A few months back, when WordPress launched version 4.8, I updated right away rather impulsively. Of course I always keep a backup copy of my materials, but it’s always a bit of a shock when things go unexpectedly, spectacularly wrong on a generally stable platform that never gave me a problem since perhaps version 2. WordPress acknowledged that new code and features underlying version 4.8 may break some sites, and indeed, after the update, I was presented with a blank page. Even attempting to log into the admin panel was futile. Blank pages, blank pages everywhere.
After a long, painful troubleshooting session where I tried every suggestion outlined in the support forum, I deduced that the problem had to be related to the WordPress theme I was using. After another long session — mainly spent watching paint dry as folders and hundreds of files were re-uploaded on my server via FTP — I finally reverted to version 4.7.x and the site was back and working again.
The march of software updates never stops, though, and I realised the site with that theme was living on borrowed time. Today, WordPress is at version 4.8.2, and I noticed in the admin panel the news that there’s already a version 4.9 Beta 2 available. My concern is security updates: WordPress may still release security updates for version 4.7.x while 4.8 is around, but perhaps when 4.9 launches, 4.7 will be considered out of date. So, while I theoretically could check every PHP file in the problematic theme and try to fix things through a trial-and-error method, the kind of trial-and-error method involved here would have been absurdly time-consuming.
This is why I chose to look for a more modern and supported theme and (begrudgingly) opted for a website design refresh.
In reorganising some of the site elements, I tried to follow an important statistic: where people click when they visit my site. I may not care about the number of visitors I get on a daily basis, but what they look at and what they click once they’re here, that’s an intriguing indicator. And what I have noticed is that visitors are rarely interested in whatever is located outside the boundaries of the article they’re reading. The previous design featured a main menu on top of the page, a few widgets on the right sidebar, and an elegant, yet somewhat cluttered footer. By looking at the statistics for the past few months, I saw that the footer elements got less than five clicks against hundreds of visits. It was time to simplify things a bit.
Some widgets are gone now. Some of the information they displayed has been discarded, while other things have moved elsewhere. There are two new pages in the main menu on top: Archives lets you navigate the site’s archives with more obvious fine-grained options. You can directly access the last 30 articles, or browse the contents by month, category, tag. I think it’s more useful and friendlier than a simple pull-down menu on the sidebar. Contact & RSS Feeds is another short, self-explanatory page. I think that putting contact information and the links to the various feeds in a standalone page was better than cramming the same information in two footer widgets, so there you have it.
Other advantages brought by the new theme:
- The ability to post bigger images. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of those blogs where you always get this huge intro photo no matter what the article is about and how long it is. It’s that every so often I like to discuss design and UI elements, and it’s better to be able to display bigger images in the first place, instead of having to post small images you have to click to enlarge.
- This theme does a much better job at being responsive and mobile-friendly than the previous one.
- Thankfully, this theme proved to be much easier to customise than previous ones, and was almost perfect for my needs right out of the box. The amount of tweaks I had to perform in the CSS have been really minimal.
- This theme has many tricks up its sleeve, and through shortcodes it lets me easily do some text stylings (like asides, and left or right pull-quotes) that required a lot of CSS noodling in past iterations of this site.
But most of all, I was able to finally update to WordPress 4.8.x without issues.
There are still a couple of things I may change down the road, some information in the main pages to be updated or rewritten, and I can’t guarantee you won’t find broken links or layout glitches in past articles. But at the time of writing I deemed the site to be ready for prime time and to be put out of maintenance mode. If you encounter strange things while navigating, and they persist after clearing your browser’s cache, let me know.