WordPress, one of the most popular blogging platforms (if not the most), is capable of being more than just a blog platform. It’s capable of being a full-blown CMS (Content Management System). As someone who has both written small, custom CMSes from scratch as well as evaluated million-dollar professional CMSes for large corporations, WordPress‘ robustness never ceases to amaze me.
The key to many of the unique uses can be attributed to any or all of the following components:
- Custom theme.
- Custom code tweaks
- Custom or widely-available plugins.
- Custom fields per post.
- Custom code to use the custom fields.
Why Use WordPress?
Not everyone is for the idea of WordPress as a CMS. Some bloggers point out a variety of technical issues (which I’m not getting into here). True, WP is not a high-end CMS, but it can get the job done, especially for low-volume use. The point is that with WP, you don’t always need to pay $50,000+ for a proprietary, difficult to learn CMS. And that’s for starters. Many of high-end CMSes require “seat” licenses. That is, a fee for each person that MIGHT use the software. Add maintenances/ upgrade fees, support licenses, training, etc., and most small businesses or online publishers are spending more than they have/ is necessary.
WordPress can do the job, and as has been discussed here and elsewhere many times, has a lot of community support, free themes and plugins, and is relatively easy to customize or to find someone who can for a fair price. Below are some ways that WP can be used.
Basic WordPress Uses
The uses in this section require the minimum amount of customization, often involving only additional available plugins.
- Basic CMS for a traditional site or web magazine. One of the most common alternate uses for WordPress is to build a traditional website with no focus on chronological posts (blog) – that is, to use WP as a basic CMS. More recently, this approach is being integrated with a blog as well, particularly using “magazine” themes.
Some of the best visual examples I’ve come across are Twist’n'Shout and Simms Furniture Warehouse both designed by Charlene of Essentially Keystrokes, and Camacho Cigars. The latter integrates WordPress and Flash to produce a traditional site that you’d probably never know was built on WordPress if you didn’t check the source code. Another nice example is Ford’s Autoshow site. (This is not an endorsement of any of these sites, just simply an observation.)
There are reasons not to use WP as a CMS, but there are also reasons to use WP and many tutorials on how to do so. The fact is, you can use a Caching plugin to speed up the rendering of pages on your web server. If you prefer more traditional URLs, you can use an .HTML or .PHP extension.
- City guide or geocoded news site. The Thunderbird, a college journalism site built in WordPress, has an excellent example of what I mean by geocoded news. News stories on the site (which uses one of Brian Gardner’s Revolution magazine themes) are represented by colored icons on an embedded Google MyMap map. Clicking on an icon displays an excerpt bubble, complete with a “Read more” that, when clicked, opens a new browser tab/ window with the story in question.
You could expand on this idea to build City Guides. Instead of news stories, publish reviews/ profiles of restaurants, nightclubs, businesses, as well as interviews of local celebrities. Then geocode each post into an icon on a Google map. (I’ll cover Google Maps and geocoding here on Performancing starting in the near future.)
- History/ timeline site. Timeline from MIT is a visualization widget for time-based info. Event items are draggable, and clicking on one pops up a dialog with more detail, including links. Freshlabs offers a WP plugin that allows you to embed SIMILE Timeline windows into your posts. You could combine this with maps, video, images, and articles in order to create a history site. (E.g., a religion or dinosaur timeline.)
- Image gallery or photoblog. There are a number of ways that you can use WP to create a Photoblog (such as by using the Photopress theme) or an image gallery. For the latter, there are lightbox-style WP plugins and widgets, or regular image gallery plugins.
- Intranet. Intranets, in a nutshell, are websites that are internal to an organization, typically firewalled off so that only employees/ members have access. WP can be used for an Intranet that combines blogs, traditional sites, or pretty much any of the other uses described in this article.
- Movie poster and trailer site. Sprout Builder
is a new web service (still in beta) that allows fast creation of Flash media content. You can use its image and video components to build movie Sprouts. Each Sprout would simply be embedded in a WordPress post, possibly accompanied by a review and/or ratings area. The reason for taking this approach is because Sprout Builder allows you to build in interactivity.
