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Blog Exercises: Are You a Victim of the Past?

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Have you seen the fun video released to promote the then new television show, Portlandia on IFC, recently renewed for another year or two? It’s called “Dream of the 90s” and is part of your homework for this blog exercise.

The story is that Jason went on a trip from Los Angles to Portland, Oregon, and returned to describe it to his friend, Melanie, convincing her to go there. The opening lyrics are:

FRED ARMISEN (as “Jason”): Do you remember the 90s?
CARRIE BROWNSTEIN (as “Melanie”): Yeah?
FRED: You know how people were talking about getting piercings and getting tribal tattoos?
F: And people were singing about saving the planet and forming bands?
C: Yeah?
F: There’s a place where that idea still exists as a reality. And I’ve been there.
C: Where is it?
F: Portland.
C: Oregon?
F: Yeah.

The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland! (Portland…)
The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland!
The tattoo ink never runs dry!

F: Remember when people were content to be un-ambitious? They’d sleep ‘til 11:00, and just hang out with their friends? I mean, they had no occupations, whatsoever… maybe working a couple hours a week at a coffee shop?
C: Right. I thought that died out a long time ago.
F: Not in Portland. Portland is a city where young people go to retire.

While this is a perfect example of the crazy that is my new home town, this is a great look at how a place or person can be stuck in a time period. Stuck and thrive but stuck all the same.

In her best-selling album “Compass,” Christine Lavin’s song “Prisoners Of Their Hairdos” is about people who are literally prisoners of their hairstyle such as Dorothy Hamill, Don King, Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, and Crystal Gale. Hair isn’t the only thing celebrities are prisoners of in this song.

They are prisoners of their hairdos
prisoners of their hair
If they changed the way they combed their hair
They’d never be recognized anywhere
They’re prisoners.

What do Stevie Nicks, Leon Redbone, Pee Wee Herman,
Tom Wolfe, and Pope John Paul have in common?

They are prisoners of their wardrobes
Prisoners of their clothes
If they changed the outfits that they wear
Nobody would stop and stare
They’re prisoners.

Fear of change is something we all battle with, keeping to the same routine. Today’s blog exercise hopes to disrupt that routine.

Blog Exercise Task from Lorelle on WordPress.Today’s blog exercise is to take a look at your blog and ask yourself if you are dating yourself or stuck in a specific time zone of history. In other words, are you a prisoner of your blog?

Recently I gave a presentation to a couple hundred WordPress, blogging, and web publishing fans. After showing them my site, I did a quick audience poll and asked if I should change my site design. The overwhelming response was NO (in caps). After the presentation I was approached by several web designers who told me the would love to be considered to change the look of my site, followed by even more who told me that if I changed my site’s design, they wouldn’t recognize me.

Well, folks, a change is coming soon so be ready for it.

As I contemplate my own site change, what about yours?

As with everything, there are fads and trends. Website designs go through their own fads and trends. Boxy was in pre-1999 when sites were designed with tables resembling design by spreadsheet. Circles and round corners were hot by 2008, then faded away as minimalism took over. Today, with the oncoming storm of CSS3 and HTML5, expect to see rules broken in many design directions as boxy, round, and constrained designs go the way of truly responsive web designs.

Content, the words we use, the images and videos we present to the world on our sites also get dated. One of the biggest challenges I need to tackle soon is on Talking Your Camera on the Road as its images are extremely dated. One of the oldest sites in the world, I published thousands of articles and images prior to 2006 when high speed Internet was still a dream to most people in the world. As the Internet bandwidth has increased, these small low resolution images are like Kodak film today – too small and low rez to view properly. I have a huge project ahead of me to scan all these images, upload them, and replace them throughout the site. Volunteers?

Look through your site for anything that dates you. Archival information and images is fine. That is an important part of a website, preserving your history as well as the present. That’s not what I’m talking about with this blog exercise.

I’m talking about being a prisoner of your website’s design or content. It’s time to join the future and the future is now.

As Christine Lavin so beautifully said:

There’s a very fine line
Between a groove and rut
Fine line between eccentrics
And people who are just plain nuts.

Remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback, or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.

You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.


  1. Posted June 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly, today I did a bit of tidy up on my site. I did some tweaking, deleted some external links on my crowded sidebar (I hanged on to them for a long time and it’s hard to say goodbye), added an Archive page (thanks to timethief from One Cool Site). I got some help from WordPress css team and managed to add a Blockquote (in colour) on my post:
    My tranquil neighbourhood

    These minor changes did make me happy and I found the process of learning satisfying.

    Look forward to your new design. All the best to you.

    • Posted June 26, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Looking good. Fabulous. Love how clean it is looking.

