I do not consider myself a web design guru, but I’ve created a fair number of websites in the past fifteen years or so and continue to dabble with website design. One of the biggest changes which has taken place in the past five years or so, from my vantage point, is the transition away from static webpages created with web-authoring software programs like Dreamweaver and Frontpage, to server-based content management systems which permit browser-based updating and shared / distributed editing. Every organization should have a serious web strategy to reach its constituents, and any serious web strategy should utilize content management systems as publishing platforms rather than “old-school” client-based software programs. Unfortunately many of our secondary as well as university computer technology course instructors have not become aware of this reality. I’m amazed how many people are still thinking they need to purchase and learn the Adobe Creative Suite in order to effectively publish and maintain good websites. I’d love to have Adobe CS, but it’s out of my budget and there are many other FREE tools which provide great functionality for both image editing and website design. Both students and teachers should understand this and be familiar with a variety of web publishing options which are both free and powerful. Website hosting is not free, but costs can be VERY reasonable, and those hosting costs can be the ONLY costs incurred when cPanel and assorted open source CMS options are available for web publishing.

delicious tags of a website developer using Wordle

I’ve mainly used WordPress for the websites I’ve created and maintained in the past few years, but I’ve also dabbled with Joomla and Drupal a bit. I’ve recently installed Elgg for a class I’m teaching this fall, and am looking forward to learning more about it as a social networking platform. The other wiki environments I’ve used in the past few years and like include Google Sites, Mediawiki, TikiWiki, and commercial wiki sites PBworks, Wikispaces, and Wetpaint. I’ve also used and continue to love using Ning.

This summer, I had a bit of an epiphany when I was thinking about all these different content management system options. While I do like learning about different options, it’s clearly impossible and also undesirable to become an “expert” in using each of these. It’s necessary at some point, as an aspiring web publisher, to select favored platforms and then heavily “invest” time and energy in utilizing and learning about those platforms. At this point, my favorite CMS options are WordPress and Google Sites. I’m still using other CMS options, and will likely continue to do so to varying degrees, but WordPress and Google Sites are the CMS choices in which I’m most confident investing my time and energy to learn and utilize. As a wiki engine, Google Sites gives lots of choices and lets users map sites FREE to subdomains. (We’ve done this for the past year or so with the Celebrate Oklahoma Voices project wiki.) I’m now maintaining around six or seven WordPress blogs, and since I’ve worked with WordPress so much since around 2005 I’m happy to make it my primary CMS of choice. That was my epiphany: I don’t need to try and learn five different CMS options, instead I need to invest and concentrate on the CMS choices I like the best and stick with them if they work for my purpose and audience.

Most recently, I’ve created a WordPress site as the landing page / home for our non-profit organization Story Chasers Inc. I’ve also been working on a WordPress site for a another non-profit that works locally with Habitat for Humanity in our city, Turning Point Ministries. In both these cases, I opted to use different, free WordPress templates to create the designs of each site. I did some minor graphic editing and image resizing for each one, but basically utilized the WordPress templates as they were created by their designers. For image editing these days, I use SeaShore (a free, Mac-based port of The Gimp) almost exclusively. No, it’s not PhotoShop, but it also doesn’t cost $700 commercially – it’s free. 🙂

In the case of design for the Storychasers site, I opted to use the free WooTheme “Mainstream 1.1.0.” I learned about WooThemes this past spring, doing contract work for iStrategyLabs and blogging on ISTEconnects. I don’t have all the bells and whistles on the Storychasers site/blog yet, but overall I love the clean and straightforward look of the theme and feel it accomplishes my goals for the site well at this point.

I will not pretend to completely understand CSS and XML, but what these technologies mean to me as a new-media content publisher is that I can now QUICKLY and EASILY change the entire look and feel of a website with just a few mouseclicks. Joomla and Drupal use templates similar to WordPress, which can be downloaded from a source website, uploaded via FTP to the themes directory of your server, and then activated with the click of a mouse. It’s amazing to be able to benefit legally from the creative abilities of web designers far more talented and geeky than I am, by utilizing the free themes they share online. This ability for content to now be separated / freed from website design elements is explained well by Dr. Michael Wesch‘s video, “The Machine is Us/ing Us.” I LOVE this video. It says some VERY powerful things that we should all discuss in greater depth to understand further.

