10 min read

Let’s get started right away.

The first question-do I need a self-hosted or service-based CMS?

Blogs have taken the Internet by storm. They started like simple diaries and have grown to be full-fledged CMSs now. If you want to start a blog, you have the following two options:

  • Sign up with a hosted blog service such as WordPress.com, Typepad.com, Blogger.com, or any other similar services available
  • Set up blogging software, such as WordPress, Movable Type, ExpressionEngine, and so on, on your own server

If you are a casual blogger, signing up with a hosted service is a suitable choice. But if you want full control of your blog, setting up your own system is the best option. It’s not very difficult—you could do it within five minutes.

We will cover only self-hosted solutions for this article. But you can easily apply this knowledge to a blog service.

Top blogging CMSs

 WordPress (www.WordPress.org) is the most popular self-hosted blogging software. Hundreds of thousands of sites run on WordPress, and tens of millions of people see WordPress-driven content every day.

The following images are of the PlayStation ( http://blog.us.playstation.com/ ) and the People ( http://offtherack.people.com/ ) blog sites, which use WordPress:

Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

Movable Type (www.movabletype.org) is another longtime favorite. It’s very easy to use and has a strong fan following.

There are many contenders after the top two blogging CMSs. All general-purpose CMSs have a blogging component. Many old blog software applications are no longer actively maintained. There are new entrants on the scene that focus on niches, such as photo blogging.

Let us cover the top choices

We can’t cover all of the blog software in this article. So, we will only cover WordPress at length. We will talk about Movable Type and ExpressionEngine briefly. At the end, we will touch upon other blogging software.

What we are interested in is to find out answers to the following questions:

  • What sort of a site is that CMS good for?
  • How easy is it to build a site?
  • How easy is it to edit content?
  • What’s its plug-in/template support like?
  • How extensible/customizable is it?
  • What are the interesting or high-profile examples of that CMS?

Taking WordPress for a test drive

Let’s try creating a site structure, adding and editing content, applying design templates, and making a few customizations with WordPress to see how it performs.

Time for action-managing content with WordPress

  1. Log in to the administration panel of your WordPress installation.
  2. Click on the New Post link in the top bar. This opens the Add New Post page.Enter a title for your first blog post where your cursor is blinking. We will enter definition of the word Yoga for our Yoga Site.
  3. Start writing your text in the large text entry box. It’s a WYSIWYG editor. You can use buttons in the toolbar to format text, insert links, and so on.
  4. Let’s insert an image into our post. Click on the first icon next to Upload/Insert. When you move your mouse over it, you will see Add an Image in the tooltip.
  5. Click on that icon.

  6. Upload a file from your computer.
  7. Once a file is uploaded, you can enter additional parameters for this image. This includes Title, Caption, Alignment, a link to open when an image is clicked, and so on. Here’s how your screen may look at this stage.
  8. Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

  9. Click on Insert into Post to add this image to your post.
  10. Complete writing the blog entry.
  11. If you want to add tags (keywords) to this post, you can do that from the Tagssection at right. WordPress will autocomplete long tags and will create newones as you Add them.
  12. We have not yet created any categories for our blog. Navigate to the Categories section below Tags. Click on the + Add New Category link.
  13. Enter Background as your category name and Add it. Any new categories youadd are selected automatically. Notice that you can post a blog entry in multiplecategories at once.
  14. Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

  15. There are a few other options too. There are the settings for Discussion. We want to allow both comments and trackbacks, so keep both options checked.
  16. Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

  17. Scroll up and click on the Publish button on the right to make this post live.
  18. Click on View Post at the top left to see how your site looks at the moment.
  19. Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

What just happened?

We published a new blog post with WordPress! This was the first time we used WordPress, but we could accomplish everything we needed to post this entry just from one screen.

This is an important thing. Many CMSs require that you set up categories and images separately. This means you have to know the system before you can use it! WordPress allows you to learn about the system while using it. All sections in the Add New Postpage are well-labeled. There are sufficient descriptions, and what is not needed is hidden by default.

  • Our title automatically became a search engine friendly permalink for this post.
  • We could format our text with a simple WYSIWYG editor. It was packed with features—spell check, full screen editing, and further formatting options via Kitchen Sink.
  • The editor allowed advanced editing by switching to the HTML mode.
  • Adding an image was very easy. Upload, set options, and insert. We could select a previously uploaded image from the gallery, too.
  • We could enter keyword tags for a post quickly.
  • Selecting a category and adding new categories was simple. We created a new category on the Add New Post page itself. WordPress is intelligent enough to understand that if we added a new category on a post page, we would want to use it for that post. So, it was selected automatically.
  • Advance options were available, but were hidden by default.
  • We could publish the post right away, or at a later date.
  • WordPress could also keep history of all the revisions we make to a post, could preview the post, and would auto-save it frequently.

