10 terrible things about using WordPress as a large scale content management system

Thursday, October 31st 2013

(This is a companion piece to yesterday’s post, 10 great things about using WordPress as a large scale content management system)

After spending a few months administering a large WordPress site at work, a handful of things have grown to drive me crazy. I still like the system more than I dislike it, but here’s ten things in need of improving:

1. Plugins

Yes, this one is on both the positive and negative lists. Plugins add virtually any feature you want to your site, but not all of them are actively maintained. They can also conflict with each other, leading to the unenviable situation where you have to pick one very useful plugin over another. Every time a plugin gets updated, I hold my breath and franticly check the site to see if anything broke.

2. You will need a programmer

Working with custom themes and types is amazingly useful, but you will need a developer to do it (or someone willing to quickly learn). Staff time for this kind of customization is significant.

3. Media management

For a content management system, WordPress does an awful job at managing multimedia content. It began life as a blogging platform, not a full website CMS, and in media management those roots show. WordPress lacks anything beyond the most basic ability to organize media, and we haven’t found a plugin to fill in the gaps yet either. For example: There’s no way to see a list of which pages an image is used on. This would be extremely useful to know when cleaning out old image content.

4. Updates

Expanding on the plugin problem above, WordPress itself also has updates. Like the plugins, it’s difficult to know if any update will break something important on your site. And even if it does, you need to update anyway. WordPress updates often address security issues, and lagging behind leaves your site vulnerable.

5. Moving From Test to Live

We have struggled to set up a workflow to test a new plugin or update before rolling it out to our live site. We maintain a separate development WordPress server, but it is rarely 100% in sync with our live server. And even if it is, we might spend hours configuring and tweaking a new plugin on the development server. Unless that plugin has an export/import feature (and many don’t), we have to do all that configuring all over again on the live version.

6. Content Editor Inconsistencies

This might be my pet peeve about WordPress. When editing a page, users have the option to write raw HTML or work with a more WYSIWIG-style editor. Going back and forth between the two sometimes causes odd display issues, especially when line breaks are involved.

7. Differentiating Pages and Posts is Confusing

Owing again to its roots as a blogging platform, WordPress has two main types of content: Posts and Pages. We work almost exclusively with Pages on our site, but it’s very easy to accidentally get lost in the Posts options instead. This is especially true for users who might have used WordPress as a simple blog before, avoiding Pages entirely. The difference is subtle, but important.

8. Spam

While not specifically a fault of WordPress, you will get spam. We’ve disabled comments on our pages, which eliminates a large chunk off the bat, but we still get a ton through our various request forms. If you want to buy an NFL jersey from China, boy do I have the website for you! I dislike captchas from a usability standpoint, but I think we may be forced to add them to our forms.

9. There’s a Whole Lotta CSS Involved

WordPress can get very complicated, very fast, and that includes the CSS it generates. We spent countless hours debugging our menu’s CSS, trying to get it to look and work correctly across browsers. It looks nice, but if you want to change the design I hope you can parse through a bunch of spaghetti code.

10. It Can’t Be Everything to Everyone

As much as we love the idea, we weren’t able to put 100% of our content into WordPress. We’re significantly invested in Libguides as our course page and subject guide platform, for example. While we were able to get our WordPress menu to appear at the top of our Libguides pages, the two content management systems are very much running side by side. That’s just one example of the ways we have content living outside of WordPress. I’m thrilled to have the bulk of our content in WordPress, but it didn’t work out as a complete one-stop solution.

We have workarounds for most of this, and the rest is largely bearable. But media management and editor inconsistencies stick out to me like sore thumbs, and I hope they’re improved soon.

(This is a companion piece to yesterday’s post, 10 great things about using WordPress as a large scale content management system)

31. October 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: General, Ramblings, Reviews, Tech | 3 comments

10 great things about using WordPress as a large scale content management system

Wednesday, October 30th 2013

(This is a companion piece to another post, 10 terrible things about using WordPress as a large scale content management system)

Now that I’ve spent some time on a team administering WordPress on a large scale, I can point to ten things I really like about using this CMS in our environment:

1. Plugins

WordPress has a mind-bogglingly large repository of plugins available. If there’s a feature you wish WordPress had, 99.99% of the time you can find a plugin to do it.

