WordPress.org: Possibly the best web building tool around


Image via CrunchBase

For years I’ve designed and published websites with Dreamweaver. I’ve built dynamic sites with Squarespace, drupal, Joomla!, Blogger, Google Sites, pbwiki (now called pbworks), wetpaint, and wikispaces. I’ve also experimented with many other tools, such as MindTouch, MediaWiki, SocialText, and Confluence. I’ve created collaborative/project websites easily using Facebook, Yahoo! Groups and Zoho Projects. And of course, I write this blog using WordPress.com. But when I wanted to move a podcasting website from a Squarespace.com hosted site to another platform, I instinctively went with a popular blogging tool: WordPress.org.

I chose WordPress.org for many reasons, but the three main reasons were (1) ease of use, (2) plugins, and (3) it is free. You should know that WordPress.org is the server version of the web-based WordPress.com. What this means is you need to install the software on a server, which is very easy if your hosting service offers a one-step installation process, available through web tools such as Fantastico. This is how I do it, although installing it manually only takes about 5 minutes.

Once you have your WordPress site set up, you can immediately start working on it. Like most blogging platforms, you don’t need to know beans about HTML. Just create a new post or page and start writing. You can insert images and other media, embed YouTube, add podcast enclosure feeds, and a host of other options, depending upon the plugins you’ve installed.

One of the best parts of WordPress’s ease of use is its updating process. Unlike drupal, which requires you to backup your mySQL database, copy all of your files, take your site offline, and then upload the new version and update your database, all the while holding your breath until your site comes back online in one piece again, WordPress simply tells you a new version is ready and offers to install it for you. Updates to the software and plugins takes just a few seconds, takes place in the WordPress dashboard, and is effortless and quick.

If you haven’t used blogging software for a while, you will find out it is much more powerful than it used to be. You can create multiple pages on your WordPress site, creating a static page as your home page if you want, transforming a blog into a “website.” You can customize how you want your menus to appear and can select from a cornucopia of themes. Themes determine how menus and widgets are displayed, so this is something you will want to spend some time on when designing your site.

Plugins, those great little additions that help customize your site and provide you with the tools you need, are easily installed right within the WordPress.org interface. In the case of my podcasting website, I chose a PowerPress plugin, which includes an easy way to put an enclosure link to the audio file while also providing the important metadata for the iTunes store feed. I also installed the WPtouch plugin, which converts a site to a mobile site automatically when accessed by a mobile device. Other plugins I like are the Contact 7 form, an easy way to include a contact form on a page, and Page Lists Plus, which allows you to assign a unique name to a menu item.

And all of this is free and constantly being updated and improved by a community of WordPress aficionados and programmers. WordPress is a website-building platform, equal to or even exceeding the capabilities of Content Management Software (CMS). In fact, WordPress could be argued to actually BE a CMS. After all, they just recently won first place in the Hall of Fame CMS in the 2010 Open Source Awards:

Is WordPress something you can feel comfortable using? If you’ve been using various tools as I have, you will soon find out they either don’t stay around forever, or they change in ways that don’t suit you (how about wetpaint.com as one of these examples?) It could be argued that WordPress is extremely stable and should provide the capabilities you will need to build and sustain a website, community, or other social platform. The history and evolution of WordPress attest to its purpose and sustainability:

WordPress was born out of a desire for an elegant, well-architectured personal publishing system built on PHP and MySQL and licensed under the GPL. It is the official successor of b2/cafelog. WordPress is fresh software, but its roots and development go back to 2001. It is a mature and stable product. We hope by focusing on user experience and web standards we can create a tool different from anything else out there. (From http://wordpress.org/about)

So, for my updated Cool Teachers Podcast website, I chose WordPress.org for its easy of use, podcasting plugins, and price–free! Check it out and let me know what you think: http://coolteachers.org

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