Jus’ (Word)Press

Ledward Kaapana often reports “When I was young my uncle Fred [Punahoa] told me you can play slack key in Standard tuning. He said, ‘It’s easy, jus’ press the right strings.’ ‘Jus’ press’ was something he would always tell us when we’d ask him a question. One time when we were playing I asked him, ‘Uncle Fred, what key is this?’ He told me, ‘Boy, no worry what key, jus’ press.'” Led learned by watching and doing what Uncle Fred did.

As I’ve become increasingly enamored with WordPress, I’ve been waiting for this day, the day that WordPress 3 is (finally) ready. As I’ve waited, I’ve also thought of “jus’ press” as analogy appropriate to WordPress, beyond (just) the word “press”.

In the almost 3 years since I started with WordPress, I’ve mostly thought, as many do, of WordPress as a blogging tool. Last year a friend, Ryan Owen, asked me about using WordPress for a general web site we managed together, a site with many static pages in addition to more dynamic “blog” pages.  My knee jerk reaction was that WordPress couldn’t do things he and I were used to doing with HTML and CSS. To some extent that reaction was true, but also false due to my ignorance — WordPress 2 was far more general and flexible than I realized. With the capabilities of WordPress 3, some of which have been available for a few months on WordPress.com and available in beta versions of WordPress 3, WordPress is a very compelling application for general purpose web site development.

As I used WordPress 2 more, and browsed through the capabilities I wasn’t using, the flexibility and generality gradually became apparent. I’d read various endorsements, and noticed the broader acceptance of WordPress, especially the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital. (Note the WordPress login page at http://allthingsd.com/wp-admin.)

Early this year I joined a committee established to sort out web strategy for the PET Project. The many existing sites were not coordinated with each other, not keeping up to date, in general not providing the web presence we needed. A typical reaction was along the lines of “I wouldn’t know the sites were related to each other without seeing the Mercy in Motion video.” One person had a strong vision of revamping the sites with a Joomla!-based portal system. However, the expense and organizational complexities of adopting that proposal had left it foundering. Driving home from a meeting in San Antonio in late March, I started pondering a more incremental approach.

At first I tried to see what I could do quickly with Joomla!, without any prior Joomla! experience. Though I could imagine using Joomla! myself, and could understand how it appeals to web professionals, I couldn’t imagine a viable learning curve for the typical content provider without a significant investment in infrastructure and training. That investment made the expense of the foundering proposal seem an underestimate, if anything.

Then I thought back to Ryan’s question, my knee jerk reaction, and my subsequent learning. I started looking at WordPress as a general purpose content management system. Articles such as WordPress vs Joomla vs Drupal encouraged me in this direction.

I started prototyping WordPress-based sites on WordPress.com. The progress was rapid and exhilarating.

However, I started becoming aware of the restrictions at WordPress.com, especially the inability to use <FORM> tags. Since some of the existing sites made use of <FORM>, I started replicating the prototype sites with WordPress 2.9 on my own server.

Though the overall progress and improvement was undeniable, the differences between WordPress.com and separate hosting became apparent, especially in choice of themes and widgets. Themes that worked great at WordPress.com didn’t work at all with separate hosting. Themes that worked great with separate hosting weren’t available at WordPress.com. Widgets available at WordPress.com weren’t available, or didn’t work well, for separate hosting. Other desirable widgets aren’t available at WordPress.com.

Though the widget limitations were annoying, the theme limitations were more than annoying. And that is how I first became a fan of the new Twenty Ten theme. In late April, I think, Twenty Ten became available on WordPress.com. I gave it a try and liked it. Then I listened to some of Matt Mullenweg’s “State of the Word” May 1:

It was evident that Twenty Ten would be emphasized in WordPress 3, available for both WordPress.com and separate hosting, so I started trying the nightly development builds of WordPress 3 on my server. Finally, we had a theme solution that works well in both environments, WordPress.com and separate hosting.

http://wordpress.org/development/2010/06/thelonious/ and the detailed documentation enumerate the many improvements in WordPress 3, and we’re benefiting from some of those, but Twenty Ten was enough to make us “press” forward.

I didn’t wait for WordPress 3 to be final. http://PETInternational.org/ has been live with nightly builds/release candidates for several weeks. Those versions have seemed good enough. But it is nice to now be using a version WordPress endorses more enthusiastically.

Besides http://PETInternational.org/, we have two affiliate sites live, and others in progress. One of the affiliate sites, based on Joomla!, now mimics our Twenty Ten look and feel! Another Joomla!-based site is contributing content to the WordPress environment.

I have been able to return a favor to Ryan. He’s learned from what we’ve done, switched to Twenty Ten, and made http://RainbowNetwork.org/ fully realized with WordPress, now with my encouragement instead of skepticism.

Back to the notion of “jus’ press”, WordPress has plenty of quirks and inconsistencies — it is far from perfect, but WordPress is better for many purposes than any alternative I see. Like Led watching Uncle Fred, jus’ press. That’s what I’ll be doing.

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