In the case of the Turning Point website design, I wanted to use a WordPress theme which has more of a “magazine” feel and layout to it. I opted to go with the free Arthemia theme, which I found via a tweet Scott McLeod shared on August 12th referencing Dr. Yong Zhao. Dr. Zhao’s blog / personal website uses the Arthemia WordPress theme, and since it is free and very “magazine-like” I immediately thought of it when I was contemplating theme options for Turning Point.

The first “magazine-style” WordPress theme I used, and still use, is the WordPress theme “The Morning After” which is in use on the K-12 Online Conference site and blog. Like Arthemia, this theme allows users to create special post categories for featured and headline or “aside” posts, which remain “sticky” on the website front page and can therefore be amplified more relative to other posts. I love the ways WordPress has been and continues to be customized to meet various needs, and although it is not as powerful as alternatives like Drupal or Plone for things like learning community / social networking site creation or document management, I think WordPress makes an outstanding CMS for many organizational sites. Later this fall I will be migrating my son’s scout troop website over to WordPress, at the request of the Scoutmaster for an improved / more dynamic website the boys can help update and maintain. I’ll also be creating a WordPress site for a renewal program at our church which has been using a static / poorly updated website for years and is in dire need of upgrades.

It can be a dangerous thing to project competency in different areas, and web design skills can certainly fit this scenario. I do enjoy dabbling with web design, and whole-heartedly enjoy content publishing, but the design side of things is something I’m also glad to not do full time. It’s amazing how GOOD knowledge and use of design templates can make a person look today, who (like me) may not have a great deal of creative design skills personally.

To close this post, I’ll share links to most of the websites I’m now maintaining, categorized by the platform/CMS utilized for publishing and updating. Some of these are listed on my ClaimID site (which I maintain as an index of my “digital footprint”) but not all of them.

WordPress
Moving at the Speed of Creativity
Storychasers
The K-12 Online Conference
Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning
Learning Signs
Eyes Right
String and Me
Talking Science (not in current use but still online / patched)
Turning Point Ministries (Oklahoma)

Google Sites
My personal wiki (listing Mac and iPhone apps)
Celebrate Oklahoma Voices Project wiki
K-12 Online Conference Wiki (in development)

PBWorks
My “teach digital” presentation and workshop handout/resource wiki
Great Book Stories
Unmasking the Digital Truth
The Technology Shopping Cart (yes, we need to do another show, we’re risking “podfading”)

Ning
Learning Community for Celebrate Oklahoma Voices
Digital Dialog (course I’ll teach this fall in a revised format based on Powerful Ingredients)

Media Wiki
Storychasers Resource wiki

Elgg
Grapple 5th Grade Learning Community

Drupal
Storychasers learning community

TikiWiki
My dissertation wiki (not updated in awhile, but that will change soon)

Joomla
– Was installed on Storychasers, now removed
– Was installed on Turning Point Oklahoma, now removed

My personal domains (wesfryer.com and wesleyfryer.com) and my “Tools for the TEKS” site still have to be updated with client-based webpage editing software. Currently I use Kompozer for this, which is free. At some point I may migrate those sites to a CMS, but for now they are working and I don’t have time to redesign / migrate the sites. I use Cyberduck as my free FTP client. (A comprehensive list of the Mac applications I use is also available.)

As you can see, WordPress is my favorite CMS! WordPress rules! Long live WordPress! 🙂

Addendum: If you work in or with an Oklahoma School and are a OneNet customer, be aware that OneNet provides FREE cPanel setup and website hosting with the free / open source CMS options I referenced in this post. Mentioning this in a blog post is something which might have gotten me shot when I was working for AT&T, but I’m happy to do it now without worry! This is a GREAT service from OneNet and something EVERY Oklahoma school should take advantage of, IMHO.

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8 Responses to So many CMS options: Why I mainly invest in WordPress and Google Sites

  1. John Sowash says:

    Great post, Wes. My experience with web design is about the same as yours. I’ve built sites for myself, my family, my business, and others. In each case, I learn as I go. I am currently working on a Joomla site. I like the ease with which you can include a member portion of the site.

    Google Sites is certainly the most user friendly of all of the products that you highlighted, the only downside is the lack of customization in terms of layout, theme, branding, etc.

    I also have been impressed by Wikispaces, especially since they give add-free accounts to educators. I started a wiki for my school this year. I have a few other teachers using it.

    All in all your post is very insightful and spot-on!

