Digital press

ANYONE looking for an open-source success need not look farther than the average blog. Today, most serious blogs—that rules out Facebook pages–are powered by open-source software.

About a year ago, I began migrating my blog (www.chinwong.com) from a proprietary content management system to the open-source WordPress platform. The process of transferring my old posts to the new site was a little laborious, but well worth the trouble.

For the longest time, I had been using the free version of the commercial Expression Engine to power my blog. In the second half last year, however, the site was hit by a serious glitch that led to some data loss. My Web host tried to restore the database as best they could, but I had begun to feel unhappy with the content management software I was using for other reasons.

For one thing, it wasn’t very easy to change the look of the blog — and I felt it was a time for a change. I was also discouraged by the scarcity of information on EE on the Internet to help me make these changes. Even my Web host couldn’t find the expertise in EE to automate the migration to WordPress.

The process of copying my old entries into the new database was tedious, but I managed to get in all done – a total of 590 posts – over a few weeks. My biggest regret was the loss of all the comments that my readers had left over the years.

The change in the database structure also meant that links to my old posts, includig those from Google, no longer worked and landed only on my home page.

Still, the shift to WordPress solved my two problems: the lack of flexibility and the paucity of information on the Internet about my content management system.

WordPress themes both free and paid, are widely available and not very difficult to install and use. Third-party plug-ins and widgets that extend the platform’s functionality are also plentiful. The WordPress.org site listed 21,316 plug-ins and a whopping 348.19 million downloads and counting this week.

The use of WordPress itself has grown rapidly since its introduction in 2003.

In his “State of the Word” address in San Francisco last month, company founder Matt Mullenweg said the software has been downloaded 44 million times in 2011, bringing the total downloads to 145 million. This did not include one-click WordPress installations being offered by many Web hosts these days, so the numbers are likely to be much higher, he added.

In the same address a year earlier, Mullenweg reported that WordPress – referring to both the software and its own hosted service – was powering 14.7 percent of the top million Web sites in the world, with about 22 out of every 100 new active domains in the United States running WordPress.

This growing community of WordPress users means there are tons of useful information scattered all over the Web—all you need is some persistence and some basic search engine skills to find them.

I have barely scratched the surface of WordPress but I’ve identified a few useful and cool plug-ins that I already use – or plan to use soon.

Among them are:

Askimet, which protects your blog from comment and trackback spam. The plug-in is free, but users are encouraged to make a contribution.

WP SlimStat, a powerful real-time Web analytics plug-in.

Image Widget, which lets you easily add an image to your blog’s sidebar.

Post Types Order, which lets your easily rearrange the order of your posts and other post-type elements.

Special Recent Posts, which adds thumbnails and a snazzier look to the default Recent Posts widget;

Websimon Tables, which takes the pain out of posting good-looking tables on your site; and

Pretty Pinterest Pins, which enables you to publish thumbnails of your latest pins on the Pinterest social networking site.

Outside of a basic blog, I haven’t done very much with WordPress just yet, but I’m excited by the possibilities that this open-source platform brings to digital publishing.

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