On WordPress Tinkering

Occasionally I’m asked why I use WordPress. And specifically, the self-hosted version.

“There are other free blogging services — LiveJournal, WordPress.com, Blogger. You don’t even need to pay for hosting. They do it all for you, for free.”

Those are good points. And who knows? Maybe if I’d made a different decision nearly six years ago, that’s the direction I’d have gone.

Except, that wouldn’t really have been me.

See, here’s the thing. I’ve mentioned it before, and it bears repeating.

I like to tinker.

With a self-hosted WordPress blog, I can get down into the guts of the code. I can make it look however I want. If I see something in one design that I want in a different design, I can do that. If I want bells and whistles, I can do that.

Something like LiveJournal? You can’t tinker to anywhere near the same degree. You’re working inside someone else’s framework, and with that comes limitations. You get to scribble at the margins. Much more than that? Not really.

Don’t underestimate the terribly addictive lure of tinkering. ;)

Take yesterday, for instance.

WordPress 2.3 added tagging capabilities. And with them came the ability to produce tag clouds. This page, for instance, is my tag cloud.

But tags don’t need to be displayed as a cloud. They can be displayed as a list.

Let’s suppose, for instance, that you wanted to put a list of top tags in your sidebar, much like a blogroll or a category list. Only, WordPress makes it a little difficult to format a tag list.

What’s the problem? you ask.

You can produce a tag list no problem. But it generally doesn’t look good. Because the way WordPress generates a tag list it hard codes font sizes right into the tag list. And even if you set the smallest and largest tag sizes as exactly the same, WordPress doesn’t actually do that. There’s a division by zero problem.

So, after a few months, and with WordPress 2.5 about to hit the ‘net in a few days, I decided I was going to do something about the problem. Call it an aesthetic thing.

I went into a core WordPress file. Figured out how to alter the tag cloud routine to do what I needed it to do. And I did.

All told, it took about forty minutes.

The end result isn’t anything that anyone would really notice. The tag cloud page looks fine. And the list of tags in my footer isn’t noticeably different than what it produced before, except that if you look at the source code for the page, you’ll see that there’s no font-size definitions in any of those tag links.

Go me!

That’s not something I could do with something like LiveJournal or a WordPress.com-hosted blog. I couldn’t get down into the code, scrounge around until I see a problem, and fiddle with the code until I was well and truly happy.

Tinkering can be fun. Not, in my case, profitable, but certainly fun. :)

Finally, I fiddled with my CSS stylesheet.

I’d discovered that, for some inexplicable reason, that Firefox 3 Beta 3 rendered the fonts very small. This had me curious, and it seems that defining fonts as a percentage rather than a point size can cause issues with FF3b3. I changed the font-size reference to a point size rather than a percentage size, and now all seems to be good.

Tinkering. It’s why I use WordPress. It’s why I have a self-hosted blog. It’s so I can tinker. ;)

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