WordCamp Hamilton 2013 – My presentation

WordCamp Hamilton 2013As a follow up to my last post about WordCamp Hamilton 2013, here are the slides from my presentation.

Conference Name: WordCamp Hamilton 2013
Date: Sun June 23 2013
Location: The Art Gallery of Hamilton

Let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

Talk soon!



Top 7 Features of a good blog

What do you need in order to build a successful blog? There are a few key elements that will make or break any attempt to produce a good quality blog. The number one thing that will make or break any good blog is content. But content isn’t something that will differentiate good blog hosts. Only you can bring good content to your blog. So the question really becomes, what features can the current crop of blog tools bring to your blog?

Here’s my top seven feature list to look out for when choosing a blog hosting tool:

  1. Plenty of easy to customize themes – this is the starting point for any blog. While some people are gifted enough to start from scratch when building a theme for a blog, most of us pick and existing theme and modify it slightly to fit our needs and to reflect our individual tastes.
  2. Tagging and RSS – Tagging allows you to categorize posts, which allows for easy sorting and presentation of posts by topic. RSS allows you to share your content with others in a simple, easy to use format. RSS is a big topic. I’ll talk about it more in a future post. For the time being, let’s just say it’s a must have for your blog.
  3. Word-like editing tools – the ability to bold, italicize, change fonts/colours/sizes, add photos and videos and preview and auto-save your posts should be a gimme for most current blogging tools.
  4. Stats – what good is a blogging tool if you are unable to measure your blog traffic? If your blog tool doesn’t have a built-in stats program, don’t worry. There are some standalone options (Google Analytics is one of the biggies) that level the playing field.
  5. Spam Protection – Within a few days of setting up a blog and having it indexed by major search engines, your blog is likely to be overrun by spam. Automated or manual, there are plenty of spam writers out there that will do their best to inundate your site with ads for less-than-desirable content. So, having some sort of spam mechanism in place is helpful in keeping your content clean and professional.
  6. Ability to back up your content offline – You spend a lot of time building your blog. You should be able to take that data with you and save it offline. Some blogging platforms allow content to easily be exported. Others aren’t so user-friendly in this regard. I think it’s important to have an easy way to get at your content and take it with you.
  7. Easy Customization – this is perhaps the most important feature. We all agree that a blog is an extension of the writer. It should be personal. It should reflect the writer’s online personality. And it should allow for easy customizations, tweaks and hacks if and when the writer wants them. Adequate security controls should be in place so that a blog does not get compromised, but all of that security stuff should go on behind the scenes, leaving the blogger with the freedom to build and maintain the blog they want. Javascript, custom widgets and some sort of API should be the bare minimum in this regard.

For me, these are the main features that any blogging platform MUST have. And fortunately, the main blogging platforms out there offer these features and plenty more. And even better, most of the main blogging platforms provide the ability to use all of these features FOR FREE!

And for those of you that are wondering, “which blog platforms are you referring to”, well look no further than my ever-expanding list of blog tools.

So there you have it. OVer the next few posts, I’ll work through this “Group of 7” to explain each feature in more detail and to give you the ins and outs of using these features to their fullest.

Talk soon!



Get your own website, take 2

I just checked my blog history, and I wrote about how best to build a personal website back in December 2005. At that time, I suggested that there were sufficient free tools out there to build a site that would meet the needs of most users.

So… what’s changed since then and has my recommendation changed?

Let’s start with what’s changed since then:

  1. Web 2.0: There are a myriad of second generation web applications which have facilitated tremendous improvements in terms of information sharing. This has precipitated in an unbelievable number of mash-ups, community sites and other social-networking type tools.
  2. RSS: “Really Simple Syndication” has taken the web by storm. RSS is used to share data of all kinds between websites. No longer is data proprietary. Now, if you can’t subscribe to and obtain content for free, then it doesn’t exist on the internet. That’s the unwritten rule on the web today.
  3. Increased functionality for free: The free offerings that I mentioned in 2005 continue to be free. The only change is that they’re better. Increased storage space is a biggie. So are dynamic applications (most major email clients (like gmail or yahoo mail) are rich, dynamic applications that rival de facto desktop versions (like MS Outlook or Eudora). Other major attractions include plenty of professional looking themes, tagging, spell-check, previews, easier photo and video inclusion and robust stat tracking.

I could go on, but that’s not where I’m headed in this discussion. Let’s look at where I’ve been over the last two years and what I’m using now for my websites.

The Last Two Years
Shortly after my last “get your own website” posting, I took an about face and again found a paid hosting service. I used The service was fantastic and their included services were great. The main reason I went with paid hosting was for the storage space and the ease of using a bunch of open source applications on my own dedicated webspace. After a long period of experimentation, I soon found that I was using two main functions on my websites: blog and photo functionality. I toyed with using forums and other community type features, but found that an appropriate critical mass would be difficult to gather and if I did find a time when I would be hosting a large number of users, my next fear was scalability. So, without a need for anything more than blogs or photos, and nervousness over scalability should I grow a large website, I decided to go back to the world of free hosting based on my needs.

