By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Using a blogging tool as a CMS

Blogging tools can only go so far, apparently. I’m the editor of my church’s Web site, and I’m planning a relaunch sometime later this summer or fall. At first I thought I would simply do it all in HTML with Sea Monkey or KompoZer.

But I realized I wanted a basic content-management system that could handle menu updates and that would provide a slicker look than I could do on my own. Mainly I need a CMS with short, flat learning curve. That rules out Drupal or Joomla, to name two solutions that webmasters who are smarter than I am get very excited about.

My thoughts turned to a free blogging platform. Naturally, though, neither of the easiest solutions is quite right.

WordPress.com offers the ability to create as many static pages as I want, and even allows me to set one of those static pages as the home page, with the blog residing somewhere underneath. That gets me 95 percent of the way there, and, frankly, it’s probably what I’m going to settle on. But customizing the template is, for all intents and purposes, not allowed. I can’t make the type size bigger. I don’t seem to be able to dump the blog-post calendar, which I’m afraid people will confuse with the church’s calendar of events.

I could try WordPress.org, but that would draw me into a world of effort and confusion that I’m trying to avoid. (See Drupal and Joomla, above.)

Blogger.com is much more flexible and easily customized. But it offers no static pages, which rules it out.

Frustrating.


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28 Comments

  1. John

    Don’t know your specific affiliation, but some church organizations offer web solutions for their churches. Have you looked up the denominational ladder?

  2. Woodie

    You might take a look at Plone.www.plone.orgI think it’s somewhat simpler than Drupal or Joomla. It also has the advantage of being easy to run locally (on your Windows, Linux or Mac) on your own desktop. Which is handy for evaluation and testing purposes.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    John: Ours (UU) does not. We do have a listserv for church webmasters, but I find that everyone there is much more technically adept than I am.

  4. Steve

    In my day, we didn’t have fancy tools like SeaMonkey or WordPress. No. We edited html with a text editor! And we used BBEdit, only because emacs wasn’t available!And we liked it!(And seriously, I’ll follow this discussion for suggestions, because editing html with a text editor sucks!)

  5. Anonymous

    Can I say something here that will probably be seen as impolitic?Find someone who knows what they’re doing. Surely your church is big enough to have someone who can set up Drupal or Joomla or WordPress or whatever so that you can use it. Why are you doing it yourself? Does your choir director fix the plumbing? Does your sexton do the bookkeeping?If everyone there is “much more technically adept” than you are: use them.Using WordPress is frightfully easy. Setting up the initial CSS (that governs the look and feel), not so much. Buy web hosting. It will cost you $10 per month or less. With that, you have your own WordPress installation that you can do with whatever you want without being subject to the whims and vagaries of systems beyond your control. Plus it gives you legions of features you might just find useful.Once you find someone to set up the CSS, you’re off an running. That’s all they have to do. You might also find a look and feel you already like as WordPress is “skinable” (“themes” in WP speak). There are over 100.http://themes.wordpress.net/How's this for a church theme:http://themes.wordpress.net/columns/3-columns/35/archway/I'm not trying to sell you on WP, I’m sure Drupal and Joomla are the same, it’s just that WP is what I have experience with.

  6. adamg

    You can use Movable Type as a CMS. Would require some tinkering with the templates and MT tags, so not an out-of-box thing, but a lot easier than figuring out Drupal. Also gives you full control over the HTML and CSS.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 1:08: No. I’m Da Man. Frankly, WordPress.com is so close to what I want that I think it would be silly for me to try to master something more complicated. Probably just a matter of experimenting with templates. I do wish Blogger had static pages, though.

  8. Howard Owens

    I need to warn you away from WordPress. It’s I run my blog on. It’s a security nightmare.I’ve been hacked at least four times. The time was a bear to recover from.I’m going to switch to Drupal when I can. It’s much more secure, and less trouble than I originally thought.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Howard: Good grief. I’d sort of heard that, but figured it was no worse than any other platform. I may need to stay away from it. Grrr! Why doesn’t Blogger offer static pages?

