to take a closer look at word use and proofread the niggly details. You may also need fact checking.

Recently, more advanced editing software has become available that can help with copy editing. You have to go through each suggested edit to make sure it’s valid, but it can cover a lot of the worst mistakes before you have real eyes on the work. That can make the copy editor’s job much easier.

Most of these tools are web services with a subscription model – you pay annually for access via the web. Sometimes, the tools have Word or other add-ins that bring the interface into your software. Some work only with Word.

A few also offer plagiarism services that check if you’ve copied off outside sources. In other words – a really bad idea. Checking has become easy and cheap so always quote your sources. It can also flag if you have potential sections where you might run into similarity problems later. Plus, the tool may help source your quotes.

I looked at various articles and reviews. Many pointed to a batch of similarly priced tools.

Grammarly often topped the pack but there was sometimes overt advertising influence. Personal reviews were more mixed and there were a lot of reports of unresolved over-billing or being billed for the free trial. Plagiarism checking is included.

WhiteSmoke seemed decent but the setup wasn’t as useful for me. Their web site looks to be infected, so I’m not linking them. One reviewer linked instead to another supplier, suggesting a long term problem.

CorrectEnglish looked decent. But all of these tools are over $100. That can become competitive with a copy editors rates if your primary need is one work.

Then I found a couple of writers blogs like Karen’s that suggested others. Further research showed all where positive about them.

The key one: ProWritingAid – you can actually use their on-line tool for free for a batch of smaller works but you have to manually make the suggested edits in your work. I ran a recently posted article though it and was surprised how many  mistakes it found. Doh! For $35 a year, you can do longer works and edit right in the text, then transfer the updates back. If you use Word or Google Docs, they have an add-in to edit right in the doc. WordPress too. For $5 more you get plagiarism checking.

They also have a decent blog talking about the industry, even inviting comparisons with similar products. And their Twitter feed is full related links, author articles, etc. They’re clearly into it.

Karen’s link above also mentioned the free (in beta) EditMinion. It only does small parts but does catch slightly different things. She suggested you use this first, then ProWritingAid.

She also mentioned a great tool if you’re writing non-fiction. WritingHouse gives you a free tool for assembling a Bibliography in the right format with all the little details.

Note that you have to resist the urge to get into fancy formatting of your work prematurely. That can get butchered by the editing process. Formatting comes after you have a polished draft. Plus the style of formatting will depend on your eventual publishing medium. Default word processing format is usually for 8.5 x 11″ paper. That’s useful for a PDF at best. Book formatting is quite distinct and digital ebooks and web publishing are each their own worlds. A carefully formatted print PDF looks terrible on an ebook reader, for example. Ebooks have to be able to flow into their viewing container.

When you get to this point, I’ve found the book Zero Cost Self Publishing by Stephen Norton useful. It’s a step-by-step how-to for print and the primary ebook distributors. And then there is the exploding world market for ebooks in other languages. Why stick with N. America when you can be a best-seller in China?

Long form writing, whatever the final output, is quite the process. We can all use a little help at different parts of the journey.
David

New Banking

December 15, 2014 at 11:55 am | Posted in Economoney, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Technology, Web Apps | 1 Comment

There is a new service developing in Canada called Koho. They’re a “technology company delivering a banking experience” rather than being a bank. Yet the money is deposited with a credit union, so is secured and insured in the usual way.

They use a debit-style prepaid credit card, processed through a credit union. But unlike cards like the BMO one I discussed here, this one will have no fees. (other than for things like cheque processing) They’ll use the standard merchant transaction fees to support the business, much as Interac does.

They’ll also donate to chosen causes from your transaction activity automatically. It’s targeting young people with web and mobile apps for saving and managing money. They describe it like Mint, but with the functionality built into your account.

If you’re used to a full-service bank, it may not be your style. But if you have an active life that is technology-supported, it may be a big improvement. They suggest they’ll be the most affordable banking in Canada.

Check out the FAQ page for details. Pretty interesting.

The only downside I can see is it means signing for transactions, unlike a true debit card. In fact, it cuts the non-profit Interac (debit) system out of the loop. But I’ve certainly found using a travel card much simplifies those kinds of transactions.
David

Social Media – Bane or Blessing?

