Is WordPress professional enough?

My college has recently started rolling out WordPress MU to students in a small scale experiments. From what I hear, it seems like IT expects WordPress to gradually replace the existing static web pages that most college groups now have (most of which are never updated I might add). I think it’s an interesting idea and I’m all for it. I hope this will make it much easier for college groups and students to maintain a stable web presence.

But there is a particular little question that I’m currently trying to answer. The foreign languages center has a program for students to make ePortfolios: basically small websites where students can show off all the language experience they’ve gathered over their years here. It’s a good idea with a decent amount of support from the faculty, but the uptake has been rather slow. Till now we’ve been using a standard Dreamweaver template where students just fill in the blanks with their own text, images and video. However this approach doesn’t seem to have gelled well with the students. There are a number of different reasons. Despite how easy Dreamweaver makes a lot of things, there is still a considerable learning curve. People who aren’t naturally inclined to such things need a reason to learn and use them and I don’t think making an ePortfolio is a strong enough motivation. Also students actually need to have Dreamweaver in order to do something, which means they need to go use a library computer. I’ve made some templates for the portfolio but due to the slow update, we haven’t really been able to get students past the basic one. I’ll eventually put the templates up for download once I clean them up a bit.

At this point in our story enters a brash young outsider: WordPress. In a static scenario like the college ePortfolio, WordPress is a total game-changer. It makes things a lot easier for people who are not used to making their own sites. It’s a great tool for anyone who wants to quickly put their information out on the web. I run this site on WordPress with a custom template and widgets. However, if you want to set up a professional web site which will mostly stand as evidence of you work and not a rapidly changing blog, I’m not sure if WordPress is the way to go.

My college is rolling out the Multi-User version of WordPress to students, which makes perfect sense for a college setup. But for the end user, MU does have some serious constraints. Most importantly you can’t install your own plugins or themes and so if you want something that the native installation doesn’t provide, it may not be very easy to get it. This in turn leads to the problem of sameness. Because you have only a small number of themes and other options to choose from, your site is bound to look very similar to someone else’s. I personally think this is a big problem if you seriously want your site to be a reflection of yourself on the web. This was the main reason I decided to take the plunge and move to paid hosting.

For most students this doesn’t matter. Their blog is mostly something personal and so it doesn’t really matter much if it stands out visually. An ePortfolio is different however. By definition, it’s meant to be be professional and needs to stand out. It’s meant to be something that you can send to potential employers and will reflect favorably on you as a professional. I think is very hard to do with a stock WordPress MU blog. Even if you stick to a clear format with well thought-out pages (which is how we’re trying to proceed), you are still completely at the mercy of the original design which might not be anywhere near what you want. What’s worse is that you might start trying to bend your content to fit the design. This might work out for good designs, but if you do it too much you’ll completely loose your own style. Loosing your personal style when putting together something that you want a lot of people to see is self-defeating.

The current Dreamweaver is very reminiscent of old-school web design with lots of tables and fixed-width elements, both of which are falling out of favor with current generation of web design. WordPress has some very good modern themes, and anyone moving to WordPress needs to utilize this instead of trying to pull their old designs along with them. The definition of what is professionally acceptable changes every so often and at this point in time, fluidity and flexibility are definitely the way to go.

For myself, a considerable amount of effort went into selecting this theme that I’m using. From the start I wanted something clean and sharp which would encourage readers to look at the content and not get distracted. Hence the choice of a mostly monochrome template which places emphasis on the categories and the main post body, while the sidebar makes search and RSS prominent.

I’m still uncertain as to whether or not using WordPress for a professional ePortfolio is a good idea. If it was a standard WordPress install where students could change the look and feel of their Portfolio to suit their style, I’d be all for it. But with MU, I’m not quite so sure. I would really appreciate feedback from my users on this matter and any experiences they could share would be appreciated. I’m going to keep thinking about this matter and I think I’ll have a part to play in whatever direction we go. I think it is very important for everyone to have a strong web presence, students especially. Tools like WordPress make that much easier to accomplish, but sometimes you just have to take a step back to make things the way you want them.

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Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

12 thoughts on “Is WordPress professional enough?”

  1. I maintain a number of Blogs on WP.com (mu) and the themes and widgets give a ton of creative options,, I’m working with others to put up pretty pro looking sites as well one new theme “vigilance” give a ton of customization options, and the basic stuff tends to prevent some really lousy design choices that I’ve seen else wise. The prejudice I see from “real” web designers against standard WP.com seems to me to be just a “you have to do things the hard way” to be professional attitude!!

  2. I think it is great the you college is making WordPress availble to students. There are so many different diciplines that can use it as a tool to train students (Journalism, English, Marketing, Media, Business, Comp Sci.)

    WordPress is pleanty professional. So the real question is will who ever is managing the MU install make enough plugins and themes avalible that the students will experience the flexiblity and functionality of WordPress. There are some themes that a customized base on setting pages but I don’t know how well the work in WordPress. Maybe that would help.

