Vision of Earth is a WordPress blog. We enjoy this piece of software because:
- It is free.
- It works rather well with other free software.
- It is pretty well supported, including a lot of community support.
- It is very popular, thousands of plugins and themes have been built for it. You can do almost all of your design using just the freely available plugins and themes.
We started out using the Tarski theme for WordPress. Earlier this year we converted the Arras Theme when we did a full update and redesign of the site. We decided to go with more of a website approach than a blog approach to design. Instead of the most recent post and a menu, as in a blog style, we have a large part of the page dedicated to our best and most foundational works.
Other features we definitely wanted on our homepage, and have now implemented are:
- Our most recent posts. (Arras Theme functionality)
- Our most popular posts. (WordPress Popular Posts Plugin)
- Category listing. (AVH Extended Categories Widgets Plugin)
- Recent Forum posts. (Simple:Press Forum Plugin)
Our subscriptions are managed through Google FeedBurner. It allows us to present a high-quality feed that also includes many methods of subscription on the page itself. You can see what we mean by looking at Vision of Earth’s FeedBurner Page. The top right of the page should give you options for different forms of subscription. Subscriptions to blogs can be very handy if you are interested in what they have to offer. We encourage readers who enjoy our work to subscribe.
Google Analytics is a system that helps you track visitors to your site. You can see statistics such as how many visitors you have had in general, the number of times various pages have been viewed, and sources of traffic. This list is by no means exhaustive. Google Analytics is an incredibly flexible tool, capable of teaching you a lot about the way that people enter your website, interact with it, and end up leaving. One of our favorite features is the ‘site overlay’. You can view your website with percentages overlaid on top of all the visible hyperlinks. The percentages represent the number of people who, when viewing this page, clicked that specific hyperlink.
Google Accounts let us set up email addresses such as Ben.Harack@visionofearth.org. It is slick, and free. Once set up correctly we are able to login from mail.visionofearth.org, which is really handy.
We have a donations page through PayPal. As of October, 2010, we have recieved $5 in donations. We are hopeful that our work will prove to be of value to people, and that they will choose to support us.
Google AdSense places contextually relevant advertising in places that we specify on each page and post. We attempted with our ad placement to interfere minimally with the message of our website. We are attempting to balance our wish to treat our readers humanely with our wish for Vision of Earth to be able to pay its bandwidth costs. Our ad placements in text have been to the right of the main body of text, and usually placed so that they normal flow of reading can continue unhindered.
Our experience with Google AdSense is that it primarily pays for the number of times that guests to the site click their ads. There are also much smaller payments for ‘impressions’, or times that someone has an ad on the screen but does not click it. Having the ads up for about a month at this point (October 2010), Vision of Earth has made about $4.51.
We have signed up for an account with Amazon.ca Associates. All of the volunteers for this project currently live in Canada, so we opted for the Canadian version of Amazon Associates. If visitors follow our links to Amazon.ca and buy the product we have recommended, we get 4-8% of the profits. So far this revenue source has earned $0.00. In addition to books and other products at Amazon, this program also lets us recommend products from Audible.com and AbeBooks.com. We have not done this yet however.
The WordPress Plugins that we use
Advertising Manager – Keeps track of our AdSense ads, and allows us to control their presentation.
Akismet – Correctly identifies and automatically removes most spam comments.
Append Content – A simple plugin that lets us append text and HTML to the bottom of our posts. In our case, we use this for appending links to our donation page and subscription page.
AVH Extended Categories Widgets – This plugin allows us to have a widget on the right side of all posts and pages listing certain categories. We use categories for some additional behind-the-scenes organization, so we only want some of our categories to show. This plugin lets us do that easily.
Broken Link Checker – Makes sure that every link on your site, including those in comments, works. If a link doesn’t work, it gives you notice on your dashboard.
FD Feedburner Plugin – This plugin redirects all of the automatically generated feeds on our page to our FeedBurner page.
Google Analytics for WordPress – This helps establish the link to Google Analytics for tracking visitors and traffic to the site.
Google Custom Search Plugin – This plugin helped us with the creation of our Google Custom Search. We found that the default WordPress search algorithm left a lot to be desired. Replacing it with Google Custom Search made our search functionality actually useful.
Google XML Sitemaps – Generates a sitemap that helps search engines index the blog.
Register Plus – UPDATE: Vision of Earth no longer has a forum. Since we have an attached forum, we needed a method by which people could sign up securely and reliably. I found that this was the best plugin for that, offering a lot of customization of the registration process.
Sharebar – This plugin allows us to create the floating set of social bookmarking icons that you should see on the left side of this page. We found it to be the best such plugin for doing this easily and in a way that looks rather nice.
Simple:Press Forum – A very big and impressive forum plugin. I find the integration with the rest of my content to be very impressive. The options available are also very broad.
Table of Contents Generator – This plugin lets us generate a very nice floating table of contents automatically from a set of correctly-used headings in my documents. We have found this to be a tremendous time saver since so many of my articles are fairly long.
Wapple Architect – This plugin gives us a mobile version of our site. In theory, if someone visits www.visionofearth.org, they will see a site formatted reasonably well for a mobile device such as a smart phone.
Widget Logic – A plugin for making widgets appear on the pages and posts that you want them to. This uses flags such as is_home() to determine the logic of where widgets will be shown. This plugin seems very powerful. Our use of it so far has been minimal, but we can tell that it is very useful.
WordPress Popular Posts – This plugin lets us create the widget you should see on the right side of the screen that lists the most popular posts on Vision of Earth. We currently have them ranked by their total number of views.
WP-Footnotes – A footnoting plugin. Seems to work very well. Our site is intended to be very reference heavy, so this will continue to come in very handy.
WP Word Count – This plugin gives us a page in the control panel that lists the number of words we have published on pages and posts. Very handy to get an idea how much content we have published.
Yet Another Related Posts Plugin – This plugin generates a list of related posts at the bottom of each post. I find that it works very well and comes with some customizable features.