Enterprise technology managers looking to improve the management and functionality of their corporate websites ought to take a closer look at WordPress. With the WordPress 3.0 release in June, the blogging tool has completed its metamorphosis into a more flexible content management system – and done it without compromising its core virtue of simplicity.
Best Buy, for example, uses WordPress to allow store managers to independently manage the sites for their own stores. Take a look at what Best Buy has going on at a microsite for its store in Fairless Hills, PA. These localized sites are managed within a multisite framework that allows for centralized control, meaning that a “super administrator” controls what options, templates, and plugins are available to those local store administrators.
Eric Fliegelman, General Manager of the Pennsylvania store, says the ability to post local content has paid off. “It’s a good way to get information out to customers, and it’s made me more accessible to the customers by having my picture, my cell phone number, and my email on the website,” he says.
Fliegelman’s staff updates the site at least once a week, posting things like holiday hours and specials, and availability of individual open box items for sale at a discount. “That keeps people coming back,” he says. And it’s easy to keep the site current because the site is easy to update.
Although multisite configurations are a little more complicated than single site ones, it’s still the simplicity of the system from a user standpoint that’s the major appeal.
This multisite capability used to be only available from a fork of the WordPress codebase called WordPressMU (for multi-user), but WordPress 3.0 merges it with the core system. So now multisite is just another capability you can turn on if you need it, or ignore if you don’t. The new release also supports custom post types, so that you can go beyond the built-in “page” and “post” content types to create your own hierarchies for events, real estate listings, or any arbitrary content category.
If you’re wondering whether the core system meets your enterprise requirements, that depends on what you want to do with it.
Consultant Richard Knudson, a specialist in Microsoft technologies, has a good blog post comparing WordPress to SharePoint, but ultimately coming to the conclusion that the comparison is beside the point for most IT managers. That is, yes, WordPress is a better blogging tool than the one included in SharePoint, so if your goal is to field a bunch of blogs, WordPress is your choice. On the other hand, if you’re looking at blogging as one component of a larger collaboration and content management strategy and you have any significant investment in Windows technologies like Active Directory and Exchange, SharePoint is your answer. That would be particularly true if you’re talking about some sort of internal web collaboration project that might involve giving employees their own blogs.
However, if you’re more focused on streamlining content publishing to the world at large than you are with maintaining an all Windows-centric architecture, WordPress can be a fit. And you can achieve some level of enterprise network integration with WordPress using plugins that connect to Active Directory or LDAP authentication.
WordPress is backed by Automattic, the company founded by WordPress project founder Matt Mullenweg. Automattic runs WordPress.com (where it hosts entry-level blogs for free) and employs many of the core developers for WordPress software, which is available as a free download from WordPress.org. If you want professional support for your WordPress installation, Automattic will sell you a VIP Support package, and it also offers a directory of consultants with WordPress expertise. But part of the point of going with a popular open source tool like WordPress is to tap into the pool of free community resources that surrounds it.
Automattic says it doesn’t consider WordPress to be in competition with the likes of SharePoint, period. However, it does offer some add-ons like the P2 theme for enhancing the collaboration and discussion capabilities of WordPress sites. That’s one of the tools Automattic created for internal collaboration with a geographically dispersed development team.
Microsoft has enough respect for WordPress’s charms that it is promoting the advantages of running WordPress on Windows and supporting a project to make the software run on SQL Server (by default, WordPress works with MySQL).
The more frequently cited head-to-head comparison is between WordPress and Drupal, another open source content management system with a fanatical following. The big contrast between the two is that Drupal was from the beginning designed for maximum flexibility to manage any sort of content, meaning it can be configured many different ways. Fans cite that as a virtue, while critics say the complexity can get in the way of doing simple things. (Also see Replacing SharePoint with Open Source CMSs.)
In contrast, WordPress developers for many years resisted demands to generalize the system, instead staying focused on getting the core blogging and web publishing functionality right. As a result, the default configuration is a very usable basic content publishing system that you can build upon with free, commercial, and custom plugins and themes to provide whatever additional functionality and styling you require.
In WordPress, a plugin is just a PHP script with some identifying comments in its header that you place in a designated plugins directory and activate through the administrator’s control panel. The WordPress API allows you to invoke custom functions whenever the system initializes, a page loads, or a specific piece of placeholder text occurs within a document. So if you have (or hire) PHP developers, they can add just about any desired behavior to your WordPress installation. For example, you could have a plugin that calls out to an external database or data feed and graphs the results, placing them wherever a placeholder “shortcode” like [saleschart] appears in a post or page.
So you can stretch WordPress to do almost anything. That doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for every job, but it can be a good tool for many of them.
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