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.

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!

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).

The key to blogging for the long haul…

Even though I’m still relatively new to the blogosphere (I’ve been blogging since May 2006 – see my first post!) I have been journaling off and on for quite a few years and blogging and journaling share some similarities in terms of what gives lasting power. Of course, there are pretty significant differences between the two (the primary one being the “public” and journalistic feel of a blog vs. the private and diary feel of a personal journal) but for the purpose of this article I think I can write out of some modicum of experience! Another reason that contributes to a measure of insight found in this article is the fact that even though I haven’t blogged myself until recently, I’ve been an avid reader of other peoples blogs for quite a while – there’s certain things that are common among bloggers with lasting power that stick out to me.
Anyway, the purpose of this article is to answer the question, “What are characteristics that keep someone blogging for the long haul?” According to David Sifry’s, “State of the Blogosphere Report” for August 2006 Technorati tracked it’s 50 millionth blog! Now that’s a lot of writer’s out there – however according to a comment David made in response to Glenn Fannick’s article, “Technorati’s Active Blogs — Perhaps 1.4 Million?“,

55% of all the blogs we track have had at least one post in the last 3 months.

Just over 11% have posted in the last week.

That means that 27.5 million blogs have made a post in the last 3 months and a little over 5 million have made a post in the past week. Now regardless of the debate over how many actual active blogs there are (which also depends on what criteria you use for measuring active!) the point I want to make is that there is a huge number of people who enter the blogosphere who simply create a blog and then never visit it again. So what gives – for the percentage of people who contribute regularly and maintain an “active” blog? The following is my “short-list” of indicators that suggest that a person who blogs will be still blogging 5 years from now:

First on the list is they like writing

It goes without saying that if you don’t like writing (or creating any other sort of content – ergo pictures/audio/video etc. – that have become an increasing new medium for bloggers) then your blog probably won’t last that long.

A pretty important component of this indicator that can’t be overlooked is the subtext, “do they have something to say?” If you start a blog simply to say, “I have a blog” but don’t really have a reason for creating the blog then more than likely you won’t be blogging very long!

Second, they like tweaking their blog

What tweaking am I talking about? Everything from simple things like changing a few colors to the type-face all the way to the more complex which involves getting your hands dirty in the actual code. Now the amount and complexity of tweaking may vary between individual “long-haul” bloggers but nevertheless a common characteristic is that all of them have had some involvement in tweaking their blog to their own liking. How many active bloggers you know have not changed their blog layout/structure/colors in some way in the past 3 months (let alone years…)?

Third, their initial experience with blog-ware

Currently there are a plethora of varying blogging tools available to choose from. Everything from Google’s Blogger, to the much hyped MySpace, and my personal favorite WordPress (both the hosted and self-hosting versions). A bloggers initial experience with the blog-ware he/she chooses will have bearing on whether they become an active blogger. Is the tool easy to use? Does it let them do what they want? Is it a pain to maintain (enter in spam)? Does it “break down” a lot? All of these are examples of some of the factors that play into the initial experience of a baby blogger. I remember my first foray into blogging came in the form of creating a Blogger.com account over a year ago. It looked like a great service but at the time I just didn’t like the restrictions placed on what I could do in terms of overall design (because I’m a heavy “tweaker” personality…and don’t twist that into something else :lol:!) I think I posted one article and then I quit. I didn’t even think about blogging again until I came across WordPress…but that’s another story 😉

Fourth, do they contribute to the blogosphere somehow?

This contribution can come in the form of commenting on other people’s blogs, creating themes and/or plugins for others to use, or providing content that other’s benefit from. Although, personal journaling has it’s benefits and I know some long-haul bloggers often write about things that happen in their lives but people who have long-lasting activity in the blog-world are folks who also contribute in someway to the blogosphere (other than only keeping a daily journal that just themselves and a few family members might enjoy).

