WordPress content management

On my recent post about open source on campus, Steve suggested WordPress was a “kludge” solution for content management, as opposed to university-supplied official solutions. I realize Steve put kludge in quotes, but let me say I don’t see anything wrong with WP as a lo-fi CMS. In fact, for a lot of people and organizations, it’s perfect, for many reasons:

  • WordPress.com use scales very well. Users can start with a free WordPress.com installation and grow upward from there, via the add-ons WordPress.com provides (CSS editing, domain name hosting, etc) or a fully-functional WordPress installation on another host. Because WordPress.com provides good export hooks, this growth–or a decision to move from WordPress to another platform–need not involve reinventing the wheel.
  • Just enough complexity. Maybe the most important reason. Quite a few people have asked for my help with Joomla, Drupal, or similar open source CMS installations. I don’t maintain any, so I haven’t been able to provide much assistance. But I’ve poked around enough under-construction CMSs to know that many of them are overkill for the needs of individual users or small community organizations. Drupal and their ilk are amazingly powerful, and that power comes with a steep learning curve.
  • Learning. WP behaves in many ways which are conducive to learning web development. For example, learning HTML can be facilitated by switching between the visual and code-based editors used for posting. Similarly, the modular architecture (themes, widgets, plugins, etc) provides a good way to learn modularity and scalability. Tagging and categorization, and nifty visualizations of them, are encouraged, too.
  • Multiple users. Roles allow robust management of shared authoring and administration. Again, for learning, this is invaluable; I’ve been an “administrator” on several friends’ WordPress.com weblogs as they got started, able to help diagnose and fix problems without sharing passwords or the like. No, it doesn’t have the versioning tools that other CMSs have out of the box. But the infrastructure is there.
  • Not just a blog. Given the Pages functionality and the possibility of replacing the front page post stream with a single page (Settings, Reading), WP need not be a weblog-driven site. The stream of posts can be converted to a sideline (for news) or all but eliminated.
  • Feeds. Automatically generated RSS feeds for posts and comments. ‘Nuff said.
  • Good enough support. The WordPress forums and dox have issues, like all similar sites. But I’ve had excellent success finding answers to my questions, and students have enjoyed the videos and tutorials.

One of my former students, Ryan Budds, has used WordPress to build a great self-promotion site. Alison McGaughey’s Welcome to Forgotonia is similarly diverse and interesting, and developing quite nicely. Our local food group, Macomb FIG, fixed its web management issues with a conversion to WordPress. And a bazillion similar articles, examples, and stories are available at a search engine near you.

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2 Responses to WordPress content management

  1. I agree. I used “kludge” mainly because I like the word and am proud of the fact that my geeky skills are sound enough that I actually know what that word means. Everything you say here is completely true, though there are at least two ways in which I think WP is not quite “all that” as a course management system:

    * It isn’t that easy to track users. With eCollege (which is the official CMS here), for example, I can find out how much time students spend (or don’t) on certain course elements. That’s not possible with WP, though you could make a pretty good argument that this is actually a good thing– less panopticonic. It’s also a little harder to look up users/commentators on WP, though not much harder.

    * Still gotta have a grade book. I’m not sure there really is a solution to that because while I’m totally okay with having all my course materials at stevendkrause.com or some other site, I think there are some good and obvious reasons why the grades should remain behind an officially sanctioned firewall of some sort. But that’s fine; the gradebook function on eCollege is its best feature, IMO.

    BTW, I also agree with your basic premise here that WP is the way to go for setting up even a simple web site. I recently did a site for my wife, who is running a conference here this spring. When I initially set it up, I figured it was too much bother to mess with a WP set up. Well, a few unintentional wife/user errors (including one that took the better part of a morning at the CCCCs to solve) later and I have learned my lesson: if a site is going to have more than two pages and ever be changed, it’s probably worth using something like WP.

  2. cbd says:

    I agree about the user data. Post tracking is pretty robust, but not comments. I’ve used direct MySQL queries to get information about comments (number per user, date, time, etc). It probably wouldn’t be hard to make a plugin which did the same thing. I’m not sure if user time on the site can be tracked with the existing data collection, but again I wouldn’t be surprised if necessary modifications were minimal.

    I’ve never used anything but spreadsheets for grades, so I can’t comment there.

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