WordPress looks easy and powerful so far. Let us look at how we can harness it further.

Surviving blog jargon and benefitting from it
Blogs have their own terminology. You may not have heard of trackbacks, pingbacks, tags, or permalinks. You can learn more about these terms from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_blogging_terms and http://www.dailyblogtips.com/the-bloggers-glossary/. Similarly, there are excellent features that blogs have—comments, aggregating content from other sources, ability to get updates via RSS feeds, and so on. I recommend you to go through these glossaries to learn more about blogs.

Extending WordPress

Managing content with WordPress seems easy. We want to see how easy is it to customize its design and extend its features. Let’s begin with the action.

Time for action-customizing the design

  • Find some themes you like. You can browse through theme galleries at http://WordPress.org/extend/themes/ or Google WordPress themes. There are thousands of free and paid themes available for WordPress.
  • Download some themes that you like. Unzip each theme’s ZIP file. Each theme should create a new folder for itself.
  • Upload all these folders to the wp-content/themes folder on your server.
  • In WordPress, go to Admin  Appearance|. You should see new themes you uploaded in the Available Themes section. The page also lists the WordPress Classic andDefault themes.
  • Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

  • We have three new themes showing up.
  • Click on one of the themes to see a live preview. This is how it will look.
  • Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

  • Review all themes. Activate the one you like the most by clicking on the Activate link at the top right in the preview window. We liked oriental and activated it. Our site now shows up just like the live preview.
  • What just happened?

    We installed a new design theme for our WordPress blog. We downloaded three themes from the Web, unzipped them, and uploaded them to our WordPress themes folder.

    The themes showed up in WordPress admin. Clicking on a theme showed a live preview. This made our decision easy. We activated the theme we liked. That’s how easy it was to change the design of our blog!

    If you recall, installing a new design was similar in Joomla!, except that Joomla! allowed us to upload a ZIP file using its administration interface itself. The tricky part in giving a new design to your site was shortlisting and selecting a design, not setting it up.

    Customizing the theme

    Consider the following theme editor in WordPress

    Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

    If you want to further customize your theme, you can do that. In fact, you have full control over how your site looks with WordPress. You can use Appearance | Editor to change individual theme files.

    We recommend making template customizations on a local installation of WordPress first.Once you get everything done according to your choice, you can upload the changed files to the theme’s folder and activate it.

    WordPress widgets

    Widgets are content blocks that can be used in a theme. Search, RSS feeds, Blog Post Archives, Tag Cloud, and Recent Posts are some of the built-in widgets available in WordPress. You can turn them on or off independently, determine their position in the sidebar, and also change their settings. Go to the Appearance | Widgets page to take over the control of WordPress widgets.

    Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

    Add unlimited power with plug-ins

    Our Yoga Site needs a lot more than just the core content management. How can we achieve that with WordPress? And will it be wise to use WordPress for our Yoga Site?

    The WordPress plug-in architecture is solid. You will find hundreds of high-quality plug-ins from photo galleries to e-commerce. But remember that the core of WordPress is a blog engine, which chronologically displays content under set categories. It encourages sharing and contribution. Theoretically, you can customize WordPress to any need you have. But we recommend you to evaluate the most important features for your site and then decide whether you want to use WordPress as a base, or something else.

    I use WordPress for my blog and have a range of plug-ins installed. WordPress is painless, and it allows me to focus on the core goal of my blog—sharing knowledge. Take a look at the list of plug-ins on my blog at www.mehtanirav.com.

    Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

    You may have noticed a few plug-ins to handle comments and spam. Why would you need that? Well, because you will end up spending all your time removing spam comments from your system if you don’t have them activated.

    Comment spam is a real pain with all blogs. Spammers have written spam-bots (automatic software) that keep posting junk comments on your blog. If you don’t protect comment submission, your blog will soon be flooded with advertisements of pills you don’t want to take and a lot of other things you don’t want your visitors to attend to.

    Comment protection plug-ins are the first you should install. I use Akismet with Simple Math. Simple Math poses a simple mathematical question to the comment writer. A human can easily answer that. This takes care of most of the spam comments. Comments that pass through this test need to pass through Akismet. Askimet is an excellent spam-protection plug-in from the WordPress team. These two plug-ins kill almost 99.99% of spam comments on my blog.

    Once I am left with legitimate comments, I can go to WordPress’s Admin | Comments, and Approve, Unapprove, Delete, or Mark as Spam all comments. The Edit Comments screen looks like the following screenshot:|

    Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide

    WordPress is a superb choice for creating a blog. It can be used as a general-purpose CMS as well. We have covered most of the day-to-day operations with WordPress so far. Here are some additional resources for you.

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