WordPress heralds a new era in building & managing web sites

Every so often, a tool comes along that “changes the game.” I’ll start extolling WordPress in a bit, and why I think it’s important, but first some background about why I’m so enthusiastic.

My first hands-on experience with a computer was in 1965, the summer before my senior year in high school. I’ve worked with them in various manners since, usually working with whatever was a “small computer” in its day. I’ve seen lots of game-changing technologies come into being over those years: Minicomputers, Personal Computers, the icon/mouse interface that Steve Jobs used for the Macintosh, word processing are well known. For those that work with numbers and other kinds of information, the spreadsheet ( VisiCalc / Lotus 1-2-3 / Excel ) changed things.

I design databases. Microsoft Access is/was a game-changer in its niche. It makes it much easier to create custom applications. Its precursors required lots more detail work of the designer, and did not include tools for building a complete interface for the “end users”. With Access, small groups can share data kept on a server. Users can get custom front-ends [forms and reports], constraining what information they can see and change. For larger groups or for higher security, Access can be used to build a front-end for a more robust database.

In the world of web design, I consider WordPress to be a game-changer as well. My son has helped me with web-related activities. Recently he suggested I try using WordPress to build a web site. WordPress was originally blogging software

blog: short for web log – a web site organized around regular postings about some topic of interest to the blog’s owner/creator.

that has grown into a full Content Management System (CMS – more on that later). I took his advice, and have become a convert.

Here’s what I did to get a site started. My web host offers “simple scripts” which install popular free web software – including WordPress – automatically. In minutes after running the WordPress script, I had a basic site, ready to use. When you log in to the site (add “/wp-admin” to the site’s web address, enter ID and password), which takes you to the “Dashboard,” through which you can make changes to the structure and content of site. Even over a dial-up line, interactions with the dashboard were responsive – no annoying delays.

[My internet connection is now via satellite from Hughes – for moving large files, it makes a big difference. The fluidity of administering a WordPress site is comparable to, perhaps a bit worse than, using dial-up. I’m guessing it’s not any faster due to more back & forth, and with satellite, upload speeds are slower than download. Satellite has longer inherent delays due to the distances messages travel, to and from the satellite.]

Structure: It’s easy to add new Pages to a site. Other structural changes include Themes and Plug-Ins. A theme provides a “face” for the web site. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of themes are available (free, also commercially); many of these can be customized, some extensively (check out the theme named Atahualpa if you’re choosing the vendor hosting your site). Plug-Ins add functionality to the web site. I found the breadth and depth of what’s available to be breathtaking. The community building new and better themes and plug-ins is quite active. WordPress itself is evolving, too.

You control how open the site is. There are multiple levels of user – administrator, author, contributor, etc. Administrators can add and remove users. Anonymous posters can be allowed or locked out. Comments can be added automatically or can require approval before being added. It’s more refined than my examples illustrate.

Every WordPress site has a blog. It can be left dormant, if you wish. Content is that which appears on the blog and on the pages added to the site. Content can include text, pictures, video, etc. HTML (codes that control how text looks, what links do) can be hidden or visible when you’re editing the content.

If viewers add comments to pages or blog posts, you can OK them, mark them as spam, or delete them. A viewer can be given open posting privileges after their first approved comment.

So how does one get started with WordPress? Anyone can get blog/web space for free at wordpress.com. This is a great way to get a feel for WordPress. For some, that may be all they need. There are limits. The agreement for a wordpress.com site restricts what you do with the site. WordPress will occasionally “display text ads on your blog to logged-out users who aren’t regular visitors.” (They’ll turn this off, for a fee.) They select the themes and plug-ins that can be added to the site. They charge for “high traffic or commercial” sites, or to add various services to the site.

I went with setting up my own site. The underlying software is free, and can be used on whatever web host you’re using. Auto-install scripts make this easy. The task now, I find, is understanding the options available, and making judicious use of them. I started by searching for info like “top 10 plug-ins,” “backing up WordPress,” or “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization), trying things out on my site, learning a lot about what can go into a well-functioning site.

Alternatives to WordPress

In trying to get a better idea of the environment out of which WordPress has grown, I’ve learned that there are dozens of free “content management systems” (CMS) out there in addition to WordPress, under my radar until now. For those who outgrow WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are popular. But they get into the world of professional web designer/ builder, until/unless either of those adapts WordPress’ ease of use. The number of CMS tools with devoted fans is growing rapidly. There’s a long list of Content Management Systems with descriptions the CMS Critic site. There are a number of tools that can make portions of existing sites editable. Among them are Cushy CMS, WebYap and Typeroom.

There’s a free “web application framework” called Code Igniter. On it are based two for-a-fee and popular CMSes – Mojo Motor (~ $50) and Expression Engine (~ $300). Particularly with the latter, a number of people commented that the add-ons that are often part of an Expression Engine based site can bump the cost up by quite a bit.

Hosting

I use bluehost.com for web hosting. They offer auto-install scripts for categories: Blogs, Classifieds, Client Management, Content Management, eCommerce (7 choices), Educa­tion, Forms and Surveys, Forums, Groupware, Live Chat, Mailing Lists, Marketing, Photo Galleries, Project Management, RSS, Social Networking, Utilities, Webmail, Website Builders, and Wiki. Bluehost is not universally loved. It’s worked fine for me. My sites don’t generate much traffic. It’s handy to have a place I can add a couple more instances of WordPress or try some other auto-install tool whenever I want.

WordPress may not be the “tool de jour” in 5 or 10 years, but it heralds a new era, in which one doesn’t need to know HTML, CSS, and other more complex stuff to put together a full-featured web site.

One Response

  1. […] The moderately long post I put here when I created this site has moved to the page titled “Building Web Sites.” […]

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