A few months ago, I posted some musings about the state of web design and about the potential for changing how my site looks. That prospect just got a lot more urgent, because this week, as I was preparing for the start of the new season of the Flex Schedule Watch, I found out that comments aren’t displaying properly. The line indicating how many comments there were would show up, and even the start of the bullet point for the first comment, but not the actual comments – and neither would the comment form, nor even either sidebar. For some reason, everything after the start of the first comment would be gone. I have no idea when this started, whether it has to do with the move to the new host or adding Google ads or something else, only that turning off Google’s “auto ads” feature didn’t work, updating WordPress and my theme didn’t work, and copying over relevant files from more modern WordPress themes didn’t work when they didn’t make things worse.
Since I didn’t get any help from the WordPress support forum, I may not have much choice but to update my theme. But as if to reinforce the point from my earlier post, I’m not impressed by the themes available in the WordPress gallery; it seems like most themes I can find there, or at least the most popular themes, are geared towards full-fledged web sites, often for businesses or outfits that fancy themselves professional publishing operations. There are vanishingly few themes for old-fashioned, reverse-chronological blogs like mine, and what ones exist often present their posts as a few lines of unformatted text (many of them even display shortcodes that aren’t supposed to be publicly visible in WordPress’ official theme preview) leading up to a read-more, at least by default. (The irony of course being that when I started the site, I intended for it to eventually become a full-fledged web site rather than just a host for Da Blog, but the way I use formatting and read-mores, especially for my Steven Universe posts, is at this point something I’m unwilling to sacrifice.)
The Sandbox theme that I used as the base for the theme I use now stopped being actively updated around 2009 or so, because the functions the creator saw as the “heart and soul” of the theme were integrated into the core WordPress code. The problem is that what appealed to me about the Sandbox was the ability to greatly customize the look and feel of the site with little more than some relatively simple CSS, or at least simple enough that a novice coder like me could pull it off. I don’t know what theme out there would offer that level of flexibility that would allow me to recreate the site as something even close to what it is now, and chances are I’d have to do a considerable amount of re-coding no matter what. This is especially the case since most of the customization tools that may once have required meddling in CSS now have a dedicated area in the WordPress theme manager, and it feels like there’s less support for using CSS to achieve the same result; it may well be that I find myself having to work within the constraints of whatever theme I settle upon, with less ability to customize beyond that (especially with the emphasis on mobile design that wasn’t a priority for me back c. 2008, and especially since the way I use my header image and graphically integrate it with the left sidebar is arguably decidedly nonstandard as it is). I may well end up deciding to “fix” the problem by installing something like Disqus to handle my comments, which would leave all past comments to fall into the ether, accessible only by me through the site backend – assuming I stay with WordPress at all.
For the time being, until I can bring myself to dedicate a considerable amount of time and mental energy to bear on finding a permanent solution, I’m leaving things as they are and comments will remain borked on most of the site. However, since the Flex Schedule Watch is about to start up again, and it’s not only the most (i.e., only) popular part of the site but attracts a considerable number of comments, the Sports section of the site (only) will be using a different theme until further notice, which may or may not become the base for whatever theme I end up adopting for the rest of the site. This is likely to make navigation more difficult there (as the customization I applied seemed to disappear once I turned off its being the theme for the site as a whole, aside from a bunch of duplicated elements on the left sidebar on the main site left over from my attempt to make the two-column format work for my purposes), but it should at least allow the discussion surrounding the flex schedule watch to continue. (I’ve also turned “auto ads” back on so the sports section has any ads at all.) Any advice on how to resolve the situation can be tweeted to me or left on the Flex Schedule Watch introductory post that should be up sometime on Monday.