  10. DJS

    You might also want to try the free version of Expression Engine. It’s a full-blown CMS, but for basic needs, it’s pretty easy to navigate.Doug

  11. Ken George

    My vote for WordPress. We love it so much at WBUR that we are converting most of our sites into WordPress. First was Radio Boston, then Only A Game. Look for On Point later this month and Here & Now come Fall.Granted, we got a little more in the way of resources that afford us considerable leeway in customizing the templates, but even the technically-challenged shouldn�t find the learning-curve all that vaunting. Learn a little php and you should be able to make some basic tweaks to the design. Or better yet find a template (“theme”) that aligns closest to the look and feel you seek. There are tons of decent-looking themes that can be had gratis, as well as some very professional-looking ones that you can purchase for anywhere from $50 – $200.You should have a fine looking site up and running in no time.Besides it has in my experience proven to be stable and has all those wonderful plug-ins. And you can’t beat the price. On a personal note I love it so much that I use it for my site and other site’s I have built.

  12. Scott Wells

    I think you are absolutely correct to use a personal installation of WordPress — the one you get from WordPress.org — and another writer is correct about getting a theme you like. It isn’t that hard.But to make it easier, get a host that uses Fantastico, which should autoinstall WordPress for you. Make sure it is a recent version of WordPress, as compared to what you can download. (If a potential host doesn’t mention Fantastico on its site, ask. If they don’t respond, you know not to deal with them.)

  13. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I went and looked at my church’s web site, and found this -http://e-zekiel.com/templates/System/default.asp?id=1381It has a messge board function for teachers and board members, static pages, and is easy to use.If you can get past the cheesy name, which I had never noticed….

  14. Steve

    PP-e-zekiel.com! Great! My Rabbi could build a whole sermon out of that one. (And probably will, when I tell him.)

  15. Ann

    Though I am inclined to suggest WordPress for all of the reasons stated, I took the easy way out myself with Blogger. You can hack some static pages through the use of tabs and labels — see my website for an example. It’s not perfect, and wouldn’t support a complex linking structure, but it’s fine for my purposes right now.Though I’m sure that I’ll eventually move to wordpress.

  16. Esther

    Forgive my ignorance, but what’s a static page?

  17. Dan Kennedy

    Esther: Just a Web page that doesn’t change. That’s what most of the pages will be.

  18. Dan Kennedy

    Here is how idiotically inflexible WordPress.com is. One of the better templates I found is called “Contempt.” If you choose it, every page will say “Contempt” in little type at the bottom. You can’t remove it. You can’t change it. It’s for a church website. So I can’t use it.

  19. Bellicose Bumpkin

    When you say “can’t remove it” do you mean “are unable to” or “are forbidden from”?Joomla is not that hard. I have done some pretty neat things with php to turn a nice looking page into a template that makes adding new pages a 2 second operation with 100% consistency between all pages. I’m not bad with this sort of stuff and will gladly help you get going with joomla or something else. Or if you have a single good-looking web page, I can turn it into a templatized thingy and supply you with a skeleton for adding new pages. Hard to explain what I mean but catch me offline if you want to talk about it. I can be reached at bumpkin at nemasket dot net

  20. Aaron Read

    Dan, it IS possible to hack Blogger so that it will upload your posts to an FTP server of your choosing. In this manner, you can fake a CMS using a standard web hosting account.I did this for Brandeis’s radio station (WBRS 100.1FM) website a while back. I made one Blogger account, linked it to four blogs…one for each page I wanted a blog interface for: main page, sports, meeting minutes and music…and then set up the code on a web hosting account on Pair.comIt works…mostly…but it was a rampaging pain in the ass to set up. Tweaking the code in the Blogger templates to mate properly with the static code on the Pair.com web servers took nearly three weeks of endless tinkering. And even now it still doesn’t really work all that well, especially with the archived posts.I can’t recommend this approach, so I mention it only to confirm that Blogger is not a great solution. FWIW, I am looking at WordPress.com for my current station’s site (WHWS) since, like you, I think it’ll get me 95% of the way there, which is close enough.

  21. Ari Herzog

    I saw your question, Dan, and immediately thought of Square Space, which while not free, is a complete CMS package intended for blogs and websites and putting it all together.Check out the trial demo they offer. I like it, but am not in a position to change right now.Related, you might like the blog of Real Live Preacher.

