WordPress in Review: A Close Examination
Since this is a new site for review of WordPress related business applications, it seems appropriate to start with a review of WordPress itself, from the perspective of the business user. While the version I’m examining is 2.7.1, I am considering the features that will likely endure through future versions.
WordPress vs. WordPress
I’ll start with by briefly commenting on what WordPress is and is not. WordPress is a software application that must be run from your own web server space. This software manages a database of information you post and display on the web. It also contains a password-protected user interface that facilitates the process of entering new data and aids in many setting and adjustments for the way your website looks and functions. A surprising number of web creation novices mistaken the wordpress.com free web space service for “WordPress”. WordPress, based at wordpress.org, is a freely available open-source software system that you download, then install on your own (or shared) server. This distinction is especially important to the business user, since free space setups like wordpress.com typically have restrictions on commercial use. The serious business will almost always want a website on paid server for reliability and control, among other things.
Originally, you could only install WordPress by downloading it from wordpress.org, the uploading it to your server. Now many web hosts allow easy installs directly from the host’s server. Some hosts, such as Host Gator, offer a system called Fantastico that will automate WordPress installation. Dreamhost, where I host this site (at it’s inception) has “One-Click Installs” that makes WordPress installation almost too easy. If you do install manually (and there situations in which it is preferable) it is not too difficult and there are many good tutorials for this.
Like many open-source packages, documentation for WordPress is written by programmers who don’t necessarily look at computer programs quite the way newbies do. WordPress.org has a wealth of useful (and less than useful) how-tos by users that cover most of the questions you’ll have, but I always start with a well phrased query in Google. And there are plenty of forums full of people eager to help if you have a tough one. Widespread peer support is what I consider to be the second best selling point of WordPress. When your business is on the line you must finding an answer immediately. WordPress’ popularity pays off big here. Still, even while setting up this site, I ran into an obsticle for which I could find no discussions. The editing control buttons failed to appear. A forum entry brought no help in one day. I only overcame the issue after switching from a manual to an automated install. For the web creation novice or the busy business manager, it still pays to have an expert to call, if not on staff.
During install, you will be asked to create a password. You will save a web address at http://www.yoursitename.com/wp-login.php., where you will log in. The first thing you see is WordPress’ “Dashboard” control page. It can be configured various ways, but the stock view shows you the number of posts, comments and other numbers along with a good bit of WordPress news items you usually will not be interested in. The important part is the left sidebar, which hold navigates you through the control pages. The top one “Posts” will show you a list of all the entries you have made, and you may open any for editing. Of course, you can also easily begin a new post by clicking “Add New”. Here you can create a post, starting with a title.
The main text entry box for WordPress has many great features, but does take a bit of getting used to. You can create your post here but I only do so for very short posts. The spell check feature is of fairly poor quality and I prefer it use a full-featured word processor such as MS Word for text creation. You do not want to paste text into the WordPress box directly from Word because it does not handle Word’s special formatting features. The WordPress entry box does have a button for copying in MS Word text, this is not always reliable, either. The surest way is to buffer text between Word and WordPress by dropping it into a simple text editor like Notepad, then copying that into WordPress.
The rectangular box symbol beside “Upload/Insert ” (over the text box) brings up an elaborate (and sometimes very slow) system for uploading images to use in your posts. Be careful about image size. Sometimes WordPress seems to want to set your image to a smaller size. You can also set the left-right orientation of the image. Some themes will be at conflict with this feature, so you will need play around with these features a bit to get your illustrations where you want them on the page. I always use handy “Preview” button (upper right) a couple of times per post while checking and tweaking image position and the general appearance of the post. This shows you exactly what your post will look like, so don’t ever post without previewing first.
Categories & Tags
It’s easy to set categories and tags for posts (these sort similar posts for visitors). You optionally enter an excerpt and format the post for custom fields, use by many “news” style main pages.
Also on the Dashboard sidebar is the “Media” button, which shows thumbs of all uploaded images and allows management of them. You can also view and edit external links, comments and static pages here. These pages are permanent and independent of the blog pages. Static pages can be especially useful to the business user. In fact many WordPress users create the entire business sites using them.
Appearance & Widgets
Users & Settings
WordPress can also be set up with additional user names with 5 different permission levels. The General Settings section is one you’ll rarely visit after initial setup, but it is important to do so. This is where you set the Blog Title, date format, and the permalink structure (important for SEO).
As I’ve said before, the biggest selling point of WordPress is the vast amount of theme designs (page templates), and add on functions from plugins and widgets. Add to this the great number of experts and support information available and you have the safest choice in blog-based web management systems. WordPress is sometimes referred to as a “content management system”. This will get you an argument in most any group of web programmers, and, while it has many content management features, these features have been designed around the blog concept. Fully configured content managers have greater versatility, but also greater complexity, calling for more (and often more expensive) expertise. If you can do everything you want in WordPress, there is no need to waste effort or money on a more complex system. With inexpensive or free supplements you can use the platform for web commerce of various types and many other business applications. You will be seeing me try out many of those here in the coming weeks.
See my Links page for more on WordPress features, setup and more.