Blogging WordPress as a CMS

Martha Burtis is back in action at UMW, and she returns to us with a project that I am following with great anticipation: blogging WordPress as a CMS. As she notes in her introductory post on the topic:

It often seemed…that when push came to shove, there was always something that prevented WP from being the right CMS solution. Although I think I’ve always suspected that with the right mix of plugins and the right theme, the problems could be surmounted.

And what she will be doing is going through her conceptualization of WP as CMS including, though not limited to, creating an array of different content types, re-imagining the uses of tags and categories, re-structuring custom templates, and tackling variegated subscription models. It is an awesome project, and there is no question in my mind that Martha hacking WordPress allow us to really start considering this application as a far more comprehensive web-based solution for a more dynamic, yet simple, way at content management than just throwing a static frontpage on a blog.

I mean she already has a solid list of plugins that I have never heard of before, that promise to go a long way towards making things we would have had to hack, program, or simply dream about previously as simple as a click of an “activate” button. Here is the list she frames, and I quote her descriptions:

  • Flutter (formerly Fresh Post) allows you to create custom Write Panels that make use of WP custom fields (I’ve always thought custom fields must be part of the key to turning WP into a CMS
  • dTabs is a pretty slick plugin for creating custom tabbed navigation. It allows you to link a tab to a page, a post, a category, a URL, etc. The styling can be a bit tricky.
  • Idealian Category Enhancements allows you to designate a particular template to be used for a particular category, automatically.
  • AStickyPostOrderER lets you manually order posts within a category, bypassing the automatic reverse chronological ordering.

This is exciting work, and while many have thrown out a list of plugins that can help you create a CMS with WordPress, far, far fewer have actually meticulously blogged there process along with their conceptual thinking behind that process. And if you know Martha, then you you already know she will do both these things in spades. “Brava!,” says the bava 🙂

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14 Responses to Blogging WordPress as a CMS

  1. James says:

    I’ve seen many of these types of processes on how to turn WordPress into a CMS, listing plug-ins that can extend the codebase. I agree that using custom fields is probably central.

    I also happen to believe, though, that Automatic (sp?) would have to change the mindset of what WordPress is designed for, to truly make it happen.

    Thinking of it as a CMS and building it that way is a far better solution than hacking it or implementing a ton of plug-ins. It’s not too big a deal for technically proficient folks, but for those who just want an application to ‘be’ a CMS, managing core updates and all the plug-ins probably isn’t going to fly.

    I love WordPress and I think it’s one of the most elegant pieces of OS software out there, but it’s got a long way to go to really become the type of tool with which you could manage a large portal.

  2. Reverend says:


    I agree with you to some great extent. But what I have been thinking lately is that the web (or, more correctly, we, the web denizens) are thinking differently about what a CMS is and needs to be. My point being, how we traditionally understood a Content Management System was premised almost entirely on pages and repositories for media/documents etc. I think this changes a bit as we have all sorts of different ways to store and link to media at a host of distributed sites. Lightweight CMSs, like the one Martha is thinking through, is perfect for a way of sharing and framing the work we are doing here at UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning. Our resources are already out there on the web, and we are just framing a “CMS” to bring those disparate pieces together and and kind of manage the flow and organize them in on site.

    So in that way a may have to qualify the way in which I m thinking about the very idea behind content management more generally, for your point is a good one, but I wonder if our definition of a CMS might have become too narrow–or maybe I m just using it far too liberally, which i may very well be guilty given my temperament 🙂

  3. James says:

    Hi Jim;

    I know exactly what you’re saying and for my own needs WordPress is pretty good out of the box. Then again, I edit posts without TinyMCE, don’t use widgets and write my sidebars with conditional PHP statements, so I’m not a standard user.

    I also think that, what a CMS is depends on what you want to use it for. I agree with your idea of it being an ideal slim CMS. One to a few users and largely journal content with a bit of extended functionality from plugins. Even WordPressMU is going to be more about a blog farm than a portal platform or something similar.

    When I think of industrial strength CMS apps, then I think of scalability and robust user role management, along with core code doing what WordPress plug-ins do. Having said that, bending Drupal to your will is often no small feat and handing that backend over to non-tech users is pretty risky.

    Take it one further and think of WordPress as LMS or similar very specialized CMS and it’s a whole other ball game again.


  4. Martha says:

    Hey Jim — thanks to the shout-up. I only hope I can do it justice. 😉

    You and James are also pushing me to think more concretely about what I’m doing here — and why.

    It’s true that there are resources out there for how to CMSify WP, but, in my experience, most of them focus on the use of the built-in page functionality and some jury-rigging of menus, navigation, etc. It’s true that out-of-the box, these features (and a few basic plugins) allows you to quickly and easily build a pretty slick and lightweight CMS for small-scale sites.

    But, as you point out, I’m far more interested in pushing into the area of a new kind of Web site. To me, WP has the dual distinction of being both lightweight (and easy) AND incredibly flexible and extensible.