My needs:

  1. Blogs: I run three sites:, and Each of them serves a different purpose, as you’ll see by visiting each of them.
  2. Photos: It is valuable to share photos with my blog visitors.
  3. Files: I have a need to share files like word or pdf documents with site visitors from time to time.
  4. mp3 files: I have a need to share mp3 files with some site visitors as well.

My current setup:
I am currently using two different blog platforms for different purposes:

  1. WordPress: I use WordPress for and I really like the themes that I am using on these two sites and some of the features that are available for WordPress are quick and easy to deploy.
  2. Blogger: I use Blogger for Blogger allows for adsense and javascript, two features which the hosted version of WordPress currently lacks.

Another competitor to these two products is Community Server(CS), which I am familiar with through my professional work. I am not currently using CS for personal use. The main reason I am not using CS is because of the increased hosting requirements: It runs on Windows hosting, and requires SQL Server. Most SQL Server hosts are considerably more expensive from a hosting perspective. And, since I’m trying to avoid large expenses on my hosting, CS is not currently in scope for personal use.

So… this is where things are at for me. I am using WordPress and Blogger for my main website platforms. I use a few web tools to add additional content to my sites. I will address some of these tools in upcoming posts. So, for the short term, stay tuned as I give you some overviews, tutorials, tips, techniques and advice pertaining to building out a web presence on the web on the cheap.

One thing to note: “building a website on the cheap” no longer means that a site looks cheap. In fact, the tools available today virtually guarantee that a professional image can be built for far less than what you’d have paid two years ago.

Stay tuned for plenty of advice on how to build an effective site.

One final note (and an important disclaimer): I am terrible from a design perspective so don’t expect beautiful artwork from me. I will provide you with some good advice pertaining to building the nuts and bolts and integrating everything together. But to make it look good, you’ll have to bring your own creative flair to things.

Talk soon!

Todd Dow


Get your own website!

So… I’ve been thinking for a while about the best way to have an online presence.

First, I had to assess what I need in a website. I really use the web for two things… text and pictures. I post periodic updates that keep friends and family aware of life as I know it. And, with those updates come pictures. Oh, and I also maintain a static website for my small business (wirepaper) that doesn’t change very often. The most complex need that I have involves the option to email people when I have something new to say.

There are numerous options out there, and I’ve been of the opinion that creating and maintaining my own hosted website was the best way to go. Since I have little to no design expertise, it has been tough going for quite some time. I have had some luck with my own design work, but it hasn’t been ideal. Add to that the fact that many of the tools out there require some sort of technical expertise in order to update the site.

Enough of that. Time for a change. And time to save some money while I’m at it. I’ve decided to go the blog route for a while. There are plenty of sites out there that provide blog space for free. Without much comparison shopping, I chose I spent a little time looking at Movable Type but found the setup a bit more than I could be bothered with. And, after spending a few minutes looking at Blogger, I was sold (and the price was right – free!).

Pictures… again, there are plenty of options out there. I’ve looked at yahoo,, and There are numerous other options, but I limited myself to a small handful.

Yahoo Photos was part of the larger yahoo network, of which Flickr is also a member. I’m a little confused about the different branding, but who am I to judge? I’m partial to the separate Flickr brand, which doesn’t identify as easily with the big corporate Yahoo name. Smugmug offers a free trial for a week, but then you have to pay for use after that time. $29.95 per year is quite reasonable, but I’m looking for free. G2photos is a local site run by a good friend of mine in Toronto. If I was going to pay for photo storage I’d seriously consider his site, but again, I’m looking for free… so… no

I’ve used flickr before to see pictures from friends. The site is easy to use. And the best part is that it’s free. Flickr’s free program caps you based on a combination of number of pictures and total size of picture uploads per calendar month. 200 pictures and/or 200 MB of uploads per month. That’s it. Pretty simple. Based on my past picture volume, I’ve never gone over 200 pictures uploaded per month and since I compress my pictures before uploading them, 200 MB will not be a threshold that I have to worry about.

And the best part is that Blogger and Flickr work well together. I can post pictures in Flickr which will automatically update my blog on Blogger (should I choose to set things up that way). And, once my blog is updated, it will automatically update my audience (with another tool that I’ll talk about next). All in all, quite snazzy.

The last part about this whole blogging thing is to update my audience. There are two ways to do this. First, I can email all of my friends and family and tell them to visit my blog on a regular basis. That works great for most people but we all get busy and we forget to check things out from time to time. A service called automates the distribution of my blog via email once people sign up for it. Subscribe to this blog using the form on the sidebar of this blog to see for yourself. Quite simple. works in concert with to automate and advertise your blog in various ways. All in all, quite a good package.

And the best part is that all of this stuff is free! In less than a day, I’ve set up a fully functioning blog that manages the distribution of text and pictures to an audience that can sign themselves up for future updates. It all operates on its own. The only thing I have to do is manage the content.

I’m impressed. Aren’t you?