WPMU: Closing Time (Again)

Is it possible to run multiple WordPress websites with just one install of the WordPress software? The answer is yes. It has been yes since the release of WordPress 3.0. Prior to that, it was a qualified yes.

Prior to the release of 3.0, you could use WPMU (WordPress Multi-User) to run multiple sites on a single install. The folding of WPMU into WordPress core was, in my opinion, the main reason that the release deserved to be 3.0, rather than 2.WhateverWouldHaveBeenNext.

When WPMU was newish, and newly appointed as the official method of multi-site WordPress, I ran a blog about WPMU: How Do You MU? I kept track of WPMU installations.

I also did a survey of WPMU administrators. That was 5 years ago, so it’s ancient history. But ancient history can be interesting, so you might want to check out the posts including the results of the survey.

It would be interesting to see a survey of multisite networks on WordPress. I’ll do one if given sufficient encouragement…

This post is part of an occasional effort to consolidate my blogging efforts. Almost everything new will be here at Changing Way.

WordPress (not com) Themes: Search and Spam

After the good news about themes at WordPress.com comes some bad news about themes for self-hosted WordPress sites. Siobhan Ambrose at WPMU.org wondered what she’d find if she Googled “Free WordPress Themes.” She examined themes from each of the top 10 hits for that search.

The result? Only one of the 10 theme sites was “safe.” Another was “iffy.” For the other 8, Siobhan’s advice is “avoid,” on the basis that some of the themes use Base64 encoding in order to sneak spammy links into the theme. Base64 can also be used to include malware.

The safe site is the WordPress.org themes directory. Since it currently includes well over a thousand themes, there seems little danger of a free theme shortage. Each of the themes there is under the GPL, and so is free as in freedom and well as free as in beer. In other words, you are free to modify the code of those themes.

This doesn’t mean that every source of free themes other than the official WordPress.com directory is bad. What it does mean is that, just as social media attracts spam, social media tools attract spam-producing components. It also means that some of the people who make those components also study the dark side of SEO.

WordPress 3.0: Multisite Networks

WordPress 3.0 is due in May (i.e. next month) according to the roadmap at WordPress.org. The Codex entry for 3.0 lists highlights, starting with new menu management.

This posts focuses on the highlights that come at the end of the list: “WordPress and WPMU code merged” and “Configure a Network (multisite/WPMU).” What does that mean? Well, right now, installing WordPress and creating a blog are pretty much the same thing. If you want another blog, you install WordPress again. If you have lots of blogs, you have lots of installations to maintain.

That’s where WPMU comes in. You can run multiple blogs from a single installation of WPMU. The MU stands for multi-user. I’ve always found that rather confusing, because you can have multiple users on a single WordPress blog.

So, starting with WordPress 3.0, you’ll be able to run multiple blogs from a single install of WordPress. Actually, in the terms introduced in 3.0, you’ll be able to run multiple sites, and the collection of sites is called a network. (If you want to read more about the change in terminology, see Dougal Campbell’s post.)

I just tried out the multisite network feature at andux.org/wordplay. First, I installed WordPress 3.0, beta 1. That didn’t give WordPlay the multisite capability. By default, and I think it’s the right default, a 3.0 installation supports exactly one blog. Enabling the multisite network feature is a distinct step, involving the editing of wp-config.php and other files.

It was then easy to create a second blog running off the same install. I now get to be… Super Admin! No, that doesn’t involve a costume. It means that I am the admin for the whole network, and am able to make changes to the whole network of blogs (I should rather say network of sites).

I can create new users for the network, assigning roles per user/blog combination. For example, the user watson is an admin for blog #2 in the network, but only a subscriber for blog #1. Similarly, themes can be enabled on a site by site basis.

Multisite networks is, for me, the most interesting new feature of WordPress 3.0, and the best reason for this release to get a new integer (i.e. 3.0 rather than 2.next). That’s partly because I’ve always been interested in WPMU, and indeed used to blog about WPMU.

That said, I don’t think that the multisite feature of 3.0 will make much difference to WordPress.com, which is where changingway.org lives. WordPress.com currently runs WPMU to host millions of blogs: now that’s multisite!

I’ll try out, and post here about, other features of 3.0. Next up will probably be custom post types.

BricaBox: Platform For Social Content Sites

BricaBox, according to Blake at ReadWriteWeb, is a new type of service that combines elements of social networking and content creation into a medium it calls a “social content platform”. What does that mean?

One way of answering that question is simply to read BricaBox’ manifesto. CEO Nate Westheimer blogged part 1 of the manifesto a couple of weeks ago. He started by contrasting “content platforms” (e.g., WordPress) with “social platforms,” (e.g., Ning). This is similar to my favorite web-characterizing contrast: the one between content and connection.

Nate went on to describe “social content sites” such as Flickr and Yelp. (Such sites are sometimes described as object-centered social networks.) That Nate describes such networks as sites is crucial. He argues that there is no platform enabling the creation of such sites. The lack of such a platform is the motivation and the opportunity for BricaBox.

[W]e have set off to create a universal social content platform: a way for anyone to create a social content website using any combination of tools and data sources, just as easily as someone can create a blog.

I got interested enough to pursue the best method of finding out what someone means by their characterization of their product or service: trying it. So I signed up for the beta and created a BricaBox: WPMU Sites. I’ve been thinking for a while about a better way to keep track of the many sites running WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) than the blog I’ve been using to do it (and have neglected for too many months now).

Based mainly on a couple of the early hours of this morning, I think that BricaBox may well be the right tool for this task. I certainly think it’s a better fit than Ning, which I considered for the task a month or two ago.

That’s not to say that BricaBox is better than Ning. Rather, it’s to reinforce Nate’s distinction between a social network platform (Ning) and a social content platform (BricaBox). Because of that distinction, I have to disagree with Mashable Kristen’s description of BricaBox as a Ning competitor.

Another distinction between BricaBox and most of the other web services mentioned in this post (and in the posts to which it links) is that BricaBox entered public beta a matter of hours ago. So it’s rougher around the edges than services that are out of beta (whatever beta means these days) or have been in public beta longer.

For me, BricaBox is one of the more interesting new web services. I expect to write more about it – but not in this post, which is already longer and later than I intended.