- Network hub/ feed aggregator. Many bloggers have multiple web properties forming a blog network. Some also like to have a hub site that offers snippets of posts from across the network. A simple way to do this is to use an RSS feed importer plugin (such as the very cool WP-o-matic, which uses SimplePie) that automatically produces a new WP post snippet for each feed item. Hart’s Battling for Health hub site is an example of this.
- Polling site. There are numerous WP polling plugins (such as Democracy AJAX Poll and WP-Polls) that can be used to produce a polling site. This could be a standalone site, or combined with a blog.
- Real estate listings or guide. Take the idea of a city guide, mentioned above, and tweak it to build a real estate guide – possibly using a custom real estate WP theme (not free). Add maps, exterior 3/4 pics of a property, video, details and contact info.
- Web Chat. Embed one of web-based chat services into your home page or the nav bar. There’s even a new one that will “ping” your AIM chat client. So site visitors can chat with you without having to download and install AIM. Something like this could even be used to give web-based advice by church ministers, on a church website.
- Webcasting station. Imagine a main page with a single, large media player, with member “twittering” to the side. The best example of this used to be Evil Backwards, which used to use the very robust Splashcast Media player where the current video window is now. They’ve ditched the Splashcast player, so you’ll have to imagine it’s there. Splashcast offers embedded “channels” for video, audio and documents in a borderless player. A theme similar to Evil Backwards’ home page can be produced in WordPress using the Blueprint CSS framework (discussed below in the Techmeme clone item, in the next section). Of course, you can use a media player similar to Splashcast, but to my knowledge no other player offers embedded channels.
Website/ Web Services Clones and Alternatives
The uses in this section are visual or functional mimics of popular web sites/ services. Several can be done with a combo of a special, available theme and plugins. Some might require a bit of custom coding.
- Feedburner alternative. Feedburner, a web service that Google recently purchased, offers multiple functionality, but mostly the republishing of site RSS feeds and monitoring. Many bloggers say they don’t want to use Feedburner because Google tends to give the latter the search juice for an article. (There are feed direction plugins to get around that.) I like Feedburner because I don’t have to worry about server resources, and I can monitor my stats. But there is a WordPress alternative to Feedburner that uses a simple set of plugins to accomplish similar functionality (though not a visual clone).
- Popurls clone. Popurls is a popular site that lets you get a bird’s eye view of several popular sites. This format is very handy and can be used to monitor the blogs in a niche or even several niches. Ericulous offers a handy free WP Popurls clone theme. (There are a few plugins necessary, but they’re included in the ZIP file.) While it’s not robust enough yet to handle non-RSS format feeds, it’s still an excellent launch point.
- Techmeme clone. Techmeme is in my blogger’s toolbox as handy way to monitor the tech niche. It’s not as “bird’s eye view” as a Popurls clone, and it algorithmically follows a set of RSS feeds. If you blog is in the tech niche, it might be included one day in Techmeme’s stream and not the next (or ever again). You can solve that with your own Techmeme clone using WordPress and various plugins. Though there are two things to point out:
- I haven’t come across a ready-made WP solution to Techmeme. The closest clone to Techmeme is Megite, which I understand is available for licensing at $15,000+.
- Techmeme and Megite use “topic clustering” algorithms that are the core driver to how the story items are presented on both sites. I haven’t deciphered this yet, but I’m working on it.
Nevertheless, the basic idea behind Techmeme is a “river of news”. This can be produced using RSS import plugins and a custom WP theme – best created with the Blueprint CSS Framework and related tools (something I’ll try to cover in the future). You’ll end up with something like Techmeme River as a starting point. From here, you’d have to apply clustering algorithms, which are way beyond the scope of Performancing.
- Twitter clone. Twitter microblogging has become something of a phenomenon online, with some people even preferring this mode of communication over blogging. But it has its drawbacks – namely a 140-character message/ tweet limit, no simple inclusion of visual media, scrambled URLs, etc. Sure, there are Twitter alternatives such as Jaiku and Tumblr, but if you want to do something similar in WP, you’re in luck. Matt and Automattic (makers of WordPress) have released the Prologue theme. It has Gravatar support and loads of RSS feeds, and is ideal for group “twittering” activity. (See the section below for specific uses of Prologue.) Their download site is down at the time of this writing, and apparently doesn’t offer a ZIP, so go visit Sizlopedia instead.
