CMS vs. Blog…no you don’t need Pepto Bismol

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Wordpress as a CMS

{this is part 2 of the series “WordPress as a CMS”}

WordPress is primarily a blogging tool (or engine as I like to call it!) but I’ve learned in the course of designing three websites that are not primarily blogs that WordPress can also cross over and serve somewhat nicely as a Content Management System (CMS). In the second article of this series I want to talk a little bit about the difference between a CMS and a blog and then in the next article I’ll talk about how this played into my decision to use WordPress for the design of UnashamedSermons.com, VigliottiWoodworking.com, and gohpc.net.

On the surface it may seem that there isn’t much difference between a CMS and a Blog. They both provide some sort of backend interface for administrators to manage the content of the website. They both invite social interactivity via the ability for visitors to leave comments, register as a user, or even become a contributor to the content. Then of course the primary focus of each is the delivery of some sort of content which in later years has involved not only pictures and text but also videos and audio (podcasts and the like). But surface appearances can be deceiving!

I believe that while the differences between the two may not be extreme (and indeed the line is being increasingly blurred between the two with the advent of Web 2.0 and the “social” internet – and as I’ll argue later – great tools made available like WordPress), there are a few things that make a CMS distinct from a blog. Why is this important? Put briefly, in developing websites there are some places where using a CMS works better than using a blog engine and vice versa. Later in this article I’ll explain how this is so.

Here’s some more noticeable differences between a CMS and a Blog (keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and I’m not going to go into a great level of detail as that’s not the purpose of this article. Also keep in mind that this is a very generalized list – I fully realize that not only are there differences between CMS platforms and Blogging platforms but there are also differences within and among various CMS platforms as well as in and among Blogging platforms. Again the purpose of this article is not to compare Drupal with phpNuke or WordPress with Typepad.):

  1. Difference of structureThe bones McCoy, the bones…A CMS is usually a system of “blocks” and/or “modules” that are added to the website via the administrative interface. Blocks are usually positionable “content display sections” (for lack of a better term) whereas modules are usually entire sections of a website designated to a specific task. For example in a CMS you might find a “menu-block” which contains a list of hyperlinks to other areas of the site and below it you may have a login-block which allows people to register and/or login as a user to the site. Now the login-block might actually be a part of the “user – registration” module that controls all the various backend stuff for managing the users of the site and what they have access to. An example of a CMS might be Drupal or phpNuke (in my eyes even MySpace may be considered at a CMS of sorts). In most typical content management systems there is a main “core” to the software upon which these various “modules” and “blocks” are added to build the website (and then “skinned” by a theming/templating system). Certain modules and blocks are usually included with the default setup but there are many possibilities for how the software can be used to set up a website.A blog engine on the either hand is usually a core defaulting to a certain layout and may have the ability for adding “plug-ins” or “widgets” which can give additional functionality to the blog but for most users the layout stays roughly the same (in terms of structure of the blog – of course theming systems can change the way a blog looks but generally speaking the components [structure] stays the same). In CMS terms a blog usually has one module (which is the core) and the potential to add optional “blocks” (plugins or widgets). Some examples of blog engines are of course Google’s Blogger, Typepad, and of course, WordPress.
  2. Difference of purposeWhen the mask drops from the ceiling…

    A blog engine usually has one purpose and that is for publishing the various writings, observations, and sometimes pictures of the person owning the blog or other authors he/she has invited to contribute as well. Typically the core and administrative interface is designed with that purpose in mind. A blog is like an “online journal” – although in a real sense, the evolution of the blogosphere has led to certain blogs taking on the credibility of more traditional newspapers or other journalism forms and so the blog has become (is becoming?) a mass news outlet. At its core however, it still remains a way of for the average joe to self-publish what they want to write (and the rest of the world to read…although we only think the whole world actually wants to read it 😉 ).A CMS on the other hand, has a core that is a lot less rigid and provides for all kinds of different uses (including blogging as a component). Because of it’s module/block structure – a website designed around a CMS can just as easily (figuratively speaking!) become a storefront for selling things as it can be a community hub via forums. The purpose of a CMS is managed content delivery period – in whatever form it may come.To put it simply – multiple sites using CMS may have all kinds of different purposes but, for the most part, multiple sites using a blog engine only have one purpose – getting their message out!
  3. Difference of function Martha, the VCR time is flashing again…all I want to do is change the dang channel! When I use the word “function” here I’m not using it as a synonym of purpose but rather as a way of describing the usability of a CMS vs. a Blogging Engine. There are two ways of looking at this – function from the standpoint of the developer and function from the perspective of the user/contributor.From a developer standpoint designing a website that has different purposes (shopping system, blog, news portal) with a CMS is more functional than designing the same site using a blog engine. Further, the argument could even be made that it would make more sense to start up a blog using a CMS rather than a blog engine because it leaves the door open to easily evolve the website to further uses without worrying about the adaptability of the core software.However from a user/contributor perspective the broad functional use of a CMS can sometimes require a greater learning curve to do what you want to do (especially in the case of multi-purpose sites). This is certainly more the case when the developer/designer is not the one who is actualy maintaining the website but instead is passing it off to a user(s) who will most likely be unfamiliar with the way things work. A CMS can create more hoops for a user to publish the content they want to publish. So in the example of using a CMS as a blog – while it may make more sense from a developer standpoint – to a user, having to find the module for the blog and learn how to recognize it from the other modules, access it, write their piece and then publish it can be more difficult than doing the same from a blog engine where the steps are (generally) much more intuitive.With that said, the functional difference between a CMS and a blog engine is probably the one that varies the most between various software solutions. In some cases it may not be a problem at all – I’m basing my observations here primarily on the usability differences I’ve observed between phpNuke and WordPress.