    The main issue is making it easy for students to learn about using the Internet as a tool to solve the problems faced by individuals, business and organizations in these fast paced times.

  3. I am agree with David North. WordPress is great for the both the administrator and the end user (author). It can be customized to look like whatever you want, but, still preserve the ease of use to the author.

  4. I am in the process of brainstorm how to improve the websites at my own university. We are still using static html pages. For anyone that is into programming and web design it isn’t that bad. But most professors, have no clue how to use html.

    I wonder if it would be best for the university to use both wordpress and wordpress mu. For example, any student/professor can create their own wordpress mu. Then if they want more customization or they can apply for their own database to install wordpress on.

    It would be difficult to setup servers for everyone to have their own wordpress setup, but if only 10% of the campus population wants their own, it could be achieved.

  5. I run a few MU-based sites of my own and help others set them up.

    Since the MU system is constrained by the available themes & plugins set by the admin, then it’s *up to the admin* to make sure there are plenty for their users to choose from.

    Anyone who sets up MU for their own business, college, whatever – has all the options in the world. If they can’t understand their user’s needs (in this case the student’s use of portfolio) then they haven’t; given enough thought and planning to the whole setup.

    Almost any plugin or theme for single WP can and probably has been set up on a WPMU-based site somewhere.

    I do know of others in a university setting that are helping students set up portfolios, and of course there are countless WP-based portfolios out there. You did at least find out that for more static info, pages are the way to go. 🙂 the blog part can be shuffled off to the side via a template and the setting in the back end to force a page to show on the main site address.

    That’s available in both WP & WPMU.

    To Micheal above – letting some users have their own WP might be overkill. Especially if most don’t even know much HTML. instead of applying for their own install, let them apply to have extra plugins or themes installed. Either or both can be restricted to a particular blog. And there are more and more themes with extensive customization options from the admin area – no template editing required.

    I left my URL to my WPMU tutorial site, if it helps.

  6. You ask one question, ie, ‘Is WP professional enough?’ and then answer it by a discussion on cosmetic appearance which, to my mind is nothing to do with the professional properties of an e-Portfolio.

    Firstly, I would ask if WP is capable of providing the IMS export/import facilities required to transport from one institution’s system to another? If not, by definition it is NOT an e-Portfolio.

    Secondly, I would ask if WP is capable of embedding the assessment tools that any teacher/lecturer/professor would expect to use?

    Thirdly, I would expect an e-Portfolio to be capable of using at least some of my content for different purposes and for different audiences. To come back to the word ‘professionsl’, if the e-Portfolio cannot present different ‘faces’ for different audiences I would not consider it to be professional. If WP cannot do this, then it is NOT an e-Portfolio.

    Fourthly, is the question of presentation and layout. As a graphicist I appreciate the desire to impress with a unique self-representation – and this can be done by creating links to one’s own websites. However, as a teacher, I would expect certain pages of all my students to be in the same places and with a reasonably similar layout. Are you really suggesting that every student should create their own very different sites? – That would certainly create the very situation described, where few lecturers are willing to take on this additional workload.

    Lastly, I would ask if WP is the sort of tool that is capable of being used by all age groups and abilities, from ‘5-95’? If not, is this the Lifelong, Lifewide tool that an e-Portfolio is supposed to be?

  7. I think you all miss/ignore the fact of WP.com which is a mu instance of WP and seems to be able to satisfy a pretty large number (100,000’s of thousands) of bloggers, and skill levels. It has extensive themes with extensive customization options.. While you all dither about debating whta the right solution is,,,, the smart students are simply going off and using WP.com (and I’ve helped a bunch).

  8. WP not only is “professional” it combines greatest flexibility with ease of use. There are not many other CMS out there which are so easy to maintain.

  9. I’m just about to embark on my first WPMU site for my writing class. Thanks for this article, although I just got here now. It’s useful to see the pros and cons others have found.

  10. Well, professionalism in not categorised by ease of use, but the level of functionality it can offer. When I started my WP site, I loved it. However, when my business grew I had severe problems with it.

    All the comments above seems to be coming from new users of WP or those who dont understand the potential that internet have to offer. There is a difference between a blog and a website. With WP, I cannot provide a user login feature to allow my clients view their order status. There is no option to give access to my sales team with their own page and some feature to track their progress.

    When I hired a developer, he told me what I was loosing. WP themes waste H1 tag for the website title. H1 tag can be used for SEO. There is no possibility of preventing SQL injection website hacks. Passwords can be hacked by some very old fashioned hacking tools.

    With my new website I have had so many functional modification and updates in past one year that were unimaginable with WP. WordPress can be a good option of people who are working from home on their own. But dont expect to get a big customers with WP as it lacks CRM and visitor tracking.

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