Additional Uses of the Prologue Theme
The Prologue theme, mentioned in the last section for “Twitter clone”, is a versatile theme/plugin package with a lot of potential. Here are some additional ways you can use it. Keep in mind that for some of these uses, you might want to either password-protect each new posting manually, or write some custom code that automatically sets a post’s status to “private”. (That’s not covered here, but if you’re using WP 2.3+, it probably has simplified privacy options.)
- Article assignment system. There are several ways to set up an article assignment system in WP. The simplest way is to use the Prologue theme. Each writer gets an account, and when the editor posts an available assignment, the first person to claim it by posting gets it. (Details of the assignment might be elsewhere.) The success of this approach depends on the discipline of writers not to post anything else except acceptance of an assignment. Questions can be posted as comments on the source assignment message, not as additional messages. Otherwise, the message stream will get cluttered fast.
Now, if you want something more sophisticated that sends out reminders, etc., you’d need to write custom plugins/ code to manage that information.
- Confession log. People love to confess private things (or hear about others’ confessions.) Set up a site with the Prologue theme. Keep registration open (but possibly with email confirmation) and let people confess whatever they like.
- Celebrity or political microblog. If you only want to post short newsy items about a niche (such as entertainment or politics) and don’t need to upload images, Prologue is ideal for this. Thrivecore is an example used for pop culture microblogging. (Just keep in mind that to include links to other pages, you need to enter the appropriate HTML code in Prologue’s textarea.)
- Grocery list. Use the Prologue theme and enter grocery items. When you go to the grocery store, access your list with your Apple iPhone. (You can use other devices, but from what I understand, the iPhone is the best mobile Internet device around in terms of usability and readability.) You could also write custom code to tweak the list and convert it to some other format via a web API.
- Log book. One of the biggest pains in the behind when you run your own business is tracking expenses and/or logging meetings. Use the Prologue theme and enter items AFTER they occur. Voila, an automatic logbook. If you have a mobile phone with Internet access, use it to enter items on the go. Later, you can use a desktop computer to collate the items and record them more permanently in a spreadsheet. If you’re a codemonkey, you can write a WP plugin to export items to a private Google Spreadsheet, a web calendar, or a web to-do list service. Alternately, you can use your log book site’s RSS feed.
- Reminders. A Reminder system is similar to a to-do list but actually sends out reminders with a service such as Retweet’s Timer. Setup a Prologue theme as usual, but rig a Twitter stream using your site’s RSS feed. Use the necessary notation for Timer, and reminder items will be sent to you. Keep in mind that this shouldn’t be used for anything but items that are at least a day ahead, as it’s hard to predict when Twitter will check your updated RSS feed.
- Review site. Use Prologue with a group of friends to easily share brief reviews of movies, music, books, etc. Browse through JakartaBar for an interesting example. Make sure to check the comments (labelled as “reviews”.) I’m not sure what plugin they’re using for their ratings, but here are a few places that you can find review/ ratings plugins: Dan Grossman, Paul Goscicki (movie ratings – compliant with hReview microformat), Sneak, Channel-Ai.
I haven’t tested any of these with Prologue yet, so I don’t know how they’ll look. (The movie ratings plugin is for the use of a post’s author, so may not suit Prologue use.) Which plugin you use depends on who will do the rating (author or reader) and what is being rated (the actual post or something referenced in the post).
- Software bug logger. Are you testing web or desktop software with a group of developers/ testers? Setup a subdomain with WP, using the Prologue theme. Turn on “privacy” in your WP control panel so that search engines don’t know about the site. Give each tester an account and have them follow a specific notation that can be parsed into a web spreadsheet or some other bug log.
- To-do list. Use the Prologue theme to post new tasks for yourself. It’s not elegant, but it’s easy to set up and use. It’s also available from anywhere that you have Internet access, and you can always pretty up the items later. In fact, if you can define a notation for items and use it consistently, you can send the to-do list feed through custom code (or a Yahoo Pipe) whose output works with the API of either a real web to-do list, calendar or spreadsheet service. (I.e., Google Calendar or Spreadsheet.) Check out Twittercal (and its Twitter bot) to get a better sense of this.
