BackupBuddy from iThemes has been around for very long time.

It’s relatively popular for good reason: it’s a mature product with a good user interface. The company behind it has served the WordPress community for many years.

Because of the reliability of the vendor and the great UI, I’ve been using BackupBuddy for many years. It’s great for backing sites up!

The Problem

Unfortunately BackupBuddy isn’t so great for actually restoring sites from backup. If a site suffers catastrophe and you need to do a complete restoration then prepare for a wild ride.

Lets say you are beginning to recover from a disaster in which your site has gone kaput. BackupBuddy has very useful options which allow you to automatically backup your  website automatically, and automatically ship the backups to a a network location like an fileserver, Google Drive, DropBox or Amazon’s S3.

You prepare your host for the recovery.

Then you recover the backup created by BackupBuddy.  That’s easy enough. You then need to deploy a file called importbuddy.

Where is importbuddy?

If you google importbuddy download you find a page on the ithemes website titled ‘ImportBuddy‘. The droid you are looking for is not available from that page. However you are told:

You can download the ImportBuddy script directly from the BackupBuddy menu on the Restore/Migrate page.

But if you are recovering a site then chances are you don’t have access to that page. After all… your site isn’t live. You are recovering from catastrophe.

However, you are told that the file is available from your iThemes Sync Account. This sounds fine if you have an iThemes Aync account. But it’s a pain if you’ve never needed one before.

So you have to learn a new product in order to get a file you need to make the product you own useful.

So you set up an iThemes Sync account.

And guess what: you still don’t have access to the file. It’s nowhere to be found.

An Imperfect Solution

Over the years that I’ve used BackupBuddy I’ve been through a process like this a few times. I eventually lose my patience and make a copy of the backup file. Then I unzip the backup and search for backupbuddy. I then deploy this file to the host and follow the usual directions for it’s use.

For some reason the directions have never worked for me

The recovery process has never completed successfully. The hosting environment doesn’t seem to matter. So I lose my patience again, wipe the host and perform a manual migration using the files in the BackupBuddy archive. This is a pain because the database is split up into seperate files.

This is far from an ideal solution because people without sysadmin or web development experience wouldn’t be able to do this.

So What Is The Best Solution?

I’d love to see iThemes create an option that allows users to create backups where the database is put in a single file. And frankly I’m surprised that no existing product seems to do this.

If I’m doing a manual back I simply create a dated directory, dump the website database into it, recursively copy the files to it, and then zip the directory. All done. Very simple.

Available WordPress backup plugins have many bells and whistles. BackupBuddy has many great features. But it doesn’t have an option to just make the simplest possible kind of backup.

I think I understand why: in order to create a robust recovery process on suboptimal environments, it makes sense to split tasks into smaller parts, so that if a CPU process running the backup gets interrupted (by, say, a resource limit set by the hosting company) then BackupBuddy can restart where it let off.

But it would be nice to have a WordPress backup plugin that ships simple backup packages that can be migrated without depending on a software component that is rather difficult to find.

Speed Matters

Users of the web have ever-increasing expectations. These days users expect content to be delivered swiftly and smoothly, and with as few obstacles as possible. A slowdown measurable in microseconds can affect conversion rates and thus the profitibility of your website.

Google made speed an index ranking factor five years ago. Amazon discovered that a slowdown of 1 millisecond caused sales to drop immediately.

So if you want to keep visitors, improve your ranking and turn visitors into customers then you need your website to load fast and perform with excellence.

So how do you achieve this

Performance must be built in from the ground up

This is something that developers have know for a long time. If you have an existing site and you want it be faster, there are things that can be done. But if your foundations are poor then any improvements to speed and performance could be minimal.  If you are starting a website from scratch then you are in a great position: you can make decisions right from the beginning that will assure great performance.

Start With Solid Hosting

“Pay peanuts, get monkeys” applies here. Hosting is a commodity, and the cheaper you go the less performance you can expect. Furthermore, if you buy at the bottom of the market to get started with then you can expect trouble when attempting to migrate your site to a better host.

The solution here is to get hosting advice from someone with experience in the world of hosting.

Hosting is a complex world with many different types of hosts across many different vendors, including shops that offer hosting specifically for WordPress sites.

Use a well-engineered theme

Assuming that you are using WordPress then you need a theme that is built well.

Of the thousands of themes on the various marketplaces – many look great. The demos available through envato’s marketplaces or through the many theme shops will show themes that look great. But just because a theme looks great doesn’t mean that all is well under the hood.