      The NOT on WordPress Freshly Pressed is a hoot, though only funny to members familiar with it, so it’s an inside joke but a great way to promote a blog post.

      Why do you have the Gravatar profile image in the sidebar when you have your picture in the header art? Why not write with a text widget an intro to your self with a link to more info on your About Page?

      I love you sitting in front of the English tea service. As a huge fan of tea, that connected with my spirit. Nothing like a cuppa.

      Though I’d remove the Archives from the sidebar (redundant now that you have an Archives Page) and make your categories NOT be dropdown. It makes people work too hard to find out what you talk about when your categories are your table of contents for your site’s topics. Archives are also old fashioned. No one reads sites chronological. Archives are more a testimony that you’ve been doing this for a while, and a statement in your bio or tagline (since 2012 like shops do) makes a bigger statement and takes up less real estate in your sidebar.

      One more tiny thing. On Pages (with a capital P as opposed to posts with a lowercase p), you don’t need comments. Your Contact Page has comments enabled which is a bit redundant, isn’t it? I’ve covered that in these exercises, haven’t I? Hmm, time to check. Work. You always inspire me to do more blog exercises, my new friend. Darn you! LOL!

      • Posted June 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Dear Lorelle,

        Thank you for such a detailed reply, and I’ve acted upon your suggestions and cleaned up more. (I wish I could do that with my wardrobe, garage and kitchen.)

        I added a Post Highlights page as a form of ‘Start here/ Guide’. (I won’t call it Popular Posts as the posts are not necessarily receiving the highest clicks. However, they’re quite relevant to the essence of my blog.)

        I have also disabled comments in some pages.

        I find tidying up my blog energises me — it helps me to re-focus. Blogging has helped me in many ways: to think clearly, to express more concisely, to make sense in design and content……It’s very interesting that I seem to have known a few presentation/design tips through your posts, but didn’t apply them fully, until you picked them up. It just shows that it’s no good just reading tons of good advice. I need to act, to make changes.

        Ahmad Tea London (not in London) is just walking distance from me. I had tea tasting there and visited their Tea museum. Tea Tasting at Ahmad Tea

        I viewed your Amazon wish list before and I know that you love 50 shades of tea.

        Your blog exercises are challenging and can be very thought provoking. I like your attitudes behind the exercises: WordPress challenges can be a bit silly and one sided at times. I find your exercises are more rounded, and your guidance is clear and stimulating at the same time.

        Keep it up!

      • Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        Lovely improvements. I, too, wish I could clean up faster with my clothes, garage, kitchen…office…yikes! Thanks for the reminder. SIGH. LOL!

        Post Highlights is interesting but not helpful. I love the idea, not thrilled with the title. Most Popular is fine, so is “Best Work” or “Start Here.” If it were in your sidebar, “Highlights” would be perfect, but as a Page…Archives is an appropriate title. Think of it. I’m sure you can come up with a great idea. Or ask your readers. What do they expect something like that to be called?

        I have an exercise coming up on disabling comments, something I’m very opposed to. It just chops off the potential for conversation, but if it helps you, then go for it.

        Cleaning always helps focus, doesn’t it. Excellent point. And teamwork always makes a difference.

        You are evil, and I respect that. Tempting me with tea…I’ve added them to my list for next time I’m in the UK. Nasty you! LOL!

        Thank you for checking out the Amazon wish list. I’ve seriously got to update it, but tea is a lifelong passion! Thanks,

        Ah, thank you for noting the difference between a WordPress challenge and a blogging one. I thought about this when I put these exercises together. I didn’t want to focus only on WordPress, though that is coming up for the anniversary of this site. I wanted to pay tribute to what WordPress does, not just what it can do. Sharp you for noticing the difference!

        Thank you for the encouragement and for being such a fantastic ambassador. You are so rocking it! Thanks!

  2. Posted June 26, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,
    I refresh my site constantly and try to keep it looking fresh and interesting. I’m not a chock-a-block widget fan now nor have I ever been. I’m an artist and as a visual person I become bored very easily with colors and layouts. I prefer clean themes and like adding color via header images and links.

    I have been flirting with responsive width themes for some time now but tend to come back to Twenty Eleven. Last week I decided to do set up the Showcase template and some featured posts. I was looking forward to see what the reader response would be and was disappointed that the visits to the featured posts were so low and in fact that my visits were down for the week. I removed the Showcase temp[late for now and have re-enabled infinite scroll again.

    If you see anything that dates my blog’s appearance please say so. You a way of doing that kindly so I’m interested in hearing any constructive feedback.

    However, I’m even more interested to see what you will be doing with this site.

    • Posted June 27, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I love it! Love the colors. Wonderful.

