I. Love. WordPress.

Wordpress LogoSorry for the silly title…but I do I love WordPress.

Well…I should clarify…I love the self-hosted version of found at WordPress.org).   The WordPress.com version is quite good but you lose the ability to do some customization over there (unless you’re on the VIP platform…and you’re still limited in what you can do there).

Why do I love WordPress?

It’s so much more than a blogging platform.  It’s really a framework.  It’s a framework for building websites.

Take a look at my site.  It’s built on WP using the Genesis Theme Framework (affiliate link) which I’ve customized to meet my needs. I added a customized version of the WP Featured Articles Slider to the front page to highlight previous articles.

Could I have done this with other platforms?  Sure.  Would it have been free? Perhaps.  Would it have been easy (given you know a little web design/development)?  Maybe.

But…every other platform I’ve used in the past would have required much more development to get the basic structure built.  I could have used Drupal or Joomla but neither of them are as easy and straightforward as WordPress is for me.

The real strength comes from the Theme developers like StudioPress (the folks behind Genesis), Thesis or Headway. With these frameworks, you can really extend the power of WordPress as a platform.

Personally, I’m a fan of Genesis due to the ability to build child themes for customization. These child themes allow the core Genesis framework to be upgraded without affecting the custom design / functionality.    I love the genesis framework so much I decided to customize one of the child themes to rebuild my Photography Minute photo blog.

WordPress…for more than just blogs

But…WordPress can be used for more than just an individual’s blog / website.

For example…take a look at the Boy Scouts of America’s Boys’ Life website.  It’s built on WordPress and hosted with the VIP program.  I’m happy to say that I was a part of the team that built the site last year….it was quite a learning experience for me and an eye opener to the power of the WordPress platform.

On first glance, that doesn’t look like much like a blog does it?  Doesn’t to me.   Lots of really cool stuff happening over there with a mixture of PHP, Flash, jQuery and Javascript…really cool stuff for us tech geeks 🙂

In addition to my own blogs and the work on the Boys’ Life website, I’ve been working on building a new website for Silicon Valley Expert Witness Group using WP as a Content Management Systems (CMS) for the underlying technology to run the website.  That site (planned go- live in early Sept 2010) is using a ton of custom development and Custom Post Types to handle the hundreds of Expert Witnesses and litigation consultants listed on the website as well marketing and corporate information.

I’ve got another stealth project going right now that uses WordPress, a Custom Theme and the PHPurchase shopping cart plugin to manage sales and subscriptions. Still putting the finishing touches on that project…maybe I’ll talk about it more in the future. 🙂

I’m finding WordPress to be an extremely flexible and wonderful framework to build websites with.  Not only do you get WP and themes, but a ton of developers and help from other WP developers and users. The power of Open Source in action.

PS – If you’re looking for a WordPress Developer or Designer, let me know … I’ll be happy to recommend a designer to you and might be able to take on the development efforts myself … if I can’t help, I know a few folks who can.

Sitecore, Me and the Boy Scouts

Me on Sitecore (from a Sitecore Press Release):

“We needed to move into a CMS to gain content management capabilities as well as easily host and manage our numerous local council and national websites from a central location,” said Eric Brown, CMS Project Manager, Boy Scouts of America. “Sitecore was selected due to its ability to customize and extend. Its flexibility allows content managers to seamlessly maintain brand messaging and presentation of the content. The fact that it is a 100% .NET solution also fit into the Boy Scouts of America IT strategy.”

Sounds pretty good huh? 🙂

We are working on some really cool stuff for the Boy Scouts…a site redesign is in the works for Q1 2009…should get the website up to a ‘modern’ website fitting current standards.  Other projects coming up are also very cool but still too early to discuss.

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Website Optimization

In July, I was approached by Andy King to see if I’d be interested in reviewing his new book from O’Reilly titled “Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets“.

If you don’t know who Andy is, go read his resume….I’ll wait….OK…you back?    Great pedigree right?  Been involved in the web since 1993.  Founded WebReference.com and Javascript.com in 1997.  It’s safe to say he knows his stuff.

When Andy approached me, I was skeptical initially….could I do this book justice?  I’ve got a technical background and have been around the web since 1995 but I know very little about Search Engine Optimization…then I look at the synopsis of the book and realized that this is about much more than SEO.

This book does more than talk about the basics of SEO.  It dives into topics that go well beyond the ‘technical’ aspects (e.g., keywords, titles, etc) and talks about persuasive language, fast load times and engaging websites. Once I saw this, I was very intrigued and told Andy that I’d be happy to review the book.

I’m glad I said yes.  The book is excellent…and from what I’ve seen, it is THE book on Website Optimization. Gone are the days of scouring the web for bits and pieces of info on how to optimize….this book contains it all.

