Being a small recital of my experiences with customizing WP, and musings on the role of blogs in data analytics
Would I WordPress again?
Should you care?
Most of us are interested in communications in some way, most of us have clients (internal or external) and colleagues (near and far), most of us need to disseminate information amongst a select group of recipients or expose some ideas to a wider audience, most of us are working on projects and need some feedback and idea sharing.
Arguably there is a trend towards “getting it out there quicker, even if less formally”.
The promise of the blog is to remove some of the “barriers to publishing” . But there is more to it than that : writing up and “publishing” thoughts helps to coalesce them, helps bring them closer to reality, expose weaknesses and attract supporters. Some of this can be done by email, sure, but blogs are intended for a (somewhat) wider audience.
Blogs do not have to be public. They can be private or semi private. Lots of uses for private blogs including
- storing private/personal information (like travel itineraries, passwords etc)
- A virtual whiteboard/roundtable for distributed co-workers
- market research – focus groups by blog (I will talk about that one another time)
- reporting .. quick “heads up” on what we know so far .. and feedback (beats circulating a PDF, and requiring everyone to have Acrobat full version)
The privacy and security aspects need to be studied in depth, but for example here are some WordPress Plugins “RegisteredOnly” and “ViewLevel” which look as if they might be a start.
But this post is not about blogs per se. It is about the blogging vehicle you might choose, and about whether my time with WordPress has been happy and productive.
Well, I can’t say it has been a barrel of laughs.
I didn’t enjoy the CSS tweaking, and I didn’t much like having to get into the PHP of “the loop”, or doing the research on the plugins.
But then again, I didn’t want to settle for an out of the box solution. If I had have done, I would not have needed the several days of learning-curve and experimentation : but then again, I might have settled for a hosted and simpler solution like blogspot.
Could I have done it from scratch as a bunch of static pages, updated from time to time?
Sure, but there is an existing framework and concept there (in WordPress)- pages of information (content) in a database, content extraction and querying and ordering rules, content display
In short, good levels of abstraction, storage abstracted from retrieval, presentation abstracted from content :: this really is too elegant and sensible and robust to re-invent or ignore. I guess I should mention that it is free.
And no matter how tempting it is to roll-your-own, and no matter how much you believe there are concept limitations inherent in the thing, no matter that it is tedious to climb the learning curve .. it’s a pretty good piece of work, and worth the gritting of teeth and absorbing thereof.
So, my advice to a small to medium professional firm .. say a firm of financial advisers with lots to say but not a lot of IT expertise .. would be
- Get your feet wet with a simpler, and more restrictive, blog vehicle.
- Or work with WordPress (even the hosted version), but just accept the defaults for layout and content, even though they may be far from what you want. For instance, in our case, we did not want chronologically ordered posts .. and that seemingly small requirement meant quite a lot of work.
- Step 2 perhaps would be to use a WordPress consultant for customization – if you decide you really cannot live with the defaults. They are out there, there is a big community of WordPressers, and it really is not rocket science .. just a good knowledge of PHP and CSS and an eye for design and information presentation.
- Step 3 .. bring the expertise in house. If you are thinking of blogging as part of your marketing communications, then you can relatively easily rachet up the base to do more and more nice things. If you have already got comfortable with it, with the baby steps, you can pretty easily hire someone to make it superb.
Would I use it as a private research feedback mechanism ?
- Yes, with a bit of extra work on login security and so on.
- Beats email hands down .. all your research collaborators/clients can review the posts and comment on them. And see the comments of others.
- Beautiful for shared, at-a-distance brainstorming. (Note: our dsAnalytics blog is setup on the “one way public broadcast” model : blogs, well WordPress blogs, can be setup (potentially) to do “private n-way multicast”).
Would I use it as a CMS, a “Content Management System”?
- Yes, probably, but this is usually a corporate-level decision… there are issues of back-end databases etc.
- Put it this way, it would be a very strong contender. I don’t see a strong argument for Joomla: WordPress has way better docs and a huge user and developer community. At core, it is pretty simple and robust .. a mySQL database, a good library of PHP functions.
What has this to do with Data Analytics?
Well, to paraphrase the saying “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time” (a “hip” expression of the 1960’s-70’s that advises you not to do something risky unless you are willing and able to accept the full weight of the consequences) .. don’t do the analysis if you can’t take the feedback.
So, we as statisticians and strategic thinkers and data analysts need to “put it out there” a bit more. Put out our thoughts, disseminate our findings and speculations to the appropriate and wide circle of recipients, and have the courage to put in place feedback mechanisms.
Even feedback from the less than fully informed.
Hence blogs, private or public.
Hence WordPress, because it is intrinsically robust and simple and powerful and extensible, and it or its progeny will, eventually and inextricably, weave its way into our professional-private lives.