October 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | 4 Comments

Social media is an interesting bird. On the one hand, it’s connecting us globally as never before. It has helped facilitate the Arab Spring and Occupy movements plus many flash mobs. It reconnects us with old friends and makes distances and differences grow smaller.

On the flip side, it’s no replacement for a social life. It depersonalizes social connection and creates false communities. Facebook discovered that users watching “friends” all-positive feeds were getting depressed. They ran experiments to manipulate users moods with fake friends data.

Many free services are funded by advertising. Companies discovered that with better user tracking, they could offer their advertisers more targeted ads. The experiment has largely been a failure but rather than backing off, there has been a sharp increase in the level of tracking. More and more services are being cross-linked and more and more companies are sharing their user data to enhance tracking. While companies have to respect your email address by law, they can do what they like with your activity data. It makes big news when hackers breach security on your purchase data but when they announce another massive data sharing agreement you didn’t approve, you don’t hear a peep.

Another trend is to consolidate services such as at Google, Microsoft, and Apple. This is being driven by the desire to consolidate user data from all services. They’re not interlinking YouTube, GMail, Search, Calendar plus your various accounts for your convenience. If you also use the Chrome browser and have an Android phone, I think you’d be a little startled how much information is being gathered about you. It’s much the same with other services. Facebook invites you to “friend” businesses so your purchasing activity gets added. They actively share info with data consolidation businesses. Did you also let them load your address book? There’s a big reason the government is making record requests of such businesses for user data.

Myself, I don’t think it’s a big deal if a web site knows a little about it’s visitors. Most sites, including this one, track what pages visitors view and how many things they click. Did you look at 3 pages or 5? If you make a comment, they record your IP address. (do you really think comments are anonymous?) Many also subscribe to get notices of new articles. But those are typically managed separately. Subscribers are not tied to page reads or comments here. Newsletters similarly track opens and clicks to see what people respond to but they don’t track web activity.

It may not seem like much when you talk about your dog here, chat about work there, put up a dating profile here, share pictures there, and so forth. But taken together, there is a massive library about many people on-line. It becomes information you often no longer own or control. Plus it can be used against you in court.

If you check out archive.org, you realize a lot of it never goes away even if you close your account or shut down your web site. The Wayback Machine now stores almost half a trillion web pages, including the first version of my original web site and comments I made on a tech site over a decade ago. Facebook doesn’t delete closed accounts. And so on.

The issue arises because this user data is not being used in a respectful way. And it’s being kept. Users are seen as objects to be manipulated. Government efforts to access this data, that they can’t legally collect themselves, is encouraging a new trend – moving the data off-shore to avoid local regulations. The players all have vested interests in expanding the collection.

It’s most prolific form is now on smart phones, the leading edge of device proliferation. Thousands of apps for your phone and many of the recommended ones want excess permissions. Why does a game need your address book and call list? User data.

Social Sharing
And this brings us to a new feature of this site.

As I discussed back in the Plug-in section of setting up a blog, there are three types of social sharing on a typical blog:
1 – Feeding new articles to your social media sites
2 – Offering the buttons to connect with you through the social media sites you use
3 – Offering the buttons to share your article with the social media sites readers use

The last is often the most visible. Below, beside or above many articles is a row of sharing buttons. These allow users to easily click the service of choice and share your article with others.

However, the tools used to provide this sharing are of 2 camps. On one side are services that simply refer the user to their account on the social site. On the other are services that track this process. In other words, they make money from tracking your site visitor activity in exchange for a free service. The shady part is they don’t usually bother to tell you that.

Unlike other features on my main site, social sharing has been one of the more problematic. I’ve tried quite a few tools but they’ve all typically had issues.

Such tools require constant updates due to regular changes to various services. The simple ones I tried often lacked many services, were out of date and thus partly broken, and/or tended to have bugs. The ones that were updated and working well typically included tracking – that’s how they’re funded.

For example, the service I originally used had many service links, was low key and promised no tracking. But with no budget, it gradually went down hill. The next one was was simple and lightweight but wasn’t getting updated or fixed. I couldn’t configure it how I was supposed to be able to and support questions went unanswered. Another very popular one is prone to bog down your site.