2. Responsive Themes

Do yourself a favor and pick a responsive theme. It’ll reorganize your pages to display in a much more usable fashion on mobile devices and other unforeseen oddball screen sizes.

3. Granular User Permissions

WordPress’ built-in user role management functions leave a little bit to be desired, but (see above) there’s a plugin for that! Press Permit took a bit of time to figure out, but now lets us make sure users only have access to the pages they need to maintain. This cuts down on accidental edits or deletions, and provides a less cluttered interface to our staff.

4. Formidable Plugin to Manage Forms

Formidable is an amazingly flexible plugin for adding forms to your site. It’s got power on the back end too: We use hidden fields to turn it into a rudimentary ticketing system for website support requests.

5. Extensibility

WordPress’ custom types make it possible to add your own arbitrary data types to the system. Through types we were able to add our study spaces as items in WordPress.

6. Shortcodes

Shortcodes should be the #1 feature marketed by WordPress! They’re simply reusable blocks of text. For example, we have building policies that are consistent across branches. Instead of having a half dozen copies of that text to maintain on the site, we just have to update it once. The shortcode then pushes the content automatically to each required page. Shordcodes: Putting the Content Management back in CMS.

7. Sort pages by date last modified

The Sort by Last Modified plugin does one simple thing, and does it well. With it installed, you can sort all your pages by the date they were last updated. I can see at a glance if something has gone ages without an update. I don’t know why this feature isn’t included in WordPress, but at least it’s easy to add!

8. Revisions

Made a mistake? WordPress keeps all the old versions of your page, and it’s easy to roll back to any of them. Just like Wikipedia. You might need to enable Revisions under your Screen Options section to see them, but WordPress keeps track of your changes all along automatically.

9. Checking Broken Links

The broken link checker plugin provides simple reports pointing out broken links on your site. Getting data like this on our pre-CMS site was a nightmare, and I still can’t believe it’s so easy now.

10. Avoid Conflicting Page-Edits

If you try to edit a page while someone else is working on it, WordPress makes sure you know that’s the case. No more overwriting simultaneous edits!

So that’s the good stuff! Come back tomorrow for another post, this time covering pieces of WordPress that drive me insane.

(This is a companion piece to another post, 10 terrible things about using WordPress as a large scale content management system)

30. October 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: General, Ramblings, Reviews, Tech | 1 comment

Redesign of the UNC Libraries’ website

Wednesday, September 4th 2013

Desktop homepageLast month we debuted the completely overhauled UNC Libraries website at library.unc.edu. Roughly a year in the making, this is a huge step forward for the Library.

Our old site was entirely hand-maintained pages, and included over 60,000 files (HTML, CSS, images, php, etc). My jaw dropped when we uncovered that number during our initial site inventory! We slashed most of that away, and moved what was left into WordPress. Even if that was all we did, being in a content management system would help immensely whenever the next redesign comes around. But our new design is also more flexible, modern, and usable.

I’m not going to quote an exact number of how many files we have left, since it’s a falling number as we move more and more of the remnants into WordPress, but it’s in the neighborhood of 10% of what we had at the start.

This was my department’s major project for quite some time, but User Experience is far from the only unit deserving credit. Our developers and countless stakeholders who advised us made it all possible.

Some of my favorite things about the new site:

  • It’s responsive! We’re still tweaking the exact trigger points, but the site reorganizes itself to work well on a desktop, tablet, or mobile browser. Here’s a screenshot of the mobile view. I’m so excited that we won’t have to maintain a whole separate mobile site anymore!
  • The new Places to Study page (inspired by Stanford’s wonderful feature) lets students filter our physical locations and find what they’re looking for in a study space.
  • Thanks to the Formidable plugin we have easy and powerful centralized form management. We even use it as a simple ticketing system for managing user feedback about the site.
  • Our staff directory is so much more usable and detailed than the old version. Something like this doesn’t have a huge impact on our site’s overall usability, but will make a big difference for internal use.
  • The big background images really show off our spaces.
  • Our new hours page, while not actually part of WordPress, does a great job of displaying our many branches’ status at a given moment.

