WordPress is one of the most flexible content management systems available today, making it a highly attractive solution for just about any web-based need. Notwithstanding its price tag of FREE, WordPress is an exceptional framework, capable of powering just about any site imaginable. But because of its power and complexity, WordPress is rarely ever called in to service as a tumblelog even though it is a more than able tool for the task. If you have been dieing to to lifestream on your own terms, without being tied to a hosted service like FriendFeed or Tumblr, this might be just what the doctor ordered!
Before embarking on a journey to turn WordPress in to a tumblelog, one needs to ask what it is they are looking to get out of such an effort. While WordPress is perfectly capable of performing just about any task, for the sake of this article I intend to focus on configuring WordPress to aggregate content from outside sources and have that data displayed on your WordPress-powered tumblelog. I am only going to touch upon this idea, explaining the basics – my intent is not to delve in to advanced techniques in this article.
Essentially, this HOWTO will explore an effective means of replicating the Tumblr “feeds” function. If you are unfamiliar with this Tumblr feature, it allows you to import up to 5 separate RSS feeds in to Tumblr in order to have entries automatically posted without any manual intervention whatsoever.
For example, if you have Tumblr import your delicious bookmarks, every time you use delicious to bookmark a new site Tumblr will automagically post a new entry on your tumblelog. You can determine whether Tumblr imports those items solely as links or links with descriptions. If you opt for the latter, and use a description when bookmarking with delicious, then Tumblr displays the description along with the link.
The point of this feature is to reduce the amount of redundancy in your process flow. Why bother adding a new entry to Tumblr if Tumblr can automatically import your data from across the web?
So what is the benefit of using a WordPress-powered tumblelog over Tumblr? The primary advantage is flexibility – Tumblr only allows you to import a total of 5 feeds by default. If you desire additional feed importing then you have to contact [the previously non-responsive] Tumblr support. If you are running your own WordPress-powered tumblelog, when you want to add a new feed you simply add a new feed. No fuss, no hassle.
Another major benefit to WordPress over Tumblr is the built-in commenting system. WordPress is essentially an out-of-the-box blogging solution. Since comments are standard, any application you build with WordPress supports commenting without hassle. Of course, you could use a hosted commenting system like Disqus with Tumblr – again, you are limited to only the features Tumblr offers (ie. restricted feed importing). WordPress has unlimited potential.
Sweetcron is an alternative and happy medium to both WordPress and Tumblr. It offers the simplicity of Tumblr but with the flexibility of a locally hosted WordPress installation. You almost get the best of both worlds. The Sweetcron code is nowhere near as mature as WordPress but it is a nice choice to have available.
The following directions are pretty straightforward. This is not rocket science so do not be afraid to tinker. I should add – before you begin this process I do not recommend following these directions on a live site. You should never work on a live site, especially when doing drastic changes like this. That is, unless you could care less about your live site.
All the steps outlined below have been tried and tested. Check out my simple WordPress-based tumblelog for an idea about what you can do with this HOWTO. Contrast my WordPress-powered tumblelog with my Tumblr site versus my Sweetcron site to get a better idea of the differences between the three software packages I mentioned, however subtle the difference may be. I point these sites out to demonstrate that I did not just write this post up based on a theory – I use these techniques almost daily!
Without further ado, the directions for creating a WordPress-powered tumblelog are as follows:
- Install WordPress. Hop over to wordpress.org and grab the latest stable version of WordPress. As of this writing, WordPress 2.7.1 is currently available for public consumption. Follow the directions on wordpress.org for installing and configuring a basic, vanilla WordPress installation. Simple, right?
- After performing a vanilla WordPress installation, grab one of the freely available WordPress tumblelog themes. There are a considerable number of high quality themes freely available online. While you certainly can create your own theme from scratch, or even adapt your existing theme to function as a tumblelog, for the sake of this article I am going to focus on using a third-party theme. However, based on the points discussed you should have no problem modifying your theme to function in a tumblelog-like manner.
- One of the distinct features of a tumblelog is that the various types of entries have a distinct design: text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio and video all look quite a bit different, unlike how traditional blog posts are formatted (such as TechMiso for example). Each of the post types needs to be a separate WordPress category. Configure one WordPress category for each of the aforementioned post types. Even if you do not currently have plans to use every category I still suggest creating them all while you are mucking around with the WordPress innards.
