Since my blog hit the 10-year mark in February, I never wrote a post sharing behind the scenes. Yes, this includes the tools I use to create content. I think it’s probably a good idea to share the tools of the trade for those who want to get into anime blogging or interested in technology as I will cover some of the software and hardware I usually use on a daily basis.
Updated: Added some prices of the plugins/themes I use and added some more tools.
Hosting and WordPress
With that, let’s focus on the software that run the site. In the heyday of the internet during the early 2000s, I spent my time creating Pokémon fan sites by manually coding pages in HTML. Back then, content management systems did not exist or they are primitive. You can read my thoughts about my experiences with that in an editorial I wrote several years back.
Nowadays, content management systems make creating websites easier. While I have created a website using Drupal in the mid 2000s, WordPress is eventually what I settled on. I used WordPress for my first personal blog, which is long gone. It covered various stuff before spinning of the anime stuff, which is how this blog is started.
The main strengths of WordPress over Drupal are that it’s more suited for creating a blog with an easy to use interface. Also, it’s very extendable with a myriad of plugins and themes. Yes, Drupal is more powerful and flexible, but it doesn’t have the vast ecosystem WordPress has. It’s not too surprising since WordPress.com, which is a turnkey, commercial version of WordPress exists. A lot of anime bloggers use WordPress.com mostly because it’s free and easy to get started However, it comes with limitations unless you pay money. Their plans cost more than just installing the software on a hosting account.
For those who are thinking about self-hosting WordPress to start an anime blog, you will need some technical knowledge. This means keeping the software and plugins up to date to prevent your site from getting hacked from security exploits. Believe it or not, WordPress is notorious for sites getting hacked because he or she doesn’t keep the software up to date. I highly recommend installing Wordfence to protect your blog from malicious logins and code injections. Most importantly, do not use pirated/nulled WordPress themes or plugins. I know people are tempted by free, but it’s an invitation for hackers to hack your website or blog!
Also, backups are important. There are too many instances where anime bloggers lost all their content from getting hacked or the host going down. In other words, he or she has to start over. Good places to backup your site is to an external hard drive, local server, network attached storage, or cloud backup service. Most shared hosting providers allow you to download backups from the control panel like CPanel. If they do, create a reminder to download them weekly. Even if the host provider generate backups automatically, there is a chance the server goes down and everything gets corrupted or worst, the host go out of business.
Moreover, just backing them up is not good enough. You need to test them. There are a few times that I tried restoring a backup and it doesn’t restore all the data. This was the case during 2010-2011. In other words, I have to painstakingly restore the posts manually by loading up a cache copy or using Google Reader to take the posts from the RSS syndication. That was not pretty.
It’s probably a good idea to test backups by having a test installation on your desktop. You can accomplish this by installing another WordPress installation that is blocked from public access. You can also do this on your desktop or laptop using applications such as WAMP (Windows/Apache/MySQL/PHP), MAMP (Mac/Apache/MySQL/PHP), or a Docker container, which will contain everything you need to run WordPress.
As for hosting, I went through several hosts. In general, I have gripes with all shared hosting due to the lack of reliability. While they are cheap, it can come with issues such as bad neighbors who use up the resources. Worse, they can affect your site due to outdated WordPress installations that the owner didn’t update. I eventually got frustrated and moved to a virtual private server in 2012.
A virtual private server is basically like a dedicated server, which you are given a certain amount of dedicated resources such as memory, CPU power and storage. However, it’s hosted on one physical server virtually with other servers. If you are tech savvy, setting up your own virtual private server is the way to go. It will take some work to install, configure, and maintain the server, but it’s worth it. If you are interested in a job Information Technology, you should probably do this so you can gain familiarity with Linux system administration. The one I use is from BuyVM, which is reliable and reasonably priced compared to other providers. Of course, there are other hosts that provide affordable virtual private servers such as OVH, Digital Ocean, and Linode to name a few.
Also, I use Namesilo to register domains since they provide free domain privacy, pretty good prices, and they are around for a long time. It’s best to have your own domain name opposed to having a free sub domain (e.g. yournamehere.wordpress.com). Having your own domain establishes your blog’s identity. If you are serious about starting your anime blog, I highly recommend that you get a domain name. It’s very cheap (e.g. $8.99 a year for a .com) and you will benefit more in terms of traffic. While you have to pay separately for one if you decide to host on a virtual private server, shared hosting will usually have this included.
Lastly, there is the themes and plugins. Since everyone’s needs are different, I won’t list too many. I generally develop my own custom themes based on StudioPress’s Genesis Framework ($60, one time). I choose this over other theme frameworks like Thesis since it’s has unlimited uses, receives frequent updates and I only need to pay for it once. If you don’t know HTML, PHP and CSS, you can just buy a pre-made theme made for Genesis. It comes with various options to customize the design to your liking. I also use Yoast SEO (free, but there is a premium version) for Search Engine Optimization, which is aimed to improve your rankings on search engines.
Lastly, I use WPTouch Pro for the mobile version of this blog (about $79 a year, but I pay $67 a year). I just don’t like how most themes do responsive design. I have used the Pro version since 2010 and I am mostly satisfied with it. Other mobile solutions like the one from Jetpack isn’t that great in terms of customization and functionality. Of course, Jetpack is a must if you want most of the features from WordPress.com such as reader subscriptions, likes, social buttons, stats, etc.
