Setting up my own WordPress site – what was I thinking?

I said I’d share some recommendations for plugins and themes for a friend who is setting up his own blog (there was *definitely* no alcohol or coercion involved in this decision making, just to be clear) and so it seems sensible to do that by blogging here, because hopefully a few others might chip in on top with some extras that they find useful and I might learn something new too if the pro-social web really is alive and kicking….

Some thoughts in no particular order on how I set up my own site here and some of the tools I use to manage it for various purposes:

What flavour of WordPress?

First off, I run WordPress multisite, because I’ve found it useful to be able to quickly run up another site off my main domain when I need it for sub-projects  – usually sites to support presentations or workshops such as the WikiGames site I built for MozFest 17 and also things like my professional portfolio for CMALT etc.


I use Edda as the theme on my main site. It’s got a lovely CSS sepia overlay and I’ve made a few tweaks to use full-size images in the featured image so that animated gifs work. It’s not maintained any more I don’t think, and I’ve been considering moving to Cover and applying some of the CSS stuff I like via Customise to get me to something similar, but so far, nothing’s broken to force my hand on that one. It’s one you need to download from to install as well, so I also have the Theme Updates plugin installed, which if I remember correctly, might need to be installed from GitHub these days.

Themes are in general a rabbit hole that will suck your time and soul. I have tended to stick to Anders Noren themes, a few from Automattic (most are available to install via Add Theme rather than download and upload) and of course, some SPLOTS. I like having a wee selection ready to go as it makes it quicker to drop in a new site when I need to. Writing this post was a useful exercise in tidying up. The selection I have left after some pruning is:

  • Afterlight
  • Baskerville
  • Blask
  • Cover
  • Cyanotype
  • Davis
  • Edda
  • Fukasawa
  • Garfunkel
  • Intergalactic 2
  • Lovecraft
  • Pique
  • Radcliffe
  • Satelittle
  • Scrawl
  • SPLOTPoint
  • Syntax
  • TRU Collector
  • Twenty Eleven
  • Twenty Fifteen
  • Twenty Seventeen
  • Twenty Sixteen
  • Twenty Ten
  • Twenty Thirteen
  • Twenty Twelve
  • Untitled
  • WP Big Picture


This isn’t an exhaustive list of plugins that I have installed, because I have a few things for playing with (been experimenting with the IndieWeb setup for a bit for example, and also tinkering with H5P), but if I was having to set up from scratch again, this is what I’d be installing.

  • Classic Editor (natch)
  • Cookies for Comments (too cheap to pay for Akismet)
  • Flickr Album Gallery
    For bringing in a curated set of Flickr images rather than just to odd one here and there to illustrate.
  • Hypothesis
    I like marginalia and I cannot lie.
  • Jetpack
    Because I love giving my data away. The site stats and subscription tools are kind of useful, plus the infinite scrolling and media caching have proven useful in the past.
  • Limit Login Attempts (out of the box)
  • Members
    I use this to be able to make entire sites private – it does quite a lot, but it has a useful setting that forces all access to a site to require a user account on the site and it’s fairly well maintained.
  • MCE Table Buttons
    So much better than coding HTML tables by hand – who does that anymore?
  • NS Cloner (free version)
    For when I need to clone a site and re-use it. Like that time I cloned the MozFest WikiGames site to make a TRU WikiGames site.
  • Page Builder by SiteOrigin
    For more complicated multi-column page layouts where I need them.
  • Reading Time WP
  • Really Simple SSL
  • Regenerate Thumbnails
    Handy for when images magically disappear because something about the resizing and creation of various versions of files in the Media directory has gone screwy.
  • Remove Dashboard Access (required by SPLOT themes)
  • Shortcodes Ultimate
    Some themes don’t support certain shortcodes so this has proven to be a useful bag of tricks.
  • Subscribe to Comments
    Used on sites where Jetpack isn’t enabled
  • Ultimate Category Excluder
    Used to control categorised posts and where they’re displayed – good for holding something off the home page and out of the RSS feed whilst I get someone to proof read for me for example.
  • WordPress Importer (you can guess on this one)
  • WP Pusher
    I use this to update SPLOT themes from GitHub – bit fiddly but works eventually.

Other things to consider

I don’t use a very complicated theme with lots of areas for displaying widgets. For me the writing is the thing. I want a featured image and an excerpt and most other stuff kept away in a menu. So no imported feed of nonsense from me on Twitter for example. Who needs that in their face?

I do have a tag cloud tucked away in the menu, plus monthly archives and a search option. Otherwise the main navigation is just good old linear blog posts.

I use an About page within the menu to provide links to anything anyone else might want to find. Again, no heavy bio here. If people want to know more about me, they can stalk me on the internet. I’m all about teaching the digital skills, developing the digital literacies etc.

I also try to archive things I write elsewhere onto this site. So if I write a featured post for somewhere else I have a copy here. I also syndicate out from this site. It syndicates to some Scottish sector places (e.g. ScotEduBlogs), plus our Open.Ed site, and my team blog at work.

(Edit: so this means I need to try be reasonably good about tagging posts and then using a RSS feed filtered by tag)

There’s a few pages I’ve not yet finished off which I’d also like to have: A summary of presentations and papers; a list of all the blogs I enjoy reading. They’ve only been in draft for about 24 months so I’m totally confident I’ll finish them soon.

(Edit: For the love of all that is sacred, please also remember to change your default category from “uncategorized”. I use “brain-fluff” as my default but you can do all sorts of things with WordPress permalinks. If you need an explanation Cogdog has a good one here:



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