Fifth, they don’t worry about posting every single day or sticking to a routine schedule

That’s not to say that having a routine schedule for posting is bad but simply that long-haul bloggers don’t worry if they miss a few days or have a lapse in their schedule for posting. There’s nothing that kills a bloggers enthusiasm more than feeling they just have to post every day to their blog! Of course there are some that enjoy doing that but that’s the point – long-haul bloggers post regularly to their blog but don’t do so out of obligation but because they have something to say!

That’s why nailing down a definition of an active blogger can be so difficult because does someone have to post every day to be considered active? In my opinion, no.

Sixth, they don’t worry about writing “mongo-size” posts everytime they post to their blog!

If a blogger is trying to come up with a change-the-world kind of article every time they post they’ll quickly run out of juice and lose enthusiasm. Not only that but blog-readers, for the most part, have an upper limit of about 5 minutes for tolerance in reading an article. In terms of blogging longevity (from the standpoint of the blogger) it’s better to make frequent small posts interspersed with the odd monster rather than trying to maintain a book writing attitude with every blog entry.

As a side-note – a lot of long-haul bloggers I read write series which is a good way of keeping short posts but at the same time tackling a subject that requires more than a few lines. As a plus, writing something as a series contributes to keeping you blogging!

Finally, the seventh indicator is they aren’t obsessed with whether the world reads their blog or not

At first, this indicator may appear to conflict with what I wrote for the fourth indicator (do they contribute to the blogosphere somehow) but it really doesn’t because the point I’m making here is more about that inane behaviour people have of wanting to be liked by others. On the blogosphere this can be a blog-killer. Long-haul bloggers aren’t consumed with building up the biggest following of readers (not to say that doesn’t interest them – of course it does – but it’s not the driving force behind them blogging) but are more interested in the content they post.

The truth is, the majority of bloggers will not build up any significant following of readers and if the only reason you are blogging is to see how many comments you’ve got that day, or for statistics junkies – seeing how many “hits” you’ve got – then blogging will quickly become boring and at best you’ll abandon your block and at worst you’ll become the anathema of the blogosphere – a splogger – stealing content from other popular blogs to drive your page rank up and satisfy your appetite for recognition (and the spin-off ad money of course you hope to get). Of course this isn’t to say all sploggers start out this way but for people who are obsessed with counting hits (as a primary motivator for blogging) splogging is certainly a real possibility.

There you have it – my short list (ha!) of indicators that I believe point towards someone becoming (or the reason they are) a long-haul blogger. To summarize:

  1. They like writing (and have something to write about!)
  2. They like tweaking their blog.
  3. What their initial experience with blog-ware is like.
  4. Do they contribute to the blogosphere somehow?
  5. They don’t worry about posting every day or sticking to a routine schedule.
  6. They don’t worry about writing mongo-size posts every time they write to their blog.
  7. They aren’t obsessed with whether everyone in the world reads their blog or not.

As usual, I look forward to any feedback you might have to offer!

A wordpress plugin I’d scramble to get…

Okay, I wasn’t going to post about the recent interview Matt Mullenweg did with Blogging Pro but there was an intriguing response to one of the questions asked that led me to leave a comment on Photomatt where Matt posted about his interview. The purpose of my comment was to try and tickle out more information – alas my comment was deleted for some reason and so I find myself writing this little blurb in my blog hoping (I’m not quite at begging yet hehe) that someone might have more information 😉

UPDATE: Mysteriously my comment reappeared on Matt’s site…dunno what happened there hehe 😉

Anyway, in the interview, Matt was asked,

What?s Automattic?s next move? I know you have been focusing on the next versions of WordPress, and your great Anti-spam service Akismet, but with the people in the Automattic now and your great eye for filling a gap in the marketplace, could you give out any hints on what we can expect next?

Tucked in his response was this reply…

We?ve got a few plugins and services we?ve cooked up internally that we?re going to provide to open source, including a little todo/project management app.

