By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2005-09-19 Print this article Print

Bring up the term "corporate blogging" in a group of technology workers, and theres bound to be a few snickers as images are conjured of lame and infrequent executive-level blogs or marketing campaigns disguised as blogs.

But blogging can be used in ways that serve traditional business needs. In fact, the best blogging applications can handle many of the tasks performed with portal, content management, and collaboration and discussion systems.

Blogging has its roots in open-source software, and one of the most widely used platforms for blogging is WordPress (www.wordpress.org). In eWEEK Labs tests of the most recent release, 1.5.2, we were impressed with WordPress good administrative capabilities, extensive customization options and easy-to-use end-user posting interfaces.

WordPress lets administrators control who can view, respond to and create content, and it now includes options for building standard Web pages within the WordPress environment. All these features make the platform suitable for internal company portals.

WordPress is based on the PHP scripting language and the MySQL database. WordPress, which is free and licensed under the GNU GPL (General Public License), is simple to install on Linux, Unix and Windows platforms.

The WordPress site boasts that installation of the application takes only 5 minutes, but we think that applies to those installing it on a hosted server. Still, it was easy to get up and running on our SuSE Linux-based test server.

WordPress management is very good—we found that pretty much anything can be done from this interface, even basic layout customizations. The initial management screen, almost portallike in its design, is a useful dashboard that shows a list of recent posts and comments, as well as anything requiring the users immediate attention.

As a high-level administrator, we could define basic settings for the site, such as name and address structure and whether files (and what type of files) could be uploaded by users. A wide variety of options let us control who could respond to posts and what level of moderation was required. We could also set up a list of blacklisted terms to avoid comment spam.

WordPress supports trackback and pingback, both of which make it possible for blogs to notify one another when linked. Trackback and pingback are standard blog features, but they have some useful applications in a corporate setting—for example, allowing users to know what their colleagues are doing and when their work is being used in another project.

One somewhat-confusing aspect of WordPress is how users and blog authors are managed. Rather than using assignable rights and roles as a portal would, users in WordPress are ranked from Level 0 (almost no rights) to Level 10 (full administrative rights). By default, WordPress has only one Level 10 user.

Levels are well-documented online, and we were able to use them with ease after a little experimentation. Still, the level system seems to have been designed with standard blogs in mind, where users gain the trust of the blog owner over time. In a corporate setting, a more well-defined rights assignment system would work better.

All users access the same management interface as the administrator, although menu options are limited as the users level decreases. To post to the blog, a user chooses the Write option, which presents a simple but effective form-based interface for writing a post. Content in the posts is in HTML, but well-implemented buttons will automatically generate code for such commonly used items as links, images and rich-text formatting.

Lots of options are available from this main interface, including choosing categories and whether to allow comments to the post. We especially liked WordPress ability to support private and password-enabled posts, both of which can be attractive in corporate environments.

While WordPress includes an Upload option, useful for uploading images to use in a post, it doesnt have a facility for managing images that have already been uploaded. However, multiple WordPress plug-ins can be found online that provide this capability.

It is also possible to configure WordPress to accept posts sent to a specific e-mail address. While we would be hesitant to use this in a public system, it could prove useful in corporate settings where some users resist learning even a simple Web-based interface.

The look and layout of the site in WordPress is based on themes—essentially collections of style sheets and PHP template files. It was easy during tests to create our own themes or to customize the many themes available online. In addition, while any serious editing should be done from a dedicated authoring application, we liked that we could edit themes directly from the Web-based management interface.

All template and theme changes in WordPress happen automatically, meaning we didnt have to restart anything to enable them. We also could have as many themes as we wanted, and we could move the entire site among them with a single mouse click.

In addition to the image plug-ins mentioned above, numerous WordPress plug-ins are available online that provide additional management and configuration options, as well as advertising management capabilities and features that fight comment spam.

Can comment spam be stopped? Click here to read more.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr Rapoza's current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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