I want my WordPress! by Russ
February 2, 2009, 1:56 am
Filed under: Russ | Tags:

For those who don’t know Drupal is a free open-source content-management system and it’s what we’ve chosen to run this iteration of the Observer Web site. It can be a powerful tool, and it’s used by a wide variety of organizations to put up their public presence on the Web – MTV UK, Amherst College, FastCompany to name just a few, and even some newspapers like the Savannah Morning News. We’ve used it to make some pretty cool looking Web projects, like our Transition Tracker. Best of all, it’s free.

But I’m not sold on it. At least not for this blog section.

It’s far from user-friendly – at least using the back-end format we use to produce everything including these blog posts – and it produces a sub-par product. My pal James Robertson is our Webmaster, so I want to make it clear that I’m not knocking his work – or that of any other staff member. In fact, I think James works magic with it – if I can plug it again, the Transition Tracker site he almost entirely put together himself is fantastic (the merry-go-round of agency badges is hypnotic.) But for the “casual” user – or, say, a 20-something journalist with better-than-average Internet literacy/appreciation – even the TT Web site is a pain to create content with. Every aspect of formatting content – even the lowliest blog post – requires tedious hand-written html tags to have any hope of rendering correctly.

Making a blog post that takes full advantage of the form and includes more than two or three links to other pages/posts quickly becomes a tedious and frustrating task. Formatting with tags to include a list or an appropriately sized image (never mind a caption that looks decent) is absurd.

Okay, so maybe we’re journalism graduate students in a class that is designed to teach us digital skills, so we should know how to do this stuff, but what about our loyal readers. I was particularly pleased a few days ago, when Tia Sumler in the SOC office posted this response with six links in it. That probably added extra time to the post that Tia didn’t need to spend, and when we’re trying to convince anyone to respond we don’t need the extra hurdle.

I realize it’s free and open-source software, so maybe you get what you pay for, and without advertising, we at the Observer don’t pay for much. But, Drupal’s shortcomings are even more glaring when compared to the other open-source CMS software – WordPress. Most commonly used for blogging but theoretically workable for any kind of content, it’s widely used. Martha Stewart blogs with it, CNN blogs with it, major newspapers like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch blog with it.

The Observer has used WP in the past, but the look wasn’t as polished as what we have now. However, things change, and (as noted in an earlier post) our competition runs their whole site with it, and looks quite polished as they do it.

From my perspective, the most important argument to bring back WordPress (at least partially,) is that it’s easy to use. This is particularly important for our staff at this moment, because our beloved professor, David Johnson, has given us an ambitious assignment to greatly increase the amount of blogging we do and eventually create a new and improved blog section that could possibly stand on its own within the larger Observer Web site.

Trying to do this with Drupal will drive us to tears. Inserting <a href=”http://www.notworththetime.com/”&gt; html tags </a> every time we want a link gets very, very, very old (or should i say <emp> very, very, very </emp> old?) very quickly. Adding a link in WP is as simple as highlighting the words, pasting the link and, well, that’s it. Adding italics, you simply, click on the “italics” button, as if you were using any software created in the last 15 years. If you can use Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you can use WordPress.

In creating some of my earlier blog entries, inserting links was tedious but nowhere near as frustrating as trying to proofread my content that ended up being littered with html tags – searching for the missing backslash or the place you inserted an apostrophe instead of parentheses is unnecessarily difficult using the Drupal backend. With WordPress, if you need to see the tags underneath your content, you have the ability to view them by simply toggling the “html” view.

Maybe there’s something to be said for using Drupal to create and manage the overall Web site (I will leave that to James, and I hope he takes up what’s going on with Drupal on his blog, because we all could learn a lot from him) but I think we should seriously discuss at least moving our blogs to WordPress.

Is this a technical impossibility? Are there good reasons (security reasons, maybe?) For anyone who has been blogging for the Observer, are you okay with the current format?


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