During another round of research, I tried another decent one but it was showing in places I didn’t want and it uses a List item structure (even though not a list). This caused it to inherit the themes List settings inappropriately. Again, no fix available.

AddtoAny
I then discovered the potential of AddtoAny. It allows you to select the number of displayed icons, select a range of looks, and has a sub-menu with dozens more social media services. When I made suggestions to improve a recent update, they quickly came back with an even better option.

In checking it’s background, I found they also offer the service for web sites and many other platforms like Blogger, Typepad, Joomla. The big surprise though was one for free WordPress.com, like this site. The free WP.com doesn’t have a plug-in architecture so few such services are available for it. You get what WordPress offers. In this case it adds a few settings to Settings, Sharing. It lacks the customization of a full plug-in and it appears removing all enabled services would be the only way to “remove” it. But it’s a pretty big improvement for a free blog. The only bug I’ve seen so far is its not showing on the most recent posts. Just ones a bit older. Odd, that.

The big issue it raises is user tracking. The full plug-in shares data with your Google Analytics but the company itself tracks much more. Some of these sharing services even track activity on your site, even if a reader doesn’t click on a share icon. Just loading the plugin does it.

While they don’t bother to tell you this, it becomes very obvious if you use a browser plug-in like DoNotTrackMe. Personally, I found the plug-in overzealous and it blocked too much functionality, but it certainly gives you a sense of how much user tracking is going on. You might be surprised how much tracking your own web site is doing without your knowledge. Larger sites commonly have numerous entities, all tracking users.

To their credit, when asked AddtoAny did offer the switch to turn off tracking. However, as this article notes, AddtoAny has since been bought by another company which has added further tracking.

This page offers another illustration of how far it’s gone. It will show you how many member companies are tracking you. And this is only member companies. They check the tracking of hundreds of companies on your computer in a few minutes. The irony is that if you use an Ad Blocking plug-in (like AdBlock Plus), you don’t see the ads (whew) but they’re still tracking you. I talk about other safe browsing tools here.

Advertising does support many free services but targeted advertising has been crossing a line. They say they’re not tracking user-identifiable information but often that’s bullocks. The more they track and the more they compare notes, the bigger the picture they have of you. Would the government be asking them for records if there wasn’t traceable data?

In the meantime, it’s a balancing act. Providing the service and convenience on the one hand and  trying to mitigate the abuse on the other. You can’t really avoid it. If you’re going to use the web and email and social media, you’ll be interacting with others who are being tracked.

Be aware and safe surfing.
David

Android Security

July 11, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | Leave a comment

I’ve noticed that a lot of smart-phone users don’t take their security as seriously as they do on Windows machines. They’re happy to surf the web without virus protection and to install software with rather appalling permissions. I’ve seen simple games wanting access to your call history, data, identity, location and more – yet they’re recommended by the Play store. Clearly, their standards are not mine.

Android has become the most widely used OS in the world. It dominates mobile devices. So it’s become a target for trouble. And for the modern trend of collecting user info and selling it.

Fred Langa recently wrote a good overview of some of the apps you might find useful for Android security. He reviews AV suites, Password management, device recovery, wiping, and VPNs.

I’ve been surprised how robust the Android security suites have become. Fred mentions Lookout, which I’m not familiar with. He runs through it’s features, making it a good comparison point for other suites. He also notes that there is some garbage posing as security software – you do want software you can trust. I’ve been using ESET Antivirus for some time on my PC’s and have been very happy with it. So it’s a natural that I checked out ESET’s Android offering. I was surprised to discover they were actually underselling it on the web site.

The app walks you through setting up each section as you choose to activate that feature set. If it recommends setting changes, it gives you easy access to those settings. I didn’t have a need for ‘Call and SMS Blocking‘ but the rest of it was rich with features I found useful.

When I tried to register on the web site for an anti-theft account prior, it failed. But when I registered through the app, it worked fine. Not sure why they have a register option on the web site when its the device that has to register. I was then able to test the anti-theft features on-line. It did catch a picture of me and did show the phones location within about 5 meters. (that’s controlled by the area and phones GPS) If you’re prone to leave your phone places, that can be really handy. You can also text commands much as Fred describes in the article, like locking the phone, have it make a loud noise, and so forth.

