WordPress became popular by making it as simple as possible to publish a personal blog. Along the way, the project has become a hit not only with personal bloggers, but with publishers as well. WordPress 3.0 comes to terms with its new audience by adding features that are better suited to content management systems than personal Weblogs. The question for most users is whether WordPress 3.0 can scale to handle the big dogs while still retaining the simplicity for single-user blogs that has fueled WordPress growth since its inception in 2003.
Version 3.0 offers a powerful platform and the flexibility to extend the platform, but the new features will probably take a few releases to be well-integrated with the platform and UI (user interface). The multiuser features of WordPress 3.0 require some under-the-hood tweaking and a bit more admin elbow grease than usual for WordPress features. It’s not rocket science, but setting up multiusers takes a bit more wrangling than WordPress users might be expecting. Likewise, the custom post features are not trivial to implement. The good news is that the complexity is related to features that won’t mar the experience for personal bloggers.
Most WordPress users won’t see much of a difference in 3.0. The new default theme is much nicer than the previous defaults, and it’s nice to be able to customize the header easily through the UI. Aside from that, most of the appeal of WordPress 3.0 is aimed at developers and organizations that want to customize the platform and/or scale it to handle a bunch of sites. WordPress still isn’t quite on par with Drupal or Joomla as a CMS (content management system), but it seems to be headed in that direction quickly.
All in all, WordPress 3.0 is a decent upgrade. The multisite features merged into the main release justify the version bump, but for most users it’s business as usual. What should be interesting is seeing how the multisite features push the evolution of WordPress in the long term.
Testing WordPress 3.0
WordPress 3.0 is simple to install or upgrade from a previous release. The easiest way to upgrade is to use the Updates menu from the WordPress Dashboard. I tested WordPress 3.0 during the release candidate phase, so this option wasn’t available-though you can install a beta tester plug-in that makes it simple to do upgrades via the Dashboard. Upgrading makes some database changes, so it’s not clear whether reverting to pre-3.0 would be supported. Of course, any good admin would be sure to make a backup of the database before proceeding.
Installation from scratch is also simple. It requires a MySQL database and the ability to unzip a file and walk through a Web-based installation. It’s taken seven years, but it’s finally possible to pick the admin username and password when setting up a brand-new WordPress blog. Prior releases automatically chose the admin username and generated a random password, which was a slight security issue because attackers could count on every WordPress blog having an “admin” user.
Like any upgrade, WordPress 3.0 brings a laundry list of new features. Many of the changes are under the hood and unlikely to be noticed by anyone other than developers. The features to watch in 3.0 are custom menus, custom post types and taxonomies, a new default theme and improvements for customization, and integration of WordPress MU.
The WordPress project has been offering WordPress MU for some time as an option for publishers or organizations that need to host a large number of blogs on a single WordPress codebase. It’s easy enough to host two or three instances of WordPress, but after that you run into problems with administration. With 3.0, the project combines the multisite capabilities into the standard WordPress install. Almost, anyway. Multisite support is not actually enabled out of the box, and requires a few tweaks to the wp-config file and some other adjustments.
Although WordPress was initially envisioned as a personal blog platform, it’s been extended to handle all types of publications. In recognition of this, the project has finally provided custom post types for 3.0. If you want to use WordPress to publish material that doesn’t fit neatly into the post or page classification, you can use custom posts to handle the overflow. Again, as shipped, WordPress 3.0 doesn’t make this entirely easy. The default install doesn’t include a user interface for creating custom post types. Luckily, the community has stepped up to provide the Custom Post Type UI plug-in. This streamlines custom post creation from the UI. Even with the plug-in, it takes a bit of tweaking and experimentation to create new posts.
Alongside the custom post feature is the custom taxonomy feature. Taxonomies are a way to further categorize posts or other content. The default taxonomies for WordPress are the category and tags for posts. You can use a taxonomy to help define other content, such as custom posts. With the Custom Post Type UI plug-in, it’s easy enough to implement new taxonomies for the small percentage of sites that require them.
The new default theme is a bit nicer than prior WordPress themes. Users can easily tweak the new theme with their own header graphics and add custom content menus. Aside from the theme and content menus, not a lot has changed for users in the WordPress UI. Version 3.0 doesn’t bring any radical redesign or massive new end-user features. The post editor is virtually unchanged, and the general layout and features of the Dashboard remain the same.