Many themes come loaded with redundant, inefficient database calls, a zillion options which will go unused and poorly performing, poorly tested code. Showrooms are designed to make products look great. But only qualified programmers can tell what’s going on beneath the surface.

To get a performant theme you have three options:

Have a qualified programmer build your theme from scratch,  choose a theme from a good theme shop, or have a qualified programmer choose your theme for you.

Themes to avoid

There are some very popular, very well-marketed themes that are just going to slow down your content delivery. Not everyone is going to like hearing this. But some very popular themes simply shouldn’t be used by people who are ambitious about their project.

Avoid any theme built with many options. One such popular theme is Avada. Its only one example. Such themes are built for all all possible scenarios, and finely tuned for nothing.

Optional: use a Content Distribution Network

Using a good CDN can really speed things up. But to get this advantage you need to have the foundations sorted first. The advantages of a CDN will be minimal if you haven’t got great hosting and a well-engineered theme. Paul Irish, a chief developer at Google has said “CDN’s are the gluten-free of the web” when talking a lack of solid foundations.

Cloudflare is a CDN offers a free level of service that includes some protection from DDOS attacks.  It’s a great start. Amazon’s Cloudfront is a popular service that can store items of your content across it’s global network. There are many other such services.

Asset Management: minify images

This can be critical.

The file size of an image can be relatively independent of it’s visual quality. That is, you can have two versions of the same image on a screen. They can both look the same to the eye. But they can have very different filesizes. Your website should be using the version with a lower filesize.

A lower file size will result in faster delivery.

Before uploading images to your site: reduce the file size.

Photoshop has a filter for saving images for the web. So does Gimp. If you don’t have either of these programs then you can use an online service for reducing your image file sizes.

Use as few images as possible per page

You probably worked that out from reading the last point.

Images are important for web pages. Images should reinforce the message of the page. They can illustrating a point or draw the user to another related message. But the more images you have, the slower the page will be. Even if highly-compressed images are being delivered from CDN’s: more images makes for heavier pages.


Fine-tuning the speed and performance of website is something that developers are always working on. Every page should be built with speed as a consideration. Great developers have an arsenal of strategies and tactics to keep website performance as fast as possible. There are many things that site operators can do as well. But speed must be built in from the very foundations.

I will be hosting a free workshop on how to build websites for activist and community groups.

This workshop will benefit members of such groups who want a public-facing website for the group, but don’t know where to start. The workshop will present a roadmap, and present you with options.

More details are on this page.

The date is yet to be announced. But it will be around the middle of October.

If you are interested then add your details to the following form.

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Earlier this year Michael Tasner released the second edition of his work on digital marketing, “Marketing In The Moment”.

I haven’t finished reading the new edition completely yet. But I can say this about the content I’ve read thus far: It’s great. It’s valuable for anyone who is approaching marketing a business online. It will be very useful for anyone who is new to online marketing and who wants to take control of their own web marketing. You are likely to be in this situation if you don’t have the budget for dedicated staff or an outside agency.

But I’d suggest that this book is worthwhile even for those people doing online marketing already who need to refamiliarize themselves with the current territory and the best tactical approaches. I’ve certainly seen a lot online marketing work being produced by company’s specialising in online marketing, but whose tactics are outdated. Such is the state of the industry.

There’s is too much to comment on even in the content in the book that I’ve already read. But a couple of things stood out as immediately useful and valuable.

Native Content And Honouring The Medium

“Honouring the medium” is my own phrase. Tasner doesn’t use it. But the concept is closely tied to Native Content, an industry term that Tasner uses. Basically the idea is that every articfact of social media marketing must be in accordance with the channel being used. There is a way of producing content for facebook that is uniquly “facebooky”. The same applies to pinterest, linkedIn and all other channels. Speaking the wrong language on any given platform can make your brand look silly.

I probably would have liked it if Michael had put a little more emphasis on authentic conversation. He does mention authenticity but I think a little more focus on why it is needed might be more useful for those people completely new to online marketing.


Michael states:

The only platform that I have recommended over the last few years for designing a web site is WordPress

… to which I agree. Of course he is speaking broadly, and one’s platform of choice should be chosen after considering all the requirements and constraints of a business. But part of the reason why WordPress is so popular is that is so useful for online marketing. The WordPress platform can be used for anything from simple sites to complex commerce sites and even to meet complicated content management requirements. It is versatile.

The ironic thing is that Michaels own site is currently down presently, so I can’t link to it. And his own blog hasn’t been updated since 2013, despite his own advice to blog regularly. But there are probably good reasons for that.

