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Web Development

WordPress Secret Sauce: Building Blocks of a Theme

WordPress sites are so ubiquitous, the brand and the sites powered by them have become like the air that we breathe (it’s there, we need it but few of us know what is really in the air beside the basic elements and, really, few of us care).

But for those who could benefit from a more nuanced understanding of the building blocks of a WordPress theme (like entrepreneurs, small business owners and non-profits building sites on small budgets), the infographic below (produced by WordPress rock star developer Joost de Valk) will be very illuminating.

The infographic nicely maps out the standard design for common pages (home page, index page, archive and blog pages) while explaining the functions on the front end and back end that you as the admin have control over. It even explains the dreaded “LOOP” (something surely sends thoughts of being chased through an endless maze through the minds of most inexperienced people who see this function on their WordPress dashboard).

At the very least, this will give you an appreciation of our beloved WordPress (the air that we breathe and the wind beneath our tech wings).

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Fidel Castro’s Blog

My initial thoughts upon first glance of Fidel Castro’s personal blog were (1) wow, undeniably fascinating, and (2) Castro needs a new Web Developer ASAP (his tech people are stuck in another era with the rest of his country).

The defiant 84 year old former President of Cuba who rose to power in the wake of the Cuban Revolution has taken to blogging like a fly to honey since his retirement several years ago.  Surprisingly, his blog sits quietly and politely on the web, making few waves and drawing minimal attention (unlike Castro at the peak of his political power).

I would expect the blog of a revolutionary and brutal communist dictator who has outlived all of his enemies (including ten American presidents and recent rumors of his own death) to be have a title that is equally as defiant, full of rage and intimidating as he was at his political peak (something with some bite).  Castro’s blog, while being officially housed at, is titled:

Reflections of Fidel

The title is disappointing.  An image immediately comes to mind of Castro strolling playfully down the beach in cropped khakis tossing pebbles into the ocean while frothy waves lap at his feet.  Sue me, but I don’t like my revolutionaries doing yoga.  The title sounds more like a romance novel than the dangerous and inflammatory musings of a former dictator – here are a few of the most popular contemporary romance novel titles on Amazon:

Dream Man
The Flame and the Flower
Born in Fire
After the Night
McKenzie’s Mission
Courting Miss Hattie
Sweet, Savage Love
Anyone but You
Heart of a Falcon
Reflections of Fidel

I’m just saying.

My personal taste in blog titles aside, there are other urgent issues that Castro should consider addressing on his extremely dated blog as soon as possible.  Why, you might ask, should Fidel Castro (former president of Cuba resting comfortably in his retirement years) care to update his website?

Simply put, because:

  1. Anyone who blogs as much as he does (and I am amazed at how frequently and consistently he blogs – damn you Castro, what is your secret to blogging productivity) wants to be heard by the world.  Desperately.  He might be retired and facing the twilight  years of his life (he himself has admitted that he doesn’t expect to outlive Obama’s term in office), but he has more of a reason now to share his life-story with the world than ever before (the story he chooses to remember – however exaggerated the truth and historical facts may be).
  2. Every world leader (even retired dictators) yearns to have the ear of the youth (they are the future, they are most impressionable, and they are the ones most likely to worship the “myth” of the leader).  According to the trusted web analytics site Alexa, 25-44 year olds are “greatly underrepresented” on Reflections of Fidel while adults 55 and older are “greatly over-represented” (Castro has a lot of work to do on his blog if he wants to be read by anyone under 55).
  3. And, finally, when world leaders blog, every measure should be taken to ensure that they’re using the best and latest tools.  Fidel Castro’s blog is like a relic from the dot-com era — which could be quaint, but it ain’t.  The content (which will eventually become historical record) and the blog itself should be as easy to consume and user-friendly as possible.

Case in point:  Fidel Castro’s blogging network of choice (Monthly Review)  is painfully slow.  Alexa notes that the average load time for website is an embarrassing 3.222 seconds (83% of sites are faster).  This statistical fact gave no choice but to rate the site as “very slow”.  Not a good look for a former world leader.  Here is Alexa’s overall review:

“There are 183,190 sites with a better three-month global Alexa traffic rank than, and the site is relatively popular among users in the cities of Secunderabad (where it is ranked #660) and Pasig (#1,366). The site has been online for at least fourteen years. While we estimate that 41% of the site’s visitors are in the US, where it is ranked #107,884, it is also popular in Portugal, where it is ranked #19,954. Approximately 66% of visits to are bounces (one pageview only).”

Castro can certainly do better on his personal blog in a number of ways.  While I believe the site needs a complete overhaul from the bottom up, below is my short list of suggestions for Fidel Castro on how to improve his blog, his site’s numbers and his ranking in Google (a search for “Fidel Castro’s Blog” in Google found his official blog on the SECOND page of search results – four entries down), and possibly build a community on the site of lively discussion (okay maybe that’s a bit much):

  • New WordPress Theme – Thankfully, the blog is self-hosted on WordPress (this is half the battle won).  But a new theme is needed ASAP – nothing too complicated but something more visually stimulating and conducive to displaying the wealth of content on the site (several years worth) in numerous ways that will lead for easier navigation for Users and more click-thrus (including Page and Category tabs).  I chose the following three simple and clean (yet functional and visually appealing) templates that might suit Fidel Castro:

Bold (by Elegant Themes)
Communitie (by ThemeForest)
Clam (by Fearless Flyer)

  • SEO/Linking – The ample content on the site (going back several years) is rich with cultural, historical and political references that are SEO/Google friendly, yet there are barely any outbound links to be found on the site.  Castro needs a solid SEO person who can pimp his blog to the search engines effectively.  Without great SEO, a blog will wither and die (or, at the very least, be benched on the sideline of the internet by Google – again, not a good look for a former world leader);
  •  Content is King (be its bitch) – The posts on the site are beautifully written and were clearly done by someone who has the time to express in great detail what we barely have time to imagine.  Still, the posts need a bit of spice in the form of multimedia – photos and video).  For example, here is the opening of a post Castro wrote on May 30, 2010:

“THE EMPIRE OF DRUGS”:  When I was detained in Mexico by the Federal Security Police who, by pure chance became suspicious of certain movements of ours, despite the fact that we were making them with maximum care in order to avoid being snatched by the killer hand of Batista – like Machado did in Mexico when his agents assassinated Julio Antonio Mella in that country’s capital on January 10, 1929 – that agency thought that it concerned one of the smuggling organizations acting illegally on the border of that poor country in its commercial exchanges with the strong neighboring power, industrialized and rich.  At that time the drug problem in Mexico was virtually nonexistent…”

The post, as gripping as it is, could have used a photo accompanying it at least (“never underestimate the power of pictures”).  Photos and video on a blog post do wonders to help tell a story and adds fuel to the SEO fire.  Castro should be doing video uploads at least once per week.

  • Financial Support?! WTF?!!! – That is likely the immediate response a person will have reading the vague plea for financial support in the form of a PayPal button with the lead-in statement “We Need Your Support – Please Donate Today” in the left sidebar.  Note to Castro:  What you need to do is explain, in one or two sentences, why you need money and where the money is going (at the very least, a link to a page on the site with a complete explanation is forthcoming).   Times are hard, nobody’s coming up off of cash that easily anymore (not even capitalists).
  • Social Media Trumps All – Learn it, use it, love it.  I’m not suggesting that Castro (at this time in his life) should be a shameless, self-promoting media whore like Hugo Chavez. But world leaders have embraced social media for a reason.  Today, social media is one of the best ways for a politician to reach “the people” (take a look at this official list of world leaders on Twitter here).  It’s time Castro (and his reflections) embrace the chosen tools for communication and sharing content online by both the young and the old.  Note to Castroignore social media and you will be like the fat kid at the prom.

So there you have it.  Five easy steps for a fun-loving, former dictator to take that will improve his blog (and maybe even his social life).  Having said all of that, the blog is still one of the most fascinating reads online handsdown and Fidel is quite an engaging writer.  I would still recommend subscribing to the feed (how many times in our lives will we have access to the “reflections” of a former dictator from an era long gone?).

Should world leaders be blogging and tweeting?  Are the meanderings of world leaders online and in social media really as engaging and enlightening as we’d hope it would be?  I’m interested in hearing other opinions on this.

The revolution will be televised (on YouTube).

Castro’s Sway Back in the Day