Most satisfying to me was the ‘Security Audit‘ feature as I’d become concerned about the behaviour of some apps and I wasn’t as informed when setting the phone up. Indeed, it found one of the games had infection issues through it’s advertising. And a few apps had stepped over reasonable permission bounds. ESET takes you right to the apps permissions and uninstall if you need it.

The free version has somewhat reduced features but is fully functional. It’s clear in the app which parts you’re test-driving during the 30 day free trial. Scroll down the page here to see a comparison chart of the differences.

Premium ESET is currently on sale for $10/ year, $15 for 2. From Fred’s article, $15/yr seems typical for paid versions, though Lookout is $30. ESET is usually in the middle.

More
If you travel a lot or use public hot spots, a VPN can much improve security – especially if you need to do some banking or some such. Fred reviews some of those options. Device recovery and system wiping tools are included in some AV suites, like the above, but he also suggests stand alone ones if that’s needed.

Finally, Password management. For this, you want a tool that’s useful both on your PCs and mobile. Fred suggests several which basically mean having 2 or more password stores.  Not very efficient to have different passwords in different places – the one you need is the one that will be stored somewhere else.

As readers here know, I’m a fan of LastPass, a free PC password manager. The premium version, for $12 a year, adds many other features including mobile access to your password vault from any device. It also allows you to separate work and home passwords, create family shared ones, and adds enterprise tools.

Safe surfing, wherever you are.
David

Heartbleed – what is it?

April 11, 2014 at 11:16 am | Posted in Economoney, Internet, Media, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | 7 Comments

When you log into a secure web site and get “https” and a lock symbol, what you transmit is secure, right? Maybe. About 2/3’s of the web uses OpenSSL and its recently been discovered it’s had a bug for about 2 years.

“Heartbleed has the potential to be one of the biggest, most widespread vulnerabilities in the history of the modern web.”

Security expert Bruce Schneier says “‘catastrophic’ is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.

While there is a fix and it’s unlikely this was discovered and exploited in the past, the issue now is with sites that don’t have decent maintenance and don’t get updated. Now that the bug is known, some old site you used once long ago may now be insecure. If you have the habit of using the same password all over or using your social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) logins on other sites, you may have unwittingly shared your access all over. Including to sites that are now secure.

Changing your password on such old sites won’t help in the slightest, contrary to some of the advice floating around. It’s only a useful exercise if you know the site has updated. But you can on sites that are fixed. All the major ones apparently have but there are millions of servers out there.

And the trick is, even server admins may never know they’ve been hacked with this one.

This article explains: Heartbleed Nightmare

You can check a site you use here

This is a great reason not to use the same password on multiple sites and may be a great time to implement a password manager like LastPass, if you have not already.

Not only did Monday bring Heartbleed but there was a security update for WordPress on Tuesday and another for Jetpack on Wednesday. The second 2 are things bloggers should update now. The first you want to be sure your web host has. You really don’t want your ecommerce offerings to go nasty on you.
David

UPDATE – see comments for more links. It’s also become apparent it exists in many security devices.

Decentralized Internet

March 15, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Media, Software, Technology, Web Apps | Leave a comment

The technology landscape has been changing rapidly. Companies like Microsoft have already lost over half their market share. Meanwhile, the open Internet has devolved into a giant marketing opportunity. Dominant technology players are gathering everything they can about our movements, shopping, and social lives. Just look at what you have to approve on a typical smart phone app. Or how you’re invited to use one service to log into another. Government agencies have been doing the same and more, quite illegally.

