by Doc Coleman - Nifty Tech Editor on February 14, 2012 · 5 comments

in Service, Wordpress

One of the hallmarks of Nifty Tech is the fact that it takes work off of your hands. As a result, one very easily begins to take it for granted. The tech blends into the background, and instead you focus on just getting things done. This week I’m going to be looking at a piece of tech that I’ve been taking for granted for a while. This may not be useful for many, but for some of you, it could be very interesting, indeed. Today, we’re looking at WordPress.

WordPress started back in 2003 as an open-source effort to create effective writing tools. It has grown into one of the pre-eminent blogging platforms on the net. WordPress is primarily an open-source project put together by hundreds of volunteers all over the planet. They work on WordPress because they use it, and want to see the content others create using WordPress. Open-source WordPress is available for free at WordPress.org, but in order to use it, you’ll have to have your own hosting service somewhere else, and that will cost you money.

There is also a commercial branch of the WordPress project at WordPress.com. To create a WordPress.com account, you don’t need a separate hosting service, but you don’t have quite as much control over your site as you would with the .org version. WordPress.com is also free, but there are a number of add-on features that will cost you money, such as your own personalized URL. Despite the limits to site control, WordPress.com does have the advantage of having some features that are better integrated than what is available on WordPress.org. Among these features is an excellent usage statistics package, and the ability to notify users of posts and comments via e-mail.

No matter which flavor of WordPress you choose to build your site, you’ve got some very powerful tools that work very smoothly together. While WordPress is primarily thought of as a blogging tool, you can build rather robust sites with it. This is because the primary capability that WordPress give you is easy expansion. WordPress comes with a plug-in architecture that allows you to expand the functions available in your installation. Odds are, if you want WordPress to do something, someone else has already coded a plug in that does it. Sometimes it can be difficult finding the right plugin among the thousands already available. In future reviews, we plan on highlighting some of the WordPress Plugins that we’ve found most useful.

WordPress boasts of an installer that allows you to set up a new WordPress installation in five minutes or less, and WordPress is so popular that most hosting providers already have built in support for creating WordPress instances. The five minutes or so to install WordPress is one of the easiest parts. After that, you’ve got to make a lot of tough decisions. These decisions are tough, because there are so many options.

In addition to plug-ins, WordPress supports themes, special documents that control the appearance of your site, and create areas for different kinds of content. WordPress comes with a default theme, but it isn’t very customizable and most people will want something that gives their site a more distinctive look. Again, there are thousands of themes out there that are available to give your WordPress site a special look. Some are very limited, and some are amazingly flexible and customizable. Most of these themes are free, but there are folks out there who make a living, or a least some income on the side, by selling premium themes for WordPress. When you set up your first WordPress site, you may want to set up a dummy site where you can try out different themes and play with their settings without mucking up the content on your main site. It is useful to keep that dummy site around if you plan on revising your site design every few years, or if you just want a place to be able to experiment with new plugins and design elements.

Most people getting started with WordPress will be looking at setting up a blog. WordPress comes with an excellent blogging engine, allowing you to divide your content into categories, create tags, search the blog, and embed pictures and other media into the text. It should come as no surprise at this point to hear that The Nifty Tech Blog is built on a WordPress instance.

WordPress provides an assortment of text formatting tools, media embedding tools, and if that all fails, one can even access the raw html underlying a post and edit that directly. Visual mode gives the author near WYSIWYG editing. There are a few advanced features that won’t show up in the editing window the same way they will show up on the published page, but if you’re using those kinds of features, odds are very little in this blog is going to be new to you.

WordPress also gives you the ability to create static pages, such as the About, Submissions, and Meet the Staff pages in this blog. This is ideal if you have some relatively static content that always needs to be available, or something where you need to be able to clear out the sidebars and display data in a wider format.

WordPress also has a built in media library that allows you to host your own pictures and video for use in your pages. While you can link to media hosted on other sites, it is safer to use images that are hosted off of your own site, in case the other site is taken down, or re-organizes how their files are displayed. Anything managed inside of WordPress, WordPress keeps straight.

If you’ve chosen a theme with sidebars, you can present additional content there in the form of widgets. Widgets are small snippets of code that are usually packaged as part of a plugin and allow you to display additional information, or pull in additional content from related sites. WordPress ships with a variety of basic widgets that help display useful tools for users to subscribe to your blog, or to navigate its content.

There is a lot more in WordPress, but one of the great features it provides is a useful set of defaults so that you can set up your blog in a few minutes and start adding content. The other features you can take your time with and discover later. Or never discover if you’re happy with the way things look right out of the box. And for those who have some skill with php, you can even write your own code and your own WordPress plugins. WordPress gets you started quickly and easily, and lets you go just as deep into the rabbit hole as you’re comfortable with going.

If you’re interested in more, be sure to check the new WordPress category on the blog. As we add new reviews of other WordPress plugins and other add-ons, you’ll see them there.

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