I was talking with a student, organizational webmaster today about how I would go about putting an organizational web site together easily. You know where I’m going with this… WORDPRESS.COM
Usually one or two students are designated to develop or maintain a web site for their organization. Normally, those students will graduate within a couple of years, and then someone else is tapped for that duty. Often there is no “passing of the baton.” By that I mean, that training someone to “take over the responsibilities” is not high on the list of a student that is about to graduate, or leave the institution for some other reason. So usually, the new designee contacts me asking for access to the organization’s web site. The process is for the organization’s advisor to contact me, by email, letting me know who has been designated as the new web developer and that they have the authority to have access to the site.
In the past, we hosted all or most of the organizational web sites on our own web servers, and the preferred tool of creating and maintaining these sites was MS Frontpage. Several years ago, Microsoft discontinued the product line of Frontpage and produced a more powerful development tool called Expression Web. If you knew Frontpage, then there were similarities in the interface, but there were additional features, in the vein of Dreamweaver.
But, here is the thing for me. The school does not offer a class in using Frontpage, Expression Web or even Dreamweaver. These are all tools that you usually learn on your own, or from a Web guru, who is willing to take the time to teach you how one of these applications work. So, unless you think you are going to become a professional web developer, and since you really don’t want to put the time in to learn how to use one of these tools, which you may only use occasionally, as when web site updates are needed… why not take the “easy” way?
And here’s the “rub.” The easy way, is not only the easiest to learn to use, but it probably also does all that you would want for your organization’s web site. And, if it doesn’t, for a little extra money, you can add the “bells & whistles” that will set your site apart from the others.
The basic site on WordPress.com is free. Oops! Did a car go by and distract you? I said, “FREE.”
You go to “wordpress.com” and create a “free” account. This takes about a minute, because they only ask your name and a valid email address. The free account gives you 3 GB of space to start creating a site (or multiple sites, until you fill up the 3 GB of space).
The “bells & whistles” are normally called “plugins” and “widgets,” and they are not available in the basic “free” version of WordPress.com. *You might want to look into a hosted “WordPress” site, where for an annual fee, they will let you run WordPress and give you access to the “backend,” where you can add plugins and widgets (many of which are free also) to your site and have some really neat things going on, on your site.
What can you do for free? Well, you can use the WordPress dashboard (menu system for maintaining the site), which looks much like MS Word, for creating “postings” or “pages.” That is easy enough, but you can also set your free site up so that you can publish directly from MS Word 2007 or higher.
Most of you are fairly adept at using MS Word to create documents. You might even insert a picture to illustrate what you are writing about. The Word image editor makes it easy for you to add a border to your image, add a dropshadow, tilt or skew the picture, etc. Also, you might even know how to change fonts for emphasis. There are probably thousands of “free” “Truetype” fonts available on the Web. You can easily add these to your laptop or PC. Here are a few examples so that you can get the idea of why you might want to use a different font in your postings:
No vehicle too big!
TONIGHT AT 8 PM
You get the idea. Go to http://BING.COM to get free clipart and images. You just type in a word or phrase that might illustrate your message, and Microsoft gives you a bunch of items to choose from. Copy and paste in your Word document. Go to http://www.1001freefonts.com/ to browse through a bunch of free Truetype fonts.
So, if you know how to create a good looking poster using MS Word, you can create a good looking posting on your WordPress.com site.
I want to add MP3s (audio) to the site. Well, the free version of WordPress.com does not allow you to upload mp3 files, but, for about $25 a year, you get +5 GB of additional space (3 GB free + 5 GB additional = 8 GB total)and the ability to upload a bunch of mp3 files. *Here is something that you can do currently on your free site. They allow you to set up your site so that you can call a WordPress.com phone number and enter a key code. You then start talking (I guess you could sing, if you wanted to.) and when you hang up the phone, an audio “podcast” is automatically created on your site. When you visit your site, you can click on the mp3 audio player and hear whatever you’ve recorded via the phone.
Audacity is free software for creating or manipulating mp3 audio files. If you have a microphone, you can start creating mp3 audio files easily with Audacity ( http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ ).
If you are familiar with Flickr or Picasa, you can upload quite a few pictures or images, for free, and then post them in your WordPress.com site.
You can upload short videos to YouTube and embed the code in your WordPress.com site.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned it yet, but you can also publish to your WordPress.com site via email. Don’t think, “just text.” If you have a smartphone, one with a camera, and you can afford the data plan so that you can send email, images, even audio & video if you can produce it on your phone, then you can create a posting for your site from wherever you have bars.
*I’ve published a posting with images, audio and even a Google Maps location link, from the top of a mountain in one of our State Parks, from restaurants, and even recorded video as I travelled down I95. I’m not sure if that qualifies as “texting,” but if not, it should… and sent the posting via email from my phone.
You can change the “look & feel” of your WordPress.com site quickly and easily. The look and feel is called a “theme.” A theme is different from your content. Your content is the text, images, audio, video, PDFs, PowerPoints, etc. that you add, but the theme is the “look & feel” that surrounds your content. And, you can literally change this in seconds. You look through a gallery of different themes and select one. You can even preview how your content would look with that theme. If you don’t like that theme, select another one. Once you activate the new theme, the next person that visits your site gets your content surrounded by the new theme.
Okay, so that’s an extended “brief” introduction on why I think using WordPress.com would be perfect for your organization’s web site.
NOTE: This posting was created in MS Word 2007, with images from Bing.com.