- Download and install the WP-o-Matic WordPress plug-in. This plug-in facilitates the automatic generation of posts by periodically polling the RSS feeds of the various external services you wish to use on your tumblelog. Follow the instructions provided with the plug-in to get it up and running correctly.
- After WP-o-Matic has been installed and activated, head over to the WordPress Admin configuration page for the plug-in. Pay particular attention to the “cron command” setting – configuring this step properly will allow feeds to be periodically polled for new content.
- Once you are satisfied with the basic WP-o-Matic settings, it is time to head to the “add campaign” section of the WP-o-Matic configuration. This is where you will add the feeds you desire to regularly imported. Make sure to do the following:
- Select a title (ie. delicious) for the feed being imported.
- Check the “active” checkbox to turn on feed polling.
- Paste the URL of your desired RSS feed (ie. http://feeds.delicious.com/v2/rss/jark) in to one of the input fields on the “feeds” tab.
- Select one category (ie. Links) for the feed you are importing. It is important to select only a single category and not multiple.
- This tab allows for a host of advanced manipulation of the feed during the polling process but before the WordPress post is created. You can use this to do all kinds of fancy things, but we are not going to get in to these advanced topics during this post. Maybe a later article will touch upon advanced techniques for feed manipulation.
- Custom Post Template can be safely ignored. The tumblelog theme selected earlier in the process will take care of the post formatting based on the selected category.
- Select a frequency to poll the feed (ie. 0d 0h 30m) and automatically import new entries.
- If you desire to cache the images on your server then check the “Cache Images” checkbox. I normally keep this checked, but it is entirely up to you if you feel more comfortable hotlinking images or not.
- The rest of the options on this tab are quite self-explanatory. It is usually easiest to stick with the defaults.
If you are comfortable with the configuration of the feed, finalize the addition by pressing the “submit” button. This effectively adds the new feed to the polling process.
- Select the “Campaigns” section to ensure your newly added campaign shows up in the list of configured feeds. If it does, you are sitting in a good position. If not, you may need to do a little troubleshooting. If you would rather not wait for the polling time before the first import takes place, merely hit the “fetch” link to force a poll. This should pull down the RSS feed and import all the items as new posts, and subsequently those new posts should be live on the newly created tumblelog if all goes as planned.
- Return to Step 6 for as many feeds as you intend to import. Once you are satisfied, view your site to ensure your tumblelog looks and acts the way you expect.
If you want to use your newly minted WordPress-powered tumblelog for aggregating your digital life in to a single outlet, somewhat ala Friendfeed, you can definitely do just that. However, most people will only want to combine a small number of feeds on their tumblelog. Here are some suggested sites to be aggregated on your tumblelog:
- Google Reader shared items
Whatever you decide to import is entirely up to you. However, the more sites you aggregate, the longer the import process may take and the more resources consumed. Just be aware of this ahead of time!
The steps above should help you get a basic WordPress-powered tumblelog up and running. While it looks fairly easy, and it is easy for the most part, do not be surprised if you need to do a little tweaking here and there to get the site to function exactly how you envision. Once your site is functional, it will run on its own thereafter – no need for maintenance other than to periodically upgrade WordPress to mitigate any potential security issues.
Since you are using WordPress to replicate Tumblr functionality, and because WordPress was not designed to be a tumblelog out-the-box, there is a strong chance you will run in to a little funkiness. If you see oddities, do not be alarmed and do not get frustrated – you may have to play with the theme to ensure the theme knows which categories are what type of entries (ie. text, chat, link, etc.). This is the hardest part of the process and ultimately why it is sometimes easier for savvy people to manipulate their own custom theme rather than use an existing tumblelog theme.
Hopefully this HOWTO will help you create your own WordPress-powered tumblelog. We at TechMiso want to not only provide our readers with top notch content, but with high quality solutions. This is the first in our HOWTO series – be on the lookout for more exciting articles like this in the future!
If you decide to create your own WordPress-powered tumblelog using the directions above please, post a link to your site in the comments below. We are always interested in seeing what people do with our solutions.
Good luck! If you do have questions, feel free to ask away. We will do our best to answer what we can.