Tools of the Trade
Lastly, there is the tools I use for content creation. I use two main devices, which is the MacBook Pro and the iPad Pro. While I used to use a Mac before switching to Windows computers at the start of 4th grade, I actually went back to a Mac in 2006. I switched back mostly because I got tired of fixing issues on Windows XP and dealing with poor-quality PC hardware. Also, I am intrigued with Mac OS X.
Since then, I used several MacBook Pros, which I use not only for my college work, but also personal stuff, running my business and blogging. I prefer them over the usual Dells and HP computers since they are more reliable and built slightly better. MacBook Pros better be since they are pretty expensive. It’s not really a problem since I keep my computers for at least five years or more as long it’s fast enough for my needs.
While I still use Windows sometimes, mostly on my workstation that I built for gaming and running multiple virtual machines, I still prefer macOS over Windows 10. It’s more reliable, does not spy on me, and force needless feature updates. I deal with enough issues fixing Windows. With that, I don’t want to use it as my main operating system for personal use.
With that, I currently use a 15-inch 2018 MacBook Pro 15 inch, which features a hex core 2.2 Ghz Intel Core i7, 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD storage. It’s more than fast enough to do software development and run a few virtual machines. Yes, people complain about the lack of ports and the butterfly keyboard. Personally, I don’t mind it and the OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock restores most of the ports I will ever use. On the go, I use a Kingston Nucleum USB-C dongle, which I use on my iPad Pro. I use a dual monitor setup that is attached to an external Thunderbolt 3 GPU containing an AMD Radeon RX 580. It’s good enough to play a game of Civilization VI, do live streams, and video editing.
Also, USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 is the future. Regardless, I decided to upgrade last year because of the fear of it getting more expensive in the future because of the trade war. Not only that, my 2012 15-inch non-retina MacBook Pro was starting to show its age.
Besides my MacBook Pro, I use my iPad Pros frequently for light mobile computing. I use both the 9.7 with LTE and 11 inch. Granted, they do not replace my laptop, but it’s good for writing blog posts, surfing the internet, reading Japanese language manga, remotely manage servers, and playing all those Gacha games. I mainly play a lot of Magia Record and Kirara Fantasia.
Moreover, I use a keyboard case such as the Apple Smart Keyboard and the Logitech Smart Folio Pro on my iPad Pros. This adds a keyboard, which makes the iPad Pro like a laptop. With iPadOS, I can mostly do everything I can do on my MacBook, except for some things. Some things like taking screenshots and picture manipulation is easier on the Mac, at least for now. Once Photoshop makes it to the iPad, I will be able to publish posts on the iPad Pro like I do on my laptop. Of course, I cannot record or stream video games on the iPad Pro, which is something the MacBook Pro can do.
Apps I use for Content Creation
Lastly, there are the apps I use for content creation. Since I mostly shifted to using legal streaming services. I primarily subscribe to Crunchyroll and HIDIVE for my anime needs. However, taking screenshots can become tricky. While you can turn off the subtitles for Crunchyroll, this option does not exist in HIDIVE yet.
However, there is a workaround. I use a user style sheet to hide subtitles and controls. Afterwards, I put the video in full screen and use a screenshot tool like Snagit to take them. The built-in Screenshot tool also works in macOS, but I find Snagit a bit easier to use. This reduces the need to download raw videos to just take screenshots.
For picture manipulation, I obviously use Adobe Photoshop. I have some experience using the program from taking a photography course during college and experimenting with some of the features. Sure, it’s overkill, but it’s an industry standard. Recently, I found out that the Photomerge tool can easily stitch pictures. This makes it easy to stitch multiple screenshots together without doing it manually. I am still waiting for it to release on the iPad so I can mostly do the same there. Plus, it will be a lot easier to manipulate pictures by using the Apple Pencil. (Update: I decided to get Affinity Photo on the iPad since it’s on sale. Also, the iOS version of Photoshop isn’t well received and Affinity Photo is more mature in comparison. It provides most of the functionality of Photoshop, but on the iPad. I haven’t got the chance to use it yet, but I will soon in the future.)
As for what I use to write my posts, I use Microsoft Word on my MacBook Pro and iPad Pro. It’s not too surprising since I use Word as my main word processor. Contrary to popular belief, I do not write posts inside the WordPress editor since it’s easy to lose your work if the internet goes down. Not only that, I despise Gutenberg, which is the new block editor in WordPress. It interferes with my workflow as I do not use the WordPress editor. I think it’s complete garbage and complicated to use. With that, I use the classic editor instead since it does everything I need. You can still use the classic editor in the recent versions of WordPress.
Even so, it’s probably a good idea to write your posts in a word processor and copy it to the WordPress editor after you proofread it and check for readability (passive voice, sentence length, etc). Afterwards, I insert the pictures and any links before publishing. In case the backup fails, I will still have a local copy of the post. I store all my drafts on SharePoint as I have an Office 365 Business Essentials subscription, which I also use for email. I’m slowly moving myself away from Google.
With that, this sums up on how I run my blog and what I use to create content. Of course, this will change in the near future since I will be moving for a new job. However, my workflow will mostly be the same, even if the tools I use may differ. Still, I hope this will help those who are interested in starting their own anime blog. If you run your own anime blog, feel free to share your tips and tricks in the comments. ¶