When I first started with WordPress almost a year ago, I had a lot to learn. My site Taking Your Camera on the Road was nearing it’s 10th anniversary and it needed some serious changes. With hundreds of articles, I needed a more powerful Content Management System (CMS) to manage the data, and a PHP driven site seemed to be the answer. Let me explain why.
With a static HTML site, every page contains all the code necessary to generate the page. When I created a new page, I’d copy all the code from my template page and then paste in my new article, adding all the HTML and CSS tags to the text. I’d gotten pretty fast at it after all these years, but all that hand coding takes time to type in every
With a PHP template driven site, I could have a template form for the front page look, a single page look, and another for categories or archives, if I needed them. With only a few template files, I could pull the information from the database into them, and not worry about messing up a missed closing tag or borking an HTML element. The articles were in the database, and I just needed the query that would pull them out and generate the pages.
After two years of searching, poking and prodding of various CMS programs, still in the early days of such programs and services, a new face appeared called WordPress for blogs. But what the heck was a "blog"?
What is a Blog?
I didn't know it but I'd been blogging for over 10 years. Who knew? Blogging was basically writing opinions and editorial commentary about specific, or all, subjects. It started out as diaries and grew into rants and rages, and now they are serious contenders of editorial information and many corporations are setting up blogs to keep the public and media informed about company activities and interests.
Blogging software used to be a simple interface where the writer had a few looks to choose from for their site, and then a page to enter the post title, post, and choose a category or two. A core feature of all blogs was interaction created by comments left by readers, so there is also management of comments to moderate and approve them, or delete them if they turn out to be spam or just stupid.
Seeing no control over the site's look and content, I wanted none of that, so I returned to CMS software. I was met with a whole new world of complex, busy, and overwhelming interfaces. From one screen you had 40 choices and options. I couldn't figure out what they wanted me to do as each program had its own terminology for each area and action. I thought after I tried two or three that number four or five would make sense but each one invented new words for the same process and the learning curve was HIGH.
Intimidation sent me, eventually, to WordPress. I was greeted with a very simple management screen. I could assign posts (I call them articles) to categories easily, monitor comments, add plugins for even more capabilities, and best of all, totally customize the look of my site. I didn't have to rely on prepackaged site looks.
Under the WordPress Hood
I was so impressed with the administration and management screens, I have to admit that I was even more impressed with what WordPress has under the hood. And the marvelous first impression didn't stop there.
The template files are actually clean and easy to read. And they make sense. It's a modular style that can be mixed and matched to generate different pages. At the most basic, there is a header, sidebar, content, and footer template file, the core building blocks for a web page. At the most complex, you can have 40 headers to match 40 different sidebars, and 20 different footers, all wrapped around one content template. Or any combination thereof, mixing 20 content templates with 2 different headers, 4 different sidebars, and only one footer. Mix and match for a website never got easier.
The template files modular system is built with a combination of queries and a PHP Loop. The PHP loop is so powerful and unique, they call it the WordPress Loop. With queries, you can easily set up conditional tags to ask IF/ELSE statements to call the different template files based upon the condition. For example, if it's the front page, it will create the look of more than one post on the front page. If it is a single post view, it will generate the parts and pieces from among the template files to create the single post view. With only a small handful of files, I can build the pages I need on my site.
The first impression of power continued with the realization that plugins could easily be added to customize my site and content fast and easily. WordPress Plugins add features like related posts, keywords, comment spam blocking, gallery and photo exhibits, administration enhancements, technocratic tagging, tag clouds, backups, and even more.
Suddenly, those intimidating CMS systems looked puny compared to the power of WordPress and WordPress plugins.
In the next post, I'll talk about what I had to learn in order to make my move to WordPress a smooth and intelligible one.