Website Creation is a Special Kind of Hell

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(originally published on January 3, 2016 at WhiteRosesArt.com)

In the last 7 days I’ve spent $65 on WordPress (WP) plugins for my website and neither of them work. I now understand why so many artists either don’t have a website at all or have terrible websites. If you are a photographer, you’re golden. There are a ton of wonderful plugins for you. As I work in many different sizes of art, I feel like I’m hammering a very large square peg in a super tiny round hole. A whole that shouldn’t be so tiny in 2016.

Why did I buy 2 plugins if they don’t work?  The demos looked promising but I couldn’t tell for sure because most of the features were locked out for the “free” version.  I hold out hope that I get a refund from the first company but it’s a slim hope.  The second company has many plugins so I explained my problem & am hoping they have a solution I missed.  It’s also a slim hope.

In the world of WordPress, one thing I absolutely hate is that plugins come & go constantly.  I find one I like, then six months later the developer has vanished.  The WordPress site is clogged with dead plugins with no way of filtering them out.  I can’t even filter the plugins that are known to work with my version of WP.  To say this is frustrating is to putting it mildly.

Let’s say I do find a plugin that’s totally perfect for my website.  I don’t mind paying – so long as it isn’t a recurring payment.  As I said, WP developers come & go so I find it very hard to trust that a company will be around two years from now – and still developing my awesome plugin for the current version of WP – and that I will still be using said awesome plugin.   Nothing burns me up more than forgetting that I had a recurring payment for some plugin that vanished until I get charged for it. My policy now:  if you don’t charge a  one time fee, I don’t care how awesome your plugin is, I’m not paying.

Hire Someone To Do Your Website? (ha!)

Getting back to my website issues, you may ask why I don’t hire someone to do this.  Good question.  I’ve had a several websites for various things but one site has been around since (at least) 1997.  I went from writing that one in the Netscape suite, to FrontPage, to Dreamweaver.  Well, I started the migration to Dreamweaver  but realized that it was a stupid thing to do.  I knew that Dreamweaver would fall, just like the others, and I would be re-writing the entire site (2,000+pages) all over again.  You see, when the web shifts, it often does so in big ways which usually makes it easier to start from scratch than to convert.  So what did I do?  I saved my pennies & hired someone.

After spending approximately $900 and sending many nasty emails over the course of the next year, I finally got the one thing I specifically said I didn’t want:  an intro page along.  I did get an install of Joomla (which I had done myself already).  The firm I hired said they had both web designers and web developers.  They did not.  I specifically hired them to create a backend that I could plug all my content into.  I told them I could do most of the design work, but I had no idea how to set up a CMS to work with the content I had.  “No problem,” they said.  Installing Joomla and doing nothing else is not “web development.”  I never saw my money again and I never got a functioning website – or anything else other than a picture of a useless (and ugly) intro page graphic.

You see, there are a metric ton of web designers out there who learn a bit of Dreamweaver or learn how to do a basic install and setup of Joomla or WordPress and then call themselves “developers.”  Any idiot can install WordPress or Joomla.  It isn’t hard.  Any idiot can get either of setup for the most basic of uses.  It isn’t hard.  Getting Joomla or WP to really do what you need it to do, that’s hard.  That’s were you need a real developer – and real developer knows how to code.  Sadly, when I hired the firm to redo my website, I wasn’t really clear on the distinction enough to ask the kinds of questions that might have tipped me off.  And yes, I checked out the sites they said they did, but what no one really knows is how much of a website any one firm is responsible for.  That’s the other tricky part.

19 Years Of Website Hell

So here I am in 2016 banging my head against the same wall I have been for 19 years (yikes, has it really been that long??).  I spent a good part of yesterday trying to figure out how to add a copyright tag to the footer on this site.  This should be a fundamental thing at this point.  It should be built into the WP Customizer.  But it isn’t easy nor is it built-in.  I have to go diving into the code in Footer.php to figure it out.  I used to be able to figure that kind of thing out pretty easily.  I know a fair amount of HTML, a smattering of CSS, and I can usually figure out what part of PHP not to mess with.  After searching through forums & trying things others claimed to have used successfully, I just added a ‘p-tag’ (paragraph creation tag)  If you look at the bottom you’ll notice the linespace between my copyright notice the WP tag.  That’s because adding a ‘p-tag’  isn’t the right thing to do.  But in 2016 no one apparently thought they should make that easy.

In the last 7 days, not only am I $65 poorer, but I came embarrassingly close to chucking my laptop at the fireplace….more than once.  All I want to do is find a better way to display my art on my website.  Just a simple gallery that properly displays thumbnails, previews, and full images.  Being able to manually configure those 3 things would be super awesome.  In 2016, and given the plethora of artists in the world, you’d think someone would have come up with a plugin for something so fundamental.

If you’re a photographer, as I mentioned in the beginning, you have a metric ton of options..  However, if your images are of varying heights and widths, well fuck you.  One of my paid plugins had this awesome gallery format that did display multi-sized thumbnails in the nifty brickwork-like grid (called a masonry gallery).  The problem is that it didn’t put the titles underneath the thumbnails and only opened the thumbnails into a slide show that provided no room for any kind of information.  For photographers, that’s awesome (I guess?), for the rest of us, that’s useless.  I need a title on a thumbnail.  When someone looks at either a larger preview image or the image full size, I need it to have the price, size, year, and other important information for selling that piece of art.  As some I knew in high school used to say, “sucks to be you.”  Yes it does.  But it shouldn’t.

For the next few days, or weeks, or months, I will be attempting to hammer large squares into tiny round holes until I either give up out of frustration, or lower my standards (again).  There is always a distinct possibility, I might just chuck the laptop into the fireplace, which is a different kind of “giving up” I suppose.


Want some more fun reading on the frustrations of the website creation?  Read this article which highlights more of my frustrations – and probably a few of yours too!