I love the wordpress platform for one simple reason: it’s makes it a piece of cake to build a simple yet powerful website. Over the past year I have helped set up a whole bunch of people with different sites, ranging from blogs to community activism sites. WordPress helped my wife and I organize cleanups and reunions in our neighborhood. WordPress helped an MIT Physics Professor named Peter Fisher launch his podcast to help students pass a tough exam. WordPress also helped a couple of formerly disgruntled lawyer friends of mine find their voices about poker and scuba.
The strength of the wordpress platform is it’s ease of use for newcomers coupled with the large open source community that surrounds it. The owner gets their very own website with a unique url that looks better than the standard myspace or blogger page. It’s geared towards bloggers but it can be used simply to publish pages that have no timestamp for a more general purpose site. Ease of use is crucial because my goal is to set somebody up quickly and get them publishing independently as soon as possible. I’ve tried this with other PHP/MySQL platforms like Drupal, but I found that it was too complicated for new users to figure out quickly.
The open source themes and plugins are what makes the platform powerful. The choice of theme is tricky because despite the hundreds of excellent options, it takes a long time to find one that is ‘just right.’ I don’t have any recommendations on this front. But I do have a list of plugins that I can recommend highly for almost any wordpress installation.
Akismet: Comment spam filter that comes with the default install. Use it sooner rather than later because the porn-bots and scumware purveyors strike without mercy.
Feedburner: RSS proxy that provides statistics. Without Feedburner, you will never know how many people are reading your blog or listening to your podcast through the RSS feed.
Reports: Google Analytics plugin from Joe Tan. Google’s reporting system is powerful and free, all you need to do is sign up. This plugin makes it easy to integrate the tracking code into your site and provides reporting directly in your wordpress dashboard.
Flickr Photo Album: Integrate pictures from the flickr photo hosting service. I formerly used Joe Tan’s flickr album plugin because of its excellent feature set, but performance problems arose with larger albums. I switched to FAlbum and it scales much better. I’ll keep an eye on Tan’s set however because once they solve the cache issues then I think it will be the best flickr photo integration out there.
Sitemap Generator: Automatically generate sitemaps for search engine spiders. In a rare moment of unanimity, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all use the same sitemap xml format to guide the indexing of websites. This plugin automatically generates the xml file for you.
Creative Commons: License generator for a Creative Commons license. This plugin makes it easy to pick through the different options when choosing a license for your website’s content. Not sure how much of my content will be interesting fodder for dance remixes, but I’ve chosen the license which allows other people to redistribute and remix my work so long as it’s attributed and it’s used for noncommercial purposes.
Podpress: Add audio to posts for podcasts. This plugin helps modify your rss feed to match the Itunes format as well as offering integrated audio players for each post. A must-have for any podcasting site.
WP-Cache: Cache pages for a fixed period of time. The secret to scaling a website to handle lots of traffic is proper cache. This plugin keeps a cached static text copy of every page so that the PHP code and the MySQL queries don’t have to run for every single visitor.
Search Everything: By default, only posts are indexed and searchable but pages are not. This plugin bridges that gap.
Database Backup: You are only as good as your last backup. This plugin makes a full backup of your MySQL database on a regular schedule and emails the results to you.
Page Links To: Plugin that allows you to create pages that redirect to another url. This allows you to use the wordpress page navigation in your theme while pointing to content that is outside of wordpress.
Kimli Flash Embed: Allows you to embed Adobe Flash content into posts and pages. I’m a Flash developer, so this is important to me and this plugin is the best I could find. It works well but has a funny syntax so some of the people I help have trouble using it.
Those are my favorites, but there are hundreds more available through the wordpress directory.