We don’t consider this a completed project by any means. We’re well into Phase II now, wrangling the pieces of content into place which proved a bit too unwieldy to be ready by launch.

I’ll admit I was skeptical about WordPress’ ability to serve as a full-fledged website CMS. While I’ve used it as a blogging platform for almost 9 years, I’d never gotten deeply into all it can offer. I was happy to be proven wrong! WordPress has proven to be a flexible and powerful platform, and I’m quite excited to keep working with it. When I think about how much more maintainable the new site is, I practically get giddy.

Our early feedback is largely positive, and we plan on doing some serious user feedback campaigns to guide our future work. Thank you to all who have worked with us on this project!

I’m sure I’ll be writing (and hopefully presenting) more about this in the near future.

04. September 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: General, Libraries/Info Sci, Mobile, Tech, UNC | 2 comments

Review: Chromecast

Saturday, August 3rd 2013

130730122817-google-chromecast-620xa[1]The Chromecast is the device I never knew I wanted. Google’s new hardware provides a dead simple way to stream Netflix, Youtube, and other content on your TV.

Roughly the size of a USB flash drive, the Chromecast simply plugs into your TV’s HDMI port. Your Android or iOS device serves as the remote control, and this is where the Chromecast really shines. Content apps like Youtube, Netflix, and Google Music have a Chromecast button built in. If you’re watching or listening to content on your phone, that button switches it to display on your TV instead. And if your TV is of a a recent vintage, Chromecast is even smart enough to turn it on and switch to the right input. I’m heavily invested in using Google Music, and now finally have a way to play my music back on the best sound system in the house!

It took me a little while to wrap my head around the idea of using my phone to send media to the TV and then control it afterward. If I have one complaint, it’s that pausing music or video now requires switching my phone on to get to the button. That might be the very definition of a First World Problem, but in this case it’s the tradeoff for an otherwise amazing device.

For now, app support is a little limited. It’s up to developers to add Chromecast to their apps and expand the device’s usefulness. But with Google Music and Youtube, it already does about 80% of what I’d want my ideal list to cover. I’ve read that Hulu will add support soon, and Plex is exploring their options too. If I can get those and Pocketcasts included, I will be a very happy customer. As a workaround for some of this other content, there’s a way to display a tab from your PC’s Chrome browser. I’ve found that to be a little buggy (and with an annoying 2 second delay), but I expect the feature will improve with time.

At $35, the Chromecast feels like a must buy for anyone who wants to put web content on their TV. I plan on eventually outfitting each TV in the house with one. I’ve had zero problems, and so far it’s one of those rare devices that Just Works.

03. August 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Reviews, Tech | 3 comments

Review: Plex Media Server

Thursday, June 13th 2013

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I’m trying to regather some posting momentum with a series of short reviews about stuff I like.  Look for one every couple of days.  I’m not paid for any of this, I just like reviewing things.

Using Plex Media Server to manage my movies makes me very happy.  It capably serves up video files to every TV in my house, and is a rare product that just works.  I recently took every DVD I own and copied them to a hard drive.  Plex sits on that computer and automatically organizes those files with correct metadata and thumbnail images (be still my librarian heart).

So that’s great, but how do they get to the TV?  Plex has straightforward apps for just about any platform you can think of.  Every TV in my house has either a Roku or an Android device (see previous review of the iMito MX1) attached, so those devices function as a front end to the server.

As an added bonus I boxed up the DVDs, put them in the closet, and reclaimed a ton of living room space.

Plex is completely free, though I gladly paid for a lifetime plexpass membership (which includes early access to new features) to support future development.

13. June 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Reviews, Tech | Leave a comment

Review: iMito MX1

Wednesday, June 12th 2013

imitoI’m trying to regather some posting momentum with a series of short reviews about stuff I like.  Look for one every couple of days.  I’m not paid for any of this, I just like reviewing things.