Meanwhile, a variety of technologies have been developing to change the way we connect and interact – mainly to take out the intermediaries. The behaviour of business and government above and the revelations of security breaches and spying are simply pushing those technologies to the fore so we can take back control of our lives and devices.
Here is a talk by Fred Wilson in Paris, on 3 macro trends in society:

3 macro trends:
– from bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks (eg: newspaper to Twitter)
– unbundling – how products and services are delivered, specialization (eg: finance moving away from banks, a la carte entertainment on demand)
– becoming a network node (w/ smart phones, shifting from desktop), always on and connected

4 Sectors to watch:
– money – distributed and decentralized payments on the Internet, without the banks
– health & wellness – staying out of the health care system, wearable monitors
– data leakage – data pollution, spying
– identity – cryto-currency applied to online and secure identity

This article lists 21 technologies that may decentralize networks, including mesh networks, alternative domain registration, and decentralized farming. We live in remarkable times.
David

WordPress Migration, Part 4 – Final Step

January 22, 2014 at 10:05 pm | Posted in Blogs, Internet, Software, Web Apps, Web Design | 2 Comments

< Part 3
If you haven’t already, now is the time to finish the content for your fixed Pages.

When your site is ready, take down the landing page and…  you’re live!

But there’s one more step.

10) Redirect the old site to the new
Given you have probably built up search engine rankings and reader bookmarks, your typical choice will be to activate a referral service to bring people from your old blog to the new site automatically. Then those clicks and SEO won’t be lost.

WordPress will take care of this for you for $13 a year. On the old site, go to the Dashboard and click Store. Then Site Redirect. Once the domain is in and you purchase, it’s live.

Other choices:
b- leave the old blog as is? Not a good idea. Search engines like Google may see your new duplicate site as a spam site and not index it. Dead SEO.

c- Delete the original .com blog.

d- if your old site is small, you can go into the old posts and replace them with links to the same post on the new site, with a small explanation. But that’s a lot of grunt work. Molly mentioned problems with forwards, but it’s worked fine for me. It would be a problem if you have not matched Permalinks though, as discussed prior (Step 6).

e- Labnol offers a process to redirect you, saving the WP fee. (see his Step 3-4) But you’ll need to be a little DNS server savvy to follow this for your registrar. I’ve not tried it.

If this sounds like it’s all too much, don’t let my proneness to detail overwhelm you. Molly described this in 4 steps, if you want to follow her simpler version for Bluehost. Or you can pay your host (some will) or WordPress to move your blog for a fee. WP calls it “Guided Transfer“. It’s also in the WP.com Dashboard, Store. You then need to pay someone to configure it for you or all you get is a generic default theme. But plug-ins are not hard if you take the time to look around or choose the Keep it Simple approach (see Part 3). Just take it a step at a time.

You may also find it useful to run your site by Google’s Pagespeed check. Just keep in mind that some of the things they suggest may not be in your control. Does it matter if your theme could compress the CSS by 3KB?

For this process, I want to thank:
Molly Greene: Moving from Free to hosted WP blog

I supplemented with tips from Labnol and my final host of choice, easyPress. Plus WordPress themselves. Not to mention the many links in this series.

I hope this series helps you in your migration. I’m very pleased to have made the shift myself. My new site is far more advanced and customized than at WP.com. But it did take longer to tweak and experiment than I thought.
David

< Part 1 – Prep
< Part 2 – Setup
< Part 3 – Customization

WordPress Migration, Part 3 – Customizing with Plug-ins

January 22, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Posted in Blogs, Internet, Software, Web Apps, Web Design | 8 Comments

< Part 2 – Setup
One you have the site up, you’ll want to browse the dashboard and all the settings you have. Lots of little things to tweak.

You may find going over the free Easy WP Guide will help you get a sense of the WP.org dashboard and features. It is much like WP.com, but with extras.  This is the start page for WP.org help. Google will bring you more.

The Appearance, Widgets section allows you to sort and change the components and appearance of items in your sidebar(s). This is much as in WP.com but much fancier and many plug-ins will add more widget options.

Your research will have given you a good idea of the extras you’ll want to add and thus the plug-in research you’ll be doing. Most integration with WP.org is with plug-ins – be it e-commerce, subscription services, SEO, backup, social networking, and a zillion little tweaks you can make.

You may find small things your theme settings don’t cover. There may be a snippet of custom CSS that can be added to the theme to make these adjustments. The themes support pages should have examples. For example, I removed the author footer, changed the hyperlink colours, and fixed a couple of plug-in issues this way. Don’t try to edit the theme itself or your changes will be overwritten on the next update. Use the Custom CSS box in the themes settings.

