WP as C(ontent)MS: Square Peg, Round Hole Anyone?

These days, I feel like I spend a great deal of my time figuring out how to tweak WordPress to work as a simple but elegant content management system. In the fall, I worked on a site for a family member that finally got me thinking about the possibilities on this front. Then, in November, I turned my attention back to revamping the DTLT Web site in WordPress and using a bunch of plugins to make the CMS thing work. At the time, I settled on installing it outside of UMW Blogs because I thought I was going to need to use some plugins that weren’t available in that environment. A lot of my attention was focused on Flutter, which allows for customization of WP’s internal write post/page panels.

In December, I was asked to fast-track a new site for the upcoming strategic planning process that’s about to kickoff at UMW. That site should get unveiled to the community later this afternoon. This time, I decided to use UMW Blogs because so many of the constituents (and those who will need to work on the site) already know and have accounts in that system. Thanks to Jim, I was able to install a few extra plugins that enabled me to do some more cms-y things there.

The most notable was a very powerful plugin called Widget Logic. Basically, it allows you to use WP conditional tags to govern when a widget is displayed in the sidebar(s). Used well, this means you can have dynamic, contextual sidebar content/navigation for different parts of your site. But there’s a downside to this widget. You have to be willing to delve into conditional tags. I love that kind of tinkering, but I’m not sure many other users in UMW Blogs are going to be willing to go there.

But the bigger challenge on all of these sites has been making sense of the page/post dichotomy. Jim has pointed out to me a bunch of time how broken he thinks pages are in WP, and I have to agree with him.

Take the strategic planning site for example. I knew that I wanted some content to use the features of posts: subscriable, able to be added to categories, displayed in rev. chron order. But, I also knew that the authors of the site would probably want to post some content that didn’t make sense in posts–content of a more static nature. Ostensibly, WP solves this by offering you posts and pages, but it is virtually impossible to get these two to play nicely together.

What I ended up doing was creating an information architecture twice: once in a page hierarchy (so the static-type content could be organized effectively) and once in a category hierarchy (so that posts could be assigned to the appropriate place). But when it came time to make those two hierarchies work together, I had to do a bunch of template massaging and widget logic-ing.

I can, for example, show a navigation menu of pages in the sidebar, that expands and collapses based on where I am on the site. But as soon as I jump out to a post, I lose that context and the navigation stops making sense. What would be nice is if pages could belong to categories! I have no idea why this isn’t a feature of pages now. I see enough people asking about it. I know there are plugins out there that kluge this, but I’m not sure that’s ideal in a WPMU environment. (Perhaps I’m wrong, but since categories exist across the entire WPMU environment, any tinkering with that feature would make me a little nervous).

Oh, and WP really needs a way for users to easily reorder pages without having to use the ridiculous page IDs.

With these two features: page categories and easily reordable pages, I think we might be able to get to a very nice CMS right out of the box. In the meantime, sometimes I feel like I’m jamming a square peg into a round hole. Again, I love doing all this tinkering and massaging, but I’ve got to build something that works well for the users who will be authoring the vast majority of content on these sites. If there’s too much kluge and not enough smooth, I’ll be hearing about it. (ouch)

In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure a bit of 80’s nostalgia: