You can use several major types of tools to improve your blog. The way you use them varies across WordPress.com and WordPress software-based blogs, with more power made available as you take on more responsibility for your blog.
Our intent in this book is to always provide a salmon ladder so that you can learn a moderate amount, improve your blog, and repeat—all the way from beginner to power user. You can use HTML in any WordPress blog, including WordPress.com blogs, as described in this chapter. What you're actually using in WordPress, and what we show in this book, is XHTML, a newer and somewhat stricter version of HTML.
The people behind WordPress, users, and the entire web-oriented community are caught up in a shift between standards at present. XHTML was meant to be the replacement for standard HTML, but it now appears that HTML will be replaced by a new version, HTML 5, instead. XHTML is, therefore, looking to be something of a placeholder.
Everything we show works as either HTML or XHTML, unless noted otherwise. So if you want to go writing a lot of (X)HTML code of your own for use in WordPress blogs, start by looking at the differences between them as described in the WordPress Codex:
CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, is a further addition to HTML that allows you to take a more thoughtful and managed approach to editing web pages. WordPress themes are written in CSS. CSS had a rocky beginning because of competing standards and varying implementations, but its future looks secure.
As a WordPress.com user, you can change the CSS in your theme and preview the result at any time. You will need to buy a $15 per year CSS upgrade to actually change the CSS in your WordPress.com theme, all described in Chapter 10, "Adding Upgrades, Audio, and Video." As a WordPress software user, you can use many more themes, modify them freely, and create your own, all using CSS. This is described beginning in Chapter 11, "Installing and Upgrading WordPress Software."
The other major technology you can use for turbocharging your blog is PHP, which stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor. PHP is a scripting language. It's used to write plug-ins, which can add a great deal of capability to blogs based on WordPress software, and which are described beginning in Chapter 13, "The WordPress Toolkit: Plug-Ins." Widgets, a limited selection of which are available to your blog, are described in Chapter 3, "Creating Your Blog's Look," this chapter (the Text plug-in), and Chapter 8, "Tracking Statistics and Bringing in Visitors" (the RSS plug-in). Widgets are limited versions of plug-ins.
The major tools for modifying your blog are as follows:
■ Themes, with a limited selection available in WordPress.com and a much wider selection in WordPress.org-based blogs
■ Widgets, a limited selection of which are available in both WordPress.com and WordPress.org-based blogs
■ HTML, which can be used in WordPress.com and WordPress.org-based blogs
■ CSS, which can be used with WordPress.com blogs to modify a theme via a CSS add-in, and can be used freely in WordPress software-based blogs
■ PHP, which can be used to create plug-ins, but only in WordPress software-based blogs How's that for a salmon ladder?
There are lots of good books about HTML out there, but using HTML in the WordPress environment is unique. Many of the problems that make using HTML a hassle are handled for you, and the WordPress environment can teach you HTML as you work.
In this chapter, we use WordPress to demonstrate the basics of HTML. Once you have a feel for HTML itself and how it works in the WordPress environment, you can use other HTML and XHTML resources to go further, applying what you learn in your WordPress blog as you go. The key tool we'll use is the Visual and HTML tabs in the WordPress Post editor. (The Post editor is the same for adding new posts, editing existing posts, and creating pages—standalone web pages you can integrate into your blog.)
The formatting that WordPress makes available to you on the Visual tab is the formatting that's made available in the most basic HTML, supported by the widest range of browsers across the widest range of systems.
The Post editor has tabs that allow you to work in Visual mode or HTML mode. Visual mode is what the user sees when they visit your blog. In HTML editors, Visual mode is often referred to as WYSIWYG, pronounced "whizzywig," for What You See Is What You Get.
The HMTL basics described here are the same for WordPress.com or WordPress software-based blogs.
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