Reply To Greetings and Intro

Hi Constance.
You are lucky to get through – you nearly went into the automatic de-spammer with a subject heading of “Greetings and Intro”!!!Your family history is interesting. Trouble is, everyone in England is related to someone – especially in Somerset! They pulled a body out of the bog near here, pre-Stonehenge, and the DNA was the same as some people in Bridgwater! People don’t move far round here..

Enough of that… I did my sites using WordPress for the sole reason that someone else, http://www.acuterecords.com/ , had done the same. I asked them what they did as my site, using Dreamweaver and the old HTML coding was getting very difficult to use. This was because instead of just displaying information, I found myself adding comments all the time. This, I found out, is what a blog is(previously I’d sniffed in a snooty manner at thought sort of thing). But I didn’t want just a long list of personal postings, and it was at that point I spoke to Acute Records and realised that blogging software could do a lot more than just post personal musings in a big long list!!!

Concurrently with these events, a guy at work from whom I’d been borrowing hosting space, said he couldn’t do it any more as he couldn’t guarantee to be alive(yes really!) at the end of the year so I’d better find somewhere else. I told him about chanting but, well, y’know… He’s still alive though!
The upshot of it all is that within a fortnight, I’d checked out WordPress and hosting solutions and totally swapped my way of working. I found I needed a database to run stuff, did a load of furious copying, editing and pasting to get all content moved into the new format, and then I was live.

AND NOW THE MAIN STUFF.

Drupal, WordPress, Movable Type, PHP BB. These are few ways to do things. Check this out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_content_management_systems for CMS systems and here http://www.ojr.org/ojr/images/blog_software_comparison.cfm to compare blogging tools. This http://www.problogger.net/archives/2006/01/18/blog-platforms-poll-results/ charts blog software popularity (in a small way). I’ve seen full-on stats that show WordPress is the most popular system.

What you have to do is decide who, in your organisation, is most qualified to determine the system to use. If it’s you, then you decide what software to use, not someone else and then you get lumbered with it!

Then, you have to decide what EXACTLY your organisation wants to do on the web. You need some precision here. It’s okay for me as I’m just a personal thing, possibly doing or changing stuff on a whim. But in a professional organisation you should do things professionally, set targets and goals, strategies and limits, enforce corporate appearances and standards – all that stuff.
Then decide what format best suits your needs.

If you are still unsure, check out lots of sites. Usually, at the bottom, the site will tell you what platform they are using and even their hosts etc. You will find that there is a lot of cross pollination going on. Sites that superficially look alike are using totally different systems.

Now to my opinions:
WordPress.org (which I use), has by far the largest user base. There are pros and cons to this.
Pro – loads of support and options
Con – hacking target, because of it’s size, like M$.

WordPress can do almost anything. If it’s purely a bulletin board service you need, then use something else. Otherwise, I’d go for it. Drop Drupal. That’s the word on 75% of the street although 25% swear by it! You can try http://mu.wordpress.org/ for a big multiblog thing (I haven’t tried this)

All the different platforms have one thing in common:
They separate the content from design and layout. This is fantastic! It means you can keep all your information and pictures, messages and dates, pages and posts from your old site in one place and move if necessary. The format and layout can be literally changed at the flick of a switch!

This works by storing all content in a back-end database, which costs a bit more than a plain hosting – but not much. I use MySQL which the host provides and set it up (actually just a name and a db admin name and password) using PHPadmin (also provided). It’s virtually a no-brainer to set up, so no fear there.

If you can, stick to the non-M$ way of hosting which has two advantages (and hardly any disses). This means Unix/Linux/Apache. The advantages are that it can be incredibly secure and it’s cheaper! The security comes from the proper implementation of a .htaccess file (look it up if you don’t know about it) and file/folder permissions. WordPress has a neat 5-minute install ( http://codex.wordpress.org/Installing_WordPress#Famous_5-Minute_Install ) system that does everything including making the database. After that, you can change it’s appearance (called a theme) from the default. Check out here, http://themes.wordpress.net/, there are thousands although with a bit of PHP coding you can make your own or modify an existing one (which is what I’ve done).

NOW TO DESIGN.