Plug-ins
There is a vast plug-in repository. Some are abandoned or no longer compatible with current versions. Some are not compatible with each other. The key is to review the info on the plug-in – Is it what you need? Current? How is support response? Rating? Is there a cost for the features you need?

After reviewing your theme and site, what features remain to be addressed?

As you’ve already installed a plug-in or 2, you’ll be a little familiar with the process. But for review, these are they typical steps.
1 – research on-line per above
2 – search for the chosen one in Dashboard, Plugins, New
3 – click Install on your choice from the above
4 – click Activate (a way to control which plug-ins are live)
5 – browse settings – in Plugins, Installed or in the Dashboard, Settings menu (generally)
You may also need to go into Appearance, Widgets and set sidebar widgets up. And tweak theme settings.
6 – test

Some plug-ins will require you to create an account at the related service, like Twitter or your newsletter service. The service will then provide you with special links, API or security keys to interact securely between your blog and them. Record your account login and these details carefully.

You have 2 main approaches to plugins:

The first – Keep it Simple. You may find that Jetpack and Akismet (spam protection) are all you need. These make your hosted blog the most like WP.com too. Jetpack is a mega-plugin that includes over 30 modules, made by the people behind WordPress. Some are pre-activated and others can be activated as desired.

Then you can add a couple of others if you like. However, some find Jetpack pushes features you may not want unilaterally, much like WP.com. And it keeps you tied to WP.com.

Your other approach for greater control and customization is to locate and install plug-ins to cover each feature you need. I started with Jetpack but soon realized I’d have the same issues with it as I did with WP.com.

Be very careful about plug-ins that have overlapping functions that may conflict. And be open to experimentation. I replaced some plug-ins that were on my initial list with others.

Your first step may be to browse some recommended plug-in lists. Just keep in mind that just because there’s a category, it doesn’t mean you need it. You don’t want to bog down your site with too many fiddly bits.

Here are a few recommendation sites:
MakeUseOf       Popular @ WordPress

50 Best at WPExplorer       35 Best at PC Mag

Here are some categories I looked at:
*Rather than linking to specific plug-ins, I’ll let you look up the names on the WP Plug-in site. That way, they’ll be placed in context and other alternatives will be more obvious.

Comment Spam control
Akismet? Captcha? Complex captcha is over-kill for low traffic sites. But you’ll be flooded with people making vague comments, trying to get their links on your site without something. I deactivated Akismet and started simple, then raised the bar a little. Still an experiment.

Comment enhancements
CommentLuv – adds an article link of the commenting bloggers below their comment, encouraging them.
– Subscription tools (see below) often offer a subscription checkbox for your commenters, contact form, etc.
– Replacement commenting systems like IntenseDebate or LiveFyre. (careful with conflicts here)

Contact Form, like Contact Form 7. You may want to add a custom choice field to avoid Contact spam. I added a required “Contact Type” pick list, for example. Simpler than Captcha but that’s an option too.

You do NOT want to publish your email address directly on your site. This is like wearing a Kick Me! sign for spammers to sully your new email account. If you do decide you want to offer it, use code from a munger site like Enkoder (best) or AddressMunger.

Writing support
TinyMCE Spellcheck
TinyMCE Advanced – adds a whack of features to the Add New Post form, including inserting tables, video, columns, pull quotes, buttons, and more. Very customizable.

Widgets
Image Widget – to add an image on the sidebar.
Custom Meta Widget (clean up the sidebar Admin Menu)
Link Manager – If you’d like to bring back the Blogroll. I decided to have a links Page instead.

Maintenance
Broken Link Checker [see comments] – great if you have many external links in your articles. It checks periodically and warns you of links that have gone south.

Dashboard Stats
Simple Feed Stats (for RSS)
Google Analyticator or the more customizable Yoast (for Google site stats)

Google Sitemaps – for search engines – helps your site get indexed. (not Google XML Sitemaps though)

Social Media – 3 types:
a) Feeds
The RSS feed of your articles can be posted to other social media sites, like Twitter (use WP to Twitter). This way, readers can get your content however they wish. Your email subscriber service may have a newsletter to social connection. MailChimp feeds to Twitter and Facebook, for example.

b) Readers sharing your article
Typically under your blog post will be a row of links to social media sites the reader may use. This allows them to more easily share a link to your article with others and bring traffic.

