Using WordPress as a CMS for non-blog sites.
February 8, 2006 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to use WordPress as a CMS for non-blogging sites, but I can't seem to break out of the blog structure. Help, tips, and/or examples needed.

I'd like to set up WordPress as a default CMS at work for the small sites I build for classes and professors. The problem is that most of these sites are not blogs, and are going to be pretty customized in terms of presentation and layout. The reason I want a CMS in place is because our department should not be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the site once we've produced it. Ideally the professor should not have to fiddle with HTML or FTP into our servers to update his syllabus.

WordPress seems like a pretty user-friendly CMS that is free for educational use that I can work with to get in place. Stuff like Drupple seems to be overkill for what I want, but I can't get a handle on how to customize WordPress so it's less blog-like. The sites need complex HTML and CSS for design and layout, and I need to be able to add video/PDFs/misc files. But the most important consideration is to make it easy for a professor to go in and change content.

Any examples of using WordPress for non-blogging sites would be wonderful.
posted by lychee to Technology (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Google has some decent info. I think a decent knowledge of PHP (or a willingness to learn) is going to help you a lot with this project, but you can definitely pull of some basic tricks without it.

Just a note: In my own experiences messing with wordpress, I've been pretty disappointed with their documentation and weird-ass help forums. It often seems like the answer to your question is out there, you just kind find it with their horrible site search.
posted by subclub at 3:48 PM on February 8, 2006

you just can't find it
posted by subclub at 3:51 PM on February 8, 2006

You may want to consider Expression Engine as well. Their Core version is free. It is very customizable, and not difficult.
Have a look at the quick start to see if it is something for you.
posted by davar at 3:59 PM on February 8, 2006

This may not be helpful, but a bunch of writing instructors are using Drupal for work like this. It installs painlessly if you are using Fantastico.

Drupal at Purdue

Apologies if this is too far afield from what you're trying to do.
posted by mecran01 at 4:06 PM on February 8, 2006

You can create very nice themes in WordPress and then use the write pages function instead of the write post function to have static pages in a WordPress universe. I do this for pages on my site like the faq, custom 404 page etc. One of the things that WordPress does not do well out of the box is allow for customization of different sections differently. So if you have Professor F who is teaching one class with three pages, their pages will have the same look/feel as Professor G's pages unless you do some serious messing around. You can cheat and use categories for Professors/classes and then have each of them display on a separate page, but it's a cheat, not what the software is good at.

I realize you're trying to do this on a shoestring, but Movable Type is much better at this sort of compartmentalization of content (where each user can log in and fiddle only with their stuff). That said, I set up a library website using WordPress where I built all the pages myself with an HTML editor and then just allowed the staff access to the Manage Pages section to change the content and a heavily warned Manage theme section in case they needed to mess with any of the content blocks which I had set up as a series of server-side includes. So, I used a header/footer/sidebar/stylesheet that couldn't be messed with without approval, but had the pages all available for editing. This works best if you're going to be able to maintain the WordPress install itself. Once I left that job, no one on staff was competent enough to do the upgrading that WordPress required and it was a sticky situation. I like WordPress for personal stuff, but I'm still not sold on it for stuff that requires workplace robustness. A lot of this is really going to depend on how savvy and comfy you are with plug-ins, php and stylesheets. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 4:13 PM on February 8, 2006

I use Movable Type for the literary magazine I run (Literary Mama), which does not look like a blog (though we have a blog on the site). There are 20+ editors, and each of them has different access levels. The way I've set it up, editors can log in and get to their sections and post without ever having to deal with templates or other sections of the site, etc. It works very well, though the setting up part was a bit time-consuming.
posted by mothershock at 5:15 PM on February 8, 2006

@jessamyn: If one installs multiple instances of Wordpress, it would be no problem. You can also change the prefix if you need to use just one database, perhaps the prof's initials or something.