For me, these three differences (structure, purpose, function) are the primary ones I worked through when thinking about the best fit for the sites I was designing (CMS or Blog engine?). Of course, from the title of this series you should’ve guessed by now that the sites I designed were more suited to a CMS than a blog engine. If so, then why did I go with WordPress as the core for their design? In the next article I’m going to answer that question.

Strangely soothing…

Yeah, I’m writing late at night.? I’m working late at the office and I’m wrapping up to get ready to go home.? One of my final tasks is running some paper through the shredder.? You know I never noticed it before, but there is something strangely soothing about seeing that paper get shred!? Now, you’ve got to understand – the paper shredder I have is not your ultra-deluxe-chew-up-stapler kind of shredder.? No, this one will do a maximum of 5 sheets at a time and is pretty picky if you don’t enter the sheets at the right angle.? I’ve had to de-jam it a number of times (which isn’t really soothing at all!).? But tonight, as I watched that paper go through the shredder, for some reason I had this incredible feeling of satisfaction – as if I’d accomplished some monumental task…

I really don’t know why I felt that way.? Maybe it’s because with the shredding of this paper I knew I was done what I had to do in the office – certainly there’s some finality to that.? Or maybe it’s because in some weird way, the shredded paper represents the unwinding of my subconcious as I prepare to head home to bed.? Or maybe, just maybe – seeing those equally spaced strips of paper spit out the other end from one sheet of paper (well actually about 3) which cannot be reassembled into what they were before gives some sort of ephemeral taste of what happens as time goes by and it cannot be regained.? No, that couldn’t be it…that’s too depressing.

In the end, I guess it’s just because I like pushing buttons…

Organize Series 1.0 Released

I’d already noticed a few bugs here and there after my initial release of the plugin and so I decided to give it another once over and fix them. This is a minor release so there are no new features added but there is one rather important bug fixed that caused the list of posts to not display in the series list box on a post page. I also made a change to the default .css file that affected the way a category icon displayed in the series list box when it’s width was set to wider than the box. Before the change the category icon would appear across the borders of the box. Now the box expands to accomodate the width of the category icon.

Small things but important nevertheless! Is anybody using this plugin yet? It’d be nice to know how people are finding it and what features/things they’d like added (or taken away) to make it better!

click here to go to the plugin page

WordPress as a CMS – Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Wordpress as a CMS

Here’s the promised first post in a series of articles I am going to write over the next month about the challenges and benefits of using WordPress as a content-management system (CMS).

Now I know that this topic has been covered fairly well already on the blogosphere – I’m not so naive as to think that I’m somehow setting a trend by writing this series! I am writing this series primarily as an excercise of recording for my own benefit some of the problems I ran into and the solutions I came up with in the process of designing a wordpress cms website.

In the course of these articles I’ll be referencing three websites that I’ve designed in the past 6 months as a CMS: vigliottiwoodworking.com, gohpc.net, and unashamedsermons.com. Here are some of the topics I’ll cover:

  • CMS vs. a blog – what’s the difference and how to you determine what is used? (among other questions I found myself asking when designing a site around WordPress)
  • Challenges that face a developer when using WordPress as a CMS.
  • Benefits for using WordPress as a CMS
  • Recommended WordPress plugins for WordPress as a CMS. (I’ll also talk about some custom coding (and plugins) I did along the way to aid in the transition.
  • Theming a CMS site – designing from scratch vs. modifying an out-of-the-box (and open-source) theme.
  • Helpful tools to aid in developing and publishing a WordPress CMS site.

