Blogosphere

Another bug in the WordPress block editor and frustration trying to get WordPress.com Support to believe me

Let me start by saying that software support is a wicked hard job. I’ve worked in the industry more than 30 years and have experienced it firsthand on support rotations.

Until the latest update to WordPress’s block editor, it was possible to flow text around an image following these steps:

  1. Insert an image, either using an Image block, or using an HTML block to embed a Flickr image.
  2. Using the block tools, right or left align it.
  3. Grab handles appear on the image. Drag them to size the image to your liking.

Boom, that’s it, the next blocks flow around the image. At least, it did until the most recent block editor update. It’s broken now. After step 2 above, you can no longer select the block with the image in it. It appears to merge with the next block. If you click the image and use the block tools to delete the block, it deletes the next block but leaves the image in place. The only way to delete the image is switch to the Code Editor and remove the code that embeds the image. Here’s a screencast that illustrates what’s happening. This has got to be a bug.

Chicago Theater

I have found a sort-of workaround. Insert the image, size it, then left or right align it. It gives the desired end result, as you can see at left.

The only trouble is, you still can’t select that image block. I can’t resize it, I can’t move it, I can’t edit the caption. I can’t even delete it.

The only way to interact with the image block after that is in the code editor.

I opened a case with WordPress.com Support and described this regression. The support engineer said that the block editor was never designed to work in the way I described. I replied that it had indeed worked that way until a couple days before I opened the support case.

The engineer then asked me to either use the Text & Media block, or use the Classic Editor block, to do what I wanted.

This is an example of the Media & Text block. It doesn’t support Flickr embeds; unfortunately, I use Flickr to host most of the images here. Also, the default text is huge and you have to format it to try to match it to the rest of the post’s default text size. You get a slider to do that, and you have to match it by trial and error. It doesn’t actually flow the text around the image, as you can see.

MeditatingDogIt does work to use the Classic Editor. I’ve done it here: this paragraph and the image at right are in the Classic Editor block, and the paragraphs that follow are in Paragraph blocks.

It was surprisingly challenging to remember how to use the Classic Editor after all these months in the Block Editor, but I figured it out.

However, I was still sure I had found a bug, and I said so very directly to the support engineer. I shared an old post with the engineer that showed how I had flowed text around an image. I pointed the engineer to the underlying code behind the post to prove it: there were dimensions in the code for the image. Those wouldn’t have been there had I not used the grab handles to shrink the image. The engineer finally said, “Okay, I see you were able to do this before. It seems unusual that it was possible to do this before, but I can certainly report this change to the Block Editor devs. for you.”

No, it wasn’t unusual. This is how it actually worked.

Furthermore, following the steps I described above to flow text around an image results in a block you can no longer select, and can only delete by switching to the Code Editor. In what universe is that not a bug?

If anyone from WordPress happens to read this, I’d be grateful if you’d check what I’m saying here and, if I’m right, open a bug ticket for it. I’d surely like to see this fixed as I encounter this bug every day.

Most of the time when I open a support case with WordPress.com I get active troubleshooting. I’ve found several bugs over the years and most support engineers are happy to get to the bottom of it with me and, when I’m right, write a bug ticket. They even email me a link to the ticket so I can follow it and see when it gets fixed.

But every now and then a support engineer repeatedly tries to tell me that whatever bug I’m encountering is how the system is supposed to function, or that I am wrong about how the system used to work. That makes me nuts. I feel gaslit.

I know this support engineer doesn’t know me and has no idea I’ve been making software for a living since the late 80s. That I was a quality engineer for 17 of those years. I’m adept at identifying bugs.

Harrumph, enough ranting. I hope someone at WordPress.com figures out that this condition exists and puts it in the queue to be fixed.

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Blogosphere

You should start a blog

If you have thoughts, ideas, or stories to tell, if you are working on a creative project or have one in mind, then you should start a blog to showcase your work and share it with the world.

Just expect that blogging won’t make you rich or famous. There was a time when bloggers could attract vast audiences, but those days are over. We’re in the post-blog era; the big audiences are all on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube now. This is why in recent years I’ve dissuaded people from starting new blogs.

