Post posthope.org: using WordPress to build a semi-private recovery update hub

PostHope.org, a CaringBridge-esque community hub for those going through treatments, illnesses, or other major life changes, closed with no warning or explanation this week. Users’ data (messages, donations information, meal calendars, etc) just disappeared. PostHope shared a message on their website saying they tried to recover the data, but just couldn’t do it. With no apology or details, they said they were “closing their doors” – a bit of gaslighting here by using the present continuous tense – and that they “encourage you to stay in touch with one another, to continue offering the support that has made our community so special.” Well, we lost all your precious farewells, deleted your hopeful medical updates, but isn’t this f*&k-up just another opportunity for you to build community? (Yikes.)

As someone who has made, broken and rescued many websites, I know how complicated the internet can be. But the absence of any kind of information as to how the posthope.org disaster happened raises so many red flags for me that I have no sympathy for whoever administers this site. Who knows what kind of shady situation brought this about. And while not everyone is using sites like these in terminal conditions, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for anyone relying on it in their final days.

For me, this is another reminder that the economy of the Internet is entirely and needlessly messed up. There are so many options online where you can control and own your data–from Mastodon to PeerTube to WordPress–where your attention is not the product. Depending on an outside service for this kind of thing makes one needlessly vulnerable to terms of service changes and invasive tracking at best, and at worst, catastrophic information loss.

WordPress (the .org version, not the .com offering) is an open-source platform that you can install wherever you want. Most hosts have one-click installations for it. Here are the steps I took to quickly build a semi-private updates area on a WordPress website that already had a blog with several categories.

  1. Create your new category. (e.g., ‘Health Updates’)
  2. Hide the category from search engines
    • Edit robots.txt in your website’s directory, either through the host, or a robots.txt plugin, and add this line: Disallow: /category/health-updates (assuming the ‘slug’ for your new category was automatically set to be ‘health-updates’)
  3. Hide the category from your main blog
    • You may need to edit the template of your main blog area or your home page and replace the standard Query Block with one that doesn’t have ‘inherit query’ checked.
    • Add a new Query Block, and under the ‘Filter’ settings, input all the Category taxonomies except your new category.
    • If your site was built pre–block themes, you might need to use CSS to hide your new category
  4. Make sure the navigation menus don’t have your new category on them
  5. Allow comments on your new posts if you want
  6. Share the direct category link with your community
    • (it should be something like your-website .com/category/health-updates)

And voila! You have a semi-private update hub. Note: if you’ve allowed people to subscribe to your WordPress blog via Jetpack, they will be notified of new health-updates posts even if you haven’t shared the direct category link with them. Also note: since none of these posts are password-protected, anyone can share the URLs with anyone else. And in general, hiding pages via robots.txt is more of a request for search engines that they don’t always have to offer.

If you’re feeling experimental, we also used a make.com automation that watches the site’s RSS feed for the health-updates category, and then pulls any new data into a new Mailchimp campaign. Zapier and any other newsletter service could probably do something similar.

Other functionality that would be well-fitted to build in WordPress would be some kind of donation integration (this could also be as simple as a Venmo or Zelle link; also
HelpHopeLive.org comes recommended specifically for medical expense donations), a meal calendar, a truly private logged-in user–only message forum with community moderators, and so on.


Learning How to Use WordPress

Learn more about WordPress at https://learn.wordpress.org — it’s a fantastic, free resource.


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