My office

A couple of posts ago, I told you my story
Now I would like to show you a bit more of my environment, and I would also like to take the time to discuss the existence of an ideal environment for blogging.

After a working day at my desk, the first thing I like to do when I get home is throw myself at the couch. This couch throwing also includes watching some TV, read a book, read some blogs and check my e-mail. When I started blogging, this seemed to be the ideal environment for me: in the couch, laptop on my tummy and blog blog blog.
Now that I’m already doing this for some time, I noticed that this “ideal environment” might need some reconsidering, as I get very easily distracted and after a certain period of time my back starts to hurt. So there were some questions raised: “Do I need a new, ‘real’ office?”, “Won’t such a real office make blogging look too much like real work?”, “where should it be located?”, “what accessories do I need?”. Lots of stuff to think about, and lots of decisions to be made.

While reading some blogs, I found the article “10 Unconscious cues to create a work/life balance” at Jonathan Fields, which already gave me an idea of how the professionals handle this.
Shortly summarized, what they’re saying is that it your work environment at home needs to look like you’re at the office of a/your company. This means that you need to have a separate room, you need to shower and get dressed before you start, you need to agree with your family that they don’t disturb you during working hours, you need to take breaks and you need to stop working at a predefined hour.
Now I have to say that these are tips for people who work at home for a living, so I don’t think it works the same for me, but I could find some improvements for myself too.

After googling the terms “home office”, “blogging desk” and “blogging office”, it was time to try to give myself a first answer on the questions I had.

Do I need a new, ‘real’ office?
At the moment, I think I don’t. I can just write my weekly post from my couch and also the creation of the website doesn’t take such an amount of time that I need the feeling of being in an office.
But hey, I do have the ambition to start writing more and more in the future, so it might be a good idea to already start thinking about some kind of work space that keeps me focused.

Won’t such a real office make blogging look too much like real work?
Honestly? I think it does.
But then I ask myself the question “what’s wrong with something looking like a job when you like doing it?”. When you like doing something, doesn’t matter if it’s writing or sporting or playing tic tac toe, you could do it all day and all night, right? So if you create your own tic tac toe room, it might feel that you’re a professional, but will that keep you from doing it? I guess not.

Where should it be located?
When you’re really considering going into the blogging business, and you already made your business case, then maybe you could rent an office somewhere, because who knows that after some time you’ll need to hire 4 other bloggers, a secretary and an accountant.
Well, I told you that I’m ambitious, but maybe not that much. So the location will need to be somewhere inside the house. Lucky as I am, I have a spare room, of which I don’t have an idea yet what to do with it. It’s unfinished, it doesn’t have any power sockets yet, the light doesn’t work and it certainly needs some new painting or I will become depressed, but I have the space, so there’s a start.

Which accessories do I need?
Maybe it’s a female side of me (sorry ladies) but I like desk accessories. When I start thinking about decorating my desk, I think of pencil cups, letter trays, business card holders, memo cubes, a fax machine, a paper shredder, that kind of stuff. But do I really need that? Probably not eh…
So let’s start with the basic accessories: desk (check) , laptop (check), printer (check), big leather chair that says “Chief Executive” (not check, but probably my regular chair will work just fine too). What else? Maybe some pictures for on the wall? A radio? Most likely I have the basics, and when I’m actually sitting in my home office -sounds already quite professional – I’ll find out soon enough what else I’m missing.

You may have noticed that I haven’t sort it all out, yet. So any help is welcome. Do you have a home office? Do you feel the need to have one? Do you have a great idea on how to decorate mine? Let me know!

My current "office"

My new office

Content structure: Philosophy

What’s the best way to structure your content?
When developing a website, at some point you will need to find an answer to this question. You probably already have some content in mind, written in a notebook or in files on your PC. If it’s on your PC, you might already be one step ahead because there will be already some kind of structure in the form of folders and files. But yet that’s not exactly what we are looking for.

Let us start at the beginning, what is structured content?
When you do a search on Google, the first thing it comes up with is a Wiki
. Quite ironical is the fact that this Wiki page seems to be an orphan, which means that no other documents are linked to it. In other words, it’s not structured. But still it has something to say:

Structured content refers to information or content that has been broken down and classified using metadata.

