Why WordPress?

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(and not another CMS)


Whenever I talk about diPH, regardless of someone’s technical knowledge and experience, the question of why we opted to build the toolkit in WordPress inevitably comes up. There are several compelling reasons for relying on an existing open-source content management system (CMS), as compared to custom building a platform from scratch. Modifying and building on top of a stable, open-source platform allows us to be more cost effective in creating our own tools while maximizing our in-house programming capabilities; we don’t have to worry as much about underlying sustainability; we can tap into a community of developers, borrowing what they’ve done and allowing them to play with what we’re doing. The result is a robust and stable product.

Many DHers understand and are themselves pursuing the OS route. So what I want to focus on is why we chose WP, as compared to other platforms, such as Omeka or Drupal.

1. It’s stable and robust.

There are a lot of CMSs out there, but not all are as mature as WP, and many don’t have nearly the number of extensions (plugins, modules, add-ons) compared to WP’s 21,774 and counting. Omeka, for instance, is an excellent CMS that GMU’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media built for digital exhibitions. Initially released in 2008 (WP began in 2003), Omeka is a great tool for folks with little technical know-how, though customization is limited if you don’t know code. It features add-ons, including themes to style the look and feel of your site, and plugins that allow you to map content, connect to other Web 2.0 services, and customize metadata through Dublin Core extensions, to name a few. The CDLA is currently piloting Omeka as a platform for faculty-driven digital projects.

2. It’s widely supported.

Not only is WordPress widely supported (somewhere between 17 and 22% of all websites worldwide are built on or supported by WP), but there is a large developer community for us to connect with. Equally, if not more importantly, WP is widely used and supported across the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. More and more of our department and school websites are running on WP. While we expect diPH to be adopted broadly beyond the campus, having a strong WP presence at UNC means debugging, testing, and enhancing the plugin will be that much easier for us.

Furthermore, we are working with OASIS to try to integrate the plugin within the web.unc.edu environment. This is the mechanism for UNC-affiliated people and groups to create their own WP-based websites. Being able to use the plugin in this environment provides additional support and sustainability for UNC adopters of diPH.

3. It’s easy to use.

Perhaps more importantly, WP is easy to use, with friendly interfaces and helpful documentation. We had strongly considered using Drupal, a more sophisticated CMS that allows far more powerful customization and data modeling. But the learning curve for Drupal is steep and it is not as out-of-the-box usable compared to WP. The goal for diPH is to lower the technical barriers of entry for folks who want to create digital humanities projects. Drupal has more bells and whistles than WP, but humanists would probably not be able to use it independently without significant training.


We recognize that WP is not the solution for everything, and that it won’t be able to support every DH project. We may even hit a point where diPH outgrows WP. But to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people right now, WP was a no-brainer for us.