Update: This post was written in reference to the Sarapis website that lived from October 2012-July 2013. This month, we overhauled the website once more. The sentiments remain the same, and the existing website was, like the last one, built by myself and Devin — thanks in no small part to the elegance of WordPress and the BigBangWP theme, also by Brankic1979. -Leah, July 17, 2013
A Non-Techie Becomes a Free/Libre/Open Source Advocate
Suffice it to say, I haven’t historically been a techie. I believe in FLO because I’ve been seduced by the philosophy: I see massive liberatory potential in popularized access to the means of production, whatever’s actually being produced. Many of the people I’ve encountered in the FLO community are here because they were working on solving a particular problem that was either enabled by FLO solutions, or hampered by a lack thereof. In contrast, my commitment to FLO started in the abstract: it was more a philosophical orientation than one grounded in practical problem-solving.
So, I was as surprised as anyone when the first big challenge I undertook under the Sarapis banner was the website development.
The Story of Sarap.is
Devin had coordinated the development of our website during the spring before I came aboard. He’d done it the old-fashioned/new-fashioned way: hired a web developer, who then subcontracted the work overseas. He didn’t get what he paid for—instead, he got a botched wordpress implementation, complete with buggy code, floating buttons, broken fonts and more.
We asked a couple of our front-end developer friends if they could clean it up for us, and they both responded the same way: this code was a mess, and it would take more time to clean it up than it would to just start over from scratch.
I never loved the aesthetic of the old site, so I saw this as a good opportunity to change course and build a website that better represented Sarapis the way I saw it. We started playing around with the Zig Zag WordPress theme by Brankic1979 and both really liked the look and feel—we had already settled on the “What We Think Say &Do” menu convention, a holdover from the original (circa 2010) Sarapis website, and the single page format worked well for our grammar.
Of course, the colors were wrong, and menus not quite right, the fonts off, the slider too-quick, and more. Easy stuff to solve? Maybe. But stuff I’d never tackled before.
Enter the universe of FLO, and all the functional documentation therein.
Through the user-friendly WordPress interface, I was easily able to start manipulating the content of the site. Because of the wide availability of plugins, it took me just a few clicks to solve problems like changing fonts (using WP Google Fonts by Adrian Hanft and Aaron Brown) and creating a dynamic Table of Contents (using Table of Contents Plus by Michael Tran). By looking through WordPress documentation, I was able to figure out how to start editing the CSS; by looking through Zig Zag documentation, I was able to quickly solve questions that others had already grappled with. And by using Firebug, I was able to identify which elements I needed to change to make the site look how I wanted.
It took longer than it would’ve taken someone who knew what they were doing from the get-go, but at the end of the day, here’s where I stand:
I know basic HTML and CSS,
and have even changed some lines of PHP. I can FTP via FileZilla,
mess around with plugins, and build a child theme.
And I feel empowered: if I’d needed to build a website a year and a half ago, I would have probably paid someone to do it. Now, I’ve spun up a half dozen websites, and will fearlessly try to solve problems by scouring the internet for documentation and troubleshooting as needed.
Don’t dig too deep into our CSS—there’s a lot of “!important”-ing and other amateur-ish stuff going on in there. And, we’ve still got issues: this theme doesn’t take too well to CiviCRM integration, which is why we’re hosting our Civi at my.sarap.is. Our current website isn’t perfect, but for $45 and a few hours of tweaking by a non-techie, I’d say it looks pretty nice and works pretty well.
How WordPress Turned Me Into a Producer
Easy-to-use FLO software expands our collective powers exponentially. For every good plugin that gets developed, thousands of WordPress users are able to build websites with design and functionality they’d otherwise spend big bucks to get, and never feel empowered to mess around with after initial implementation.
WordPress has been my bridge between feeling like a web user and feeling like a web producer. Yes, when it comes to the WordPress software, I’m a mere user of the work of more competent developers. But, when I spin up websites for other people and do basic design and customization, I feel very much like a producer—and that’s enough to completely change my orientation to the internet. I’m inspired to do more and more—I still can’t code, but I no longer fear the command line, and am learning Python (via Zed Shaw’s Learn Python the Hard Way). I feel increasing amounts of ownership over the tools I use every day, and that’s an essential conversion for everyone to go through if we’re all going to get FLO-ing.