Now we have a new question: What is metadata?
Of course there’s also a Wiki page for metadata
which tells us that metadata is "data about other data". Now we’re getting somewhere.
If you’re not familiar with metadata, here’s a Bert and Ernie movie that explains it all:

What we have to do now is have a look at our content and define keywords for it. Unlike Ernie (the smooth bastard), we’ll need to define keywords that point to several of our content items. More important, we also have to think about future content. It’s not unlikely that you don’t yet have an idea of what the future will bring, so instead of defining your future content, you might want to create the possibility to easily add new items to the structure.
As an example, let’s say you are a veterinary medicine, and your specialties are cats and pidgins. So you want to create a website about this, and you create following specifications:

This will work just fine! Everything you write about cats will be classified under mammals, and everything you write about pidgins will be classified under birds. But then one day you start thinking about extending your business, and you start specializing yourself in dogs. Of course you want to write about this on your website. But where do we classify dogs? Also under mammals I guess. It does look strange to put cats and dogs together, doesn’t it?
What you’ll need to do now is split up mammals into cats and dogs, and you’ll have to add the new metadata to everything you’ve already written about cats.
What you should have done from the beginning is structure your data to a further level:

This way you could easily add an item dogs under mammals, next to cats.
Maybe you should have even gone further and divide cats into Siamese cats, Persian cats and so on. I have no idea which different types of pidgins exist, maybe I should have done some more research before writing this post, but I guess you get my point. It’s worth thinking about possible future content before you start creating your structure.

In a next post, I’ll get more down to earth and describe how we handle this technically, using CMS software.

Joomla vs Drupal vs Wordpress

It’s been already four years ago, I guess, when I created v1. Based on school knowledge, the web pages were totally created in HTML written in Notepad, only using Macromedia Dreamweaver when I really couldn’t figure out how to design a certain item. I was a hardcore programmer, and I was proud of it!

It didn’t take very long before I found out that this wasn’t something to be very proud of. All I did was spending loads and loads of time on reinventing the hot water. Even worse, I reinvented the cold water when the hot water already existed. So that meant it was time for v2. The same website, the same content, but written in PHP 5. Using professional tools as Dreamweaver and Zend Studio, and implementing scripts I found on the internet, the website became more professional and more dynamic.

Some time ago, I figured that it was time for v3. I had some ideas of changes in mind, but instead of starting to program immediately, I planned some hours of research before the first code would be written. And this is how I found out about CMS software.
After some reading about this subject, I found out that there are lots of software suppliers who each have their own CMS masterpiece, but there are three that seem to be used very often: Joomla, Drupal and Wordpress.

If you’re reading this post because you finally want to figure out which one is the ultimate CMS software package that you must use, I’ll have to disappoint you. Maybe you know more about this stuff than I do. I only had a first experience with both Joomla and Drupal yet, but I read a lot about this item, and what I will bring you here are my personal ideas.

If you haven’t stopped reading now… great!

So what I did next was also install Wordpress, and then try to create a basic website in all three CMS.
The test phase could be divided in following categories:

All three CMS are kind of similar in installation. You download a zip file from the website and extract it to the source directory of your website. Then you need to create a database (If you don’t already have one), and you have to tell your CMS which database it needs to use. Joomla has a user interface where you can set your database settings, this interface starts automatically when first starting Joomla. For both Drupal and Wordpress you need to adjust a config file where you put your database settings. When this is configured, all three CMS have an installation script which does the database setup.

First time use
Now wasn’t that easy? But beware…It might get a bit confusing now.
The first thing you need to do is to log on to the administrator page, and have a look at the possibilities. This can be done by using following urls:
Joomla: http:///administrator/index.php
Drupal: http:///?q=admin
Wordpress: http:///wp-admin/
(replace “” by the server/location where you installed your CMS)

There you are, this is where your website will be born. Quite overwhelming, isn’t it?
What’s important to know is that the purpose of every CMS is the same: to let you create a website. They give you the possibility to create structured content, create a specific design and use several add-ons (e.g. calendars, RSS,…).
But still there’s a big difference between them. First of all in the way of working, and secondly in what they can or can’t handle.

Structured content
That the content of your website is the most important part is something I probably don’t have to tell you. But how do we structure this content? Let’s take my website as an example, I will have four main topics: photography, writing, travelling and web development. So I need a way to categorize everything I publish under one of these topics. But after I’ll be posting for some time, maybe I have too much content for one specific category, so I’ll need to create subcategories. E.g. Color photography and black & white photography. Each CMS has its own way of structuring content:

Joomla works with sections and categories. Each section can contain several categories, and the content can be linked to a certain category.

