Blogging has come a long way since we first talked about it back in 2006 with Tech Tips 61-64. What started out more as a personal journal has morphed into a professional/business, media/journalism tool. Now, organizations like the New York Times and MTV use blog software to power the “Comments” sections and more on their web sites. Media outlets like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News have editorial blogs. No doubt your own hometown newspaper’s online version utilizes some form of blog software as well.
We covered many of the blog platforms three years ago in Tech Tips 130, but today, the de facto leader of the pack is WordPress. WordPress is to blog, as Kleenex is to tissue as Xerox is to copier. We’re not going to delve into the history of WordPress in this Tech Tip but if you’re interested, you can learn more here. An estimated 200+ million web sites are powered by WordPress. As stated on their web site: "[WordPress] hosts CNN's Political Ticker, Dow Jones' AllThingsD; NFL, Time Inc's The Page, People Magazine's Style Watch; famous bloggers like Mark Cuban, John Scalzi, and Joy Behar; corporate blogs for Flickr and KROQ; and many more.
Let's get the big one out of the way right now. WordPress is FREE but as robust as you could want. You can have as many blogs as you want under just one account. They can be whatever you choose them to be; share them with the public or keep it private. You can display the full content of your post or just excerpts and it allows you to password protect your blog. WordPress has built-in RSS feeds to distribute your most recent posts or categories. If you'd rather have more of a web site than blog look, simply make your front page a static page rather than the most recent posts.
You get full Comment moderation so that you can approve or delete remarks. Another advantage is WordPress's proprietary spam filter – Akismet - which keeps the junk out of your Comments section.
You can add "widgets" to your sidebar and rearrange them by simply dragging and dropping them. Some of the widgets included with WordPress are Links, Search Form, Pages, Categories, Calendar, your tweets from Twitter, arbitrary text or HTML and lots more. New widgets are added all the time. It's a snap to add Media such as pictures, video, audio, polls and even files like PDFs, Powerpoint presentations, Word documents. You can create galleries and slideshows of your photos, artwork etc.
Constantly on the cutting edge, there are plenty of WordPress Apps for iPhone, Blackberry and Android, as well as Apps for Desktop and Microblogging. Check them all out here. Since WordPress is an Open Source project, it gives you an OpenID identity. WordPress OpenID lets you create an online identity that you can use anywhere where OpenID is supported. To find your OpenID, go to the WordPress Dashboard and under Settings you'll find an OpenID tab.
This only scratches the surface of the power and potential of Wordpress. Explore the web site for more information.
Themes are design templates that affect the visual layout and appearance of your blog. Think of it like a "skin". Currently, there are more than 1,100 free themes to choose from for WordPress.org and more than 75 at the freely hosted WordPress.com, with more constantly added. You have your choice of single column themes or 2-3 columns or sidebars. Changing the appearance is a snap with WordPress.com, just click a button and you're done. The sky's the limit if you are hosting your own WordPress blog with thousands of free themes, just do a Google search. If you're looking for a more high-end, versatile look, shop around at sites like PremiumPress.com or Thesis.
COM OR ORG
There are basically two versions of WordPress*. If you’re just looking for a fast and easy way to set up a nice looking blog with some cool bells and whistles, then your best option is the free version you can access at WordPress.com. You’ll have a personal URL for your blog such as yourblogname.WordPress.com and the site is hosted for free by WordPress. You can tweak your site with sidebar widgets, Polls, Calendars and more but you are limited to what WordPress.com has to offer. They do offer upgrades for things like CSS editing and custom domains but for a fee.
If you want ultimate control over your site, then consider WordPress.org. While the software itself is also free to make use of all it has to offer, you’ll need a domain name, a hosting company and an FTP Program to upload the WordPress files to your server. WordPress Software uses a PHP and MySQL platform, so make sure your host supports PHP/MySQL. The PHP coding language creates the look and feel of the web site while MySQL stores all the content like your blog posts, options and comments.
*Presently there is a third version of WordPress, WordPressMU for multi-users. It allows you to run unlimited blogs with unlimited users with a single install of WordPress. Universities would be a prime example of a WordPressMU user. Wordpress.com is itself a WordPressMU account. However, word has it that WordPressMU is going to be incorporated into WordPress 3.0 which is in Beta testing since the beginning of April 2010.
HOSTING AND UPLOAD
You might consider signing up for hosting with Godaddy or Dreamhost which offer One Step WordPress installation. They do all the work for you. A domain name and hosting will probably run you around $100 per year. Check for deals. You can research and compare different hosting companies at WhoIsHostingThis.com. But again, make sure your host supports PHP/MySQL.
There are numerous fee-based FTP programs such as WS_FTP, FileZilla, FTP Explorer. However, if you use Firefox as your browser, there's a FREE FTP Add-on called FireFTP. FireFTP works with Mac and Windows based systems and once installed, is easily accessible from the TOOLS tab in the browser. Doesn't get any easier than that.
There are plenty of resources to guide you through the WordPress world. We highly recommend “WordPress for Dummies, Version 2” by Lisa Sabin-Wilson. You might want to check your local library for a copy first, as Version 3 is set for release in August, 2010. Lisa walks you through all the basics as well as the advanced features of WordPress in very clear but not over-simplifed steps. You can also check your area's community college or Adult Education Program for classes to attend. If you're more of an online student, check out Jeremy Phillips' KickTheWebGeek.com (no relation). He's currently offering 14 clear and concise video tutorials for $1. Yep, just a buck and he'll have you up and running on WordPress in about an hour. There are also more videos than you could ever watch available at WordPress.TV.
NOT QUITE THE FINAL WORD
While you might want to start out with WordPress.com to get your feet wet, WordPress.org is where the rubber meets the road. The possibilities are endless with a plethora of plug-ins you can use. Next week we'll look at some of the top plug-ins and WordPress tools to really make your site stand out. You can build a full e-commerce web site, utilize it as a Content Management System and much, much more. And once you've got that site up and running, revisit Tech Tip 257, where we discussed making money with blogs and web sites.
Do you use WordPress? Let us know in the Comments section some of your favorite tips and tricks and plug-ins.