Why WordPress?

08/05/2010

For web professionals looking to build a business that’s both challenging and rewarding, WordPress represents an ideal development platform. It’s completely free, open-source, well-supported, and requires very little time to get up and running. Most web hosts can run WordPress (it requires PHP 4.3 or greater, MySQL 4.1.2 or greater, and the mod_rewrite Apache module) and many hosts have automated installers to make setup a breeze.

Additionally, WordPress is everywhere. News organizations, bloggers, web professionals, designers, and marketers all use WordPress every day to run their businesses. Regardless of your industry, there’s a good chance that someone has done what you’re trying to do. Central to WordPress is the concept of theming, which is a collection of files that determined the look and feel of your site. WordPress requires a theme to display output for your visitors, and there are countless free and premium themes to choose from.

PHP/MySQL isn’t learned in a vacuum
Many developers try to learn PHP and MySQL by following tutorials and creating small scripts that accomplish small tasks. While this makes sense for some people, I’m an advocate of purposeful and strategic learning. That is, I want to learn things that fit into some larger puzzle. Giving me a high level concept or application (like WordPress) and then let me break it into tiny pieces. Let me break things, troubleshoot errors, piece things together, and then take a step back.

Once I break an application into its tiniest parts, I’m able to manhandle it into subjection. Write my own plugin? Easy. Widgetize the footer area of a theme? Piece of cake. Create my own theme from scratch? Consider it done. I might not opt to do these things if more favorable options exist, but it’s critical to know how to do them.

Create a portfolio/showcase site with WordPress
Artists, designers, developers, and virtually every other kind of creative professional need places to showcase their work. In many cases their body of work is their marketing. With WordPress, you can control every aspect of your portfolio’s appearance. In addition to being able to categorize your content for displaying in creative ways, WordPress versions 3.0 and beyond (3.0.1 is the latest stable release as of the time of this writing) supports custom post types and taxonomies.

It takes a few examples to grasp the gravity of this functionality, so we’ll get into that shortly. Suffice it to say, however, that it opens up a world of new possibilities.

Master XHTML, CSS, PHP, jQuery, proper coding techniques, and SEO
I know, I know. You learned HTML in 6th grade when you used to code MySpace layouts. A lot has changed since then, though. I’d be willing to bet that you don’t use (or perhaps even know about) the abbr, acronym, and address tags though. What about microformats?

Advancements in web publishing like HTML5 and CSS3 represent new frontiers for displaying data on the web. PHP remains of the most widely-adopted scripting languages on the web. Javascript libraries like jQuery make it easy to create and enhance beautiful interfaces for visitors without requiring a masters degree in software engineering.

This is an amazing time to be learning the technologies behind such an open and extensible web publishing platform, and you’d be forgiven for not grasping the opportunity at first glance.