Running a website used to be a fairly technical endeavor. If your aim was to make things look pretty and formatted, you had to at least learn some Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to get things lined up.
Some of my first articles on Mighty Bargain Hunter were hand-coded HTML. I found a template that I liked with some very basic structure, and hacked into it until it was more or less readable. Formatting the webpage took me nearly as much time as writing the article!
That was 2004. Things were probably a lot easier in 2004 than the way I did it, but we all start somewhere. (Actually, I know it was easier. WordPress was first released in 2003. so I was behind the curve at the time.)
WordPress eliminated a lot of coding from the start
When I began blogging in 2005, I used WordPress 1.5. I recall at the time being completely blown away with how much easier it was than the hand-crafted HTML I was using. After getting over the hurdle of setting up the WordPress installation — which was by no means difficult — I couldn’t believe that putting up a new webpage was nearly as easy as writing an e-mail. Type in a subject (the title) and the body (the post) and click the “Publish” button.
In December of 2005, a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) text editor was standard, which got rid of the need to do any HTML whatsoever. It was no longer necessary to remember all of this:
<a href=”http://www.mightybargainhunter.com”>Mighty Bargain Hunter</a>
All that was needed was to highlight the text, click on the little chain button (for Link) and type in the website address.was no That was it.
The basics of producing content involved almost no coding. The content management system’s dashboard (administration section) took care of most of that.
It didn’t eliminate all of the coding, though. I do remember hacking into the theme’s files to add AdSense code, or add code to show the list of post categories, or add a copyright notice to the bottom of the page, or add text links there (back when Google didn’t frown on them so badly!)
Now, it’s eliminated still more coding
As easy as using WordPress was in 2005, it’s gotten even easier. Far easier, actually. Here are a few ways it’s gotten easier, especially with respect to the coding burden:
- Standard interfacing with WordPress plugins and themes. The good plugins (that extend WordPress functionality) and themes (“skins”) are updated regularly. There is now a standard interface for the designers to tell WordPress what the current version is. No need to search to see if there are updates. The dashboard tells you what needs updating.
- There are plugins for the most desired functionality. Plugin developers have most of the bases well covered with regard to extending the functionality of WordPress. Getting WordPress to jump through many hoops is less a matter of coding but more a matter of finding the right plugin.
- The WordPress update process itself is close to seamless. There used to be a few knobs to twist in order to update to the new version of WordPress. Not anymore. It’s as easy as a click of a few buttons in the dashboard. WordPress even goes into maintenance mode automatically so as to avoid problems with people commenting on the blog as it’s being updated.
- Moving content around in the design is drag and drop. WordPress 2.8 had widgets — modular blocks of content that could be moved around freely within the layout of the theme. Many plugins now had widget capability, so popping the new content into the design didn’t involve cracking open the theme’s files to insert code. It involved dragging the widget with the mouse into the appropriate part of the design!
- Themes come with their own interfaces in the dashboard. Things like background color, background image, overall theme color, and even layout are parametrized. Changing these parts of the theme doesn’t involve modifying the theme’s code. It involves changing options in the dashboard.
I’ve found that a lot of things I needed to do with code a few years ago are no longer needed now.
So … does a blogger need to know how to code?
That was the question posed in the title. It might appear that a blogger doesn’t need to know how to code.
Here are a couple of tasks that still require some knowledge of coding to do (as far as I know!):
- Display post tags instead of post categories. WordPress has a PHP function in its API that displays the categories for a post. (PHP is a self-referential acronym that stands for PHP: Hypertext Processor.) What if you use tags instead? Getting WordPress to display the tags involves (a) finding where in the code the categories for a post are displayed, which first means (b) figuring out the particular function that displays the categories (c) in which file(s), and then (d) figuring out the function that displays the tags, and finally (e) updating the code in the appropriate places.
- Change font style, color, border widths, etc., in themes without admin options. Along with a theme comes a CSS file (cascading style sheet). While the theme files determine what is displayed, the CSS file determines how it’s displayed. Fixing the look of your website may mean poking around in the CSS file to tweak some numbers, add some attributes, or even add your own CSS classes to create a whole new formatting rule. Most tweaks are possible with the proper coding, but maybe not without.
- Identifying places where you’ve gotten hacked. It’s happened to me, and knowing what constitutes good code and what constitutes bad code is half the battle.
- A custom widget, or a tailored interface to another website. Let’s face it: There may just not be a plugin to do what you want. Now, you’re the trailblazer. WordPress is open source software. You want it? You code it! (Or hire someone to code it.)
In conclusion …
For most cases, a blogger does not need to know how to code. WordPress is incredibly powerful software.
But I think a blogger should want to learn some coding because it will make the blogger more versatile and able to control their medium.