Unlike most other books in this genre, this book is much more than just an overview of the concepts of website optimization. Detailed descriptions, case studies and in-depth discussions of the ‘why, what and how’ of optimization are provided to allow the reader to immediately take action with their own websites.

For those of you interested in the entire spectrum of website optimization (i.e., page load times, search engine friendliness, optimization techniques etc), this is the book for you.  I expect that this book will be THE website optimization book for years to come.

Now….I need to start using the recommendations from the book on my blog! 🙂

NOTE: This book was provided by the author for review.

Blu Domain: Poor Service Defined

It’s been a while since I’ve railed against bad customer service….namely because I’ve not been too upset with the various services that I’ve received.

But…that streak has been broken.

A new definition for poor customer service has been set by a company called “Blu Domain“, specifically by “Aundrea”. My wife and I purchased a website from them on April 25, 2008. They told us that the site would be ‘delivered’ within 24 to 48 hours. It is now May 14th and we have yet to see a working website.

Blu Domain purportedly provides turn-key websites and back-end management solutions for photographers. The web designs and functionality seem to be top-notch…but their client service is horrible (try googling ‘Blu Domain Service‘ or “BluDomain Service“).

It started out nicely with an email from “Aundrea” stating that she’d have the website delivered within 24 to 48 hours and that she never misses a deadline. She asked for information about our hosting platform and we responded within 30 minutes with all the required information. Funny note: in her email to us, it states “if you don’t hear from me within 3 days, contact me because i probably didn’t receive your email”. Now…why would anyone say that? Why is it on the shoulders of the customer to contact the service provider to check to see if they received our email??

3 days went by with no response so we contacted them again and Aundrea told us that she didn’t receive an email from us…we resent it. Another 3 days passed with nothing.

We emailed them again (3 times actually) prior to getting a response. The response asked for more information. We provided that information….and waited another 3 days with no response.

Finally, we threatened to call our credit card company for a refund if they didn’t respond. Funny how threatening them actually worked….but their response was to blame us for not giving them information…even though the information that they requested was contained the email that she replied to.

We’ve given them until the end of today to get the website up and running or the credit card company will take over this negotiation and we’ll go somewhere else.

I should have known better to use a company that doesn’t provide any means of communicating directly with them. They have no phone number, no email address nor any other contact method on their website (other than the ‘Contact us’ form).  Another learning opportunity I guess.

Seems as if we aren’t the only ones having this problem. Check out the following:

Some thoughts on Sitecore CMS

small business technologyOne of the projects I’ve been working on over the last few months is the implementation and customization of a Content Management System (CMS). The CMS chosen by my client is Sitecore CMS, which is garnering some attention for its somewhat unique approach to the world of CMS and was recently named a “Cool Vendor” by Gartner.

For a review of Web Content Management Systems, see Ziff-Davis’ CMS Review on Amazon titled “Web Content Management Systems Product Comparison Guide” (affiliate link).

Sitecore’s product is pretty interesting. It’s a .NET based product that gives you the ability to (er…forces you to) create everything from the ground up for your website. Everything is customizable…layouts, templates, everything. The product is delivered as a .NET ‘solution’…in other words, you can open the ‘site’ in Visual Studio and customize to your hearts content.

Personally, I like this approach because it provides a great deal of flexibility and provides developers with a way to easily ‘hook’ into a Sitecore website and customize it…..but it isn’t the right solution for every problem. If you are looking for a CMS, or just interested in CMS platforms, you should look into Sitecore. If you are looking to buy, expect to pay more than some CMS platforms and less than others 🙂

Here’s a quick Hit List that you can use to determine if Sitecore is right for your organization:

Sitecore is a good option if:

  • You have a good sized website and/or many websites to host.
  • You are a Microsoft shop with SQL Server, Windows Servers, etc.
  • You have a development staff who are fluent with .NET (C#, ASP.NET) or are OK with paying an outside firm for this work & expertise.
  • You are willing to invest in a long-term approach to migrating all your websites and web apps into a .NET environment (this gives you your biggest ROI in my opinion).
  • You are OK with looking at a payback period of over 1 year. My personal opinion is Sitecore is at about 18 to 24 months or longer depending on what you spend to implement and what customization you have done.

Sitecore is probably not the best option if:

  • You can’t spend much money
  • Your payback period is less than a year
  • You have no development staff with .NET experience nor do you want to pay for outside development
  • You aren’t a Microsoft shop
  • You have a few sites and don’t need .NET integration

For the developers out there…if you’re interested in jumping on a bandwagon and learning a new product, there is a tremendous need for sitecore developers in the marketplace. I’m contacted ~3 to 4 times a week for resources. You can download an ‘express‘ version from Sitecore for free (not to be used as a commercial site) and join their Developer network to jump in and start learning.

Sitecore is a good product and provides a very good ‘skeleton’ for a CMS but might not be the best selection for anyone looking for a quick turn CMS and/or quick payback.

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