WordPress for Aggies, Part 2: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

WordPress has a reputation as a platform for Do-It-Yourselfers. After three months of doing it myself, I find the reputation a little exaggerated. The great thing about WordPress is that it gives you all the pieces you need to build a website or a blog and put it online, without having to study any computer code. The hard thing about WordPress is figuring out how to put the pieces together. There’s an owner’s manual of sorts, but it’s on a par with those English-language manuals written in China.

Let me elaborate. Here’s what I find good about WordPress:

Themes. No need to design a website from scratch. WordPress offers thousands of free templates for websites and blogs. It calls them Themes. Once you’ve picked a theme, it’s done all the hardest work for you. It’s created a basic layout of empty pages, which you can fill with your own content.

Content. It’s easy to name your site and add text, photos and videos, without knowing a lick of HTML. It’s also easy to add, delete or edit your content. For me, this was the biggest attraction of WordPress. I wanted to set up a website I could update myself, without depending on a webmaster.

Consistency. WordPress is set up so that every page of your site can have a consistent look, from menu bars and background photos down to fonts and headlines. Thanks to a miracle language called CSS, you don’t have to copy these elements from one page to the next. WordPress does it for you. You can set it up so that when you change a font, it automatically changes on every page.

Modularity. Most themes are bare-bones. But WordPress includes a library of thousands of add-on programs, which let you add features to your heart’s content. Last time I checked, the roster was nearing 25,000. I’ve added to my home page a music player, a box to sign up for my mailing list and a calendar that displays a map of the places I’ll be playing. If you don’t like one add-on – or you discover a better one – you can replace it with a different one.

Here’s the bad:

Inflexibility. Once you start trying to “customize” a theme, you quickly learn that your options are few. It’s easy to change the name of your site or your background picture. If you want to change much else about the design or layout, you’ll have to learn a bit of Web languages, HTML and CSS. That means you’ll be trying to read the documentation.

Which brings us to the ugly:

Documentation. WordPress contains hundreds of How-To files. They cover every conceivable facet of creating a blog or a website. At least, I think they do. WordPress calls them the Codex, which is appropriate for documents that seem to been written largely in dead languages. The largest part of my trial and error involved sifting through these documents, trying to find answers to specific questions. More often, I Googled my questions. The Internet abounds in tutorials that are much more helpful than the WordPress Codex. When all else failed, I fell back on good, old-fashioned trial and error.

(To be continued…)