There’s no need to use DreamWeaver or anything. Any code editing I do using the website admin tools or notepad(!). Content is added much as you would write an email or word document with pictures and links set by yourself. This is saved and stored in the database. Any user can do this. You, as database administrator set the permissions they are allowed. You can even set up sub-administrators to admin other users…so it goes. Crucially, there is no html formatting and stuff in with the content. To show you how this works, I’ll copy this mail into my site under the post heading Reply To Greetings and Intro, but also, it will automatically appear in Jill’s site as a comment. This is powerful stuff. You’ll see all the content and links I’ve included, but with the theme format, not plain text as here.
The layout comes totally from the theme you use which can vary from one to five columns (like a newspaper). The key point is that a “page” and a “post” are really just about the same thing. Just their display options vary. All posts and pages can be:
public/private,
commentable/or not,
password protected for viewing/or not,
written/edited/deleted by “roles” with varying degrees of access rights,

The site can be:
configured to be bot searched – or not,
configured to receive or block linkis/referrers

This is just from the top of my head. There is a wealth of configurability. On top of this, there are:

PLUGINS and WIDGETS

These are add-ons that require minimum technical knowledge to implement and configure. Currently (from memory) I use them to manage and show images in a nice way, pre-view other websites, block hackers and spammers(bastards), translate pages to other languages, play audio and video, provide stats…

As with the themes there are thousands of them. You just upload, activate, test, and then ditch it or keep it if it does/doesn’t do what you want.

FINAL NOTE

There are two forms of WordPress. One is wordpress.com which does all the work for you but is not very twiddle-able. The other is WordPress.org which is fully manageable as you have to have your own domain hosting, upload the software and modify it yourself.

I use WordPress.org. Go to http://wordpress.org/ Everything (virtually) you need to know is there. There is a large user base and the documentation is derived from the same user base. Updates to the software are very regular. Go for it!

Rees

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4 responses .

  1. Chaig says:

    Hi Rees- I have been checking all and believe your advice to be excellent. Most profound of all is: “If it’s you, then you decide what software to use, not someone else and then you get lumbered with it!” It was like a light bulb going off and I said YES – that is right – I am doing the layout and posting, and design work, etc. why am I not selecting the software? Thanks.

    From what I can see of WordPress it is a lot more intuitive and user friendly than Drupal. I am involved in SGI meetings this weekend but let me see what I can do with WordPress. And will return to you for critique and advice, if OK.

    Another gal would like to join our SEIN web team to help with editing and research ideas and esthetics. Her name is Terry Ellis of US in Florida. I would be very honored to work with you both and become The Three Musketeers of SEIN Website.

    Sincerely, Constance

  2. Strangely says:

    Thanks Constance.
    Glad to be of help. Take your time and try and decide what it is exactly that you want to do because that defines a lot of your design requirements.

    I’d be glad to give what little help I can to the SEIN project. All for one, and one for all!!!

    One thing I forgot to mention for my WordPress choice is that the popularity of the platform has benefits due to it’s size. It’s a bit like cars. If you have a rather nice but unique car, it’s nice to drive, has lots of kudos but is a bugger to fix. Get a Ford or a FIAT and they are boring but reliable, and the parts are cheap, readily available and just about anyone can work on them.

    With WordPress, it’s the same but I don’t think it’s boring; in fact you can do almost anything with it. But the huge investment in time from the developers and users brings immense benefits to someone like you or me who just wants to get something done quickly and is prepared to hack a bit as your skills develop, while actually having a reasonably presentable site for users almost from the word go.

    Once installed, any theme can be twiddled, mainly through the CSS file(s), so that you can set fonts and stuff to match anything that you currently use or is extant in the organisation.

    Do you have any idea how the site will be hosted yet?

    Rees

  3. Chaig says:

    Hi Rees – currently the site is hosted on a linux server which Stephanie’s son, David runs. Both Stephanie and David are great fans of Drupal which is the program I was struggling to learn. Here is how far I got with it:

    http://www.getbackonyourfeet.org/constance/node

    But am going to try WordPress and see how I do.

    This weekend we had our 5th District General Meeting so very hectic – lovely meeting, but will work in next few days on plan for site.

    If you read about SEIN mini breakout session on the website in Drupal you will see some of the ideas the educators want to see on the site.

    Signing off – All for one and One for All!!

    Constance

  4. Strangely says:

    Hi Constance
    You’ve your work cut out if that’s what they want then!

    In reality though, it should be similar to WordPress. What do you mean by the phrase “program I was struggling to learn”? Because it’s a database driven thing, then all that needs to be done is add content to the setup. The whole thing (setup) runs on PHP controlling the back-end server database so is that the thing that you are trying to learn? If so, that’s a different kettle of fish. If your background is anything like mine then the lack of strict data typing and the way the variables can be used and changed through the code can be a bit annoying.

    Personally, I try and let other people (the developers) do all that. With WordPress there is lots of functionality already designed by other people. It’s a question of fishing around, trying to guess the keywords that describe your needs, and then usually, you’ll find that someone has already invented just the thing you are after! Then you literally just plug it in to your site.

    The same goes for the visual appearance. Get something that’s close to your needs (not necessarily in colour – that’s easily changed). Twiddle the CSS, maybe remove a header,footer or sidebar from the code (one line for each) and away you go.

    I think Drupal works in the same way – it just doesn’t seem to have the quantity or choice of stuff because of it’s smaller statistical footprint. There are technical coding differences as well but I’ve not gone into it yet. We could be learning this at the same time!

    Rees

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