The iMito MX1 is one of those pieces of technology that feels like it shouldn’t exist.  This is a full computer packed into a super tiny case.  If it helps with scale in that picture, the thing sticking out the top is an HDMI plug.  Connect it to a TV and you’ve got Android running on the screen.

It sounds a little odd to want to run a phone and tablet operating system on your TV, and admittedly the interface is a little wonky at times when using a keyboard an mouse.  Still, having access to the Android app store means a dead simple way to get Hulu, Netflix, my podcasts, Google Music, Youtube, and Plex (more on this in another post) onto the big screen.  All for less than $60!

12. June 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: General, Reviews, Tech | Leave a comment

Review: 1Password

Wednesday, June 5th 2013

1password_logo[1]I’m trying to regather some posting momentum with a series of short reviews about stuff I like.  Look for one every couple of days.  I’m not paid for any of this, I just like reviewing things.

1Password has changed my digital workflows more than any other product or service since Dropbox.  As a password manager, 1password encrypts all of your passwords behind one master password.  That seems a bit counter-intuitive, but the end result is that I only have to remember that one master password.  It alone gets me access to all my passwords for various sites & programs.  Built-in browser extensions make the process pretty seamless.

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that in a previous job I maintained a spreadsheet full of passwords.  But no more!  1password also lets me use stronger and unique passwords for each service, since I don’t need to commit them all to memory.  It feels odd to say that I honestly don’t know what my facebook or gmail passwords are (not to mention my bank), but that’s where I stand today.

With versions for PC, mac, android, and ios I have pretty reliable access to my password list wherever I am.  It’s not free, but it is on sale!  The 5-pack of licenses for $50 is a steal.  (There’s also educational pricing!)

 

05. June 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Reviews, Tech | Leave a comment

Webinar: Learn how to learn to program

Friday, March 15th 2013

I’m doing a webinar next Wednesday for NCLA all about how you can learn to do a bit of programming.  Here’s the official info – note that it’s free and you don’t have to be an NCLA member to drop in:

 

Please join the NCLA Technology and Trends Round Table for the next webinar in our series, coming up soon!

Wednesday, March 20, 3-4pm
Teach Yourself How to Program
Leader: Chad Haefele, UNC-Chapel Hill

Programming skills are in demand, but it often seems like an intimidating topic to learn. When we surveyed roundtable members, the number one thing we heard was that you wanted to learn to program. While we can’t quite do that in one short session, we can do the next best thing: teach you how to teach yourself. Many programmers have little or no formal training, and picked it up as they went along instead. You can do that too! We’ll talk about what it’s like to learn to program, provide some guidance on what language to learn, and look at a number of free web-based teaching tools and resources. No prior experience is necessary.

Please RSVP by Wednesday, March 20 at 8am using this link: http://tinyurl.com/tntwebinar2

All webinars will be conducted using Blackboard Collaborate. A link will be sent out to all participants on the morning of March 20.

If you have any questions, email Kathy Shields at kshields[at]highpoint.edu or Jenny Dale at jedale2[at]uncg.edu.

15. March 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: HowTo, Libraries/Info Sci, Presentations, Tech | Leave a comment

Where I’ve been

Friday, March 15th 2013

After finally regaining a bit of posting momentum, I disappeared from blogging back in January.  Here’s my excuse:

2013-02-23 13.21.05

Meet Nora!  If you’d like to see more of her (and why wouldn’t you?), she’s featured regularly in my 2013 photos project.

15. March 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: HP Updates, Ramblings | Leave a comment

Yet another year in photos

Tuesday, January 1st 2013

I’m taking a photo every day this year, as I did in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011.  I’m nothing if not consistent!

Our daughter is due in 9 days.  I’ll try to occasionally post something that isn’t her.

2013 started with breakfast at Rise, an amazing biscuit & donut place near our house:

13.01.01

Here’s this year’s set on Flickr.

 

(I’ve disabled comments on this post due to the amount of spam it attracted.)

01. January 2013 by Chad Haefele
Categories: Links, Ramblings | Leave a comment

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