Lesson # 19 – Some Hair Loss is Unavoidable – A Parable
Since I am about to wind up this beginners course on building a basic WordPress blog site, I think it useful to tell the story of how I learned what I explained in the previous lesson. It underscores the difficulties that you will likely face if you want to continue to learn more about the many options offered by WordPress.
It won’t teach you much knew about WordPress, but it might prove a useful reminder in the future that trying to learn all that WP has to offer is like weaving through a labyrinth, expecting obstacles and wrong turns and the need to backtrack to eventually reach your goal. It might help save your sanity and most of your hair.
My Story. Even before I started to develop this site the question came to mind in reading sites of friends: How can I get email updates of their posts? I tried to subscribe to one, but it didn’t work. So, I went to WP Support for clues. I typed in “email notification” and “email subscriptions” in Support-Search, but couldn’t find what I needed, so I turned to my Idiot’s book.
There I found a chapter on “feeds and subscriptions” which introduced me to “feedburner,” a site to help me set up subscriptions. The book gave good instructions how to set up a feed, so that’s why you see: Subscription Feed at the top of my Side bar.
I was very proud of myself until I got to the “keep it simple” section of the chapter that explained how to set up an automatic email notification. That’s what I wanted, not to set up a feed. Why does Idiot’s guide give me the simple option last? Doesn’t it make sense to go from simple to complex in instruction? Really, whose the bigger idiot? Well, at least I finally had what I wanted, an easy way for readers to get email notification of new posts. Also, the feeds option would likely come in handy some day.
So, all was fine in this regard until I happened to look up “feeds” in Support and saw this note regarding feedburner subscriptions: “This is legacy information”, which means, outdated. WP apparently had developed its own application, making feedburner unnecessary and the Idiot’s book suggestion outmoded (and it was a 2011 edition, too) . In short, what you see at the top of my side bar are two unnecessary relics kept around as reminders of how quickly things change these days.
But knowing WP has its own way to set up email subscriptions (I’ll call them ES’s) , is not the same as knowing how to do it, and though I typed in various things in Support-Search I couldn’t find what I needed. So, I looked up “email” in the index of WordPress for Dummies, a book that I don’t usually find very helpful, but in this case I give it kudos.
The book led me to my Dashboard and then to Settings – Discussions. I scrolled way down to Avatars and just above that saw a ‘follow blog’ option in the comment form that was already activated (i.e. box already checked).
In short, your theme template has automatically set up that “follow blog option” (an option for comments, too). WP just doesn’t let you know, and since you don’t know, you can’t alert your reader. And, unless you have learned how from sending comments to other blogs, you won’t know you can tell readers to subscribe this way because the subscriptions box is only revealed after a reader chooses to make a comment.
In short, a reader of your blog might find out more quickly than you how to subscribe, as WP doesn’t do much to make the blogger aware of these options.
As indicated in the previous lesson, another way to set up ES’s is to activate the Follow Blog Widget. When glancing at Widget options, I didn’t realize that meant for others to follow my blog, but instead thought it was for following blogs of others. True, if I explored each Widget carefully, I would have learned this, but if I explored everything in the WP Dashboard, I’d have given up a long time ago.
Anyway, you don’t need to activate that Widget if you realize there is a Follow button on the right hand lower corner, which reveals an email sign-up for subscribers if clicked.
However, I only noticed that button after I learned of the other ways to set up ES’s. Why? Because most of the time when opening up a tab to work on my blog I click an URL that sends me to the Dashboard in the back end, not to the frontend. And once a blogger is logged in, the Follow button on the lower right hand corner stops popping up
These are two great examples of how, even when WordPress makes something easy for you, they often drive you nuts in the process by not letting you know. So, you just keep pulling out hair while trying to figure it out.
The difficulties in learning WP exemplify a common problem in instruction. Did I already mention the example of my doctor who when trying to fill out a form on a computer, shook his head and said to me: “The people who create these forms have no idea of what the end-user needs.” That’s true of much instruction, and particularly true of WP instructions both on the site as well as in training materials by others that I have found so far.
Therefore, the moral of this story (lesson) is that when you struggle to learn more, it is most likely the fault of the instructions rather than a shortcoming in you.
You’re fine. The “instructors”, including me, often have no clue what you need.