In conclusion: I recommend the book for anyone doing online marketing.

The amazing Gather 2015 conference is “The creative community’s big day out”. It’s a fantastic event that draws the web/business community of New Zealand. But it isn’t restricted to technical people. As well as a discussion on web entrepeneuralism and expectations of front-end development, talks included writing for profit, improvised acting and  rapid character creation for role playing games.

And by the way, Matt Gatland‘s introduction to the Fate RPG character creation system was probably session that I had the most fun at.

I missed the talk by Matt Jackson on the legal troubles of Global Mode. But I ended up sitting with him over lunch. I listened to his views on media providers in New Zealand are doing themselves no favours by using the courts to attack their consumers. Matt is certain that this approach does nothing for the providers or for New Zealands internet. He has some strong opinions on how NZ’s culture will be effected by the TPPA. I wish I’d met him earlier and gotten him introduced him to the team behind itsourfuture.

Lance Wiggs hosted a “fly or die” session, wherein entrepeurs introduced their projects to a test audience. The presenter had a minute to pitch. The audience would then ask questions and then give a thumbs up or thumbs does. It was brutal and fun. (The atmosphere was light enough that feelings weren’t bound to be too badly hurt). I couldn’t help but notice that most of the concepts involved real services to communities. The majority of the brave pitchers were genuinely involved in giving back.

I can’t possibly cover all of workshops that I attended or the great discussions that were had. I made some great new acquaintances and got to connect with some brilliant technological minds.

Congratulations to Ludwig Wendzich for creating another Gather. I’m already looking forward to next year.

I’m often approached by people asking the questions “How much does a website cost?”. The questioner is often someone who has never owned a web property before. Sometimes the questioner has (or does) own a site. But they need to know how much it will cost to build a new site.

The answer is always “it depends”.

This post will give you a better idea of what the total cost will depend on. If you are planning on owning a new site that you intend to be a real asset to your business then this article will give you information that you need to know in order to make buying decisions.

What does the cost of a website depend on?

The cost will depend on many factors. And a worth web design agency or developer will never tell straight away what your site will cost. Instead they will ask you lots of questions first. The questions will include:

  • What is the nature of your business?
  • What is your websites role in your business?
  • Do you have existing branding?
  • Do you expect your designer/developer to create branding for you?
  • Will you selling products or services directly from your site ?

… and so on.

The critical thing is this: context is everything. A good developer or agency will want to remove all guesswork, all assumption before providing a figure.

The Discovery Process

The process of questioning that is required to occur before an estimate is given is called ‘discovery’. And it can some time. Often the conversation is broken into several sessions. In the end, the more the developer know about what you want, the greater the chance that you will get a great website. The developer that understands your needs most deeply is the developer who will deliver you the most value.

The business owner will sometimes be charged for discovery from the outset. Sometimes early discovery is not charged while the the agency or developer is still trying to work out whether they are a good fit for the project.

At this point the business owner is paying for the developer or agency to bring their expertise to bear on the challenges that the business owner is facing. A good process is worth paying for: it saves money.

External Costs

Developers and agencies have different ways of calculating the labour cost of website building. But outside of labour overhead there are some costs that the client will be expected to cover.

  • Web Hosting
  • Email Hosting
  • Domain Names
  • Website Software

The quality and cost of all of the above vary widely. Most often the developer will choose a combination based on the clients needs and budget. Website software can start from ‘free’ and go up to thousands of dollars. Web hosting cost and quality widely varies.

Labour Cost

An estimate will have the cost of the agency’s labour built in to it. Different developers and agency’s calculate this cost differently. If the discovery process was sufficient then the cost of labour becomes a lot more predictable.


By now you can see that the question “how much will my site cost” will not yield an immediate answer. It’s a little like asking “how much does a house cost”. The answer depends on many factors.

Google has communicated very clearly that mobile-friendly websites will be advantaged in search results pages. Delivering to mobile is important enough that Google even offer easy-to-use tools to test how mobile-friendly your website actually is.

The Mobile-Friendly Test is provided as a part of Google’s website “Mobile-Friendly Websites”, a resource furnished to developers and people making decisions about the design of business websites. The resource has been around for a while and I’m surprised that I haven’t seen it linked to more often.

In February this year Google announced that it would be updating it’s indexing to improve the positioning of mobile-friendly sites. Today Google has finally rolled out the changes. From today websites that are not mobile-friendly will be punished in search results. Conversely, websites that are mobile friendly will be rewarded.

