Tag Archives: wordpress

WordPress: Beyond Posts

As I said previously, the decision to move news to WordPress seems a straightforward one – it’s used by millions of websites to serve up News, including our own faculty and department websites – but our key justification for the migration, to provide story functionality, isn’t something that WordPress does out of the box so over the last few months we’ve developed something from scratch.

While I’d love to take credit for everything, my involvement was mostly limited to the initial proof of concept and vague arm-waving spec-changing suggestions for how it should work and look. Such is the power of a manager.

WordPress has come a long way since it’s blogging roots and now has some powerful features that can be used to tailor the system to a wide range information. Custom Post Types were first introduced in version 3.0 and provide a way of storing structured information without having to create additional database tables. WordPress itself uses CPT for posts, pages, attachments (e.g. images) and menus but the possibilities for extensions are endless. Plugins often make use of CPTs to implement things like events listings, movie reviews and product catalogues but anything can be put in them and you get all the functionality that WordPress posts or pages have for free.

We have a really basic Story custom post type containing – as a minimum – just a title, image and a paragraph introduction:

Creative Edge - Take a fly through - News - Edge Hill University(2)

Stories and Posts are linked together with a many-to-many mapping using jQuery Tokeninput to make it easy to select which story a post should be related to.

Viewing a story triggers a custom template in our theme that is used to render the page. The template first displays the story title, image and content then looks for all linked posts and outputs them to the page, newest first.

Creative Edge - Take a fly through - News - Edge Hill University(5)

We’ve tried to keep the Story custom post type simple enough that it can be used flexibly in lots of different ways. By specifying just a title, image and content, stories can work as a lightweight wrapper for related posts. They’re not designed to replace a full website – for example the Short Story Prize story still links to the Prize’s standalone website – but act as a focal point for the latest news on a subject.

WordPress mints permalinks from the title on initial publication and only change if forced to do so after that so links to stories will still work even if the introductory text changes.

Stories can work as a live blog by streamlining the process of getting content online – once  a story is set up, say for something like a Graduation ceremony – it’s a simple matter of clicking Add Post to Story in the WordPress admin bar and bashing out a quick update, or pasting in a link to a video, tweet or photo:Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2013 - News - Edge Hill University(2)

Custom post types are the key to extending WordPress’ capabilities by managing structured content but there are other features that allow us to expose this information in new ways. Next time we’ll be looking at how our design is able to make the most of our rich media content.

WordPress 3.3

We’ve just upgraded WordPress to version 3.3 on the blogs.edgehill.ac.uk site. Take a look at some of the new features:

If everything goes well we will be upgrading WordPress-powered sites on the corporate website early in the new year, ignoring this helpful advice from Twitter 🙂

https://twitter.com/lgladdy/statuses/146142135954051072

WordPress 3.2

We’ve just upgraded our blogging system to the latest version of WordPress – version 3.2. Currently this is just for the blogging network but we’ll be testing and rolling it out to WordPress powered sites that are part of the corporate website.

Check out some of the new features in this video from WordPress.tv:

http://wordpress.tv/2011/07/04/introducing-wordpress-3-2-gershwin/

 

Department of Psychology website

Yesterday we launched a new website for the Department of Psychology.

Department of Psychology

It’s our first live fully integrated WordPress website and starts to show what’s possible. It’s taken less than two days to create and while some content was migrated from the DSAPS website in that time we also implemented a new WordPress homepage template and ways of embedding profiles into pages.

Let us know what you think!

OMAC (Word)Pressing on

It’s been a quiet few months on the Web Services blog but there’s been load going on behind slightly ajar doors! In December we launched the Online Marketing and Communications (OMAC) Project with five strands:

  • Site navigation, structure and homepage
  • Academic department websites
  • Marketing content
  • Student recruitment and conversion
  • Mobile and social media

Over the last four months we’ve made progress in each of these and I’ll highlight a few of them below.

Site navigation, structure and homepage

With over 200,000 page views and a quarter of site traffic, the Edge Hill homepage is the most important page on our site and it needs to reflect a broad range of activities and signpost diverse user groups to the information they’re looking for elsewhere on the site. Our current scrolling carousel homepage went live in January 2010 and has helped us produce some really striking designs and features but there’s more we can do with it. So our new design starts from scratch by looking at what needs to be there and how to best make use of the space.

