WordPress has just released the latest version of its CMS software: 4.5 – Coleman. When I learned of this, and got done with a whirlwind update rush through all of the sites I’m responsible for, I thought it would be a key time for a once-over of the basics of what WordPress is, what it can do for you, and how to get it going to do things for you
This will be the first in a 4 part series on this matter. The post “flight plan” will be as follows:
- Part One – WordPress general Info
- Part Two – Setting up a WordPress site and development space
- Part Three – downloading and using a local WordPress install
- Part Four – Choosing a hosting space and taking a site global
What exactly is WordPress?
WordPress is a type of software known as a Content Management System, or CMS. As the name implies, this type of software allows you to easily create, edit, and destroy (i.e.: MANAGE), the information you use within its confines. There are various types of CMS’s and to be more specific, WordPress would be in the category of a Web CMS, or CMS. However, as many of the popular CMS’s used today are Web CMS’s, for the purposes of this post series, the terms will be safely interchangeable so, unless there is a need to make an explicit distinction, we’ll stick with CMS, and leave it at that.
WordPress was started in 2001 as a means of creating software that would make it easy for bloggers to, well, blog. Back then, if you had a website it was likely pure HTML which meant that if you wanted to make any change to the information on any of the pages, you had to either be very comfortable with directly editing the site code, or be in bed with someone who was comfortable with doing such things…
…and by “in bed” I don’t explicitly mean “intimately in bed”, but I’m sure that there we’re some pairs of consenting adults back then who had worked out such arrangements 😉 .
WordPress came along, and proved itself very quickly as something of a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) site editor that was geared specifically for bloggers in that it took the addition of posts to their various sites from a backend coding excursion down to a far simpler word processing exercise.
Because the software was Open-Source, this allowed individuals and splinter programming groups to offer their own additions, tweaks, and contributions to the point where WordPress evolved into very capable website software that could manage sites that were far more complex, and had higher stakes, than personal blogs.
As of February 2016, WordPress is used by 59.1% of all the websites whose content management system we know. This is 25.8% of all websites. (Wikipedia)
What are the main benefits of WordPress?
- It’s a very easy way to give yourself a “Voice” – Once you get a WordPress site up and going, and as you will see during the course of this multi-post tutorial its not as murky or complex as some would have you believe, you will have a platform to publicly post and share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns on just about any matter you can conceive.
- Its simple to manage – The admin interface is very intuitive and easy to figure out on your own. If you can get some instructional help from a more experience user, its so much the better, but regularly tending to an up-and-running site requires little technical expertise.
- Low cost of entry – The software itself, its popular themes, and many of the more popular plugins that are largely used are all free. The only outlay you would absolutely have to have would be in terms of the fees you pay for dedicated hosting. Yes, wordpress does provide a means for you to freely setup a site within their own site and that will be reviewed. However, I’m about truly empowering people and feel that you would be all the more empowered, if you can help it, by getting your own space with a hosting company.
- Strong Usage and Support – As mentioned above, WordPress has been around and its going to be around for a considerable time to come. Many large organizations and companies go through a great deal of money to have their WordPress sites built and maintained. That makes it attractive to developers as a means of offering custom services along the lines of themes, plugins, and the like. Also, it lets the people back at WordPress know that they’ve built something they want and will continue to want.
Are there any “downsides” to WordPress?
Yes, there are a few drawbacks to using WordPress, but not many. Still, this wouldn’t be a very balanced discussion on the matter if I didn’t take some time to point out some things that you should be at least aware of in choosing WordPress as your go-to CMS.
- Your initial site will likely be very “blah” – The wordpress CMS comes with a good deal of free themes that you can tweak yourself to a point. If you’re not particularly adept in altering CSS code, and don’t have the money to fork over for a theme from a premium site, or a developer to build something for you, then what you start out will likely look a lot like what many others start out and choose to just run with
- Someone will need to do constant update checks – As your site gets on, you will probably add a bit of functionality to it in the form of plugins. The better plugins are regularly updated, but this process is not automatic from the start. Updating your site, themes, or plugins is very simple to do, but unless you come across some means of having all of this automated, you will need to probably jump into your admin section at least once a day to do it yourself.
- It discourages exploration – The WordPress software, by itself, make it less than intuitive to figure out how to make changes directly to your site’s code. For many this is just fine. If they wanted to be that deep into their site’s internals on that regular a basis, they would have picked up a HTML/CSS/JS book. But there are some people, like myself, who will start out being “spoon fed” their tools and options, but later on will pick up some things that will want to try out for themselves. WordPress wont outright stop you from doing this, but you’re going to have to really “work for it” if you start to go down that road.
Alternatives to WordPress
As far as open-source CMSs go, the other two main players in the field are Joomla (www.joomla.org) and Drupal (www.drupal.org). Whenever im asked to go into a brief comparison of the three, I tell people that if the three CMS’s were operating systems: WordPress would be Apple, Joomla would be Windows, and Drupal would be Linux. Either WordPress or Joomla would be fine for a non-technical beginner to quickly setup a webpage, but Joomla make it easier for individuals to get “under the hood” and tinker with things should they choose to do so at some point. Drupal is extremely powerful and can do a lot of things that neither WordPress or Joomla can, but the learning curve on that software is a bit more steep.
If you’re interested in a more detailed breakdown of the three, you can checkout the article below:
I hope you found all of the above informative regarding the basics of WordPress, and I hope you’ll be back next week when I will be going into the specifics on setting up a site at wordpress.com or on your own system.