      As WordPress puts out new Themes, I still work with Twenty Eleven for my students as it has so many features buried underneath its simple exterior, and Showcase is one of them.

      The infinite scroll is something I personally find irritating, as we’ve discussed before, as it does consume bandwidth, but most importantly, I love the footer area for adding more navigation and information. I never liked the Headway Theme (was that what it was called) that was ALL footer, but something in between is always nice.

      It’s interesting that you mentioned the low traffic on the featured posts. I assume you are very clear on where your traffic comes from. Featured posts, sliders, carousels, etc., are only for those who visit the front page of the site, not those who come through aggregators, feeds, and searches. The fad of sliders and carousels has past. People want the content, not the fussy presentation, so simple always works for most people.

      The site is looking fantastic. The only thing I see that could break the mold, so to speak, is a tighter blend between the header art and the background. The background is so colorful and busy, and the header art is wonderful – I love the “island” that is so Discworld in concept – but I don’t see the relationship between the two. This isn’t an issue of dating your site, but a disconnect between the two elements.

      If anything “dates” the site it is the translation options. Chrome includes translation options automatically, as do several other browsers (with Add-ons), and most people know how to get documents translated, so offering translation options is fascinating and fun, but is it used. Do visitors see it and click it and actually read the translations? If the answer is yes, then consider republishing your post popularly translated posts in that language(s) with links to the different translations rather than cluttering up the sidebar with translation options. I stumped years ago to incorporate auto-detection for languages into all web browsers and we’re getting closer, so such features may no longer be necessary.

      The chicklet badges at the bottom of the sidebar are very dated as is the list of visitor stats. That’s something that belongs on your About Page to qualify your site, not necessarily in the sidebar. Promotion of such services and links are nice but they no longer serve the purpose they once did. Just something to consider.

      These are tiny things. Heck, I have tons of crap in my own sidebar, some dating back to the beginning of WordPress. Matt Mullenweg practically ordered me to include the Akismet scorecard, which is one of the first things that will go in the new design as I think I’ve done my share of constantly promoting it and I don’t need the sidebar clutter after all these years. LOL!

      I love that you are so brave to constantly keep your site evolving. I’ve so longed to do that here, but it became a brand, and now I’m a prisoner of my site design. 😀

  3. Posted June 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Dear timethief,

    On the topic of translation. I’m a professional Chinese-English translator and here is my view about translation options. Machine translation between Chinese and English doesn’t work and will never work. It’s fine to check individual words, but translating a sentence, let alone a whole site, is always inaccurate. Google can ‘translate’ single words just about fine, but it can’t deal with syntax (word order and how grammar is used). Machine translating a website, from my point of view, is ineffective.

    • Posted June 28, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Excellent point, Janet. While machine translations get us so far, they are as developed as those working on the projects make them. Chinese and many languages are very complicated to translate. Chinese and Japanese are based upon interpretation of visual clues not just direct translations. One word does not match its mate in another language. So many languages need deep understanding of the cultural references. Great point. Thanks!

  4. Posted June 29, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi again Lorelle,
    I can’t see a “reply” link below your commment so I’m not clear where this comment will appear.

    Due to your feedback I reconsidered, removed the abstract background and uploaded my second choice. It’s blue sky image I like very much and I believe it compliments the header image both thematically and in terms of color continuity. Thanks for that prompting.

    I used to be a foot widget fan. I was an outspoken rejecter of infinite scroll when it was first introduced by now I’m a convert. What converted me was simply tracking my own behavior and noting that I did not scroll down and make use of footer widgets in other blogger’s blogs.

    Though I’ve never had blogs with sidebars loaded full of distracting clutter I have been gradually displaying fewer items in my sidebar. I took your advice, removed the visitor trackers and moved my only remaining chiclets to my About page.

    Thanks so much for helping me with my blog. I appreciate it.

    • Posted June 30, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      I’m laughing at myself. I went to check your site, saw the reminder about Google Reader, couldn’t remember if I backed it up or not, and jumped. Talk about distraction! Thank you for the reminder!

      I’m stunned at how powerful the site looks by toning down the background. Wow. I miss the pizzazz, but it now looks like a site to take seriously. I’m glad you kept the awesome Discworld graphic. I love that for many reasons. It so beautifully represents you and all that you do.

      The sidebar looks great, though a proper heading rather than the ~~Welcome~~~. While I love the effect, it is distracting and looks out of place with all the lovely layout and graphics.

      The post thumbnail image technique is awesome. I was so hoping Twenty Eleven would take advantage of featured images with post thumbnails, but we got what we got, which is awesome enough.

      I’m always stunned at the discoveries you find to do in WordPress, especially You push the envelope beautifully!


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