When considering different blogging platforms to use professionally or with your class, “extensibility” is an important feature. According to the English Wiktionary, “extensible” means:
capable of being extended
An “extensible” blogging platform allows for customization. These changes include different designs and layouts, but also can include functions and features. WordPress is an extremely extensible content management system used by thousands of people worldwide. In this post, I’ll describe some of the extensibility features offered by WordPress through themes and plugins.
Virtually all blogging platforms now offer options for changing your blog’s theme, or design. Modern web standards (fully articulated as “W3C standards”) permit website content to be separated from design. This means bloggers and web designers can keep the same content on a website in the form of “posts” and “pages,” but alter the design of the site which presents that information to web visitors. This was highlighted well in Michael Wesch‘s viral YouTube video, “The Machine is Us/ing Us” in 2007. (The original version has over 11.6 million views on YouTube.)
The WordPress Codex, which is a thorough reference manual, refers to WordPress themes as “skins” which not only control design but also “provide much more control over the look and presentation of the material on your website.” A large number of free WordPress themes are available on the official WordPress.org theme directory, but even more are available commercially. One of the important things you can introduce to your students, as a web design teacher or teacher in a specific content area, is the customizability of WordPress themes and the design careers open to those with WordPress customization skills.
Different themes provide different levels of customizability with WordPress design and appearance. iThemes Builder is a WordPress theme which provides a diverse array of options for website and content creators. The free ” WordPress Web Designer’s Toolkit” (available to “qualified and selected educators”) includes Builder so teachers can both experience and learn to utilize the “extensibility possibilities” available with it using WordPress.
Plug-ins are a second major way WordPress-powered sites are extensible. If you choose to use a WordPress hosted blog on WordPress.com, the number of available plug-ins (as well as themes) is limited. When you use a WordPress blog hosted on your own server or a server you pay for, however, you can install many more plug-ins as well as themes to design your site just like you want it.
I use a wide variety of different plug-ins on my WordPress sites, but here are a few examples to illustrate the possibilities. The free plug-in “Contact Form 7” is excellent for creating web forms visitors can complete which email you their message. Using a Contact Form 7 web form, you can avoid putting your email address directly on your website (which tends to invite lots of spam) and instead give visitors an easy-to complete form interface. ContactBuddy is a free WordPress plug-in from iThemes which not only lets designers create ‘pages’ including web forms, but also ‘widget’ forms which can be included in site sidebars.
Another free plug-in I like and use on several sites is WP-Touch. This plug-in auto-detects when someone accesses your website using a mobile device, like a smartphone or tablet, and ‘serves up’ a mobile-optimized version which loads faster. Some web designers prefer creating their WordPress themes as well as content so they are fully HTML5 compatible. By doing this, the site should look fine on mobile devices or on desktop/laptop computers running standard web browsers. As an iPhone user, I frequently appreciate mobile-optimized websites which load faster on my device, especially when I’m not connected to Wifi. WP-Touch is a helpful plug-in which meets this need. iThemes’ WordPress Mobile Plugin is another option and offers additional features, including support for WordPress 3.0 custom menus. This six minute video explains more.
Both themes and plug-ins are important elements of WordPress which help make it a highly extensible and flexible platform for sharing content online. As you consider different options for website content management systems, remember the importance of extensibility and be sure to select a platform that provides you with a wide variety of options. The fact that thousands of people worldwide use WordPress and a growing market for web designers offers employment possibilities for students which are geographically agnostic (designers can work from anywhere, they don’t have to be in the same physical location as their customers/clients) is exciting and an important reason to also introduce students to WordPress.