A blog detailing every step during the hundreds of hours required to build an airplane generally makes for some rather dry reading. Most of this site is simply a journal of how I’m going about building a kit airplane. That being said, I have learned a fair amount about blogging software and other useful applications in the process. Here is the quick down and dirty on the software I’ve used throughout the history of my blog.
I chose to use a content management system called WordPress for my site. WordPress is currently the most popular and widespread CMS in the world. Examples of sites using the software include TechCrunch, The New Yorker, BBC America, Variety, Google Ventures and many many others. WordPress is easy to use and highly customizable. You can customize it straight out of the box with easy settings and thousands of themes to choose from. Slightly more advanced users can install plugins that add or alter functionality. And finally, the most advanced users can write code directly to alter the system to their needs. I have done all three at papalimabravo.com. Eventually, papalimabravo.com will host more than this build log, and with WordPress I can rest comfortably knowing that 20 years from now, I can easily maintain the latest features and browser compatibilities. More importantly, I can re-design my site to suit my needs as I please.
So why WordPress? Well, first off its open source and completely free. Its huge popularity means there is a ton of expertise to lean on, and thousands of plugins, alterations, themes, and the like available. With over 14% of the world’s top one million websites running WordPress, you know its here to stay. If you use WordPress, development isn’t going to become a thing of the past. A recent survey showed that 22% of new websites in 2015 chose WordPress as their CMS. Its not just a blogging site. With WordPress, you can create any site of any format you use, and hook into the powerful baked in features of the CMS, and its worldwide community of support. For me the most important task in development of any site is to avoid recreating the wheel. Solving problems already solved is a waste of time. WordPress provides intuitive management of users, posts, pages, metadata, themes, comments, and everything you can possibly imagine. Its flexibility and power cannot be overstated.
Here’s a quick snapshot of a portion of the site’s admin page. You can see here, all the fields for adding a post. I can enter the title, format the text, and add media. These features are available straight out of the box. You’ll note at the bottom I have a segment called “excerpt” this powers the short descriptions of the site seen on the first page. This is a customization I have added that is part plugin, and part custom modification. Finally, you’ll see I can enter the time associated with the post in the categories of “Build Hours”, “Maintenance” and “Flying.” These are automatically computed and added to the counters across the site, and this section is completely custom coded.
That’s just a small snap shot of the dashboard. The dashboard gives you easy to use configuration of the site’s navigation structure, posts, pages, users, tags, categories and more.
Another excellent feature of WordPress is the native app for iOS. All of the photographs on papalimabravo.com have been taken with an iPhone and uploaded directly using the WordPress App. And I can do it directly from the workbench! The WordPress App has numerous great features, including allowing you to set a future date for a post to publishing, saving drafts, and configuring site settings. For anyone looking to chronicle a project this is about as simple as it can get.
Skitch for iOS, from Evernote, is another fantastic and free app. Simple and quick, Skitch allows me to draw arrows, smiley faces, and much more. All of the graphics in any photograph on the site have been added right from my iPhone using this quick and easy app.
I use many plugins and tools in my WordPress install, but I’m only going to mention a few. I track website data with Google Analytics. Google Analytics is among the most powerful tools available for website statistics. I can view visitors by location, referral source, time, operating system, browser and much much more. Several plugins for WordPress allow easy integration of Google Analytics, including step by step instructions on setup. For Google Analytics I use this plugin available here.
On occasion I share my blog posts via Facebook or Twitter. I use a plugin named Social Networks Auto Poster, or SNAP for short. SNAP allows me to automatically post to numerous social networks but it does require a little bit of legwork to get up and running. For most social networking sites, you’ll need to create a developer app via their api’s. Its a simple process, but it does take several steps.
There are services out there designed specifically for kit builders. Unfortunately, these sites are dinosaurs among modern mammals. They offer little customization, poor photo handling, and limited feature sets. For anyone looking to host their own build log online, I cannot recommend WordPress highly enough. Its easy enough for even the most computer illiterate, yet powerful enough for advanced users. Gorgeous themes and powerful layout options make for beautiful and attractive websites that are easy to navigate and mobile responsive.
And the icing on the cake? The software is free!