    The simplicity of how tags work, for example (and how that features has gradually grown with new versions), I think affords us a new way of thinking about the content we put on our Web sites. Not as static pages (albeit perhaps easy to update and with compelling content) but as nuggets of content that are hung together on some framework of ideas central to the core mission of the organization. So, to try and be more specific, a faculty member interested in “digital storytelling” could, in one fell swoop view the people who are working in this area, the professional development opportunities that are relevant to this topic, a link to and review of a valuable resource. The information lives in a cloud of tags and categories that can be viewed from any number of directions. And, with custom fields, each piece of information can “be true to itself” — so I”m not just publishing big chunky descriptions with lots of information buried in them, but information “structures.”

    Now, I know from recent projects that a lot of what I’m interested in doing is built into other systems — Drupal, for example, is pretty wildly amazing once you get into views. Eventually, I’ll probably be able to better explain why I want to do this in WP instead — for now let it suffice that I’m just “going with my gut.”

    But, there’s another issue here that James gets at. I’m planning on doing a lot of tinkering in order to push my own thinking. I doubt that what I ultimately develop is going to be something the faint-of-heart would tackle. It MIGHT point in the direction of how the not-faint-of-heart could build something that the FAH could use. But, more importantly, I think I’ll come out with a better understanding of what WP can do, and what, as an application, it needs in order to become the kind of CMS I’m imagining. It’s entirely possible no one will benefit from that but me, but that’s okay too. I expect that on the other end I’ll have a more nuanced understanding of my own notions of a CMS — and I think that will benefit my organization.

  5. James says:

    Hey Martha. Interesting stuff. I come at WP mostly from the blogging aspect, as a post-sec user experience guy and one who’s now delving into learning tech, getting my MA in that field.

    So, if I understand where you’re going with this, as a lightweight flexible system, you want WordPress to almost be an uber-aggregator of sorts. Allow people to access other accessible information and not necessarily publish it directly? As opposed to tagging, I think it’s more about exploiting XML technologies. Feeds are an amazing way to automate existing content and aggregate it into your own web space.

    I think WP can probably do almost anything, but like any institutional approach to open source, the best thing to do is make sure you can still develop internally.

    The one thing I think a lot of orgs still don’t ‘get’ about open source … It’s not actually free if you want to make it serve your purpose, rather you internalize resources to leverage the open code base instead of paying for enterprise level support.

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  7. rick says:

    WordPress is good if the site is going to be primarily for blogging, but for most websites, I think Frog CMS is the best option.

    Check it out:

    You won’t be disappointed!

  8. Gardner says:

    OK, this is brilliant stuff brewing.

    Jim, you’re right there on point, and I can see how Martha’s pushed you to a conclusion that feels so right to me I’m getting a glow just thinking about it. CMS rhymes with LMS, right? And we know the answer to LMS is not a better LMS but a whole different paradigm. Why wouldn’t that be true with CMS as well? If a CMS becomes something other than a repository, something more like a very agile uber-aggregator (thanks, James), with “aggregation” understood in its fullest sense as a fundamental cognitive affordance, then a CMS becomes something entirely fresh and new. A community enlivening system. An experience-sharing system.

    Wait for it!

    An integrated domain. Quoth Engelbart:

    By “augmenting human intellect” we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by “complex situations” we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers–whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human “feel for a situation” usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.

    Now back to Gardo. I’m thinking that if this DTLT site is conceptualized at the farthest reaches (all of which can and should be implicit–don’t want to scare folks), it could be an interesting engine to enable deep, recursive, insight-generating interaction. It will look like a website but act like a complex learning experience. I’m not entirely sure how to get there, but it’s something to do with conversation instead of narrow ideas of “content.” It’s something to do with both intimacy and effectiveness at project-level empowerment. It’s a conversation that re-converges the blogosphere’s distributed conversation at the point of the specific community, like an RSS reader but without a backstop that quits at the presentation layer.

    Dunno what all that means. Maybe nothing. But you and Martha and James and Alan and D’Arcy have got me thinking.

  9. Martha says:


    In the best of all possible worlds (and as Jim and I allude to), I’d love to see a site that uses WP to mostly aggregates content from others sources. As Jim mentions, in our division we’re generating all kinds of content that can be captured in feeds on other sites. A divisional site that showcases that activity would be, imho, much more vibrant and interesting than just a set of pages about our services and project descriptions that we never get around to updating.

    XML is key here — and I’m really not sure what exists already that we can harness to help. Well, I have a few ideas, but I’m not sure if they’re going to go as far as I’d like. We’ll see.

    If we DO manage to do the capturing successfully, I see the tags on the site as the internal mechanism for the different views of our activities. But, really, I’m not sure how the fed content would get tagged.

    In any case, it’ll be an interesting journey of discovery. 🙂

  10. Reverend says:


    “Integrated domain” brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! That is the term and the concept all at once, and it also affords the necessary space, difference, and fusion of the individual with/vs. an organization, community, etc. A space to integrate your identity online in a more individual way, and scale that up through the individual to a community. An integrated domain, exactly precisely! Bravo!

  11. Gardner says:

    Engelbart talks about “networked improvement communities” along these lines. “Improvement” is too mild a word–I like “augmentation” better as you know. But that idea of the integrated domain, along all the lines you have sussed out above, is a key to a big and bountiful doorway.

    Engelbart’s essay on augmenting human intellect should be required reading for every incoming freshman of whatever age, in my view.

    Etienne Wenger’s idea of “communities of practice” is also key here. I need to go to school on Wenger. I feel big currents there.

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