But I was wrong and I’m reversing my position. You should start a blog.

Unless you’re already famous, gaining attention on the Internet beyond your friends and family requires lots of both effort and luck. The biggest audiences are on social media, so it might seem obvious to do it there. But the giant tech companies nakedly seek monopolistic control. They gather and use information about you in any way they please. Facebook and Google are actively working to wall you off from the rest of the Web so that you stay always within their services. Google is now more about advertising than helping you find things on the Internet. These companies monetize you. They are not on your side; they are not your friends.

A blog is free from the datamongers and monopolists. Starting a blog extends a solid middle finger toward their practices, and uses the Web in the open and equal fashion that its builders envisioned.

The giant tech companies can still be useful to you and your blog, however. Organic search still can lead people to your work, and you can use social media to promote your blog and individual posts. (I need to write a post about what I’ve learned about both.)

So: start a blog. With effort, persistence, and patience you’ll find the people who find what you do to be interesting. With a more effort, you can build a community of those people. This is incredibly satisfying!

I want to tell you about the Courthousery blog. Ted Shideler had an idea to document every still-standing Indiana courthouse — city, county, state, and federal, past and present. Little by little he drove to every one of Indiana’s 92 counties to photograph them. He researched each one and told its story. He’s even beautifully woven some of his personal stories into some of the posts, which is one of the quirky and interesting things you can do in a blog. He’s covered most of Indiana’s courthouses now, so he’s branched out to nearby states to keep going.

Courthouse at Paoli
Orange County Courthouse, Paoli, IN. Pentax ME, 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Ektar 100, 2012.

Ted will probably decide one day that he’s completed his project and stop updating his blog. But then his blog becomes a permanent record, a site people interested in a particular courthouse, or in courthouses in general, will find when they search. They’ll be grateful for Ted’s careful and thoughtful work.

If Ted had posted his research and photographs only on Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, they would have become lost. Have you ever tried to find an old social-media post? It’s nearly impossible. They’re not available to search engines, either. They’re meant to be of the moment.

They’d not be entirely lost to Ted, who has the right to download his own Facebook posts. You have the right to download yours, too; do it on this page. But that would include everything you’ve ever posted there, not just posts related to your project. It could be a staggering amount of information to sort through. But crucially, it would not include the comments anybody left on your posts.

Because Ted chose to blog, however, he can export just his project at any time and save it on his own computer — comments and all. WordPress.com has especially robust blog export tools, which is one reason I recommend WordPress.com for bloggers.

Even though neither Ted’s finite project nor my continuing photographs and stories have mass appeal, there are people in the world who enjoy what we do. It’s a big world — some people are likely to enjoy what you do, too.

You can attract readers to your blog, and keep them. You do it one reader at a time. Some readers will find you through search. Some will find you as you promote your posts on social media. Some will find you through word of mouth, which is how I found Ted’s blog. Persist, and you will find an audience.

Courthousery is Ted’s gift to the world. Down the Road is my gift to the world. Your blog can be your gift to the world. What do you have to say? What do you have to show? There will be others who find it interesting.

Start a blog!

If this post has encouraged you, here are links to a whole bunch of other posts I’ve written that share many of the things I’ve learned about how to blog well.

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Blogosphere

Pasting Flickr embed codes into WordPress blocks no longer works

Software engineers all over the world continuously deliver new and changed functionality to WordPress.com. This is great when you like the changes, and not so great when you don’t. Especially when you have to learn all new steps to do something you’d already learned to do and were happy with.

One major change was the new block editor. It was a whole new way of approaching creating content. I found it to be easy to learn and I like it a great deal better than any other editor WordPress has ever offered.

One thing I especially liked about it was how easily I could embed images from Flickr, which is where I host most of my images. In the old editors, embedding a Flickr image was a multi-step process. One of those steps was manually stripping out of the embed code a <script> tag that WordPress tripped up on.

WordPress actually doesn’t allow <script> tags in posts. This is wise, because those tags execute in your browser code that’s stored elsewhere. That code could be malicious. The code Flickr wants to run in your browser is harmless, but there’s no way for WordPress to know that.

In the block editor, simply pasting the Flickr embed code into an empty block stripped the <script> tag and made the image appear. Yay!

But this functionality was recently removed with neither warning nor explanation. Pasting a Flickr embed code into a block now results in a blank block.

But not an empty block. When you switch the block to HTML view, some HTML code appears. WordPress converted the Flickr embed code to the image’s simple URL wrapped in a hyperlink tag, wrapped in a paragraph tag, like this:

<p><a href="URL_of_Flickr_image"></a></p>

This is a malformed hyperlink, in that it specifies the link target (the page to go to, here the URL of the Flickr image) but no text or image to which to attach the hyperlink. The browser correctly renders this as blank.

Thinking I’d found a bug, I opened a case with WordPress.com support. They told me that simply pasting the Flickr embed code should never have worked because of the <script> tag. They didn’t explain why.

I pointed out to them that before this change, blocks flawlessly stripped out <script> tags. I asked if they would restore the old functionality. They said with no explanation that they would not.

They gave me two alternatives. The first is to paste the Flickr image’s URL into an empty block. This does work, but the image is of a fixed size, which is narrower than the block on some screens. I did it below, so you can see. There doesn’t appear to be any way to increase the image size. I almost always want the image to scale to full width, so this alternative won’t work for me.

Pay parking

The other alternative they offered is to paste the Flickr embed code into a block of type Custom HTML. This adds three extra steps I didn’t have to do before:

  1. Convert the automatically created default block to a Custom HTML block.
  2. After pasting the Flickr embed code, manually delete the <script> tags.
  3. Open the block menu and choose Convert to Blocks to show the embedded image rather than its underlying HTML code.

This is not onerous, but it is disappointing because several days ago I did not have to do these steps. A real benefit I gained with the block editor is now lost. These steps give me the same end result I had before, at least.

Pay parking

In my work as a software engineering manager in a company that delivers a software product over the Internet, I’ve personally led engineers to deliver changes that have caused users frustration. There are a lot of valid reasons to do it. But users hate to be surprised by changes that alter their workflows, especially when they don’t know why it had to change.

I’d love it if WordPress.com would revert to the old functionality so I can just copy and paste those Flickr embed codes and move on. But I’d have an easier time accepting this loss of functionality if someone had given me even a flimsy explanation of why.

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Personal

Switching from NBC to PBS, in a manner of speaking

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve turned off the ads on my blog.

They had become more trouble than they were worth. Ad placements I didn’t authorize kept appearing, ruining the look and feel of the blog. Many times I heard from readers that ads were auto-playing videos or, worse, automatically redirecting to junky and scammy sites. I’ve spent a lot of time chatting with WordPress.com support, getting them to turn off the unauthorized placements and squash the bad ad actors.

I made only about 50 cents a day from ads here. That paltry income wasn’t worth the hassle and, more importantly, the risk of alienating you. Nobody wants to keep visiting a site where videos automatically play or the page suddenly redirects to “Your computer is suffering from 23 viruses!!!!!”

The small stream of income was nice, as it covered this blog’s annual hosting costs with a little left over. But it’s not like I can’t afford this blog. Down the Road will live on without ad revenue.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Perhaps, however, you’d like to partner with me to fund more film, cameras, and adventures. If you do, you can click this “Buy me a coffee” button to send me $3. My favorite color film costs about $3 a roll, so it’s perfect.

I’ll quietly drop that button into posts from here on out. Clicking that button can be your way of saying you appreciate my work and want me to keep at it. But no pressure or stress — you’re welcome and wanted here even if you never click the button.

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Blogosphere

Three tips to increase engagement with your blog

As a veteran blogger and a veteran reader of blogs, I want to share some key things I’ve learned about how to encourage readers to keep coming back.

Your readers have only so much attention to give. Your blog is part of a wide stream of information swishing past everyone you hope will read your writing. They, too, quickly decide what to read and what to pass by.