Drupal uses something they call “taxonomy”. The point is that you make a tree structures (called “vocabularies”), in which you categorize your content.
So, I’ll create four vocabularies: Writing, photography, travelling and web development, and then I divide these vocabularies into terms, which can also be divided in other terms, and so on.
Here’s an example of a “Photography” vocabulary:

            Black and White

This can go on and on as far as you want to categorize.
A good tutorial on taxonomy can be found here

In Wordpress, you have categories. The usage is quite similar to Drupal, you create a main category (e.g. photography), and then you create sub categories with that main category as parent.

As you can see, there are different ways of categorizing your content, so it’s very important to take some time to think this over before you start creating content. In the beginning, this might sound boring and useless, but when you become a Problogger, managing thousands of articles, blog posts, stories, pictures, videos and so on, you’ll thank me for this.

Content types
When you reread my previous sentence, you already see that there are different types of content that can be on your website: blog posts, stories, articles,… You have already categorized them under your different categories or sections or whatever you prefer to call it, but that’s not enough. You want them to look differently from each other and you want each content type to have other functionalities. E.g. my “about me” page should be static, my blog posts should be able to receive comments, …

Again, the different CMS have different ways to handle this. They all have certain content types installed by default and the option to add new “non-standard” content types. A short overview:

By default, Joomla works with “articles”, and that seems to be the only content type you can use. However, there seem to be lots of modules and plug-ins which you can use within your article to create an image gallery, make it look like a blog post, and so on.

Drupal has Pages and Stories by default. They both look similar, but pages should be used for static content (e.g. the “about me” section) and Stories should be used for sections that are updated regularly (e.g. a blog). Furthermore, you can install several modules like blog (so each user can have his own blog), image gallery, and so on.

In Wordpress, several content types are ready to use be default: Posts, Pages, Media, Links and Comments. Pages can be compared with the pages in Drupal, and Posts are similar to Drupal’s Stories. Media is used for images, videos,… Comments manages the comments that are given to a certain post, and Links speaks for itself, I guess, it’s for managing links (duh!)

Now that you’ve created some content (with the right content type of course), and you categorized it, it’s time for some designing (woohoo!)
If you’re not used to web development (html, php,…) that’s not a big problem, because thousands of others have done the designing for you. It’s called “Themes”.
Each CMS comes with its standard theme, which is normally the same theme as they use on the CMS website. But you probably want things to be more personal, right? That’s why there are lots of free themes available. They can be found on the website of your CMS, but also on specialized websites like proWebCreative , osskins and many others.

Still not personal enough? No problem! You can also build a theme yourself. Or start from a certain theme and make adjustments to it. But this requires at least some basic skills in html, css, php and javascript.

This topic will certainly be discussed in future posts.

Each CMS has a standard installation package which includes the basic components to get you started. But there’s more…much more! There are lots of pieces of software available that add certain functionalities to your CMS, these are called: extensions (Joomla), modules (Joomla, Drupal), plug-ins (Joomla, Wordpress) or add-ons (Drupal).
A good example is a forum module. It’s not available by default, but you can easily download and implement it. Another example is an image gallery.

Just like themes, these modules are available on the website of the CMS, and on a lot of specialized websites (just google it). And like themes you can also program them yourself, if you have the knowledge.

So far my first comparison of the three major CMS. This is only the top of the iceberg, but I guess it gives a wide overview of what CMS are and what’s the main difference.
So now the big question: Which one will I use?
Based on my experience up to now, I think that I won’t use Joomla. It looks a bit like a mess to me.
So there are two left: Drupal and Wordpress.
Word’s on the street that you need to use Wordpress if you want to create a blog. If you want to create a “real” website, you need to go for Drupal. This means that I should go for Drupal... But I’m not going to decide yet. I’ll test Drupal and Wordpress further, and then I’ll see which one will fit best to me.

Another conclusion that could be made is that there is no such thing as the “best” CMS. If you read about this on forums, you’ll find Joomla-people, Drupal-people and Wordpress-people. I guess I’m just not a Joomla-person myself.