“todo/project management app.” plugin for wordpress? Now that would be nice. I’ve searched all over for a nice plugin that would do this in wordpress and have come up short. I’ve even contemplated writing my own code but unfortunately my coding skills are rather limited and I’m short on time for the moment. If the team at Automattic was to come out with this anytime soon it would make my day!

I don’t know why my comment got deleted on Matt’s site but I hope more news will be forthcoming – that teaser in his interview was just cruel! (from my point of view anyway hehe) 😉

UPDATE: Thanks to opa (see comments below)? I’m now trying out a “To-Do” plugin by Abstract Dimension.? It’s much better than what I’ve been using and so far it’s pretty neat.? Only thing it’s missing in my eyes is the ability to group the to-do’s into different lists.? Nevertheless, I appreciate the find!? Thanks opa!

Another UPDATE (July 15, 2007): Thanks to PaintChip (see comment below) I’ve discovered that the To-Do plugin by Abstract Dimension seems to be no longer available (the site is down).  I did some digging and found “Our To-Do plugin” at the site,  “WordPress by Examples“.   It is based on the original To-Do plugin is an improved version of it.  I haven’t tried it yet but it looks nifty.

Been a bit quiet here…

Yeah I know, I haven’t posted in a while. It’s just things have been so busy everytime I visit thinking I’ll post something I’m just so tired – too tired to think let alone type :lol:! Anyway, what have I been up to that’s kept me so busy? Well aside from church stuff I’ve been working on a website for my brother-in-law in the evenings. He’s got a cabinet making business and asked me to design a simple website for him that’s easy to maintain. I just finished most of it last night – when it goes live I’ll post a link.

Another thing that’s been keeping me busy is cutting wood in preparation for winter. My house has a woodstove and it is by far the most economical way of heating our old house. So between cutting/splitting wood and preparing the house for winter I’ve been kept pretty busy outside as well. The upside to this is I’m getting lots of needed excercise and fresh air!
Meanwhile…other things that have been percolating in my brain in the last little while – get ready here comes a list…

  1. I’m getting sick of the first theme I designed. I learned a lot doing it – but it’s a little bit more clunky than I envisioned. Unfortunately I don’t really have the time to do anything about it right now – but I definitely see a new layout down the road.
  2. I’m really liking WordPress and the thought that’s gone into it’s core code. The more I examine it’s innards the more I appreciate the quality word that’s been done therein – even though my noobness means I don’t understand a lot of it :lol:. Nevertheless I like working with wordpress so much I’m strongly considering converting my church website over to wordpress from phpnuke. Along with a couple other things…
  3. I’ve registered a new domain – unashamedsermons.com – which for now points to gohpc.net where unashamed sermons is found. However – I think I’m going to move Unashamed Sermons to a seperate website from my church website again. Unashamed Online is okay but with the integration it really isn’t serving the purpose for which I created it and hoped would take place. It’s a rather clunky place for visitors to find out any information about our church and creates extra steps for people who use Unashamed Sermons to get to the content. By seperating the two I can focus on making unashamedsermons.com the hub for pastors/teachers/and students of God’s word as a resource containing not only my messages but other focused material that fits that group of people. And I can focus on gohpc.net as being the primary information center for my church. I have a few ideas that I think will make wordpress a really cool solution for both instances. If you are a visitor/member of unashamed online don’t worry I’m not going to do anything to it until I have everything up and running with the new ones.
  4. One thing that I’ve had on the backburner for a while is an online catalog of our church library. I was developing a module for php-nuke but since stumbling on wordpress I’m considering scrapping everything I’ve done so far (which isn’t too much thank goodness) and yes you guessed it – create it in wordpress. I’m excited about the possibilities.

Of course while those things are on my mind there’s one problem. The time-factor. My only opportunity for doing these kinds of things it at night after the kids have gone to bed. Oh well, I’ll plug away at it when I can!