Our new template design makes use of mega menus and fat footers to allow extra information to be displayed more clearly.  We’ve covered mega menus in detail before and recently launched mega menus within GO as a way of providing one click access to a huge range of content but fat footers are something new for us:

OMAC Footer

While URL structure will remain largely unchanged, improved top level and in-page navigation will raise the profile of academic sites significantly.

Academic department websites

We are currently in the process of deploying and testing a new way of managing departmental websites.  Long time readers will know that I’m not a fan of traditional content management systems but – as I mentioned at the end of my Anti-CMS talk – our approach to managing websites does have the potential to introduce bottlenecks to getting content online. Faculties and departments are making increasing use of the web a communication tool and we need to find better ways for them to get things online.

Our approach hasn’t been to bring in a monolithic, expensive enterprise CMS – I stand by my claim that they fail on a number of levels – but instead making use a tool that are easy to use for the types of content departments wish to publish. That tool is WordPress and you’re using it right now perhaps without even knowing it.

WordPress is best known as a blogging tool but in the last couple of years it has developed to be much more than that. It can now be used as a powerful content management system for relatively basic websites. While Edge Hill’s site certainly isn’t basic, individual department, faculty and centre sites are making them perfect for WordPress. The merging of WordPress MU (multi user) into the main product that probably the final piece in the jigsaw to allow easy hosting of multiple sites.

As I said, we’re currently configuring and integrating WordPress into our new site designs prior to letting content authors loose on it.

OMAC: Department of Magic

Technical solutions are only part of what we’re doing.  We’re also working with departments to review their content prior to migration to the new designs and make sure they’re doing as good a job as possible for their business needs. Relly Annett-Baker’s content inventory is a great aid to this and useful not just for reviewing sites now but on an ongoing basis.

WordPress will be available Real Soon Now with training available to those responsible for content ownership, editing and creation.  Departments can contact me now with start this process.

Marketing content

The new emphasis on department sites doesn’t mean we’re forgetting central areas of the site – these are getting lots of attention too.  Together with colleagues in corporate communications and student recruitment we’re reviewing and updating the Study, About and News sections of the site. Some changes are just a refresh while others are major new developments.  The current, rather out of date virtual tour will be replaced with a brand new interactive campus map allowing the user to explore the Ormskirk campus by building, department or facility with potential to tie all sorts of additional information into the map in future.

OMAC: Interactive Campus Map

Student recruitment and conversion

Earlier this month Student Recruitment launched Think Edge Hill, a new system for managing enquiries to the university.  This project comes under the OMAC umbrella with the current links being expanded to more deeply integrate with the new Study area of the external Edge Hill site.

Mobile and social media

The final strand is looking at how we make use of social media within the university and how it integrates with the website. We also hope to have a new mobile optimised website to go live at the same time as the new corporate template designs.

As you can see it’s been a busy few months with more to come before we go live in May. There’s lots more detail we can go into about the developments so leave a comment with what you’d like to know and we’ll follow up with further posts in the coming months.

WordCamp UK

Following Hacks meet Hackers on Friday I decided that two conferences in a week wasn’t enough and headed into Manchester to WordCamp UK at MMU’s Business School. It was a full weekend event including socials in the evening but prior commitments meant I could only go for the day.  In case the name doesn’t give it away, WordCamps are conferences about WordPress and happen all over the world.

The first session was introductions to find out who was there. With a couple of hundred (I’d guess) this took a while but I was impressed with the diversity of uses in the room. Lots of web developers as you’d expect but also bloggers and it was nice to see a couple of other universities in the room.

Other sessions I attended…

Core PluginsPeter Westwood

Also known as Canonical plugins, it’s proposed that these will allow extra support for key features that aren’t part of the core WordPress code.  Currently two core plugins are under development:

  • Health Check: this will scan your WordPress install and tell you if there’s anything wrong, for example executable files or out of date PHP versions.
  • Post-by-Email: currently part of the core but badly out of date, the hope is to get the community to support it and take advantage of some extra development that has been done for other plugins.