I like using WP for creating sites that will involve a lot of administration, because it is a nice framework that keeps the admin stuff from falling back into my lap. If you do multiple installs, you can get at the kind of structure I think you want by doing your installs (and thus your URLs) like: The advantage Wordpress has over other CMS is that it is designed to be an extremely light core and then functionality can be added through plugins. You can also install a variety of themes for the users to choose from. Alex King's site has the best assortment. Caution though: you would have to install each theme in each install of WP and this could end up eating up a lot of server space.
posted by jxpx777 at 5:36 PM on February 8, 2006

Yes, I spent 2 days googling for WordPress as a CMS, left me pretty confused. We have a PHP guy who's willing to work with me on WordPress if it is the best option. Multiple writers/users should be no problem, as we'd use multiple installs of WP. ExpressionEngine looks promising though. Keep any suggestions or examples coming, I really need to figure out if WP is worth the time investment or if we need to move to something else.
posted by lychee at 5:48 PM on February 8, 2006

Boxes and Arrows used Movable Type for several years before switching to a new CMS. (I was the web developer there for two years.) The design's basically the same as it was using Movable Type, and it doesn't look like a blog.

I think Movable Type (educational pricing) would be better as a CMS than Wordpress.

Another option would be to set up the sites in Dreamweaver and have the editors use Contribute to make edits. You'd have complete control over the site design, you can upload files, and it's totally easy for non-technical people to use. (It uses FTP, but it's transparent to users; they browse to the page and click an Edit button.) The educational price for Contribute is $90 per seat, and your institution might have better pricing.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:43 PM on February 8, 2006

Once you get your head around how Wordpress works, it's actually pretty easy. You want to use pages for this, not posts. If you want to customise how different sections look, you need to create a new template, and assign it to a page.

I find the forums easy to use, if you ask a coherent question with enough detail. Of course, the Codex is often overlooked - you'll probably want this section. Get to know template tags, the template hierarchy, and read a guide to templates. Also, check out the blogs - Chris J Davis had a few articles a while back - The Secrets Of WP Theming - which you'll probably find useful.

You don't actually need to know any PHP to customise Wordpress. At all. And it will be a case of everything suddenly making a whole lot of sense and seeming to be the easiest thing in the world.
posted by djgh at 6:48 PM on February 8, 2006

You can try a lot of PHP/MySQL CMSs at OpenSourceCMS. Also, check out some previous CMS questions. A lot of people recommended Drupal in this similar question.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:54 PM on February 8, 2006

Like many things, wordpress is easy to use once you know how. That said, no one has mentioned WordPress MU which might also be something to consider. Pasted from the link above:

Using WordPress Multi-user edition [sic] people be able to sign up for a new blog and have them securely manage their templates and settings without affecting any other users. Only one blog per user is allowed, but you can have unlimited users, and you can have multiple users on a single blog.
posted by maxpower at 7:52 PM on February 8, 2006

TextPattern should do everything you want right out of the box. I switched to using it after getting frustrated at how unnecessarily difficult it was to customize anything of consequence in Wordpress. I used TextPattern for about 15 minutes and became a complete convert, but your mileage may vary.

By default it uses Textile formatting, which has a small learning curve, so you may want to install the TinyMCE editor plugin for full-on wysiwyg editing.
posted by Hildago at 8:09 PM on February 8, 2006

I'm using wordpress as a photoblog, with one entry on view at a time...theres a plug-in that makes that happen. I would imagine its not too difficult to do this with text rather than pictures, and then make a navigation, although I'm no expert.

Its here (self link natch) and a little out of date, which reminds me...
posted by mattr at 11:00 AM on February 9, 2006

I also recommend Expression Engine. I've been using it for my site (URL in profile) for more than 18 months. I've chosen to retain some of the blog-like functions, but really, it provides a very diverse administration layer so that you can have entry templates of any size or appearance, with any number of fields (because it allows you to create your own fields), and then you can have layouts of any appearance simply by putting EE's own tags in the right place in a normal HTML layout. WordPress also allows custom fields and also uses a similar custom tagging system to EE.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:33 AM on February 9, 2006

There's also moodle, which is supposedly aimed at education. I'm using it in a class I'm taking right now—it's a little clunky, but I suspect that's because of the way the professor has it set up.
posted by phrits at 2:47 PM on February 9, 2006

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