WordPress was originally developed as blogging software: a blog (web-log) is an online journal, diary or commentary, presented as a website. Generally, one or more contributors (bloggers) add new content to the top of the website on a semi-regular basis. WordPress is now sophisticated enough to be used to create more advanced websites, and as such we should really call it a Content Management System (CMS). However, as it was not built for managing websites with large numbers of users, WordPress may sometimes require a bit of creativity to get it to do what you need.
WordPress has a reputation as being easy to use and flexible. It is particularly interesting for its enormous additional list of plugins. These are small additions to the software that add extra features. With plugins you can turn WordPress into a social networking site, add Testimonials, generate visitor statistics, and much much more.
There are two basic ways in which you can start using WordPress:
- Sign up for an account on WordPress.com or a similar site that offers free blog hosting.
- Install your own WordPress CMS on a server that you have access to.
The first option is the easiest, but if you wish to have more control over how WordPress is configured and be able to add more functionality, then you will want the second option of installing WordPress yourself. In this case, you should download the software from WordPress.org.
What is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?
The difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is worth looking at because it shows us a lot about this successful open source project.
WordPress.org is home to the blogging software WordPress. Here you can download the software and get support on installing, troubleshooting and using the software. Huge numbers of people write code voluntarily to make the software work better. This is possible because the software has an open licence which allows anyone to download it, use it and improve it. There is more information about the WordPress software on the About page of WordPress.org.1 Over 25 million independently-hosted blogs use this software.
WordPress.com is run by Automattic, a company that uses and adapts the WordPress software to provide a service for bloggers. In this way, you can use WordPress without having to know how to install software on a server. It's free to sign up and use the basic service, but you pay extra to host videos, modify the layout (by editing the CSS), and to add other premium services. This commercial venture funds coders to spend time developing the core of WordPress code which benefits the wider community. There is more information about Automattic and Wordpress.com on their About page.2 Over 20 million blogs are hosted on Wordpress.com.
Privacy limitations of WordPress.com
For the most part, WordPress.com seems to host controversial content without problem. However, there have been several cases where Automattic has come under criticism for releasing information about its users and for suspending blogs. If this is something that concerns you, then you should try to set up your own blog or use a WordPress service other than Wordpress.com.
WordPress for Blogs and Websites
WordPress started out as blogging software but it is now being used for much more. This chapter deals with what is a blog and then compares Blogs to Websites. There is another chapter which looks at WordPress and online communities.
What is a Blog?
A blog is a shortened version of the term "web-log". A "log" is a written record, such as a diary, and a "web-log" is a diary that is kept on the web. The first blogs were very much like diaries, or personal accounts of peoples' lives. However blogs are now used for a wide range of activities. Blogs are used by independent journalists for publishing and they are used by companies for reporting on internal activities. Web businesses use them to inform their users about what they are doing, or they are used as a kind of online magazine. There are many, many other uses for blogs.
Websites compared to Blogs
Websites are often slower to change compared to blogs, and have more static information. Structurally they have more of a focus on menus and sub-sections, allowing visitors to navigate to the part of the website that contains the information they need, whereas blogs often display a list of posts on a single page with the most recent entry at the top. Websites are often maintained by more than one person, so different levels of user access can be useful.
Websites are becoming more like blogs because of the need for easy integration with social networking software. At the same time, blogging software is becoming more suitable for creating websites. For WordPress this is especially true due to more advanced use of menus, different user roles, community focus and the intuitive user interface that it offers.
If you are considering spending a lot of time and potentially money (if you are paying others) on a website with other tools it is definitely worth asking the question: "Can we quickly create a site that fulfills our needs with WordPress?" If the answer is yes, keep reading this manual!