First content: About me (the story)

As I see things now, there will be two main categories under which my future blog posts can be divided: content and design.
Probably they more or less speak for themselves. In the content section I’ll post ideas about the content of the website, with articles and photos. In the design section I’ll post everything about the design of the website. Can it be any easier?

So here’s my first content post.
All websites seem to have an “about the author” section, here’s mine:

About Nicolas De Corte (the story)

Hi, my name is Nicolas and I'm addicted to blogging.

But in my defense I would like to explain to you how things got that far:
It all started the 18th of April 1982, when I saw light for the first time in some hospital in the city of Ghent (Belgium). After peeing on doctors and nurses for about a day or five, they finally decided to send me home, together with my parents of course. Those days "home" was an apartment in a small town called Laarne. I was a peaceful child, only waking up a couple of times each night, mostly because of a shortage on love and food.

Time went by, I grew older and I developed some kind of natural laziness. As school was equal to hard work, it's no wonder that until I was seven, I cried every morning when my mother tried to bring me to school. Somewhere around the age of seven or eight I accepted the fact that I had to go to school anyway, and I became more or less a good student. Friendly as I was, I also tried to explain my opinions to fellow students, which produced me a lot of punishments. In the title song of the Simpsons, there's a part where Bart is writing on the board in detention... Story of my life.

And then there was high school. I'm still wondering why people expect so much from you during your puberty. Can't they just leave you alone for a couple of years? Anyway, what I remember of those days is that I spent all my time experimenting, getting drunk and trying to get laid. So school went kind of downhill, especially because I found that it needed some experimentation too. Instead of sticking to the same classes, I tried it all. From economy to electricity to mechanics to gardening to biomechanics, until (eventually) I tried IT, and finally I found something I really liked doing. Was it the fact that I was doing something I was interested in, or that my puberty years were over? I still don't know. But things started to go up hill again.

After high school, I went to college to try to get my bachelor degree in IT, and guess what? I got it.
So there I was, ready to jump in the working world... Luck was on my side, and the first job I applied for was mine.
Hi, my name is Nicolas, and I'm an SAP Netweaver consultant. If you're thinking about hiring me, please find my CV here

It was also around that time that I started some serious thinking about travelling. In previous years I hadn’t traveled more than a couple of city trips and a week or so in Spain, and now I wanted something serious, I wanted to cross at least one ocean. My girlfriend, those days, wasn't very fond of low budget traveling, so we booked a round trip to Cuba. This way we would see the whole country, and we wouldn't have to arrange anything, and we were sure about air conditioned transportation and hotel rooms.
That trip was really great, I liked the country and the culture shock, but I really missed some kind of adventure. We only saw the tourist spots and “picture points”, the rooms were too clean, we didn’t get sick of the food once,… It felt kind of boring. For me, the best days were two extra days we’d booked in Havana . Then we were out there on our own, discovering it all by ourselves. For my girlfriend those were the worst days.

When we were back home, I knew what I wanted: I wanted to travel, I wanted it to be adventurous, and I wanted to do it all alone.
So one year later I found myself closing my eyes, pointing my finger on the map, and after a couple of retries (I didn’t feel much like traveling to the South Atlantic or the North Pacific ocean) I booked a return ticket to Guatemala. That was my best holiday ever, en since then any kind of group travels or pre booked hotels are totally out of the question.
Hi, my name is Nicolas, and I’m a backpacker.

Now let us fast forward to the beginning of the year 2009. One day I was looking at some of my pictures and I thought by myself: “Wouldn’t it be great if I could make those really nice pictures?” Next thing I knew I drove to Rotterdam to buy myself a SLR photo camera, and I subscribed for a 3 years photography course.
Hi, my name is Nicolas, and I’m a wannabe photographer.

While traveling, next to photos I also like to take notes of what I see, do, experience, mostly because it’s great to read it after a while back at home. It’s like a diary.
Some time ago, when I got back from travels in Iceland, I wanted to share my experiences so much that I took my notes and started to create a real story: Iceland for beginners
Hi, my name is Nicolas, and I’m a wannabe writer.

Writing that one story got me so much going that I started to read a lot of other travel stories and blogs, until I finally decided that I wanted to create a whole website about the things I like. And what’s a real website without a blog?
Hi, my name is Nicolas, and I’m addicted to blogging.

Any comments are more than welcome!