I’m still experimenting with this. Shareaholic [see comments] was buggy in Firefox. obsocialbookmarker is less prominent and a lighter load but out of date. ShareThis and Social Media Feather are others – each has a different look, style and approach.

c) Connecting with your social sites (Follow)
There are also plug-ins to place links to your Twitter, LinkedIn and other such accounts on your sidebar or footer. This allows readers to connect to you that way as well or instead. I looked at a few plug-ins but discovered some simple code in a text widget with the icon set of my choice was a better solution. This is also a good place to put RSS feed links for the less familiar. Just search free social media icons for many options and ideally, the size you want. I ended up with WPZoom’s big set.

Also note that some Themes have social media features – but make sure you’re clear which of the above they are.

e-commerce
Some people get confused looking at shopping carts with this or that host. WordPress allows you to add shopping carts to your blog more directly, making this less relevant unless you plan on building a large store.

If all you want to offer is digital downloads like a few ebooks, EasyDigitalDownloads may be enough for you. For more range, WooCommerce is a popular one. I chose iThemes Exchange plugin as it was free for the basics and I quite like the approach of the company. For example, development priorities are partly based on user feature votes. It also works with StripeStripe is an e-commerce integrator that, unlike Paypal, keeps clients on your site for transactions. Don’t let Stripes developer approach make you nervous. Exchange guides you through the steps you need with videos and support pages. Basically it’s selecting Stripe in the plugin, creating an account at Stripe, then pasting some numbers from the account into boxes on the Exchange plugin. Stripe only charges per transaction.

Email subscribers
While WP has a built-in subscription function, you have zippo control over it or subscribers. If you are working to build a subscriber base, you definitely want something better. I’d recommend a Newsletter service. You connect that to your RSS feed and your posts go out daily (or weekly, etc.) in a newsletter format of your choice and design. If you have under 2,000 subscribers, you can go free with MailChimp or MadMimi. More experienced marketers than I recommend the second but MailChimp is a little older and has more integration. There are also more basic newsletter plug-ins but if you plan to grow this, you’ll find them limited. A newsletter has a bit more setup but both sites have lots of support to guide you through the necessary steps. Basically in MailChimp it means setting up a list by importing your subscribers. Then creating an RSS “campaign” with an RSS layout theme (or customizing another more) and walking through the settings for it, including social sites. You configure the connection to MailChimp and forms on your blog with MailChimp for WordPress plugin.

Please Note: Your subscribers are NOT migrated with your web site. Email rules require opt-in.

I originally chose Feedburner so that when my site moved, I just needed to point all subscribers to the new site. Easy. But 2 problems with that idea. WordPress unilaterally added a subscription service later that you could neither manage nor turn off. I ended up with 2 sets of subscribers. (and nags to change from Feedburner – they knew) Meantime, Google bought Feedburner but now appears to be abandoning it. They’ve killed it’s API.

WordPress.com will move your WP subscribers IF you use the Jetpack plug-in on your new site. Their web site indicates they support this but I got 0 response. It also became apparent I didn’t want WP subscriptions anyway as there are no tools for managing them so I didn’t pursue it.

I recommend you migrate all email subscribers to a subscription management service as above. Gather them in a spreadsheet or text file and you can import them into the above services. They did already Opt-in, after all. I notified everyone of the change and only one unsubscribed.

After this, I removed email addresses from Feedburner and changed the RSS feed to the new site, then invited them to migrate to the new sites RSS. And invited WP RSS subscribers to the new site. A large % quickly complied. RSS users are usually very familiar with easily adding and removing sites.

Other Categories
There are lots of other things you can add like forums, image galleries, feature pages, Google fonts, search enhancements, SEO, caching management, uptime monitoring, database management and so on. It depends on your needs and you can adapt features over time.

My priority was to get the initial features I need up, then refine it over time.
David

Part 4 – Finishing up>

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