WordPress guns for Web content management duties

The popular blogging tool could also work as a low-cost content management system, an analyst and users say

Long popular with bloggers, the open-source WordPress blogging software is also starting to find a niche as a low-cost corporate CMS (content management system), at least for managing relatively simple Web sites.

"In the last six months or so, over half the sites being launched with WordPress are really not blogging sites per se, they are complete sites," said Raanan Bar-Cohen, vice president of media services for Automattic, the company WordPress developer Matt Mullenweg started to offer a hosted version of the software.

Such use has caught at least some of the CMS community by surprise.

"There's a debate raging within Twitter about whether traditional blogging platform WordPress is also a CMS," wrote Tony Byrne in a blog post. Byrne is the founder of the CMS analyst firm The Real Story Group, formerly called CMS Watch. "Our take: many organizations are using WordPress as a CMS. That makes it a CMS."

"A larger enterprise would almost never want [to] use one of those tools for a major web property. But they offer useful alternatives for [small and medium-size business] scenarios, as well as simpler projects," Byrne elaborated.

WordPress, created in 2003, uses a variety of open-source programs and open standards, such as PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, HTML and CSS.

Across the Web, about 21 million sites use WordPress in one form or another, according to Bar-Cohen. Automattic offers a free hosted version of WordPress, as well as paid hosted versions with extra features and support.

Byrne admitted he was skeptical at first of the idea of using WordPress as a CMS. Out of the box, it doesn't have many of the capabilities, such as workflow or advanced version control, needed even for basic CMS duties.

"It's one thing to run a blog with a few extra plug-ins and widgets. It's another to run a corporate Web site," Byrne said in an interview.

Nonetheless, The Real Story Group spoke with customers and examined Web sites. It found that if an organization had to maintain a relatively simple Web site, one with 50 pages or fewer, then WordPress could prove to be a low-cost, relatively easy-to-maintain option.

"It's not a [full] development platform, but it can drive a simple Web site fairly capably," Byrne said.

While it is less sophisticated than many CMS packages, such as the open-source Drupal, it could provide an alternative to other simple platforms, like Joomla and the .Net-driven DotNetNuke.

In this realm, WordPress offers a few distinct advantages, most notably its intuitive interface. "WordPress has an ease of use that is something other vendors could learn from," Byrne said.

Also, thanks to third-party developers, WordPress has a wide array of plug-ins to extend its functionality, some of which can be used to tackle CMS chores. For instance, a plug-in called Edit Flow offers workflow, or the ability to route a document to multiple parties for editing and approval.

Overall, the WordPress site itself lists more than 8,600 plug-ins.

WordPress has its downsides as well. For one, access control is quite limited, Byrne said. The software offers only sitewide roles. Anybody with administrative rights has the ability to edit any page on the entire site. Someone from human resources, for instance, wouldn't be restricted to editing only HR pages.

Another shortcoming is the lack of advanced content modeling. While a site can host a series of Web pages, it would be difficult to make finer distinctions among the pages -- for a news site to separate news articles from case studies and features, for instance.

Making such distinctions would be possible through some development work, though other CMSes can make this sort of templating much easier.

In general, the deeper into development that a Web site administrator must go, the more the organization should consider another platform, Byrne said.

That said, WordPress is being used as a CMS in some quarters. The Harvard Gazette, The Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital Web site and the New York City public television station WNET all run on the software.

For WNET, using WordPress cut the cost of setting up a television Web site, from an estimated average of US$25,000 to $40,000 down to $5,000 to $10,000, according to a white paper posted by WNET and digital design firm Tierra Innovation, which helped with the implementation.

The approach that WordPress designers take, Bar-Cohen said, is to keep the core of the software as simple as possible, allowing users to add on additional features through plug-ins.

This approach differs from most other CMS offerings in its simplicity, Bar-Cohen argued. Many packages will come bundled with lots of features such as polls and forums. The administrator may pull out these features if they are not needed on the site, but that work will need to be repeated each time the software is upgraded.

"We keep the core flexible and don't try to throw everything into it," he said.

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Joab Jackson

IDG News Service
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