What is WordPress?

by Martin Malden

In this post I referred to a question I saw in one of the forums: what is WordPress?

Given that I write this blog for people who are new, or relatively new, to working on-line, and it contains over 40 articles on WordPress, I have been remiss in not writing one that describes exactly what it is.

So here you go: WordPress is a free, open source platform that is primarily used for blogs but can also be used to create normal static sites, forums or content management systems.

Bet that helped..! 🙂

OK – here’s WordPress in plain, simple terms:

It is, as I mentioned above, an open source application and it was originally designed to provide a blogging platform.

But, because it’s open source, and because of the vision of its founder, WordPress is now used to power many different types of sites.

It’s also used by some very big names to power very big sites – like the Larry King Live Blog and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

That’s not meant to be discouraging, by the way, if you’re new to this. It’s meant to demonstrate that it’s a pretty good system.

And, as I said above, it’s free.

Because it’s open source, a huge developer community has grown up focused on building add-ons (called plugins) and themes (often referred to as templates) for WordPress.

Today there are over 4000 plugins available to download from the WordPress site (plus more that are stored on the developers’ sites) and many thousands of themes.

In addition to all that WordPress itself contains widgets.

All these things enable you to add as much personalisation as you want, and pretty much any functionality you can think of, to the base WordPress application – usually with just a few clicks of the mouse.

The Basic WordPress Platform

The basic WordPress platform enables you to set up a simple blog or website that you run on-line.

That means that you don’t need to bother with HTML editors (there’s one built in) or FTPing your website from your PC to the server.

There are two types of WordPress: WordPress.com is a site that hosts WordPress blogs and where you can open an account and start a blog very quickly and easily, without the need for any technical skills.

It provides a similar service to Blogger – another free blogging site where you can set up and run a blog.

The second type of WordPress is one where you download and install the software on your server.

It’s called self-hosted WordPress or sometimes it’s called WordPress.org, because that’s the site from which you download the application.

Self hosted WordPress gives you more control over the look, feel and functionality of your site than WordPress.com blogs do. But the downside is that you need to manage and maintain your blog yourself.

That’s not complex, by the way, but it means you have to do upgrades when they’re available (only a click of 1 button) and if it all goes horribly wrong you’ll need to get help from someone who knows about WordPress.

WordPress themselves have made the entire process of installing and maintaining your self hosted blog as painless as it’s possible to be.

Plus, there’s so much help available on-line through forums and blogs (like the one you’re reading now!) that you’re never going to find yourself stuck.

So let’s look at some of the components that make WordPress (self-hosted) so powerful.

WordPress Widgets

The first thing that enables you to personalise your WordPress site are the built in widgets.

These are modules that sit in the sidebars. Many of them are preprogrammed to display specific information like your last posts, the tags you’ve used, links you have to other sites and so on.

There’s also a text widget that enables you to insert anything you like as long as it’s HTML based. That means you can install scripts (for things like an Aweber opt in form, or a You Tube video) or you can dream up and install your own creation.

It’s the equivalent of an HTML page – but displayed in your sidebar.

There’s no limit to the number of text widgets you can add to your site. So you can add opt in forms, ads, widgets from social sites or whatever else – and as many of them as you like.

Widgets are easy to activate or deactivate – and there are instructions on how to do so here.

WordPress Plugins

The next thing you can use to personalise your WordPress platform are plugins.

There are more than 4000 plugins available to download from the WordPress.org site and they add almost any kind of functionality you can think of to your platform.

You can add plugins to improve protection against spammers and hackers, to make it easy to back up your blog database, to improve search engine effectiveness, to add a forum, to add image galleries and almost anything else you can think of.

Most plugins are free to download and install, although most also have a PayPal donate button. It’s good form to donate when the plugins are good and do their stuff, but it is voluntary.

Most plugin authors provide support for their plugins, including upgrades with new functionality and security improvements.

Finding and inserting plugins is very straightforward. There are instructions on how to find them here and on how to install them here.

WordPress Themes

The third thing you use to personalise your site are themes or templates.

Themes define the layout of your site – the number and positioning of sidebars, colour schemes, fonts, the header and footer, and so on.

As with plugins there are thousands of free themes. More than 650 on the WordPress.org site alone, and thousands more that you can Google for.

If you’re looking for a specific type of theme – e.g. a music based theme – you can simply Google for ‘WordPress music themes’ and you’ll get more results than you can shake a stick at.

There are lots and lots of excellent free themes but there are also some very badly coded ones, including ones where spam has been inserted into the code.

So you need to be careful if you’re looking for free themes – and be sure to get them from reputable sites.

Premium (or paid for) themes are generally well coded and also have support forums and regular upgrades.

There are usually two pricing options. There’s a Personal option which allows you to use the theme on one of your own sites and a Developer’s option which allows you to use it on as many sites as you like, but usually your own. Check the T’s & C’s of the theme you buy to be sure.

The bar on premium themes is being raised all the time and, for example, the Thesis theme, which I’m using on this site, is more like a supplementary platform than a theme.

It enables you to drop some SEO plugins and enables non technical users to make good use of WordPress’ flexibility much more easily.

There are instructions on finding WordPress themes here and on installing them here.

Summary

OK – so that’s WordPress.

It may seem daunting at first but, like anything, once you get to play around with it and see how it works I think you’ll find it very easy and intuitive.

If you’re interested in moving to WordPress one of the best ways to do it is to set up a free WordPress blog at WordPress.com.

That way you can learn how everything works and become familiar with the User Interface.

Then, when you move to a self-hosted version, you’re already familiar with the logic and the transition will be a lot easier.

If you have any questions leave a comment below, and if you’d like a complete tutorial on how to install it, configure it, add widgets, plugins and themes, write and promote your first article you’ll find it here. (It’s on-line, so it’s absolutely free).

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