Word perfect

You don’t need to know anything about computers to run a website using WordPress, says Paul Allen.

There was a time when three letters filled me with dread. Those letters were “C–M–S”, the shorthand for content management system.

For anyone unfamiliar with a CMS, it’s very simple. A content management system is (if you’re lucky) the thing you use to add words, images, video – basically, any kind of content – to a website.

For a computer developer, of course, it is much more that – it’s a world in itself, a virtual ecosystem shaped and powered by handwritten code. That’s when it works. When it fails and breaks a customer’s website, it’s just a giant headache. But mostly it’s amazing.

I said “if you’re lucky” because the CMS is a relatively new arrival. In the bad old days, most websites were “hard coded”, which meant that you – the owner – couldn’t make any changes to it yourself. Every time you wanted to do anything, you had to ask your computer developer to do it for you. That was annoying. And expensive.

The CMS changed everything. For the first time, it opened up the world of managing websites to the non-geeks. Now we could add our own content, write new articles, add pictures, edit a homepage and publish – all by ourselves and at the click of a mouse.

Except that’s not quite how it was. As a website editor, most of my early experiences with CMS were terrible. It was as if they had been deliberately created to frustrate. How else to explain that a simple text change involved a huge number of complex, unintuitive and (to my mind) illogical steps.

I don’t know why I’m talking in the past tense. Many CMS out there are still just like this. Yes, you can update the content on your website but it feels like a fight against the odds every time.

Which is why WordPress is perfect for those of us without a degree in computer science. The first time I used it, I had one thought: “It can’t be this easy.”

Here was a CMS that actually made sense. It felt as if someone like me – whose brain doesn’t compute algorithms for fun – had sat down and planned it all out to be as user-friendly as possible. This was a CMS that allowed you to do everything you wanted in one place, with very simple sets of instructions.

On every CMS I’d used previously, I had been given comprehensive training. With WordPress no one showed me how to do a thing. I just figured it out. And I think that says it all.

Back then, WordPress was thought of mostly as a blogging platform, so it had limited appeal for businesses. But thanks to being “open source”, it has benefited from thousands of developers adding great new functionality.

Today, it has become the most popular CMS on the planet, powering many of the world’s best-known brands and companies. Which means easier, more user-friendly websites for everyone. And that can only be a good thing.

Paul Allen is a director of Brighton-based editorial and communications agency Lark.

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