Building a better blog host: Week 2 – the front page
This week we are going to concentrate on the front page of your site. Now that you have it installed and up and running, the first thing to take care of is the first page people will see when they land.
The home page of the entire site is actually controlled by the theme of the main blog. So for anything you want to show up there, the theme is what we’ll need to edit.
By default, the main blog is assigned a theme called “Home”. It is exactly the same as the default theme with one exception: it has a file called home.php in it. From reading the codex about theme template hierarchy, we can see this overrides the main index file of the theme. Great! This will mean we can have all our main blog featured if we want, or we can shuffle the posts off to another page.
Because everyone gets this theme when they install, and we want to stand out, the first thing you’ll have to do is a pick a theme. But first, let’s note the extras in case we want to add them to our new theme.
– the signup page link
– code for the last 5 updated blogs
Now comes the often lengthy process of picking a theme for the home page. You have probably noticed there is a severe lack of WPMU home themes. This is mostly because you can use any WordPress theme you like – we’re just adding sitewide WPMU-specific features. Since some of you may spend a long time picking out themes like I do (hours, days even), and the array is dizzying, my simple recommendation is to just go find a free magazine type theme you like.
And just pick one! The main point here is to learn some techniques that you can apply when you do the inevitable redesign.
Upload your chosen theme to the themes folder. If you’ve never worked with WPMU before, you will have to enable the theme for use before you can activate it. Under the Site Admin menu is a Themes sub-menu. If you check Yes here, it enables the theme for any blog on the system. We want to enable it just for the main blog, so here’s how to do that. Enable a theme just for one blog.
The second thing you will notice is the theme editor is disabled in WPMU by default. I have since become more comfortable with editing the theme directly on the server instead. This is still a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method, as one wrong misplaced comma and the front of your site is now a WSOD. Alternatively, you can make your theme edits locally on your computer and transfer them over.
Before we get into much editing, we need to know *what* we’ll be editing. The main page of your site has 3 main purposes:
1 – to pull people further into the site by highlighting sitewide activity
2 – to encourage them to sign up
3 – to show at a glance what the site is about
In a previous post, I went over the features of the wordpress.com home page and some of the plugins you could use to accomplish similar things. The more common features that appear on WPMU sites are:
sitewide tags (I really like this as you can set up a separate tags blog or set it to pump all the posts to the main blog)
recent member posts
a login box (login widget here)
a link to the signup page, or a graphic button leading to the same place
Of course, if you are really interested in building a social network, you may have already installed BuddyPress. There are a few BuddyPress themes out there already and some extra BuddyPress plugins for added functionality. The BuddyPress themes are usually widgetized, and BP has widgets which makes it really easy to manage.
If you’ve picked a theme that isn’t widgetized, it’s a fairly straightforward process to add another widgetized “sidebar”. I have taken some themes and changed their boxes featured categories areas into a widgetized area to place some thing completely different and sitewide in there instead. The basic process is adding some code to the theme’s functions.php file to let WP know there’s a new widget area, and also an if statement around the area in the theme you want to widgetize.
Once you have a widgetized area on your main page, you could use one like this Sitewide Featured Member widget to highlight one of your members.
The other sitewide features you may want to take care of are more about the running of your site. You’ll need to take care of spam comments, stop spam blog signups, and possibly set some new blog defaults.
Setting up your home page is probably one of the more important things you’ll do, as it is your visitor’s first impression. Try to not get caught up in adding everything at once, and stick to the basics. The good thing here is because WordPress is so modular, you can start out with a few items and add more as time goes by and your site grows.