Of course merely being mobile-friendly isn’t enough by itself to assure favourable positioning in search results. Other factors are important. However  the change is significant enough that some industry experts are calling the change “mobilegeddon” in anticipation of the impact on websites right across Googles mobile-accessible indexing.


At first I didn’t understand the point of Aesop Story Engine.

I installed it in a local test instance of wordpress, and started using it. Initially all I could see that it let me add blocks of content via the editor. But members of the wordpress design and development community whose opinion I really trust are quoted as saying that it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

A couple of things helped me to ‘click’. First I read this article in the documentation. About halfway through reading it, I started to get it.

 The Niche

The marriage of digital storytelling and longform journalism has some produced some remarkable, and remarkably compelling pieces of online content. Here’s a famous example from the New York Times. Wired magazine produces some masterful pieces as well, including this one Edward Snowden.

The examples linked to above represent the state of the art, produced by a team of people fulfilling the roles of designer, developer and art director.

Can a wordpress plugin help you craft beautiful pieces of masterfully designed digital storytelling?

Probably not. Masterful craftsmanship takes more then a plugin. But Aesop Story Engine can give you a start in that direction. And in my opinion, if you channel skill, focus, time and digital resources into it, then maybe with ASE you an create something that approaches the state of the art.

 How Aesop Story Engine Is Being Used Today

The showcase has a mixed bag of examples that is, overall, inspiring. The showcased sites use themes available from ASE. Some of the uses are really great. In terms of presenting content all of the examples are at least pretty good. I think the ASE developers should be really proud of the possibilities that they’ve enabled for content producers.

The Ecosystem

aesop homepage

ASE can be downloaded for free. It’s available from the wordpress plugin repository and from github. Once enabled from the wordpress backend, it can be used straight easily and immediately from the wordpress editor for posts and pages. Although that probably isn’t what you want to do (more on that in a bit).

Official themes for ASE are available for download at cost from the ASE website. They aren’t as cheap as most themes, but I have no doubt that they are worth it: wordpress themes generally are underpriced and I’ve got faith that the team behind ASE produce great themes. My only reservation was that I’d love to be able to take an “official” theme for a test run and dig into the code.

However, there is this: a minimal example sample theme on github, offered for free by the developers.

It was pondering the way that the example theme worked that made me click to the “why” of ASE’s existence.

Now, there do not seem to be any free themes made for Aesop. But I suspect that they may come. Personally, I find this empty niche interesting. I can see third-party developers creating themes in the future and I’m tempted to build one myself.

The ASE site offers a bunch of inexpensive plugins, none of which I’ve tried. I’m sure they could save some development time for coders and non-codey site operators. Personally I couldn’t justifying shelling out for any while just test-driving ASE. Besides, I’d probably want to buy them all.

Why And How I Want To Use ASE

Digital multimedia storytelling can look beautiful and be really compelling. I’m dying for an excuse to use ASE.

Personally I think that multimedia digital storytelling can be more powerful if the content has some kind of contrast against it’s immediate context.

Here is what I mean by that:

Articles in this style in Wired magazine online look different from other articles in wired. They contrast. And that contrast adds to the character of those articles.

So for a website focussed on text content, I would like take either a few or none of the default styles and create specific articles with ASE using the minimal sample theme on github. I’d use something like  this plugin to deploy the custom theme for a specific post. (Thanks to an article in wpmudev for making me aware of that plugin).

Now some developers would wonder why I would use ASE if I’m going to code for that article anyway. My answer is “pure curiousity”. I might be able to achieve the same thing in roughly the same amount of time if I can do it by hand. I really don’t know if this is the case but I’d like to find out.

— edit —

Taking a slightly closer look at some of the features and add-ons to ASE, I can definitely see how building a story with ASE can be faster then doing it all by hand.

Aaaaand… new website!

I’m great at making excuses. And for far too long I’ve been putting off a website rebuild. And when I was rebuilding, I was always finding a reason why the rebuilt site wasn’t good enough to go live. I finally decided that it’s better to have an imperfect site rather then not having any live site at all. So here we are.

As far as the technical details are concerned, I’ve decided to build my site as a child of woothemes theme called ‘hub’. There’s a bunch of reasons to like it, and one of the things that I find most appealing about it is the readability. I’m always pretty surprised when I come across sites that have been designed and built recently and yet the type setting aren’t up to scratch. Hub, however, provides pretty excellent type settings.

It’s nicely responsive too! It looks great on my phone.