Here are three things you can do now to help readers not pass your posts by.

Write descriptive titles and strong opening paragraphs. This lets everyone know why your post is awesome, and gives them a good reason to keep reading.

I used to write clever or obscure titles and then ramble in early paragraphs. I thought I was a witty raconteur but in reality readers didn’t track with me. When I started writing simple, declarative titles and got to the point in my first or second paragraph, pageviews and comments began to grow.

Doing this well takes practice. I don’t always succeed! But I keep working at it. You can too. For good examples by other bloggers, check out this post and this post.

Share complete posts, not just excerpts, in your feed. I buck conventional wisdom with this recommendation.

Before I explain, here’s some background. Readers can find out if you’ve published in several ways. They can always just come to your blog. Or they can follow you on social media if you share new posts there. Or they can subscribe to your blog and get an email every time you publish.

They can also follow you in a feed reader like Feedly or Bloglovin’ or NewsBlur. These services work by picking up your blog’s feed, a technical name for the way your blog alerts these services of new posts.

WordPress, and I assume most other blogging platforms, give you an option to share only the first paragraph or so of your posts in your feed. The idea is that this entices readers to click through to your blog to read the rest.

If your excerpt doesn’t strongly communicate why your post is interesting, most readers won’t click through. (Unless you’re a celebrity and people hang off your every word.)

If you get good at writing compelling titles and opening paragraphs (or custom excerpts, a WordPress feature; more here), you should improve your clickthrough rate.

But so many people read on their phones now. If they subscribe via email or feed reader, the phone opens your posts instantly. But if you make them click through they have to wait a few seconds for the post to load in the phone’s browser. I think this is a strong deterrent. I know it deters me. I think it’s better to not throw up this barrier.

To turn off excerpts in WordPress, click My Sites in the upper-left corner of your blog and choose Settings. Click the Writing tab and scroll down to Feed Settings. Click the slider next to “Limit feed to excerpt only” until the white dot moves to the left and the control turns gray. Click the Save Settings button.

Enable, and reply to, comments. Comments are the last key to engagement with your blog. Once they’ve read your post, let them respond.

Yes, readers still have to click through. But just as most of us are faster to speak than to listen, a reader’s desire to have a say is likely to hurtle them right over that barrier.

Several blogs I follow don’t allow comments. It’s super frustrating when they write a good post and I want to offer a perspective or praise! I assume they disable comments because so many comment sections are cesspools, full of pointless arguments and nasty insults.

Yours doesn’t have to be this way. You get to decide the the tone of your comment section. Just delete anything that crosses your line. You don’t even have to warn an erring commenter if you don’t want to.

My blog generates little controversy. But trolls, jerks, and people having bad days do show up from time to time and say unkind things. When it’s a regular commenter, I ask them to tone it down. Otherwise, I just delete the comment and move on. If you do the same, you’ll shape a pleasant comment community — one that your readers will be glad to join.

Respond to at least some of the comments you get. Readers will see that you’re willing to engage, and it will encourage them to come back.

To enable comments on your WordPress blog, click My Sites and choose Settings. Click the Discussion tab. In the Default Article Settings area, click the slider next to “Allow people to post comments on new articles” until the white dot moves to the left and the control turns gray.


Do you have any other thoughts about how to increase engagement with your blog? If so, share in the comments!

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Blogosphere

A couple weeks ago I published a mini-review of the new Gutenberg editor in WordPress. I said there that there was no clean way to embed images from Flickr.

I was wrong. It’s stupefyingly easy. You just paste the Flickr embed code directly into an empty block. The image appears instantly! It also hyperlinks back to the Flickr page from which it came, per Flickr’s terms of service.

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Flickr image embedded instantly into WordPress Gutenberg

This is far easier than how we all had to embed Flickr images in any previous WordPress editor. Given that I use Flickr to host my photographs, Gutenberg is making creating posts significantly faster for me!

Embedding Flickr images in the WordPress Gutenberg editor

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