  2. Scott McLeod says:

    I’d love to switch over to WordPress from TypePad but I’m afraid that a lot of my followers wouldn’t move over with me. Subscriber inertia is a powerful force. We lost a TON of folks when we moved LeaderTalk…

  3. Brad says:

    Wes,

    I’m going to comment on a few recent posts here… First of all, congrats on completing the Google Teacher Academy. That is definitely on my short list of professional goals as I enter my 3rd year of teaching. I enjoyed the session notes.

    One thing about Google Sites that my wife and I discovered today is that you cannot easily link images to an outside website, only by editing the HTML. This is certainly not something she is keen on doing, and even myself being more experienced with web design would stay away from if at all possible. We are spoiled with WYSIWYG editing, not sure why Google does not integrate this simple feature. (We use an image linked to a website a lot to send students to sites via a screenshot)

    One more thing on the Web Hosting topic…. what is your reaction to Wetpaint discontinuing it’s support of Ad Free Education sites as well as Jeff Utecht as an “education ambassador”, citing budget constraints? (http://wikisineducation.wetpaint.com/page/Ad-Free+Education+Wikis) Luckily for me, my class website will remain ad-free since I am already on board, but I will no longer be able to recommend it as a wiki website host for education as it now costs $20 a month to have ads removed. I find this very disheartening since Wetpaint has such great tools for teachers.

  4. Sue Waters says:

    Wes – With your love of WordPress it must be time you ramped up a bit and started having great fun with WordPress MU. Let me know if you do decide I will you some links to help.

  5. Wesley Fryer says:

    @John Google has added more template options recently for Google Sites. Certainly there is less flexibility with sites as with wikis, but I think the ease of use is the big factor weighing in favor of these tools. Glad you’re liking Joomla. Here’s the Google Sites for Teachers page which gives different educational examples of how sites is being used by educators.

    @Scott certainly I understand that point– once you have lots of folks on a particular subscription option you want to be VERY careful making changes. The listserv that Bell South used to maintain for videoconferencing (and AT&T folks now maintain) took a HUGE membership hit when it moved to a yahoo group, from what I understand. So I definitely understand the benefits of sticking with Typepad. Typepad is NOT self-hosted too, which is a big benefit I’d guess from a technical support standpoint. If your site gets hacked, you have someone to call for help. That is true with EduBlogs as well I think. There have been times in the past when I’ve wanted more assistance with WordPress tech stuff. I just learned yesterday we have a WordPress user’s group in OKC, and I’m enthused to plug-in with that group. Not everyone is going to want to go the self-hosted route, however, and the technical support side of this is something I probably should have elaborated on more in the post. So– folks should definitely check out options like Typepad and Squarespace. Doug Johnson moved to Squarespace awhile back, I noticed.

    @Brad I think you actually can insert images on a Google Site now without going to the HTML view. Choose INSERT – IMAGE and then click to add a direct link. I think they’ve made this easier/better since the earlier iterations of Google Sites:

    Add images to Google Sites

    I did hear about Wetpaint ending their no-ad offer for education, that is unfortunate. I hadn’t heard about Jeff’s work for them as an education advocate ending– bummer. I’m sure we’ll continue to see lots of change in this landscape. That’s another reason I think Google Sites is a good option to invest in (time and energy wise.) Google COULD discontinue sites like they did with Notebook, but I really doubt they will. I think it’s a tool that’s going to be around quite a while.

    @Sue – I have thought about dabbling in WordPress MU but don’t have a context for doing so right now – this may be something we explore down the road for Storychasers, I’m not sure. I certainly have heard Scott Floyd sing the praises of Edublogs support for their school implementation of WordPress MU! Thanks for the offer. I am going to tweet you a question on how you all support video embedding on WordPress.

  6. Scott McLeod says:

    I like both TypePad and Squarespace a lot. I use the latter for my personal site and also CASTLE’s site. But the goodies that come with WordPress sure are attractive!

  7. JimmyJack says:

    Great Post!
    As a WordPress user in marketing SEM, I am now looking for ways of online collaboration. Google sites look like the best option.
    Lots of good resources in this post.
    “Book Marked!”

  8. Kent Brooks says:

    My newest mission is to evaluate Google Sites as a CMS for the enterprise.  There are limitations, but in combo with the Google Apps Engine I think it is doable.  Hope all is well with you my friend.   

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