That’s just a few of the topics I’m planning on covering at this point. Of course as I start writing other “branches” may occur to me and I’ll travel down the more interesting ones. If there’s any topics/questions you think of as you read any of these articles – make sure you leave it in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate what you ask in future posts.

Now for the important disclaimer: Although I’ve had the pleasure of dissecting and learning the way WordPress works as I’ve experimented with it over the past half a year I definitely don’t consider myself a WordPress expert! Although these articles may read as “how-to” instructions at times, the reality is that this series is more about chronicling the things I’ve learned than professing any expert understanding of WordPress workings. There’s a good chance that some of the things I write about are actually a hard way of going about doing things and if so, I can only hope that a WordPress “expert” comes along and comments about it so I can learn something more (and make my work a bit more efficient in the process hehe).

By the way…something I’ve found to be true…coding is poetry!

WP2.1 Upgrade a success…

It was with a little bit of trepidition that I approached the task of upgrading UnfoldingNeurons.com to the brand spanking new version of WordPress. Since I use quite a few plugins and some custom code on this site I wasn’t sure if everything was up to kitsch for 2.1 Well, so far, things look okay and I used the opportunity to clear out some plugins from my install that weren’t being used.

Anyway, just thought I’d join the horde of other wordpress users posting about 2.1! Of course, I’m just going to leave it at that. Really!

Another Organize Series Plugin update…category icons!

One of the key components (in my eyes) that adds some “eye candy” to the organize series plugin is the “category icons” plugin by Ivan Georgiev – but I’ve notice that his website has been inaccessible for a few days now (test it by clicking on one of the links to him in this post!). So I’ve decided to make my copy of his plugin available so those who want to use it, can. As soon as I discover his website is back up I’ll take down my link so that he can get the traffic. If you want to download the category icons plugin to complement my organize series plugin head on over to the plugin page here and look for the “Category Icons Update” heading.

By the way: Ivan, if you happen to come across this post – leave a comment to let me know if what I’m doing is okay 🙂

Organize Series Update

Well, since releasing this plugin I’ve had 82 downloads – which is great news! The bad news is I should have done a closer check to the plugin before releasing. I forgot to update the link for the plugin in the orgSeries.php – it pointed to the wrong page (…/orgSeries rather than …/organize-series-wordpress-plugin). Nothing major except that when people click on the resulting link in their wordpress plugins page they’ll get a page not found. Thanks to Drew Vogel for catching that and letting me know. His observation led me to a closer looks of the orgSeries-options.php as well where I discovered that the link for “documents” in the options panel of the plugin also pointed to the wrong page.

I’ve fixed both incorrect links and updated the install file so if you downloaded the plugin and those links direct you to a “page-not-found” you can simply re-download the plugin and overwrite the files existing in your copy of the orgSeries plugin with the new files and that’ll take care of the problem. Sorry for that folks!

As a sidenote I’ve added this plugin to subversion over at dev.wp-plugins.org for those of you who know what that is. If there are any developers interested in helping me with this plugin please contact me.

Organize Series Plugin Released!

Finally, I’ve managed to assemble a release-worthy version of some code I’ve been using for a while on my sermons site. When I was developing the site for hosting all the various messages I preach at my church I looked unsuccessfully for a plug-in that I could use that would help in the organization and presentation of sermon series.

Finally, I decided to take the plunge and write up some code myself. Please understand, I’m very limited in my skills at programming in PHP/MySql so what may take some a few hours ends up taking me a few weeks! Nevertheless with much persistence I came up with something that has served me well at unshamedsermons.com.

Then came the new design for my church website and my interest in starting to write “series” articles here at this blog and I started looking at packaging the crude code I was using for my sermons into a generic, yet more robust plugin that can be dropped into a fresh wordpress install and make available a way to present special series articles on one’s blog.

The end result is this first release (in other words I’m planning on continuing to develop this plugin) of the Organize Series plugin (I know, creative name isn’t it?). I decided to release it to the wild (i.e. public) as a way of giving back to a wordpress community that has helped me so much (albeit without probably knowing it that much!). Anyway, head on over to the Organize Series Plugin page to read more about it and download it!

P.S. I’m fairly certain that no hamsters were harmed in the creation of this plugin (although a few hair roots were demolished).