  22. Eric

    Dan,In case it’s helpful, here’s a link to my church website, which we manage via WordPress, without the template customization stuff:http://gracelutheranonline.com/ As you said, it’s not perfect, but considering the cost (basically free), it’s hard to beat.If you have any questions, shoot me an email via the webmaster email on the site.Best of luck. Always enjoy the blog.-Eric

  23. Dan Kennedy

    Eric: Looks good! I see you’re using Cutline, which is one of the templates I’m considering. Also interesting to see that you went with the blog as your front page. I don’t dare — a blog will be brand-new for us, and I don’t want to risk our front page falling short. If our blog develops into something great, I could always make it the front page later on.Ari: Square Space looks kind of interesting, but I’ve promised to deliver a site that will be free or very close to it. Not sure that the extra features would be worth it. WordPress.com is looking more and more like it falls into the “good enough” category.

  24. Dan Kennedy

    Eric: A question. Hope you’re still reading this thread.Has anyone ever told you he couldn’t access your site from work?On the UU listserv for webmasters, I learned that some workplaces block domains that tend to be used for personal sites, including wordpress.com. Apparently the block stays in effect even if you use your own domain name.It’s possible that this could be a lost opportunity for us. On the other hand, I don’t see how we can plan for every single contingency. I would think that a workplace that blocks wordpress.com is blocking all kinds of things, and employees have gotten accustomed to not doing their personal web-surfing at work.

  25. Jed Leland

    Dan, good luck with your project. I think I’m probably a user who’s at around the same level of technical proficiency as you. Even for someone who’s reached a proficient level with HTML, PHP is a totally different ballgame.I use the Cutline 3 column theme, and I had a couple of different PHP books out from the library for about 6 weeks (and I’m in Software QA), but I only managed to tweak a few things. It’s hugely trial and hugely error to get the last few yards to get the look you want.I would highly recommend using WordPress.org, because you’re used to the interface, and some of the plugins/widgets available will help you do some of the tweaks. But to get the final tweaks you want, like fonts and colors, I’d hire someone, have them do it on your machine, and sit with them while they do it. For a PHP programmer, it’d be an afternoon’s worth of work. It’s not a job for a weekender. That person should also be able to show you how to delete the occasional comment hack and protect against it.Open source PHP and MySQL for blogs is a terrific thing. I think because of the fact that it’s open source, nobody’s dares step up to be the Bill Gates and make a real WYSIWYG editor.As for the free WordPress.com vs WordPress.org that you have to host somewhere, the hosting cost is inconsequential, it should be less that $10 a month. The real consideration there would be whether or not you can get the domain name you want.

  26. Ted McEnroe

    Dan:I was on wordpress.com for awhile, but there are some things that you can’t do with the .com install that the .org allows – embedding video and such. I’m definitely no brilliant web designer, but I found a free theme I liked on the wordpress.com side, and an inexpensive host, and so far so good. If you really don’t think you’ll need added features, then go free. You can easily migrate to a wordpress.org site. (It took me about three hours soup to nuts to do it.)We use wordpress for the blogs we are launching on NECN.com as well, and it has been pretty smooth sailing. And I bet with people you know, you can find someone to customize some CSS for you in a heartbeat. Good luck,

  27. Dan Kennedy

    Ted: Actually, I had no problem embedding a YouTube video in WordPress.com. You can’t embed an iFlash thingie of any kind, which may be what you’re referring to. At some point perhaps I’ll upgrade from .com to .org, but our needs are so modest it may never be necessary. Thank you for your guidance.

  28. Eoin

    Dan,At the Christian Science Monitor, we’ve had some success repurposing WordPress as a CMS for some of our section pages. We’ve managed to configure it so that it associates images with stories and displays them automatically on a main page.If you’re interested, check our ‘mini-sites’ out here:csmonitor.com/environmentcsmonitor.com/innovationcsmonitor.com/bookscsmonitor.com/gardeningWordPress certainly has its limitations, especially if you want to do a lot of fancy database stuff, but as you can see by our sites, it can be a pretty useful platform if all you want to do is display text, images, and multimedia. I don’t think going the WordPress.org route would be that difficult. Check and see if your web host has something called Fantastico, which installs WP automatically for you. If it doesn’t, you can move to a host that does. I’ve found Bluehost to be a reliable option.

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