Why A WordPress?

In a previous post I discussed why someone might want to use a wiki as a content management tool. In this post, we take a look at a post-based content management system and discuss its positives and negatives.

To many, the question of why to use a post-based content management system seems to answer itself. After all, it allows an author to write, edit, and update content via a set of administration tools without having to manage the look and feel of the site itself. But there are several ways of managing content, like in a wiki, for example. So why use a system like WordPress?

Features

WordPress, like many other post-based content management systems, provides a nice set of administration tools from which users of varying permissions can write, edit, and publish content from. The difference between a registered user and one that can publish is merely the difference between permissions granted.

This system allows for a hierarchal publication system that almost anyone who’s worked, or heard of, a newsroom might be familiar with. One WordPress site can have dozens of writers and a handful of editors checking the content before determining when it can be seen by the site’s reader. Obviously, on a site run by a single person writing and publishing, this model flattens, but it allows a lot of collaboration by many different people while ensuring that content is of a certain level.

That it also stores content in a display neutral way (ie. without the site’s design embedded) is also a major feature but one most people probably won’t take advantage of unless the site’s look and feel changes on a regular basis.

Other built in features that are useful for publishing is the ability to category and “tag” content with various “taxonomies”, each of which can then organize and display the content with other like articles. This becomes extremely important as the amount of content on the site grows and readers need a quick and easy way to find related material.

Lastly, WordPress (again, like many other systems) offers the ability to upload, display, and attach media to posts for display.

So How’s This All Useful?

The most common use for a WordPress installation is that of a blog. Most of the “themes” (what WordPress calls the look and feel, what MediaWiki calls “skins”) show the most recent post with a varying number of older posts below it with the oldest posts rolling off the homepage and into the archives. However, this does not have to be the case.

Wired Magazine uses WordPress to publish both its magazine content as well as its daily articles. Even the Unified Republic of Stars has changed the default function of its theme to display the latest news or story item at the top and always have the latest blog post in the fourth position slot. It’s a change any creative theme designer or programmer can make in a few minutes.

But as I said above, WordPress’ main feature is the ability to collaborate with others while ensuring a certain standard of content. The intent of using it on the Unified Republic of Stars, for instance, is to have many writers composing stories for the storyworld while retaining the power of editing and publishing for the site’s editor, namely me. This is to ensure that multiple stories don’t go out on the same day, so that every story can have its time in the sun, while also making sure they’re, you know, readable.

I prefer to think of this as a “top-down” publishing model, unlike a wiki where anyone can contribute by adding pages or editing content and the changes take effect as soon as the “Save” button it pressed.

Not All Wine and Roses

WordPress is a great tool for publishing, I think that’s already been established. So what are its downsides?

The primary disadvantage to a “top-down” publishing model is that it requires an active editor, one who is constantly reviewing, scheduling, and posting content. WordPress does not offer the ability to selectively publish by category out of the box so that people can’t be posting to the blog while stories are sitting idle on the editor’s desk.

The other disadvantage, for those looking to publish something akin to a magazine (though there might be plugins that help with it), is that WordPress is very time centric and individual in publishing. An editor would need to manually select and set the time of publication for each article to be published to achieve something like an “issue” release.

Lastly, WordPress is not aware of what’s been published before and what links to what, perhaps the main advantage of a wiki. All associations are “loose” in that it requires articles that are to be associated to share the same category or tag. If the category or tag relating two articles is removed, the association disappears. And if an article links to something that has been moved or deleted, the link is not updated. If this kind of link management is required, well… that’s why there are wikis.

Conclusion

For the vast majority of people looking to publish content on the web, a WordPress or similar content management tool is probably more than enough. The ability to edit, publish content on a schedule, and loosely associate it is what most people are probably looking for.

However, if your intention is to create something more akin to a dictionary or encyclopedia, where links and pages need tighter relationships, a wiki might just be your answer.

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