Managing multiple WordPress instances – John Adams

John Adams just-in-time session planning :)

John showed us the just-in-time approach to session planning, also known as winging it, after forgetting he’d agreed to run this session.  It actually turned out well and some good discussion over ways of managing multiple blogs.  It seems Edge Hill had one of the larger installations, albeit as part of two WordPress MU instances but it’s a problem for everyone.

We’re certainly not alone in struggling with a development/testing/staging/live strategy for WordPress but Shaun Hare from Nottingham University suggested it is possible so we should probably pick their brains about it sometime!

Beyond Blogging – Kieran O’Shea

Kieran O'Shea: Beyond Blogging

Kieran highlighted a couple of plugins he’s developed to take a blog a little further:

  • Calendar: provides embeddable calendar that can show in a post, page or sidebar widget.
  • Social View: a new plugin that takes feeds from other websites – currently YouTube, Flickr and Twitter – and converts them to blog posts but makes them look a little prettier.

WordPress and more in Big MediaDave Coveney of Interconnect IT

WordPress in Big Media with @davecoveney

Final session of the day for me was Liverpool’s own Dave Coveney presenting a session about how the media can use WordPress.  He was followed by a chap from the Telegraph going into a little more detail about their blogging platform with some impressive usage statistics.  If you didn’t think that WordPress was a serious system you should now!

WordPress MU 2.9.1

We’ve just upgraded to the latest version of WordPress MU – the system that powered blogs.edgehill.ac.uk. You can see that latest features in this video:

http://wordpress.tv/2009/12/21/introducing-wordpress-2-9-%E2%80%93-carmen/

That video was embedded using one of the coolest new features in WordPress 2.9.1 – oEmbed. oEmbed is a way of websites sharing information about how content should be included in a page. Instead of having to copy any paste complicated HTML such as this:

<object width="425" height="339">
<param name="movie" value="http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/swf/flvplayer/player_flv_maxi.swf"></param>
<param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param>
<param name="flashvars" value="configxml=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.edgehill.ac.uk%2Fvideo%2F psychology%2Fxml%2Fembed"></param>
<embed src="http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/swf/flvplayer/player_flv_maxi.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="339" flashvars="configxml=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.edgehill.ac.uk%2Fvideo%2F psychology%2Fxml%2Fembed"></embed>
</object>

We can instead just paste the URL onto a blank line in the post. oEmbed is supported right now by many popular websites such as Flickr and YouTube. We’ve also added oEmbed support to our own video streaming platform. Since we’re not one of the popular video sharing sites embedding our videos doesn’t work out of the box with WordPress but we’ve enabled it for our site. Here’s what it will look like:

http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/video/psychology

Implementing oEmbed was fairly easy so keep an eye out for it on other content we publish.

Desktop blogging with Windows Live Writer

Windows Live WriterFor most of the time we’ve had this blog I’ve used the online editor built into WordPress. I’ve dabbled with the WordPress iPhone application but it’s only good for posting the odd photo and not the in-depth posts readers expect.

I’d heard of tools that allowed you to draft posts offline but never really thought they’d match what WordPress were able to do themselves. A post on SitePoint led me to look again at some of the tools and Windows Live Writer from Microsoft actually seems rather good!

All the things that you can’t do through a web-based editor like cut and paste images Just Work. I’m going to try it for my next few posts to see how it goes!

I ♥ WordPress

I got a request yesterday from Roy Bayfield asking if it was possible to put a heart in the title of a news story and I didn’t have a clue!  So I did a bit of looking online and found a page on the WordPress Codex saying how you can insert special characters.  I did a couple of test posts on our news system and lo, it worked!

Not only was it fine in the title of our news story, but it followed through to work in the Atom feed, and onto Twitter.

It’s possible to put the full selection of suits in – ♦♥♣♠ – plus a selection of other characters like musical notes (♫), chess pieces (♘) and miscellaneous items of stationary (✉). Best of all these work without messing around with changing fonts!

Update: Your Mileage May Vary! And I should add that our news system isn’t powered by WordPress, but both allow for this kind of thing.