Websites made easy
In the last three years the number of people creating their own unique presence on the web has exploded. But not everyone has the skills or time to spend manually creating a website using traditional HTML applications like DreamWeaver. To solve this problem, several applications have come along that allow users to quickly create a website using easy to understand tools. WordPress is one such application that can be used for personal blogging, complex websites, or even major corporations.
There are three versions of WordPress freely available; WordPress.com – hosted on WordPress site, WordPress 2.0, that you download and install on a server, and WordPressMu, for those sites that want to host multiple individual blogs/sites. Since WordPress 2.0 and WordPressMu are 99% the same, I ?ll refer to these as simply WordPress 2.0.
All of the incarnations of WordPress have similar interfaces and options, but the results are the same; the newest content appears on the top of the page, while older content progressively moves down. Depending on how many entries you want displayed on the main page, much older content will be moved to other pages.
When writing entries, users enter information in a window similar to a word processor. Content can be pasted in from another application, however I ?ve found a direct copy/paste from Microsoft Word does cause some formatting issues. For lengthy articles, I tend to write in Word, then save to a text file that strips out all of the Word related formatting. For those wanting to write directly in the application, WordPress.com does have a built in spellchecker, but the other two versions are lacking this feature. However, users of FireFox 2.0 can utilize the web apps built in engine to address most problems.
Images can also be included in entries, however the image upload and submission feature is pretty basic. Instead of being able to upload the file to a specific folder, users are expected to link to image URLs. In the case of WordPress 2.0, you can upload images to a predetermined folder, which then requires you to copy and paste the URL into the story. While this is certainly a weird way of doing things, the nice part is WordPress 2.0, by default, will only display images related to that particular entry. You can browse all images you have uploaded, but that will quickly become overwhelming the larger your site becomes. I consider the image management system in WordPress to be the weakest link, and opt to use plug-ins (more on this below).
In order to make your website more Web2.0, each entry can also be tagged so users can customize their experience. For example, let ?s say you have written over 100 After Effects tutorials, 60 Final Cut Pro Quick Tips, and numerous other tutorials and articles over the years. When a visitor comes to the site, if they are only interested in the After Effects tutorials, that person can click on the category they are most interested in, and all of those articles will appear on the page in descending order.
If you want to see what your article will look like before it goes live, a preview window is available.
As far as the Management system goes, users have quick access to all of their articles, and can quickly delete or edit an entry. Categories, comments, and other content can easily be managed through the interface. Depending on the status of other contributors of the blog site (yes, you can have multiple authors and contributors), a site editor can quickly access content that is pending for corrections and placement. For magazine style sites, this management system works great.
Since entries are posted based on their timestamp, more important entries can be altered to stay at the top of the list, but there is currently no ?sticky ? feature. For sites that deal with time sensitive material, entries can be set to appear at a specific day and time. This is perfect for those NDA releases that go live at midnight and everyone is already in bed.
The best thing about WordPress is that all of the content is database driven. This means the entire website can be revamped quickly and easily using Cascading Style Sheets and simple modifications to the PHP documents. For those who have a simple WordPress.com site, the thought of diving into a complicated CSS document may seem overwhelming. To ease those fears, different themes can be downloaded and applied with a click of the mouse. For most, this approach will yield the best results, but as I have found while surfing the blogosphere, those sites that use the most popular themes tend to look alike.
Also, instead of modifying a PHP document to control the way content appears in sidebars, WordPress.com users apply drag and drop widgets to the site. Again, this is good for those who need to do basic modifications, but for power users or those who are running sites that are not personal accounts of what they ate for lunch (WordPress 2.0), knowing how to modify PHP will come in handy.
It isn ?t that hard to figure out how to tweak the code to your site. There are plenty of online resources, and sample PHP and CSS documents to borrow from.
WordPress is not perfect, in fact, if it wasn ?t for the ability to add custom plug-ins, I would have dropped this application long ago. There are literally hundreds, maybe even thousands, of user created plug-ins available for download. These install in minutes and dramatically change what you can do with your site. Currently, I have plug-ins that create Tag Clouds, allow for the inclusion of Google Adsense ads as well as database driven ad systems, image management (a huge plus for me), and the ability to insert video files from YouTube, QuickTime, Windows Media and more.
All plug-ins are managed from a plug-in management tab in WordPress 2.0, and for the most part a simple activate/deactivate option will suffice. If there are other modifications that need to be made, which I have found is pretty rare, you can make those changes in the Plug-in Editor. Again, a knowledge of PHP and MySQL is rather important.
So what if you are sold on WordPress, but dread having to re-enter all of the content from your old web site or blog? WordPress has an import feature that will rebuild your site from an existing RSS or xml feed, and will import nearly all of the other blogging services out there.
There are a few problems with WordPress. The first is the spell check feature missing in WordPress 2.0. I ?m hopeful when the next major version is released, the WordPress.com checker will find its way into the application. I ?ve also noticed there are times when it seems like it takes forever for content to be written to the database after clicking the publish button. I don ?t know if this is an issue with my service providers server, or the fact my database is now getting to be upwards of 1000 entries in under 6 months. It could also be a timing issue with my web browser as I will often get an error after 30 seconds, but the content was submitted to the database and displays on the site just fine.
For those who simply want a space to publish their thoughts or create a personalized webspace, and who don ?t need to do a great deal of tweaking to the design, WordPress.com is probably the best way to go. With the free account, you get 50MB of space to post just about anything you want. Additional space at 1GB, 5GB, and 10GB increments can be purchased as well.
If you are someone that wants to download the application and host it own your own server, WordPress 2.0 requires a MySQL and PHP to run. These are not super difficult to set up if you have had a little experience and can follow step by step instructions. With many registering services also providing hosting, like GoDaddy.com, get an automatic database setup is, again, as simple as clicking an option button with that provider. If anything, the setup of your database will be the most difficult installation process. Installation of WordPress 2.0 is very simple, all you do is make one modification to the install document (inserting your log and pass information to the database), upload, follow a three short steps, and you are up and running.
The best thing about WordPress is it is completely free. Other applications like Moveable Type range in price from $49.95/year with support all the way up to $279.00 for a 10 user license (with higher costs expected above that). For someone just starting a website, or for those traditional HTML sites that need a new way of posting information, WordPress is the way to go. Powerful, infinitely configurable to your own needs, and free, I give WordPress 4 out of 5 Stars.