WordPress for Aggies, Part 3: The Infamous Five-Minute Install

WordPress comes in two basic flavors: wordpress.com and wordpress.org. They sound similar, but they’re as different as vanilla and licorice. In this series, I’ll be talking about wordpress.org. But first, I’ll say a bit in passing about the dot-com, so that you can choose the flavor that fits your online tastes.

WordPress started out as a blogging platform. But early on, the founders realized the same platform could build a website as easily as it could build a blog. The major difference is that a blog consists mostly of pages that keep changing, while the pages on a website are mostly static. Today, one in every five websites uses WordPress. Everyone from lowly Texas singer-songwriters up to big media companies like Forbes and CNN.

WordPress.com is primarily for bloggers. It offers them several advantages: It’s free. It’s easy. And it hosts thousands of blogs, which increases the chances that you might pick up a few new readers, who stumble blindly your way while they’re reading on a related topic. If all you’re looking to do is blog, quit reading right now and point your brower to wordpress.com.

Truth be told, you can also host a website on the dot-com version of WordPress. But you probably don’t want to. For one thing, it’s likely to end up looking like a blog. It offers a limited number of templates, and limited options for changing design. You can get more options by shelling out a few shekels. But in that case, why not pay to set up your site on some other web host, where your options suddenly expand into the tens of thousands? Depending on your degree of geek spirit, you can control every last detail, and produce a site that doesn’t look at all like a blog.

That’s where wordpress.org comes in. It’s for serious website designers. It’s got every resource you could imagine: documentation, themes, plugins and widgets. Most important, it contains the basic WordPress software, which is the foundation on which all the other resources build. What it doesn’t have is an easy way to install the basic software.

Here’s the hard way: You can download the latest version for free, as a zipped file, and install it on your existing web host. WordPress.org boasts about its “Famous Five-Minute Install.” If you already know what an SQL database is and how to create one, you might actually be able to get WordPress up and running in five minutes. If you know such things, you have no business reading this blog. For me, as soon as I looked at the instructions, I realized it would be like installing Windows, one file at a time. If I ever figured out the instructions at all.

So I did it the easy way: I had my web host do it for me. Most web hosts offer some older version of WordPress, among the add-ons available on the Site Manager or Control Panel. It’s not the latest or greatest. But once it’s installed, it’s easy to upgrade to the newest version. A lot easier than installing any version on your own.

Here’s how I ended up installing WordPress: I logged on to the Control Panel for my website, found my web host’s stone-age version (It was about 2.5 – It’s now up to 3.5.1), clicked on it, and sat back. It was automatically installed on stevebrooks.net.

One choice wasn’t automatic. I chose to put all its files in their own folder: stevebrooks.net/wordpress. Keeping the WordPress website in a separate folder allowed me to keep my old website alive while I built the new one. This turned out to be a good move, since building the new one took me four months.

When I opened the freshly-installed WordPress, the first thing it asked me was whether I wanted to upgrade to the latest version. It took one more click. By the time my WordPress was up-to-date, the entire installation had probably taken five minutes.

I took a few more minutes to learn about the Dashboard. Then it was time to move on to the backbone of my website-to-be: Choosing a Theme.

(To be continued…)