Note: If you’re serious about the above uses, get
yourself a personal domain (e.g., yourname.com) and create one subdomain per use. Or use a single subdomain and create a unique notation that makes clear what each posting represents. Then use a Yahoo Pipe or other code to filter the RSS feed, which then can be sent via APIs to a web spreadsheet or calendar.
To my knowledge, the uses in this section are mostly speculative and thus require custom code, themes, plugins and/or web services.
(Note: Several of these ideas are taken from a blogHelper article.)
- Article library. Set up WordPress so that the home page template displays no posts on the home page, only a static index of articles. Each article is a post with its own permalink page. An example is A-Level Econoref.
- Calendar. You could drive your web calendar by using a Prologue-like home page (discussed indepth above), using a custom notation for items. The items would be parsed elsewhere and sent to a web calendar such as Google Calendar, or displayed on a calendar widget on your site. [This is an extension of the idea discussed for To-Do List and Reminder items above.]
- Classifieds. Using the Edgeio Classfieds plugin, you can add paid or free classifieds to your WP site. This could be integrated with something like a real estate listings site, as discussed above.
- Contact manager. As discussed in Pushing the Envelope of WP Functionality, Design Canopy is offering a WP-based Contact Manager theme (with plugins).
- CSS/ Site awards gallery. There are lots of gorgeous CSS Gallery sites out there, and if you have the need to create a niche one of your own, you have several choices – including writing your own custom theme and plugins. If that’s too much work, Shabu at OS Designer offers a free WP-based CSS Gallery theme (with necessary plugins) that uses two columns. (Example: CSS Design Gallery.) If two columns are not enough, or you want some flexibility in item pages, Small Potato at WP Designer is selling a CSS Gallery WP theme. Both Shabu’s and Small Potato’s themes use a voting plugin whereby visitors can rank a site.
- Ecommerce site. WordPress can be integrated with plugins or custom code, and PayPal, to produce online shops. An example is Filipino Artisans. (I’ve read that Moo.com also uses WP, but I think it’s for their blog, not their online store.) There are also code packs that allow you to integrate Amazon or other merchants into your own e-store.
- Media collection manager. You’ll need custom code, but WP can be used to track your CDs, DVDs, books, software, collectibles. You’re basically using it as a database manager for a specific type of item, though you could generalize. Alternately, you can use a Prologue theme interface with a unique notation, then parse added items and send them to a web spreadsheet via its API.
- Voting site. The CSS Gallery setup examples above use a voting plugin. You could tailor one of these for a more traditional social voting site, or you could produce a custom template like the one at N4G (News for Gamers) – though I don’t believe they are WordPress-based. But with all the components discussed in this article, a WP-based theme similar to N4G’s is possible. You could also combine the WP Prologue theme with a voting plugin to build a rudimentary voting site.
- Web portfolio. Designers and other creative types might like to offer an online portfolio showcasing their past work. W web portfolio has elements of an image gallery and a CSS gallery but isn’t necessarily either. One example is Twist’n'Shout’s portfolio. Also, check out blogHelper’s two-part series (part 1, part 2) on how build a WP-based portfolio.
15 Additional Uses of WordPress to Explore
Here are some additional possible uses of WordPress that didn’t have time to research and write up, but wanted to share with you. Much of the technique you need to use WP this way is already discussed above in this article.
- Church sermons.
- Fark-like user-submitted links.
- Forum. Sure, BBPress by Automattic is probably a better choice than a WP-based forum, but the fact is that you can do it.
- Job listings site.
- Music archives.
- Press release site.
- Project/ task management.
- Sales pages.
- Social network.
- Short film festival site.
- Video sharing site.
- Web command dashboard. (Private site to monitor your sites’ metrics, etc.)
- Web directory.
- Web soapbox.
These lists above are only a sampling of the uses for WordPress. So if you thought WP was only for blogs, hopefully you these examples stir up some ideas for your own projects. (Thanks to all the input by Hive members.) I’ll be covering a lot of these examples in more detail all this year.